Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Support (Tazria)

painted figures holding hands in a line

The Torah Text

Leviticus 13:59, the last verse in Parshat Tazria, offers a concluding description of the preceding procedures for dealing with tzara’at in various domestic materials. “Such is the procedure for eruptive affections of cloth, woolen or linen, in warp or in woof, or of any article of skin, for pronouncing it clean or unclean” (NJPS Translation). The OJPS Translation makes clearer the Hebrew syntax, which Ibn Ezra will comment on with his own wordplay.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

זאת תורת נגע צרעת בגד הצמר. ארבע סמוכים ויש במקרא חמש גבורי חיל מלאכת עבודת בית ה, וכלם סמוכים אל השם שהוא סומך לכל הנופלים

Leviticus 13:59 SUCH IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE OF LEPROSY IN A GARMENT OF WOOL. Our verse has four words in the construct (semikhut). Elsewhere in Scripture we find five words in the construct. Compare, Gibore chayil melechet avodat bet ha-Elohim (very able men for the work of the service of the house of God) (1 Chronicles 9:13). They all depend (semukhim) on God, who supports (somekh) all who fall. (Translation Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Semikhut is a Hebrew structure that joins two or more nouns together into a compound phrase. This is similar to the process in English where you might change the phrase “the dweller in the city” to “the city dweller”. It is more concise.

The word “semikhut” literally means “supporting”, and refers to the way each word becomes a crucial link in a chain, rather than being independent units of meaning. So Ibn Ezra puns, suggesting that God, who is called “[One who] supports all who fall]” in Psalm 145, also undergirds such elaborate grammatical structures.

What structures in the natural world or the symbolic/imaginative worlds help you perceive the supportive presence of God?

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.