Terumah 5784


Colorful creature characteristics[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם…וערת תחשים
And this is the donation that you shall take from them…the skins of the tachash[2]

One of the fundamental parts of the Mishkan, the portable Temple that accompanied the Jews in the wilderness, was tachash skins. Rashi tells us[3] that they were beautifully composed of many colors. What animal was the tachash? It’s hard to know[4]. Our Sages tell us that it was a creature that only existed at that specific time, never to exist again[5].

Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates[6] תחש as ססגונא. Rashi explains[7] that this is a contraction of two words: סס גוונא. The first word is homonymic with שש, rejoicing, and גוונא is Aramaic for colors. This teaches us that the tachash rejoices[8] in its colors, as it was a multicolored creature. One could ask how Rashi[9] knows that ססגונא is a description of the tachash, and not simply the Aramaic word for tachash.

We can explain based on the understanding that Adam, the first man, named all of the animals, solidifying their identity forever[10]. As well, we know that all of the different languages developed only after the sin at the Tower of Babel. This included Aramaic[11]. Now, our Sages told us that the tachash only existed at that time in the wilderness, for the purpose of the Mishkan. If so, it would come out then that the tachash wasn’t around at the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Aramaic language developed. If so, why did the Targum Onkelos translate tachash as ססגונא, instead of keeping it as tachash? There is no Aramaic word for tachash! It must be then as Rashi says, that the Targum is providing us with a description of the tachash, not a translation. Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Chanukas HaTorah parshas Terumah § 92

[2] Exodus 25:3,5

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Midrash Tanchuma Terumah § 6 presents a dispute about the characteristics/identity of the tachash. Rabbi Yehuda says it was a kosher undomesticated animal with a single horn on its forehead, whose skin was composed of six colors (perhaps related to the Aramaic translation; see below and Radak’s Sefer HaShorashim). It sounds somewhat like a unicorn. Rabbi Nechemiah says it existed only at that time. Although, I’m not sure why they have to be arguing. Shabbos 28ab brings a discussion if the tachash was a kosher animal or not, and seems to conclude that it was. Instead of Rabbi Yehuda, it is Rabbi Meir who says that it had a single horn. See also Yerushalmi Shabbos 2:3 with Korbon Ha’Eidah and Penei Moshe. There, it is Rabbi Hoshaya who says it had a single horn

[5] Ibid, and Rashi loc. cit.

[6] Exodus 25:5

[7] Ad. loc.

[8] Cf. Aruch, who says that it was Moshe who rejoiced in its colors

[9] Really, this question is on Shabbos 28a, the source for Rashi’s comment, but the Chanukas HaTorah asks it on Rashi. He asks further why did Rashi choose to elaborate on this Aramaic translation, although Rashi does this on occasion so its unclear if this is a difficulty

[10] See Genesis 2:20 with Rashi. I don’t understand the relevance of this point for the Chanukas HaTorah (besides the issue raised in the next note)

[11] This premise of the Chanukas HaTorah is difficult with Sanhedrin 38b, which says that Adam HaRishon spoke Aramaic. In fact, Gur Aryeh to Deuteronomy 32:21 § 13 says that the Chaldeans, whose language was Aramaic, didn’t participate in the Tower of Babel. Their language didn’t result from the Tower of Babel, for why should they be punished for something they didn’t do? He says that this is why their language isn’t included in the “seventy languages” described by Chazal. See also Gevuros Hashem Chapter 54