Korach: Language and Translation

Look for the Hebrew root kuf-reish-bet — which has the general sense of “draw near” and/or “sacrifice” — in this portion. Everett Fox, in a commentary section of his Five Books of Moses, notes that chapters 15-18 of Bamidbar/Numbers are “meaningfully linked together by variations on” this root.

The thread of meaning runs from “bringing near-offerings near,” to God “declaring [Moshe and Ahron] near” to him, to the fact that he has “brought-near” the Levites in terms of their duties, to Korach and his band being asked to “bring-near” the incense, whose fire-pans later become holy because they were “brought-near,” and finally, to the repeated warning to outsiders not to “come-near” the sancta. At issue is what Buber calls “authorized” and “unauthorized nearing,” which is mentioned frequently in Leviticus but is used in the present text with the full artistic resources at the narrator’s command. Viewed in this light, order is restored to the blurring of lines threatened by Korah.Continue Reading

Bamidbar: Language and Translation


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.
Continue Reading