Resumptive Repetition

Resumptive Repetition

Interactive Learning Module

Resumptive Repetition in Shemot 6

1. Introduction

  • לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו כאן.‏
  • One of the key differences between Midrashic and Peshat exegesis is the way each relates to apparent redundancies in the Biblical text.
  • Midrash will often seek meaning in repetition, distinguishing between each appearance of a phrase or event and demonstrating that each word has its own significance.
  • In contrast, Peshat commentators often attribute repetition to "דרכי המקראות", recognizing some reiterations to be literary or stylistic devices.
  • Doublings might come to elaborate on and clarify a previous statement, connect narratives, highlight an important point, or simply beautify the text.
  • At times, too, they might simply reflect everyday speech in which repetition is a natural means of expressing strong emotions or emphasis.

2. Resumptive Repetition

  • This module will explore several cases of repetition in Tanakh, focusing on a specific literary device that might be used to explain them, a technique known as "resumptive repetition".
  • Since Tanakh does not have parentheses, commas, and other similar markers, it will sometimes use repetition to hint to the reader that a section of text is parenthetical. By repeating the last statement made before the digression, Tanakh lets the reader know that the tangent has ended and that the earlier narrative is now resuming.
  • In each example below, we will contrast this Peshat approach with other explanations offered for the duplication, thereby better appreciating each of the various options.
  • IY"H, future modules will highlight other roles played by Biblical repetition.

3. Illustrating the Technique: Shemot 6

  • Let's illustrate the device of resumptive repetition through a well-known example from Shemot 6:10-30 which discuss Hashem's tasking of Moshe and Aharon to speak with Paroh.
  • Scan the unit. Which verses appear redundant, repeated almost verbatim? [Click here to compare them in the Tanakh Lab and then return to the Mikraot Gedolot.]
  • How does Lekach Tov on verse 30 explain the doubling of Moshe's complaint, "הֵן אֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתַיִם"?
  • Given that the text does not imply that any time elapsed between the two verses, what is somewhat difficult about his suggestion?

4. After a Break

  • Lekach Tov assumes that verses 10-12 and 29-30 comprise two distinct conversations and that Moshe repeated his request that Hashem solve his speech impediment.
  • Compare Rashi on verses 29-30. Click on the small arrow in the grey bar of the commentator pane and choose from the drop-down menu, or press here.
  • Make sure to look at the footnote on verse 30 which includes a version of Rashi's comments cited by Ramban and found in the Rome printing of Rashi's commentary but which is not found in many manuscripts.
  • According to Rashi, what role is played by the repetition? To what does he compare it? What terminology does Rashi use to express the concept of a narrative resumption?

5. A Way of the Text

  • Rashi asserts that the doubled verses in Shemot 6 describe one and the same incident. The repetition serves a practical function, to resume the narrative which had been interrupted by Moshe and Aharon's genealogy. It is comparable to one who says, "let's return to where we left off".
  • Let's look quickly at two similar examples where the technique is easy to spot, helping us recognize that resumptive repetition is not exceptional, but a prevalent Biblical literary device.
  • Scan the first section of Bemidbar 13, comparing verses 3-4 with verses 16-17. How might the concept of narrative resumption explain the doubling?
  • How, in contrast, does Ibn Ezra on verse 16, explain the repetition? Why might he prefer not to posit that there is resumptive repetition here?
  • Now, look at Melakhim II 17. Compare verses 6 and 23. What information disrupts the story-line in the middle, necessitating the text to repeat that the nation was exiled?

6. "אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי י"י"

  • The examples brought above involve fairly obvious and somewhat lengthy parenthetical notes, where the need for a narrative resumption is understandable. Other repetitions, though, involve digressions which might be less evident and the subject of greater dispute.
  • Let's look at one such example in the first four verses of Vayikra 23. Which verse here appears redundant? How do commentators explain the dual heading?
  • Look at Sifra and Rashi on verse 4. What do they learn from the doubling? Is this the simple meaning of the verses?
  • How, in contrast, does Ibn Ezra (on verses 2 and 4) understand the repetition? According to him, what is the relationship between Shabbat and other holidays? Is verse 3 a digression?

7. Shabbat is Exceptional

  • The Midrash imparts significance to each of the headings in Vayikra 23 by claiming that each is necessary for the derivation of distinct halakhot not explicitly mentioned in the chapter.
  • Ibn Ezra, in contrast, maintains that the double opening is necessary for the chapter itself as it comes to introduce two types of "מועדים": the weekly Shabbat and the rest of the holidays. According to him, the mention of Shabbat is not parenthetical at all.
  • Compare his reading to that of Ramban on verse 2, starting with the paragraph that begins "והנכון בעיני". Does Ramban view Shabbat as a "Moed"? What proof does he bring to support his position? Why, according to him, is Shabbat mentioned here?
  • How does Ramban understand the relationship between the headings of verses 2 and 4? What accounts for the repetition? How are these verses similar to Shemot 35:1-4?
  • Why, though, is Shabbat not simply mentioned before the first heading? What is served by interrupting the storyline, especially if this then necessitates a repetition?

8. "וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל"

  • According to Ramban, Vayikra 23:4 is not a new heading, but a resumptive repetition of verse 2, serving to reintroduce the festivals after the text had digressed to set up a contrast with Shabbat. It is comparable to Shemot 35:1-4, where there, too, Shabbat is mentioned only as an aside, interrupting the main narrative and necessitating a resumptive repetition.
  • Let's now turn to another possible case of resumptive repetition where the phenomenon might be similarly difficult to identify, both because the digression is not self-evident and because the repetition serves to resume a narrative found in an entirely different book.
  • Scan the opening verses of Sefer Shemot. Look at Rashi on verse 1. What is troubling him about the verse? When were Yaakov's sons previously enumerated? [See Bereshit 46:8.]
  • How does Rashi on Shemot 1:1 account for the doubling? Compare his comments here to his remarks on both Vayikra 1:1 and Bemidbar 1:1.
  • Does the fact that Rashi consistently mentions Hashem's love for the nation in his opening comments to each Sefer strengthen or weaken his argument here?
  • How, in contrast, does Rashbam explain the repetition?

9. Bridging Books: Bereshit and Shemot

  • Rashi provides a homiletical reason for the double listing of Yaakov's sons, claiming that it highlights Hashem's love for them. In contrast, Rashbam prefers to view the repetition as a literary device. The listing of the original descendants to Egypt serves as an introduction and contrast to the nation's later proliferation.
  • Now, look at Ramban on verse 1. According to him, what role does the repetition play? What narrative is Sefer Shemot resuming?
  • How does this fit with Ramban's conception of Sefer Shemot as a book about "הגלות הראשון ובגאולה ממנו? What does it imply about how he views the last few chapters of Sefer Bereshit?
  • Does the fact that the repetition serves to bridge two books and resume a narrative that took place several full chapters beforehand make this example qualitatively different than the earlier ones mentioned? Why or why not?

10. A Parallel Case: Ezra 1

  • Ramban compares the case of narrative resumption at the beginning of Sefer Shemot to the similar phenomenon in the opening verses of the Book of Ezra.
  • Access the Tanakh Lab to see how verses 1-2 there echo the closing verses of Divrei HaYamim II.
  • How might this, too, be viewed as a resumptive repetition?
  • How are the two cases similar?
  • Where do they nonetheless differ? In the case of Ezra and Divrei HaYamim, what is the "digression" from which the narrator needs to resume?

11. Yehoshua's Death

  • Ramban suggests that books in Tanakh might open with a citation from the ending of a previous book. This clues the reader into the fact that the two books are connected, one resuming the narrative of the other.
  • Another example of this phenomenon might be found in Shofetim 2. Compare verses 6-9 there with Yehoshua 24:28-31. [To easily align the two passages, access the Tanakh Lab.] Why is the death of Yehoshua repeated?
  • What does Rashi on Shofetim 2:6 suggest? [For another example where repetition of a death notice can be understood as a flashback necessary to better understand the continuation of the narrative, see Shemuel I 28:3 and commentators there.]
  • How, in contrast, might one read Shofetim 2:6-9 as a resumptive repetition? If one takes this approach, what does it suggest about where the main body of Sefer Shofetim begins? What does it imply about Shofetim 1-2:5?

12. Double Conquest?

  • Scan Shofetim 1 and note that the verses we just read are not the only ones to recall Sefer Yehoshua.
  • Which other events in the chapter have been mentioned previously? Compare, for instance, verses 10-16, 21 with Yehoshua 15:13-20, 63 and verse 27 with Yehoshua 17:11-12.
  • How are these doublings to be understood? When did these events actually occur, before or after Yehoshua's death?
  • What does Ralbag on Shofetim 1:10 claim? According to him, why is the conquest mentioned earlier if it first occurred here?
  • What, in contrast, does Rid suggest? How might reading Shofetim 2:6-9 as a resumptive repetition support his position?

13. Indicator of Simultaneity

  • Viewing the repetition of Yehoshua's death as a narrative resumption serves to connect the books of Yehoshua and Shofetim and further implies that the main storyline of the book begins in Chapter 2, while the events of Chapter 1 overlap with those of Sefer Yehoshua.
  • Other cases of resumptive repetition might similarly point to an achronological storyline, serving not only to resume a previous narrative but to highlight that the intervening unit occurred simultaneously with the surrounding story.
  • A classic example is found in the account of the sale of Yosef. Compare Bereshit 39:1 with Bereshit 37:36.

14. Sale of Yosef

  • Bereshit 39:1 effectively paraphrases Bereshit 37:36, repeating the fact of Yosef's sale.
  • How does Rashi on Bereshit 39:1 understand the purpose of the paraphrase? What story had interrupted the Yosef saga? [Scan Bereshit 38.]
  • How is this digression different from many of the examples mentioned above? Does it provide background or explanatory notes which are necessary to understand the surrounding story? Why, then, does it interrupt the story line?
  • Compare Rashi and Bereshit Rabbah (אות ב) with Ibn Ezra and Ralbag on Bereshit 38:1.
  • According to each, when do the events of Chapter 38 take place? Why is the story recorded in this place?

15. More Split Screens

  • According to Ibn Ezra and Ralbag, the story of Yehuda and Tamar overlaps in time with the story of the sale of Yosef. Rather than interweaving the two stories, Tanakh focuses on each individually in the textual equivalent of a split screen, hinted at by the resumptive repetition of 39:1.
  • Let's look at a similar example.
  • Scan Shemuel I Chapters 28 and 29. What storyline is cut off after 28:2? Where does it resume?
  • What takes places in between these two sets of verses?
  • How do the events of each chapter relate to each other? When do they likely take place?
  • How does the resumptive repetition help indicate that this is a forked narrative, telling of two concurrent events? If there had been no repetition, and the original narrative had not been broken off, would the simultaneity of the two stories be as evident?

16. Yonatan and Shaul

  • We'll end with one final example of resumptive repetition which serves both to resume a narrative due to a parenthetical break and to point to a simultaneously occurring event.
  • Turn to Shemuel I 14:1-10. which describes Yonatan's daring foray into the Philistine camp. Which two verses are almost identical?
  • How does Malbim on verse 1 understand the doubling?
  • How, in contrast, might the repetition be viewed as a narrative resumption? What purpose does the intervening digression serve? What simultaneous storyline does it allude to? What background information does it provide?
  • Had the Yonatan narrative not been cut off and then resumed, would the synchroneity be as recognizable?

17. Summary

  • The literary device of resumptive repetition has been used by Peshat exegetes to explain many cases of seeming redundancy in the Biblical text.
  • The repetition serves a practical function, to resume a narrative after a parenthetical digression or at the beginning of a new book, and at times also to highlight achronology in the text, hinting to two simultaneous storylines.
  • Often the digression necessitating the resumption is several verses long, but it might be as short as one verse (or even a phrase) or, alternatively, it might encompass full chapters.
  • While the doubled verses are sometimes almost linguistically identical, in other cases one might be a paraphrase of the other.
  • As is often the case, contrasting this literary approach with other more Midrashic approaches, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each, can enrich one's study, leading to new insights and revelations.

17. Additional Reading