Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What does אחרון mean in Biblical Hebrew? Updated 12/10

In modern hebrew it means last. Does it also mean last in Biblical Hebrew?

RHS mentioned the following. Someone once asked the Tosfos Yom Tov how do we believe that there is going to be a third Beis Hamikdash, after all the pasuk in חגי talking about the Second Beis Hamikdash states: גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון, the pasuk states that the second Beis Hamikdash is the אחרון, the last one?

He answered based on a pasuk on this week's parsha (וישלח). The pasuk says: וישם את השפחות ואת ילדיהן ראשונה ואת לאה וילדיה אחרונים ואת רחל ואת יוסף אחרונים

Leah and her children were second in line followed by Rachel and yet the pasuk says with regards to Leah and her children, אחרונים and then the pasuk says Rachel and Yosef אחרונים. We see clearly that אחרון does not mean last but rather just means after. Therefore the Tosfos Yom Tov said, that is what the pasuk in חגי means as well, אחרון does not mean last but rather means the one after the first.


The Torah Temima quotes the Tosfos Yom Tov (דמאי ז:ג) on that pasuk. The Tosfos Yom Tov is explaining the use of the word אחרון in Mishnaic Hebrew, there also it means after and not last.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

One very good way to approach the precise meaning of words in Tanakh is to consult a concordance and lexicon and carefully examine each use of a word to look for clues from context (isn't that what the Tosfos Yom Tov seems to have done? He compared uses of the same word).

For example, there is Strong's Concordance which is available online (I don't know if it doesn't contain some errors--even very good works sometimes contain mistakes--also, you can't rely on the translation at all).

In searching here I saw that there are 48 appearances of "ahron" in Tanakh (I may have micounted by one or two). Although I did not look at each of them (might not be a bad idea) I was struck with one use of the one "ahron": Yeshaya 44:6 "I am rishon and I am ahron." Could that really mean "I am first and I am what comes after first" to the exclusion of the absolute end? That seems tenuous to me. No? In fact, the passuk continues to clarify that "וּמִבַּלְעָדַי אֵין אֱלֹהִים" which would seem to indicate that here "last" is meant, and not just "after first."

bluke said...

It may have both meanings. What the Tosfos Yom Tov showed is that it is used at least some times to mean after first. He brings another proof as well. When Hashem gives Moshe the miracles that he is to do before Paroah, so it says ואם לא יאמינו לאות האחרון, then do the next one which was turning the Nile into blood. Again, אחרון is clearly not last as there was another אות afterwards.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I don't think it was in doubt that it had both meanings. The trick is to discern which meaning where the context leaves it ambiguous. I don't have the hubris to say that I know peshat in a passuk better than TYT; I just don't see how this is proof. It's sort of hanging the desired meaning onto the word. It could mean after, but it also could mean last.

I plan to study this further. It could well be that the context shows that this means after.

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

I have this in the name of the Gr'a. In my version, it goes like this:
The Gaon replied: "The word acharon can mean 'last' or it can mean 'second'. Whenever acharon is preceded by the word 'first', as it is in the context you cite, its meaning is 'second' and not 'last.' In Shemos 4:8-9 when Hashem says to Moshe, 'And it will be that if they (the Children of Israel) do not believe you and they will not heed the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the second – acharon - sign. And it shall be that if they do not believe even these two signs and do not heed your voice, then you shall take from the water of the River and pour it out on the dry land, and the water...will become blood... Clearly the word acharon does not mean 'the last' but 'the latter.' "
The Torah contains remozim for all times and all places, and in Shemos 12:12 the Torah alludes to your kashe and the answer. It says here: "V’hoyoh lochem hadahm l’ohs ahl habatim." In other words, the fact that even after referring to the second sign given to Moshe as achron a third one was provided is a rayoh that the same is true when the Bayis Sheini is referred to as acharon, that it will be followed by a Bayis Shlishi.

nyfunnyman said...

the best r'aya to this is the fac that when rashi writes "acharon acharon chaviv" he does it on LEAH- the first time the pasuk says the word acharonim, not rochel, the second.