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In the lead-up to Yosef being sold by his older brothers, the Torah uses cognates of the word “hashlachah” (throwing) three times (when Yosef’s brothers want to kill him and throw his corpse into a pit, when Reuven convinced his brothers to throw him into a pit alive, and when the brothers finally actually throw Yosef into a pit).

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) writes that “hashlachah” denotes throwing an object in a way that it isn’t evident whether one is trying to hit something or just get the object away from oneself.

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When there was no water left in her flask, Hagar threw (“vatashlech”) young Yishmael beside a tree (Genesis 21:15). Nachmanides writes that “vatashlech” in this context means abandoned or sent away. If it means sent away, it is because, Nachmanides essentially argues, the root of “hashlachah” (shin-lammed-kaf) can mean the same thing as its near-homonym (shin-lammed-chet – since Ashkenazim pronounce the letters chet and chaf the same way).

In many instances, “hashlachah” connotes a disrespectful attitude towards the object being thrown since the person appears to want to rid himself of it. For this reason, “hashlachah” usually refers to throwing something downwards. Indeed, it might be more accurate to translate the word as dropping or throwing away.

But not all appearances of “hashlachah” carry a negative connotation. Some connote throwing something deliberately to bring about certain results. For example, Aharon threw his staff so that it would turn into a snake, and Aharon also threw the Jews’ gold into a fire to make a Golden Calf.

In Modern Hebrew, “hashlachot” means consequences or ramifications – “throw-offs” from their cause.

Most grammarians, like Menachem Ibn Saruk, Ibn Janach, and the Radak maintain that the root of “hashlachah” is the triliteral shin-lamed-kaf. However, Rabbi Pappenheim argues that “hashlachah” is actually a portmanteau of the two biliteral roots: shin-lammed (throwing out) and lammed-kaf (going/walking).

Linguists propose a similar theory (cited by Ernest Klein and Avraham Even-Shoshan in their respective dictionaries) based on a rare verb conjugation called shaphel, in which the letter shin serves a grammatical function and is not part of the root. Rather, it connotes an action that creates the situation of the verb. Here are some examples:

  • The root of “shiabud” is ayin-bet-dalet (eved), which means slave; the shin denotes the creation of servitude through subjugation or obligation.
  • The root of “shichrur” is chet-reish-tav (cherut), which means freedom; the shin denotes the creation of freedom through formal emancipation.
  • The root of “shichpul” in Modern Hebrew is kaf-peh-lammed (kefel), which means double; the shin denotes the creation of twin items through copying.
  • The root of “shichvtuv” in Modern Hebrew is kaf-tav-bet (ktav), which means writing; the shin denotes the creation of a new draft or written adaptation through rewriting.

Thus, the theory goes that “hashlachah” is derived solely from the two-letter root lammed-chet (going), and the shin denotes the creation of a situation in which something has gone from one place to another through throwing.

Another word for throwing in the Bible is “zerikah.” Rabbi Pappenheim explains that it is a portmanteau derived from the roots zayin-reish (spreading/dispersal) and reish-kuf (emptying). He explains that zerikah connotes purposefully causing something to land in a specific spot and is related to spreading because “zerikah” usually involves throwing something with multiple small parts (like sand, ashes, or liquid) that spread out when they’re thrown. Hence, the ritual sprinkling of sacrificial blood is called zerikah.

Rabbi Pappenheim writes, though, that the rabbis use “zerikah” for any type of throwing. Thus, while it is used in Shabbos 11:1 to describe someone purposefully throwing an object from a private domain to a public domain (or vice versa), it is used in Chagigah 15a to describe throwing away the peel of a fruit (one doesn’t much care where a thrown-away peel lands).

The Maharal (1520-1609) writes that “zerikah” implies throwing with force. That’s why, he explains, Rashi argues that G-d wanted Moshe to throw up ashes with one hand to bring about the plague of boils. Since G-d used the word “zerikah,” not “hashlachah,” He evidently wanted him to throw the ashes with force, which can best be done with one hand.

Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman suggests that this explanation also illuminates why the Rashbam argues that Moshe dropped the tablets with the Ten Commandments rather than threw them. Had he thrown them, the Torah would have used a cognate of “zerikah” not “hashlachah” as it does (Exodus 32:19). The Rashbam explains that Moshe became so enraged when he saw the Jews’ perfidious idolatry that he couldn’t gather the strength to throw the tablets, so he just dropped them.

There are two other Hebrew words for throwing: “hazayah” and “ramah.” Rabbi Pappenheim argues that “hazayah” denotes the same type of throwing as “zerikah,” just over a longer distance. The Malbim, though, writes that “zerikah” connotes throwing/sprinkling with a vessel while “hazayah” is done by hand.

Reish-mem refers to something esteemed or high, but it is also occasionally used to mean throw (see Exodus 15:1). Rabbi Pappenheim writes that “ramah” means throwing or shooting something upwards in an arc trajectory so that it lands precisely upon its intended target. Interestingly, the Targumim translate cognates of “hashlachah” into Aramaic derivatives of the reish-mem root.

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