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Interesting Words in the Megillah

Part III

Haglah (2:6): exiled, caused to go away, from the root G-L-H. This root has two different meanings: “uncover/reveal” and “go away/emigrate.” An interesting issue is whether these two G-L-H meanings have a common origin.

Most scholars believe that the two roots have a common origin. See, e.g, the entry for this root in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 2. But exactly what the relation is and which meaning came first is still subject to debate. Phoenician has a root G-L-H that means “uncover.” This suggests that the “uncover” meaning came first. But Ugaritic has a root G-L-Y, which is a verb of motion. This suggests that the “go away/emigrate” meaning came first. (There is still a dispute as to the precise meaning of the root G-L-Y in Ugaritic. It may mean “leave” or it may mean “arrive/enter.” But it does not mean “uncover/reveal.”)

If the “uncover/reveal” meaning came first, then “emigration” can be understood as an uncovering of the land. If the “go away/emigrate” meaning came first, then the connection is that when people “go away/emigrate,” the land becomes “uncovered/ revealed.”

But there is another way to look at the relationship between the two G-L-H meanings: focusing on the people and not the land. Did you ever pick up a rock and discover ants underneath? The instant they are revealed, they are on the move! By analogy, when enemies come and are G-L-H another people, they are first “uncovering them” by forcing them out of their homes and hiding places. This causes the victims to be on the move. This approach is mentioned by Solomon Mandelkern in his concordance.

Pitgam (1:20): decree. Aside from appearing here, this word appears several times in Daniel and Ezra, and one time in Kohelet. It is a word of Persian origin.

Patshegen (3:14): This word appears three times in the book of Esther and nowhere else in Tanach. But the book of Ezra has a word “parshegen” that appears three times. Most scholars think that these words are equivalent. The words are of Persian origin and mean “copy.”

Iyyei Ha-yam (10:1) (islands of the sea): The root of “iyyei” is aleph-yod. This word for island appears once in Esther, once in Genesis (10:5), and many times in the rest of the Nach. Many scholars believe it has an Egyptian origin. This helps to explain its unusual structure.

Ve-ha-achashdarpinim (9:3): This word has 11 Hebrew letters. This makes it one of the three longest words in Tanach. (There are two other words with 11 letters. See Yechezkel 16:47 and 20:44. By the way, the word with the largest gematria in Tanach is “tishtarer” at Numb 16:13. Its gematria is 1500.)

The original Old Persian word here is “chshatrapanan.” The meaning is “satrap,” which comes from the Greek shortening of the Old Persian. The Megillah adds an initial “aleph” to the Old Persian.

Something similar happened in the case of the name of the king. His name in Old Persian cuneiform was written as “Chshayarsha,” and the Megillah adds an initial “aleph.” Interestingly, in Elamite cuneiform, the name was written with an initial “i” sound, and in Akkadian cuneiform, the name was usually written with an initial “a” sound. So the Megillah is not doing anything so unusual here by having that initial “aleph.”


Now let us change topics and address a different root: caf-bet-dalet. We know it means both “weighty” and “honor/respect.” These are similar meanings. When you “honor/respect” something, you are giving it “weight.”

What about the root kof-lamed-lamed? We usually think this root means “curse.” But in fact “curse” is a later meaning of this root. The original meaning was “something that is light” and (in the piel) “to make light of.” (Hebrew has a different word for “curse”: aleph-resh-resh.) We all know the Hebrew word “kal” with the meaning “light.” This word comes from the root kof-lamed-lamed. And when you treat something “lightly” you are giving it “disrespect”!

A separate issue is why the liver is called caf-bet-dalet. Many scholars have suggested that it was considered “the heavy organ,” either heavy in size or in importance. Apparently, divination with the liver of animals was widely practiced in the ancient Near East. (Do not expect me to explain this further! I have no idea! But I did learn some fancy words for this practice: “extispicy” and “hepatoscopy.”)

But other scholars do not relate “heavy” and “liver.” For example, in his An Akkadian Lexical Companion For Biblical Hebrew (2009), p. 154, Hayim Tawil has an entry for “kaved”=heavy, honored, and a separate entry for “kaved=” liver. Nothing in either entry suggests that the two entries are related.

On a more mundane level, in rabbinic and modern Hebrew the root caf-bet-dalet sometimes has the meaning “to sweep” the floor. Most likely it developed this meaning because you treat a place honorably by sweeping it.

By Mitchell First

Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He can be reached at [email protected]. Do not tell his wife that he understands the importance of sweeping the floor!

For more articles by Mitchell First, and information on his books, please visit his website at rootsandrituals.org.

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