What does “Pesach” mean? Rashi (to Exodus 12:11 and 12:13 and Isaiah 31:5) explains that it is an expression of dilug and kefitzah (types of jumping).
These two words appear side by side in a Biblical passage that we read every year on the Shabbat of Pesach: “The voice of my beloved – behold it comes – jumps (midaleg) over the mountains, jumps (mikapetz) over the hills (Song of Songs 2:8). What’s the difference between “dilug” and “kefitzah”?
In elucidating this verse, the Vilna Gaon explains, based on the Jerusalem Talmud (Beitzah 5:2), that “kefitzah” denotes a form of jumping whereby one lifts both feet from the ground while “dilug” denotes skipping by grounding one foot and using the other foot to spring oneself forward.
This explanation is also cited by Maimonides (1135-1204) and the Rosh (d. 1328) in their respective commentaries to the Mishnah (Ohalot 8:5).
Rabbi Shimshon of Shantz (d. 1230) offers another way of differentiating between these two words. He writes in his commentary to Ohalot 8:5 that “dilug” is used for an animal that jumps while “kofetz” is used for a human being who jumps.
Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura (1440-1500) accepts Maimonides’ approach and points to sources that seem to contradict Rabbi Shimshon’s position. For example, the Mishnah (Bava Kama 2:3) speaks of a case in which a goat jumps from a roof and damages another’s property and uses the word “kofetz” to describe the goat’s action. Similarly, when the Mishnah (Bava Batra 2:4) rules that a person must distance his ladder four cubits from his neighbor’s dovecote so that a marten (a cat-like animal) cannot jump from the ladder to the dovecote, it uses “kofetz” to describe the marten’s action.
Furthermore, when the Talmud (Berachot 19b) relates that one is permitted to jump over human graves in order to greet a king, the word used for jumping is “midaleg.” All these sources suggest that “doleg” can be used for a human and “kofetz” can be used for an animal. And the above-cited passage in Song of Songs proves that both verbs can apply to the same subject.
Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) suggests that both words mean to jump; the difference between the two is how high. “Dilug” implies a higher jump than “kefitzah” because in the above-cited passage from Song of Songs the former is used for jumping over a mountain while the latter is used for jumping over a hill.
We may posit that “dilug” could more accurately be translated as skipping while “kefitzah” would mean jumping. In English, the verb “to skip” refers to a leaping gait (e.g., “Johnny happily skipped down the street”) and to the evasion of something unneeded or unwanted (e.g., “Johnny skipped the boring parts of the book”).
In truth, both actions are conceptually similar, as the advantage of the ambulatory skipping is that a person avoids walking on top of something he does not want to tread, effectively “evading” it. Similarly, in Hebrew, the verb form of “dilug” refers to both these types of actions.
Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) explains that “kefitzah” denotes walking a distance of multiple footsteps with a single step. Doing so may sometimes involve “jumping,” but the goal is simply getting to one’s place of destination quickly, not skipping over something.
Thus, “kofetz” is also used idiomatically to refer to any action performed in haste. For example, when the Talmud talks about somebody taking an ad hoc oath, he is said to have “jumped and sworn.” And the miraculous shortening of a journey is known as “kefitzat ha’derech,” in allusion to the speed with which a person reaches his final destination.
Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lisa writes that “dilug” may actually denote a movement that’s faster than “kefitzah,” but the focus of “dilug” is nonetheless that which is skipped rather than the speed of the act.
(To be continued)