Bamidbar: Language and Translation

Genealogy/Affiliation/Birth

This portion contains a word unique in the Bible: va-yityaledu. [root letters: yod-lamed-dalet]. Numbers 1:18

Everett Fox’s translation,* which uses inventive compounds to convey Hebrew meanings into English, renders this” declared-their-lineage” (The Five Books of Moses, Schocken).

The Stone (Artscroll) Chumash* says, “established their genealogies.”

Robert Alter* notes: “The unusual Hebrew verb, a reflexive form of the root that means ‘to give birth,’ is interpreted by Rashi, and confirmed by modern scholarship to have the sense of sorting out birth lines or pedigrees.”  (page 685)

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary* says, “The self-reflexive nature of the verb here almost suggests that this army gave birth to itself.” (page 793)

Counting Skulls

When the census is taken, Israelites are told to count “le-gulgelotam” — by their skulls. My concordance* lists 12 citations for “gulgulet” [gimmel-lamed-gimmel-tav], four of which are in the book of Numbers, three in Chronicles I, two in Exodus and one in Kings I. Several of the usages refer to the body part that would ordinarily be rendered “skull” in English; most, however, have this census-related meaning of counting persons.

* See Source Materials for full citations

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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