Sunday, June 25, 2017

Etymology of Shabbat?


In a nutshell, I'm proposing that "שבת" is a combination of שב and בת,
"sit/refrain" and "desolate/void," i.e. to cease. And on a deeper level,
perhaps it's a combination of "return" and "nothingness,"
as in a "return to total transparency" to our infinite Creator.
Please note: the ideas expressed here are totally non-authoritative,
and are mostly based on my own subjective understanding of
Kabbalistic & Chassidic thought (although I do try to back it up
with some Biblical Hebrew & Aramaic examples). As such, I'm
not sure whether it has any bearings on actual etymology!

What is the etymology of the word שבת?

It's easy to identify the שב biliteral, but what about the תי"ו?
Can it be that בת is also a meaningful root that forms its second syllable?

Let’s consider the possibility that "Shab-bat" might actually be a combination of two sub-roots, שב and בת:

שבת = sit שב + nil בת = cease

שב “to sit” mean to desist or refrain from doing something, and בת to cancel, null or void. And hence שבת = total cessation.

שב also connotes the sense of simply staying put, i.e. not venturing forth for travel or for any new "progress” or productivity.[1]

In a kabbalistic sense, perhaps שב return is the more dominant idea, as in a return to the state of primordial שבת that preceded בריאת העולם, a return to ביטול העולמות, a sense of non-existence.
שב + בת = שבת, a return to total transparency.

Why does בת mean nil? And how does that relate to ceasing activity or resting?

Here are possible the words that come to mind. I’ll elaborate below:
  • ·        בת
  • ·        בתה
  • ·        בתל
  • ·        בתר
  • ·        בתק
  • ·        בטל
  • ·        בטח
  • ·        חבט
  • ·        בעט
  • ·        שבט
  • ·        בטש (Aramaic, and all the rest are too)
  • ·        בתש
  • ·        בוטיתא & בטיטא
  • ·        בוטי
  • ·        אמבטי
  • ·        בתרא
  • ·        בתוא, בתא
And maybe as homiletic metathesis of בט:
  • ·        טב
  • ·        טבל
  • ·        טבע

בת means desolate, as in  ואשיתהו בתה לא יזמר ולא יעדר “I will make it a desolation; it shall neither be pruned nor hoed.”[2] Also in בנחלי הבתות, “desolate valleys.”[3]

בת desolate implies negation. It negates cultivation, pruning, hoeing, or any work or settlement.

In Rabbinic Hebrew, it seems that בתה mean an end, utter destruction, to be laid waste, i.e. total negation.[4]

By the same token, does בתל (as in בתולה) imply a negation of penetration, as בתולת אדמה is negation of cultivation?[5] [15a]

Does בת in בתר (i.e. cut off or cut up) imply causing the piece to cease? Or to negate its original wholesome state?

What aboutבת  in בתק (as in וּבִתְּקוּךְ בְּחַרְבוֹתָם in יחזקאל טז:מ)? Seems to imply splitting open or stabbing, and either way, negating the victim’s bodily integrity/vitality.

Could this be linked with בט in בטל, cessation, negation? The only place this word is used in Biblical Hebrew is in Koheles, where it indicates a cessation of work.[6] Numerous instances where בטל appears in Aramaic in the Book of Ezra, all indicating a halt or cessation to labor.

In Mishnaic Hebrew, בטל can mean to annul, void, disown, set aside or cancel (בטל רצונך מפני רצונו), idle, vain (not purposeful or productive), to neglect (not performing one’s duty, as in ביטול תורה), which all point to negation. 

But the negation of בטל isn’t always negative. There’s also a positive connotation. As in עשרה בטלנים who are totally & selflessly devoted to Torah study or עבודת הכלל.

Could בטח indicate a negation of worry or vulnerability, hence, to trust, to be safe or assured?

חבט means to beat, and so does בטש in Aramaic. Then there’s בעט, to kick out/at.[7] They all contain the signature בט. A שבט can mean a stick or BaT, which is typically used to BeaT someone.[8] And שבט contains the same letters as בטש.[9]

And let’s not forget that a walking staff (also שבט) has also been used to beat things (like the Nile River or rocks)[10] and people too, as Moshe’s staff beat Pharaoh and the Egyptians to submission.

Beating and abuse can be viewed as an active form of negating someone or something. When a person is beaten, his dignity is negated.[11] Beating can often negate victim’s morale or resolve.[12]

(Speaking of בטש, the זהר states אמר רב מתיבתא בגן עדן: אעא דלא סליק ביה נהורא, מבטשין ליה כו׳, גופא דלא סליק ביה נהורא דנשמתא, מבטשין ליה כו׳, and this is interpreted in לקוטי אמרים תניא as an instruction to negate one’s ego through humbling contemplation, to have a לב נשבר ורוח נשברה, not a broken body from physical self-mortification as the word might suggest.)

בתש means to urge persistently in Aramaic. Perhaps this is a way of negating or wearing down someone's resistance to do something.

בוטיתא (& בטיטא) means ruins in Aramaic. בוטי also means poor or broken. In Bereishis Rabbo and elsewhere, בטי and אמבטי can mean the BoTtom or depth.[13]
And perhaps this relates to Aramaic "בתר" or "בתרא", i.e. last.

Also worthwhile to point out that בתוא in Aramaic refers to untillable cuts in a valley or field, i.e. the waste parts.

טב, perhaps a metathesis of בט, and means to dip  (as in טבל), and perhaps טבע (sink) can imply to sink to the BoTtom.[14] Something negated is pushed to the bottom of the totem pole, so to say (like in ואתה תרד מטה מטה).

It is also worthwhile to point out that the Baal Shem Tov is attributed to have taught that טבילה (immersion in mikveh) is metathesis of ביטול, self-abnegation or humility in Chassidic parlance.[15]

On the other hand, there is a בט root which clearly means to pronounce (as explained in Yerios Shlomo):
  • הבט (gaze) means to discern the recognizable shape or distinctions of something
  • ·בטא and בטה mean to articulate/pronounce and familiarize something to someone else
  • ·בטן is a belly that is protrusive and pronounced.

Could this be an example of דבר והיפוכו? Pronounced in הבט, בטא, בטה, בטן, but negated in בטל, חבט, etc? Prominence vs. total transparency?

Speaking of בת & בט in the sense of negation, perhaps it’s worthwhile to mention other בי"ת biliterals, particularly בי"ת + fricative biliterals, that also imply a form of negation or debasement. (I’ve mentioned them in a previous post, but here they are again briefly):
  • ·        בס  trample
  • ·        בש  shame
  • ·        בז  despise/despoil
  • ·        בץ mud?

Since bilabial  בומ"פletters are related, let’s include other bilabial + fricative (or dental) biliterals:

  • ·        פט of פטיש hammer (which relates to פצ too: וכפטיש יפוצץ סלע)
  • ·        פס piece/cease. אפס = zero, total negation
  • ·        פץ disperse/peel off/break/shatter/crush
  • ·        פז disperse/dance wildly in demeaning, humiliating manner
  • ·        פת piece/break into pieces[15a]
  • ·        מז shriveled by hunger?
  • ·        מס melt or dissolve[16]
  • ·        מצ chaff (worthless), sucked out
  • ·        מט, stumble or falter.
  • ·        מת death:

בת and מת certainly seem to share a common theme. Death is undoubtedly the ultimate form of negation or cessation. It’s worth pointing out that חסידות interprets “death” in numerous places as a metaphor for utter self-abnegation.

The Mishna states: “בן מאה כאלו מת ועבר ובטל מן העולם”, “A hundred-year-old is as one who has died and passed away and has been negated from the world.”[17] This is widely interpreted as a lofty virtue of selflessness (ביטול עצמי or התבטלות עצמית מוחלטת) and absence of evil inclination.

A similar idea is expressed by Rashi in chumash[18]:
אע"פ שלא מצינו במקרא שייחד הקב"ה שמו על הצדיקים בחייהם לכתוב אלהי פלוני משום שנאמר הן בקדושיו לא יאמין כאן ייחד שמו על יצחק לפי שכהו עיניו וכלוא בבית והרי הוא כמת ויצר הרע פסק ממנו
It’s as if Yitzchak had died and his evil inclination had departed from him. This was not a "bad" thing. To the contrary, because of this, he was deserving to be associated with the very name of the Creator ("אלוקי יצחק") like his late father Avraham, even though he was still very much alive in a biological sense.

שבת is associated with התבטלות to the Creator. The world’s existence is not taken for granted: cessation from mundane and creative labors on שבת remind us of חידוש העולמות, that G-d created (and is creating) the world anew ex nihilo, יש מאין, something from NOTHING. As such, the natural state of the world is NOTHING, as its “somethingness” is artificially induced and impelled (“created”) and מחודש, a miraculous novelty. שבת (return to בת, nil) reminds us of the world’s inherent nothingness before G-d, כולא קמי' כלא חשיב. All is like naught before Him. אין עוד מלבדו. There is truly NOTHING beside for Him, not even something secondary (like something called עוד, an tag-along appendage).אין עוד period. And אפס זולתו. There is ZERO except for Him. There is NONE else.

Perhaps this is why שבת is such a crucial and fundamental tenet of Torah thought, for which its desecration incurs the most serious form of death sentence in the Bible, on par with the most egregious of misdeeds like polytheistic worship. Perhaps this is because without the realization of שבת, without experiencing & acknowledging the ביטול of this world, i.e. without observing a cessation from creating & contributing to the world’s superficial “somethingness,” then one’s existence becomes truly for naught. Consequently, wanton desecration of שבת results in מָוֶת, as in מחלליה מות יומת, total negation of self, or at least כרת, being negated from one’s people, ונכרתה הנפש ההיא מקרב עמיה. (Of course, nowadays, this is all in a spiritual sense. And when Moshiach comes, it is just theoretical, since resting on Shabbos will then become intuitive and human nature.)

The ultimate state of being is achieving a sense of non-being, ביטול, or הבטלות עצמית מוחלטת.

תכלית הידיעה שלא נדעך. The ultimate knowing is the knowledge that we can’t know You.

When saying שמע, we proclaim that the entire world is nullified before ה' אחד. All four directions (symbolized by letter דל"ת, & above and below, symbolized by letter חי"ת) are בטלים ומבוטלים to אל"ף, the אלופו של עולם. Furthermore, אל"ף can be a symbol of negation too, as if it is stating that all six directions are naught before אחד האמת, the oneness of the infinite Creator.

This is notion is epitomized by שבת, the ultimate state of being for a Jew. מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ. A nation who proclaims the Oneness of G-d here on earth.

This is why we are called שומרי שבת, "the guardians of Shabbos (as in the liturgical text: "ישמחו במלכותך שומרי שבת") but not necessarily "שומרי" any other mitzva in particular! Because שמירת שבת is the hallmark of the essence of the soul. The Alter Rebbe writes in the Tanya the reason the soul is likened to a flame (as in נר ה' נשמת אדם) is because unlike everything else in this world, a flame gravitates upwards, almost as if endeavoring to leave its wick (פתיל, perhaps related to בת too) and its worldly entrapments, effectively losing its identity and very existence. So too, the G-dly soul longs to become subsumed and “nothing” within its Divine source. This phenomenon is called כלות הנפש, the soul’s longing to expire.

In Sanherdin, the gemara says שית אלפי שנין הוי עלמא, the world as we know it exists for six millennia, corresponding the six days of creation. כי אלך שנים בעיניך כיום אתמול. So what happens on the seventh millennium? The gemara says: “חד חרוב” – the seventh is a single millennium of “desolation” (like “בת” above, ביטול ושממון). 

Chassidus interprets this to mean not that the world is destroyed or literally desolate or devoid of life, but rather the world achieves a state of utter ביטול במציאות, complete sense of nothingness before G-d. This is the hallmark of the era immediately following תחיית המתים, resurrection of the dead. As mentioned above, the dead had experienced a state of total self-abnegation, and consequently bring that awareness to humanity with their return upon rising from their graves.

This idea can also be connected with the gemara’s perplexing statement (נדה סא,ב) "The mitzvos will become void in the future era (i.e. after the resurrection).” “מצוות בטלות לעתיד לבוא”, and most codifiers rule that this is indeed the halacha. Conversely, the eternal relevance of Torah and its precepts are a tenet of Jewish faith. So how are these two conflicting ideas reconciled? The key word here is בטלות, “nullified” or void. It doesn’t say that we will not observe mitzvos. It merely says that they will be nullified. One way to understand this is that mankind will achieve a state of ביטול to such an extent that we will no longer need to be commanded to perform G-d’s will, but will do so instinctively and inherently. Not that free will gets suspended, but that our free will perfectly coalesces and aligns with G-d’s will.

Another example of this idea is evident in our sages’ perplexing statement “כל המועדים עתידים ליבטל לעת"ל…” “All festivals are destined to become nullified in the future era…” Of course, the Torah and its precepts are forever, including the observance of Pesach, for example. Instead, the key here is ליבטל, to become nullified. Not that Pesach stops getting observed, but that its observance and celebration becomes “like naught”, כשרגא בטיהרא, like a small candle in the midday sun. The sublime and exultant joy of the ultimate Redemption that Israel (and all humankind) will experience on a daily basis will kind of drown out the joy of Pesach, or make it seem insignificant or “nullified,” even if its observance will be kept meticulously and joyfully too. Likewise, חד חרוב doesn’t mean Armageddon or physical destruction, but spiritual ביטול, a semblance of which we experience every week by observing שבת

That’s why the ultimate Redemption is called "יום שכולו שבת", a Day that is forever Shabbos and menucha for eternal life.

May it be speedily in our days.

Good Shabbos! Or as they say in Israel, ShaBAT Shalom.

Looking forward to hearing your comments or reBuTTaLs ;)

PS: how might this idea relate to בת, daughter? And בית, house? And Aramaic verb בת, lodge? Stay tuned to next post!

[1] Shemos 16:29 “Let every man sit in his place. Let no man leave his place on the seventh day.” “שבו איש תחתיו אל ייצא איש ממקומו ביום השביעי
[2] Isaiah 5:6
[3] Ibid 7:19
[4]  See Bereishis Rabba 31:5, on Bereishis 6:13: …"קץ כל בשר בא לפני" הגיע זמנם להקצץ הגיע זמנן לעשות בתה
[5] See Tosefta Sh’viis 3:8: "...שלש בתולות הן בתולת אדם בתולת אדמה בתולת אילן בתולת אדם כל שלא נבעלה מימיה בתולת אדמה כל שלא נעבדה מימיה רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר כל שאין בה חרס בתולת אילן כל שלא נקצצה מימיה"
See also Rambam Laws of Beis Habechira 1:14: “ומהיכן היו מביאין אבני מזבח:  מן בתולת הקרקע חופרין עד שמגיעין למקום הניכר שאינו מקום עבודה ובניין ומוציאין ממנו האבנים
[6] Koheles 12:3  וּבָטְלוּ הַטֹּחֲנוֹת כִּי מִעֵטוּ – “…the grinders cease since they have become few.” According to Rashi, the “grinders” refers to teeth. The text is referring to a person’s decline in his old age.
[7] See Edenics E-book entry BEAT
[8] As in “וכי יכה איש את עבדו...בשבט” in Shemos 21:20.
[9] בטש is a metathesis of שבט, as per Prof. Mozeson in E-book ibid.
[10] As in וַיַּךְ אֶת הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ פַּעֲמָיִם in Bamidbar 20:11.
[11] Devorim 25:3: “פן יוסיף להכותו על אלה מכה רבה ונקלה אחיך לעיניך
[12] See Rambam Laws of Divorce, end of chapter 2: “כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני” and explanation there.
[13] See Bereishis Rabbo 68:8.
[14] See Edenics E-book entry DIVE.
[15] Perhaps this can be connected to the concept of posthumous “immersion” in the ‘River of Fire’” (טבילה בנהר די נור) in Zohar.
[15a]  In particular, the similarity of בתל and פתל should be considered. Both imply a seal that proves that something hasn't been opened, penetrated or cultivated, etc. Rashi in Bamidbar 19:15 writes פתיל לשון מחובר בלשון בעברי [ס"א בלשון ערבי] וכן נפתולי אלקים נפתלתי נתחברתי עם אחותי. The ראב"ע writes that it means two פתילים (i.e. threads? Or seals?). Either way, perhaps the “connection” (חיבור) of the פתיל is in order to negate the possibility of being opened or tampered with, rendering it off-limits to an outsider, just as the דם בתולים is for the בתולה. Perhaps there’s a connection with תל (as in והיתה תל עולם לא יבנה עוד, Devarim 13:17), i.e. ruins that cannot be built or cultivated, i.e. off-limits.  ראב"ע translates תל as steep, as in הר גבוה ותלול in Ychezkel 17:22, which Metzudos translates as tall (mountain peaks). Perhaps there’s a connotation of tall and therefore inaccessible, unpassable and off-limits?
[16] Plus, there are several other מ"ם biliterals that imply a fluid-like state of negation, i.e. melt, dissolve, or blot out. מג, מק, מח that I’ll address in another post. מ"ם is emblematic of water, מים, and hence the watery forms of breaking down. Furthermore, מת means death or dying, liquidation in the biological sense. And death only applies to something that was once alive, which was only possible with H2O, מים.
[17] Avos, end of chapter 2.
[18] On Bereishis 28:13, from Midrash Tanchuma.

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