Bar- Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Mikketz 5765/ December 11 , 2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan , Israel . A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

Hanukkah and the Number of Words in Parashat Mikketz

Dr. Aaron Arend
Department of Talmud

 

Most of the Bibles which we use today give a summation of the number of verses in the parashah at the end of each weekly reading, followed by a word or words whose numerical value equals the number of verses in the reading. This recording was made by the Masoretes.   At the end of Parashat Mikketz, however, also the number of words in the parashah is given, as follows:   Quf-mem-vav Yehizkiyahu, Amatziah, yihye li eved siman, ve-tevot alpayim kaf”heh.   That is, 146 is the number of verses in the reading, and the signs for it are the names Yehizkiyahu and Amatziah, as well as the words “will be my servant,” which occur in the last verse of the reading; and the number of words in the parashah is two thousand and twenty-five. [1]   What is so special about Parashat Mikketz that the number of words in the reading should be mentioned, something which is not done for any other weekly reading in the Torah?

The author of Benei Yissachar, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Schapira of Dinov (1785-1841) presents an explanation given by his wife’s father, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Zidetchov (d. 1831), drawing a connection between the masoretic sign and the fact that Parashat Miketz is read on the Sabbath of Hanukkah: [2]

So that the practices of Hanukkah be in this parashah; the holiday begins on the twenty-fifth day of the month, and one kindles lights for eight days.    Now two thousand equals eight times nun-resh [ner, Hebrew for candle or light] (whose numerical value is two hundred and fifty).   This is what the masorah was indicating by also counting the number of words, whose total is a clue to Hanukkah.

We do not wish to spoil this nice clue, but in truth Mikketz is usually, but not always, read on Hanukkah.  Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech added the following clue to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch’s remark:

In gematria the numerical value of the words va-yehi mi-ketz [with which the parashah begins] equals bet”aleph [initials: bet alaphim or two thousand] het ner [meaning eight candles; the numerical value of all the letters – bet aleph het nun resh is 261], therefore these days are called Hanukkah, from the initials het nerot u-vehodesh kislev hathalatan [meaning “eight lights and the month of Kislev is when they begin”].

Another explanation was proposed by Rabbi Hayyim Panet, author of  Tapuhei Hayyim (Jerusalem 1994, p. 165).   The total number of words was given because of the word avrekh, which appears in the reading (Gen. 41:43).  An interpretation of this word by Rashi breaks it in two:   av (a father) in wisdom and rakh (young) in years.  The number of words in the reading was given in order to resolve the question whether avrekh should be read as one word or two.

Below we present a more straightforward explanation.  Examining the extant Masorah manuscripts of the Torah closely, we observe that in a small fraction of them, next to the total of verses in the weekly readings we also find a total of the words in some of the weekly readings. So, for example, in the Florence manuscript (Plut. III 10, Ashkenazi, from the 14th-15th century), and the Parma manscript (7/1, Italian, 15th century). [3]   In the Mikraot Gedolot edition of the Torah printed in Venice in 1644-1646, and following it also in the Venice edition of 1717, six out of fifty-four weekly readings of the Torah have the number of words in the parashah listed alongside the number of verses and their signs: Mikketz, Korah, Hukkat, Balak, Va -Ethanan and Ekev. [4]   The printers of these books apparently used a manuscript or manuscripts which included the number of words in these readings and did not want to omit this figure, even though it occurred only in a few isolated readings. 

In the edition of Mikraot Gedolot printed in Vienna in 1848 (or perhaps somewhat earlier), in five of these six readings the listing of number of words in the parashah was omitted, giving the number only for parashat Mikketz. Presumably this deletion was made due to the fact that a word total was given only for a few weekly readings. Apparently the printers retained the word-total after Mikketz simply because they forgot to delete it, perhaps because this parashah has three signs for the number of verses in the reading, and the great multiplicity of signs caused them not to notice the sum of words:  tevot alpayim kaf”heh – “two thousand twenty-five words.” [5]

 

 

Stone capital with menorah relief, 4th – 5th century B.C.E.*

 

 

Hanukkah Menorah, bronze, Avignon , southern France , 14th century.**

 

 

Hanukkah Menorah, brass, Poland, with Russian eagle motif, 18th century. Y. Narkiss collection, Jerusalem. **

 



[1] On the general topic see A. Arend, “Ha- Simanim shel Minyanei ha-Pesukim she-be-Parashot ha-Torah,” Sefer ha- Yovel le-Rav Mordechai Brauer (ed. M. Bar-Asher et al.), Jerusalem 1992, pp. 157-171.

[2] Benei Yissachar, II, Jerusalem 1997, p. 126a.   Also cf. Me’Otzarenu ha-Yashan, I, Jerusalem 1976, p. 230.

[3] One of them, JTS  L44a [Hilleli], Sephardic, from 1241, even gives the number of letters in some of the weekly readings.

[4] In Benei Yissachar, loc. sit., regarding these weekly readings he writes: “There are several other sedarim for which the total number of words is listed. We have tried hard to find reasons for this, for in truth a reason is needed to explain the difference”.

[5] Another example of the multiplicity of masoretic notes leading to printers’ errors: in many printed editions the number of verses in the readings of Pekudei and Be-Hukotai was omitted due to the numerous masoretic notes appearing at the end of Exodus and Leviticus respectively.

*   Photo from the Knesset internet site, http://www.knesset.gov.il

**   Photo taken from the site http://www.talpiot.macam98.ac.il