Rashbam: Scraping the Barrel (Metzora)

Rashbam has very little to say about Metzora. A lot of it is very technical, so I’m scraping the barrel in finding a comment I feel excited to explore.

One section of this Torah portion describes what happens when a house, rather than a person, is afflicted by the mysterious surface condition called tzara’at. If it is found, Leviticus 14:41 tells us: “And [the priest] shall cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the mortar that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place.”

Basically, you have to scrape the surface of the house and remove everything to the landfill area beyond the city.

Rashbam is curious about the word “to scrape.” The first use in the sentence has the letter ayin, while the second use does not. Are these the same word or not?

Yaktzia means “to scrape,” just like the verse (Isaiah 44:13), “He forms it with scraping tools (b’miktzo’ot with an ayin).” And [the word also appears] in the Talmud (Mishnah Kelim 27:4), “One who scrapes (with an ayin) a hand’s breadth from any of them.” [Other similar verbs in this text] have [a different root; they are from a] weak final-heh root (instead of an ayin). But it would appear that those verbs should also be understood as meaning “to scrape.” Since it says below (Lev. 14:43) “after scraping (without an ayin) while the language used before that [in our verse] is “he shall scrape (with an ayin) the house,” this shows that the verbs qoof-tzadi-ayin and qoof-tzadi-hey mean the same thing. (Translation adapted from Martin Lockshin)

Phew. Here’s the tl;dr: Two words appear to mean the same thing, but have a different final root letter (Hebrew words usually have three root letters). Rashbam concludes that they do mean the same thing. Even if they are different words technically.

I’ll conclude with an observation about this word scrape. It evokes a shallow depth, getting below the surface but just barely. In Leviticus, scraping is sufficient to transform a damaged structure into a whole structure. The very slight different pronunciation between the letters ayin and hey gets scraped away by the commentators, leaving two different words in harmony with each other.

Where in your life would just a little scraping make a big difference?

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.