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Ecclesiastes 3:5

I need to find a way to do these every week, not every other week.

3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
3:5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
3:7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Today’s pairs are 3:5: A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

Transliterating:

ayt l’hashleekh avaneem/v’ayt k’nos avaneem/ayt lakhavoak/v’ayt lirkhoak maykhabayk

Words:

  1. shlkh, cast; ’vn, stone. The verb is used for literal throwing and for casting out metaphorically. Joseph is cast into a pit; Moses casts down his rod and later the stone tablets of the law; the Psalmist casts his shoe over Edom; Jeremiah describes the great wailing out of Zion for they have forsaken the land and the dwellings have cast them out; Ezekiel instructed us to cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, but we did not. Stones are, well, stones, sometimes precious, sometimes worked, most often just stones. The phrase literally means throwing rocks. In idiom or metaphor, well, we’ll get to that, right?
  2. kns, collect; ’vn, stone (again). Collect or gather, mostly used for people (Esthers asks Mordecai to gather together the Jews for a fast; the Psalmist has the Lord gathering the outcasts of Israel) but also for objects. It’s not the common word for either, though. It’s not clear to me if this phrase literally means collecting stones or stacking them—some translators like to call it heaping up. Not much difference, although a different image.
  3. khvk, embrace. Another fairly uncommon word in Scripture. Oddly, this is the only place it appears without a direct object (grammatically speaking) though it’s an unusual construction anyway.
  4. rkhk, far; khvk, embrace. Literally to go far from embracing. To put away, like to put away a wife or to push off one’s bad habits or transgressions. Perhaps in this case avoid has something of the connotation? I think it’s not just not embracing, it’s actively removing from the place of embracing.

I am having difficulty working up a segue into my big discovery of this verse: the idiomatic meaning of cast away stones. From the Midrash Rabba:

A time to cast away stones: at the time when your wife is ritually clean; And a time to gather stones together; at the time when your wife is ritually unclean. A time to embrace: if you see a band of righteous men standing anywhere, do you stand, embrace, kiss and show them affection; and a time to refrain from embracing: if you see a band of wicked men, keep far away from them and those like them.

The Sages of Blessed Memory clearly understood cast away stones as sex, which, wow would I not have guessed that. I may have been casting away stones incorrectly. I mean, is that technically a euphemism or a dysphemism? Yeesh. Casting away stones. I’m not even… I mean, I suppose the… stones… no, that’s just wrong.

Anyway.

A time to cast away stones and a time to gather them; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing. I’m stuck on the choice to use objects in some of the verses and not others. In verse 3, it’s just break down and build up, but here it’s cast away and gather stones. What does it bring to the verse to have an object or not have it? Is there a time for avoiding all embraces whatsoever, or are there particular embraces at particular times that one must avoid (or that one cannot help but avoid, as it is not their time)? The Hebrew particularly brings out the difference in structure, I think, in a way that the English doesn’t so much, just because the previous two verses have a perfectly balanced eight words and this one has eleven and feels much less balanced. With the trope (or cantillation) it would be even more obvious, as verses 3 and 4 have exactly the same trope; verses 2 and 5 are similar to each other in trope but not identical, and are substantially different from 3 and 4. The broken rhythm may help keep the verse from becoming rumpty-tumpty as it is chanted. I wonder.

In fact, it occurs to me that there’s a sort of structural metaphor here that can call back to the (very different) poetry of the first chapter: the notion that the world consists of simultaneous change and consistency, that there is simultaneously nothing new under the sun and constant variation in everything. One generation passeth away and another cometh: but the earth abideth for ever, you know? One verse gives way to the next, one pair to the next with the verse, and they are both the same and different.

Or that may be a stretch. We have three more pairs of pairs left—this is the middle one, the pivot, if that’s worth noting, between the stones business and the embraces—and there remains the chance of a different pattern emerging. I hope.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

My Best Reader was wondering about the other famous scriptural sex-related casting of stones, which in John 8:7 is λίθον ἐπ᾽ αὓτη βαλέτω, a stone at her cast. In the LXX Greek, our verse from Ecclesiastes has βαλεῖν λίθους. It seems like it's the same phrase, maybe, although if so John didn't choose to phrase it in a way that appears to deliberately evoke Ecclesiastes.

Thanks,
-V.


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