Hebrew In Israel | Bo: A Misunderstood Verb – Learn Torah

"YHWH said to Moshe, “Go to Pharaoh..." Shemot 10:1

bo definition, bo meaning, what does bo mean, exodus 10, bo,

Hebrew In Israel | Bo: A Misunderstood Verb – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

Very commonly we find that words carry a very different meaning than most of us would assume.  In many cases a commentator will give an incorrect meaning to a word based on their own understanding of the language used at their time.  It is always important to look into the often used format for a word in a text, together with the overall meaning we find in the Bible.  I saw an interesting anecdote about the name of this week’s parasha Bo based on a very common Midrash used in Jewish circles.

“בא אל פרעה” הלא “לך אל פרעה” היה צריך לומר. כיון שראה הקב”ה, שמשה ירא ושלוחים ממונים אחרים למעלה לא יכלו לקרב אליו, אמר הקב”ה “הנני עליך פרעה מלך מצרים”, התנים הגדול הרובץ בתוך יאוריו, שהקב”ה היה צריך לערוך עמו מלחמה, כמו שכתוב “אני ה'”, שדרשו “אני ולא אחר”, ולא שליח”

Zohar Bo

The general lines of the interpretation in the Zohar open with a question “Come to Pharaoh- Why does God say to Mosheh “Come”? Why Does it not say “Go”?

The answer given is “God says “Come” because Mosheh was fearful, hence God Himself will be the one doing the war against Pharaoh, and Mosheh will not be alone.

Commonly this comment by the Zohar is understood in two different ways:

  1. He is already there and is waiting for Mosheh to join Him.
  2. Another option is that God is saying to Mosheh “Come, let us go together”.

The Midrash is pondering about the use of the verb בא which is translated as “come” (the translation “go” is clearly incorrect) because God is telling Moshe that He (i.e. God) will be there for him because He is already there.  However, this is based on a very specific understanding of the verb in Biblical Hebrew, and in our case one may argue that this verb, as in several cases, has to do with entering and not coming/going.  Hence, the correct translation should be “Enter before Pharaoh” in the sense of having an audience before Pharaoh.

Examples of the בוא in the Tanakh:

The root בוא is a biconsonantal verb which commonly loses its second root consonant, Vav.  As a verb it usually means to enter, and as a nominal form it is usually used to indicate an entrance.

The entrance of a place is known as the בִּאָה

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַיבֶּןאָדָם, שָׂאנָא עֵינֶיךָ דֶּרֶךְ צָפוֹנָה; וָאֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, דֶּרֶךְ צָפוֹנָה, וְהִנֵּה מִצָּפוֹן לְשַׁעַר הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, סֵמֶל הַקִּנְאָה הַזֶּה בַּבִּאָה

Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy (Ezekiel 8:5).

To Enter:

כִּיתַשֶּׁה בְרֵעֲךָ, מַשַּׁאת מְאוּמָהלֹאתָבֹא אֶלבֵּיתוֹ, לַעֲבֹט עֲבֹטו

When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge (Deut 24:10).

וִירִיחוֹ סֹגֶרֶת וּמְסֻגֶּרֶת, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:  אֵין יוֹצֵא, וְאֵין בָּא

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in (Joshua 6:1)

וּמֵהֶם, עַלכְּלֵי הָעֲבוֹדָה: כִּיבְמִסְפָּר יְבִיאוּם, וּבְמִסְפָּר יוֹצִיאוּם

Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out (1Chronicles 9:28).

DSS Hebrew

The same principle of meaning can also be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In a survey done by Bar Asher it was demonstrated that the meaning of “to Enter” in the DSS is linked to the word מבוא which is an entrance.  This same meaning was also preserved in Mishnaic Hebrew in the form מבוי where Aleph and Yod were interchanged (מבוא>מבוי).  Bar Asher identified 11 cases of the singular form מבוא, and only one plural as מבואים with the masculine plural (which technically should be, according to grammar, מבואות with a feminine suffix).  In overall the connection of Entrance-To Enter is maintained in all Hebrew layers from antiquity.

 

Conclusion

We see that the root is used with the idea of entering, and we have other verses that connect “entering” for an action.  It makes a lot of sense that God is telling Moshe to initiate an audience with Pharaoh to pass on His words, something Moshe did several times without asking Pharaoh.  We also see that Midrash and spiritual interpretations carry less of a meaning when it comes to the actual intention of the text.  Midrash should always be understood as an interesting way to give a text some insight and spiritual guidance, but never as the actual meaning.

Sources:

Bar-Asher M. ״שני עניינות בעברית של קומראן: סינכרוניים ודיאכרוניים״, בתוך מגילות א, ירושלים,2003, עמ׳ 167-176

Midrash Zohar on Bo

Kedari M.T. מילון העברית המקראית עמ׳ 89-91

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