Explanation of an ambiguous verse of Mishle 26:10.


Chaim Sunitsky.


In this post I want to discuss various explanations of a very obscure verse in the Book of Proverbs 26:10[1] and especially concentrate in its Aramaic translation.



Most words of this verse are ambiguous and the general meaning is unclear. Some say that the word Rav here is master (possibly Hashem), others say it means a lot or big, and some render it as archer[2], and others explain it is the one who quarrels (from the word Riv). Meholel may mean makes or wounds. Socher usually means hiring but can also mean corking[3]. The last word Ovrim may mean passersby or transgressors.


Some possible translations are[4]:


Hashem Who created everything hires (or rewards) fools and transgressors (or passersby)[5].


A master performs all things but the one who hires a fool is like hiring a [random] passerby.


Although quarrelsome man damages everything, he hires fools and transgressors (or only fools and transgressors benefit from his actions)[6].


Like an archer who wounds everyone [at random], so is the one who hires a fool or hires any passerby.


A master performs all things; but he that stops a fool is as one that stops a flood.


At any rate our Masoretic text is at the very least difficult[7] and it is not surprising that alternative texts seemed to have existed. The following the English translation of the Septuagint[8]:


All flesh of fools is much exposed to winter cold, for their trance is being shattered.


Let us now examine our Aramaic Targum[9] printed in standard Mikraot Gedolot:




I think this means: Many are afflictions of the flesh of a fool, but a drunkard [is so bold he thinks he can] cross the sea[11]. It might mean that while even a fool normally is afraid to get hurt, a drunkard is never afraid of anything[12].


The main question is what was the original Hebrew for these translations? It is clear the last part of the verse was not  but[13]  and the word was vocalized as (drunkard)[14]. But what was the first part of the verse? I can only guess that that instead of the words  the manuscript used by this Targum had one word . The verse then read:



In conclusion I hope that this short post will inspire further examination of our Targum to Ketuvim and its possible connection to Peshitta[15].

[1] In my mind this may be the most difficult verse in Mishle to translate. Indeed the Artscroll commentary writes that the translation of virtually every word in this verse is subject to dispute.

[2] See Radak on Yirmiyahu 50:29.

[3] See Rashi, Yeshayahu 19:10.

[4] See also Ibn Ezra, Ralbag and Rashi for other possible explanations of this verse.

[5] It may actually be a continuation of previous verse that mentions that a drunkards use of a parable is like a thorn stuck to his hand. According to this, our verse tells us a parable of a drunkard: Hashem created everything and he feeds even fools and transgressors who also fulfil His ultimate purpose (Meam Loez in the name of R. Nehemias, see also Malbim).

[6] Or maybe he uses fools and transgressors as accomplices (see GRA).

[7] Of course simply because the text is difficult does not imply that the alternate text is to be preferred. Often the exact opposite is true. Its more likely that some copyist changed a difficult original text that he couldnt explain, than that the clear original would be copied incorrectly producing illegible text (see Shadal, Bemidbar 35:4-5). We must note however that there were at least some corruptions in the Masoretic texts of Mishle, for example there is an uncertainty whether the last word of verse 8:16 is or . Still there are no other major differences in Masoretic texts of Mishle, the way there are major discrepancies regarding whole verses in Yehoshua (21:36) and Nehemia (7:68), see Minhat Shai there. As we will see below, the text before the Targum at times differed from our Masoretic text. As a side note, the GRA believed that not all of Mishle is from Shlomo Hamelech (see for instance his commentary to verse 24:23). Interestingly there is at least one verse in that section (24:33) that is identical to a verse attributed to Shlomo (6:10). (I dont know in the Book of Mishle why there are identical proverbs, e.g. 18:8=26:22, 14:12=16:25 as well as very similar ones 21:9 is almost the same as 25:24 and very similar to 21:19, 22:3 is similar to 27:12, 19:24 to 26:15, and 19:1 to 28:6, possibly their location and context matters too.)

[8] I dont know from what original Hebrew this translation could have com.

[9] It is assumed that the Targum on Ketuvim was made in the Land of Israel and while its style is more similar to Onkelos (meaning it just follows the plain meaning of the text) its language is more similar to Pseudo-Yonatan on the Torah and other Targumim from Israel, and not similar to Onkelos or Targum Yonatan on Neviim. One common example is that Onkelos and Yonatan both use for Hebrew while the Targum on Ketuvim and Pseudo-Yonatan on Chumash uses or . Maharitz Hajes (Imre Bina, 4) writes that the Targum on Ketuvim has very few drashot and indeed this Targum is very close to the pshat (as we will later see it is also similar to Peshitta which is indeed trying to just bring the simple meaning of the verse). Note that according to some opinions our Onkelos on the Humash and Yonatan on Neviim were not made in the Land of Israel since they both use Babylonian language and grammar. It is possible that the original authors were Onkelos and Yonatan and the Targumim were later edited in Babel to fit the needs of Babylonian Jewry. There is also a possibility that Akilas only translated into Greek but his translation was used as a base to produce Babylonian translation which in their accent was called Onkelos (these questions are discussed at length in letters of Shir to Shadal.) At any rate our Onkelos and Yonatan are very well accepted, used by Rishonim and even in Halachic matters (see Rambam, Kle Hamikdash, 10:2). The Targumim on Ketuvim printed in Mikraot Gedolot may be of late origin and they are not used by Rashi (see Imrei Bina, 5 and Yeshurun vol. 34, page 722 for a discussion on this topic). Similarly Radak apparently did not see or rely on this Targum as he does not refer to it in his commentary to Tehilim, while he does constantly mention Yonatan in his commentary on prophets). Interestingly Rashbam does bring Targum of R. Yosef to Ketuvim in his commentary to Shemot 15:2 and Vayikra 20:17, but in the first case the Targum he brings is totally different from the one we have, and in the second case its similar but with different spelling of words, so it would seem that he had access to some other Targum to Ketuvim different from ours. There are a number of examples where the Targum on Ketuvim has different vocalization than the Masoretic Text, e.g. Mishle 12:28 is translated as if it is (towards death) not (not death). Some other examples are Mishle 30:31 and Tehilim 50:23 (see Minhat Shai there). Shadal in his Vikuah, page 97 brings other examples from Mishle 20:4, 20:14, 26:10. However this is not limited to Targumim on Ketuvim but is found in other words of Hazal (Shadal, ibid) including (though this is less common) Targum Yonatan on Neviim, see for instance Yeshayahu 56:11, 58:3, Hoshea 12:1, Zecharia 14:5, Yehezkel 28:12, see Minhat Shai there (the examples here and below are from Shadal ibid and from Zunz, Toldot Rashi, footnote 56, and some are my own). As a side note, while it is accepted today that Shadal is correct and the nekudot and taamim signs didnt exist in the times of Hazal, this particular proof is not conclusive, as not both the Targum on Ketuvim and even the Targum on Neviim also differ from the Masoretic Text on word divisions, flipping letters and the order of letters, see for instance Tehilim 7:5, 49:12, 53:2, 54:5, 71:3, Mishle 12:21, Melachim 1:20:33, Yehoshua 9:4, see Radak there (there are more examples of this). The general pattern is that the Targum on Nevvim is less likely than the Targum on Ketuvim to have a variant from our Masoretic text on both consonantal level and on the level of nekudot. At any rate, just as there were differences in consonantal text, there could have been even more differences in nekudot even if they already existed in manuscripts in the times of Hazal (see also Rivash 284). Indeed it is even easier to make a mistake when copying vowels or dagesh (see Minhat Shai on Shemot 2:4) and other dots causing for instance shin-sin variations (see Yeshayahhu 58:3; this happens even in our day with printing, see for instance the new Hamaor edition of Mikraot Gedolot, Bereshit 6:20, 33:1 and 37:34 where Shin is printed instead of Sin). Another side note: R. Reuben Margolis (Hamikra Vehamesorah, 17) suggests that the opinion of R. Yehoshua (or according to some versions R. Akiva) in the Mishna (Avoda Zara 29b) is that the vowels of the word in Shir Hashirim (1:2) are breasts, like in the Septuagint translation. According to this we understand the relevance of the discussion in the Talmud in regards to the non-Jewish cheese. The first verses of Shir Hashirim (1:2-3) describe the special Jewish milk (coming from breasts), wine and oil, hinting to the prohibitions the sages made for these non-Jewish products (see also Maharsha, Avoda Zara 35a who writes something very similar).

[10] Interestingly the Syriac Peshitta is almost identical: ܣܲܓ̇ܝܼ ܚܵܐܹ̇ܫ ܒܸܣܪܹܗ ܕܣܲܟ݂ܠܵܐ. ܘܪܵܘܝܵܐ ܥ̣ܒܲܪ ܝܲܡܵܐ which transliterates into Hebrew the same way as our Targum except the second word is not and is spelled without a yod. Another interesting correspondence between Peshitta and our Aramaic Targum is in another obscure verse 11:15: . According to Hazal (Yevamot 109b) this is suggesting not being a guarantor of loans and should therefore be translated as: The one who acts as guarantor causes harm to himself, but the one who hates handshakes will be secure. However the Aramaic Targum is: The wicked one does evil to the righteous for he mingles with strangers and hates those who trust Hashem. Here too the Peshitta is quite similar: ܒܝܼܫܵܐ ܡܲܒ̣ܐܸܫ ܡܵܐ ܕܐܵܪܲܥ ܠܙܲܕ̇ܝܼܩܵܐ. ܡܸܛܠ ܕܣܵܢܹ̇ܐ ܠܕ݂ܵܡܣܲܟܹ̇ܝܢ ܠܣܲܒ̣ܪܵܐ ( ) which Dr. George Lamsa translates as The wicked oppresses the righteous when he meets him, because he hates those who wait and hope. Similarly in the examples given by Shadal, Peshitta translates the verses similarly to our Aramaic Targum and not like the Masoretic vocalization. Similarly another very obscure verse in Mishle (30:31) has both our Targum and Peshitta add extra words, (something they usually dont do), to give very similar explanations. However there are cases when Peshitta has a completely different translation than our Targum. For example, the obscure verse of Mishle 14:9, where Peshitta apparently has instead of , but our Targum understands it to mean rather than between according to Masoretic text. The first part of that verse is also totally different in Peshitta than in our Targum. In Tehilim 53:2 and 54:5 our Targum differs from the Masoretic text, but Peshitta follows Masorah.

[11] We have a similar expression in Russian: ему море по колено, which means he thinks the sea only reaches his ankles.

[12] This way the verse is parallel to the previous one where a fool and a drunkard are also compared.

[13] We find a similar case in Targum Yonatan on Neviim (Melachim 1:20:33) where the translation is apparently assumes that the words were split differently than our Masoretic Text, see also Radak there.

[14] See Shadal ibid. Its also possible to suggest that the Targum is not trying to translate literally but is using the method found in hundreds of places in Hazal al tikra A ele B (dont read A, rather B). This however is difficult to accept as we mentioned in an earlier note, our Targum to Ketuvim is trying to just translate according to the pshat and the same is true about Peshitta (hence its name). Moreover, in some verses its completely impossible to accept this, as for instance in the example I mentioned earlier: 12:28 , for the drash dont read A, rather B should certainly not change the meaning of the words to their exact opposite.

[15] Regarding the general reliability of Peshitta, see Dr. Marc Shapiro, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, starting with page 168.