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In Bamidbar 25:8, Pinchas follows the Israelite אֶל־הַקֻּבָּ֗ה. According to Rashi, a Kubah is a tent ( and the Rashbam sort of agrees, saying "inyan ohel" which Sefaria translates as "A kind of tent.")

As far as I can tell (from the Even Shoshan), this is the only instance where the word is used to refer to a tent of any sort. Why would the text choose this word?

Is there any real difference between an ohel and a kubah which would be vital to the story and what we learn?

The Hertz/Soncino has as an explanation that a kubah is "an inner chamber of a large vaulted tent" but provides no source, nor significance.

The Ibn Ezra seems to hint at a difference but I don't see any real explanation as to the nature of the difference and its importance here

כמו אל האהל וכן קרוב בלשון קדר ואם יש מעט הפרש בין צורת האהל והקבה

Or is this simply a piece of word play, connecting קבה (tent) to קֳבָתָ֑הּ, belly/womb? The Ba'eir Heitev seems to say that when he writes "v'kubah melashon kavatah".

[The Ibn Ezra's first explanation, בקובה שהיתה שם עם אחי זמרי is that the second word, kavatah does NOT refer to the woman's organs but, again, to the tent.]

Is this word play an extension of the words used in 23:8, "מָ֣ה אֶקֹּ֔ב לֹ֥א קַבֹּ֖ה" with the similar root meaning to curse or damn?

Do the words indicate any significant interpretive distinction or is this simply a literary choice to echo other words?

  • Perhaps it's the word for a place of harlotry? That would explain why the Rashbam says it's a specific kind of tent - his intention could be one in which zenus is performed. Because it's a "large vaulted tent" they were either trying to make a show of it - which seemed to be their intention (see Rashi to v. 6) - or allowing room for others to follow their lead. This would also explain the similar root between קבה and קבתה, as well as the similarity to מה אקב לא קבה א-ל. I post this as a comment as I have no source behind this theory. BN I'll check my R' Hirsch dictionary. – DonielF Jul 13 '17 at 5:28
  • but a Kohen is given the זְּרועַ לְּחָיַיִם וְקֵּיבָה -- how would keivah relate? – rosends Jul 13 '17 at 12:18
  • @DonielF, Check Tanchuma, balak siman 21 to confirm this: כיון שהגיע אצלם, אמרו ליה: למה באת? אמר להם: אף אני באתי לעשות צרכי. הניחוהו ונכנס. שאילמלא זו, לא הניחוהו. : – Renato Grun Jul 16 '17 at 2:44
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    @RenatoGrun Interesting. As many times as I've learned that Midrash, I never would have made that connection. Nice diyuk. – DonielF Jul 16 '17 at 2:49
  • @rosends, all words here are related to something 'hollow'. A tent, a curse, and a keivah too. – Renato Grun Jul 16 '17 at 3:02
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There is a hint that may explain why the text chooses קֻבָּה instead of אֹהֶל to mean 'tent' in Bilam's Blessings to the Jewish people.

The text in Bamidbar 24:5 reads:

ה מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל.

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!

The word used for tent here is אֹהֶל (which is related to א-ה-ל = light), representing Am Yisroel's dwellings and its sanctity.

While in the posuk describing the midianite's tent קֻבָּה is used (from קבב = to curse) representing the sinner's dwelling and its immorality.

  • "from קבב = curse" where do we ever find the word קבב in Tanach? did you make that up? i think curse in Hebrew is קב with one "beit". see vayikra 24. – Bach Jul 13 '17 at 2:23
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    I did not say that קבב is found in Tanach. I said that kubah is originated in the same root as קבב wich also means 'to curse'. Cf. hebrewbooks.org/pagefeed/hebrewbooks_org_49975_620.pdf – Renato Grun Jul 13 '17 at 2:49
  • Is the root for curse not קבה, as in the passuk quoted in the OP? – DonielF Jul 13 '17 at 5:20
  • Yeah i agree with DonielF the shoresh should be קבה not קבב. But since i don't know anything about Hebrew grammer i'll keep my mouth shut. – Bach Jul 13 '17 at 13:31
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    @RenatoGrun I noticed that Ribag made the same connection as you purposed. Interesting to see the different opions in the commentaries. – Levi Jun 17 '18 at 9:28
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Bamidbar 25:8

He went after the Israelite man into the chamber

Rav Hirsch translates it as into the alcove. He says that it is a specific type of small tent. This implies that he took her into a private, intimate area.

קבה from קבב (to hollow out, see XXII, 11) from which we get קבה, a small tent, according to Menachos 31b narrower above than below. קבתה from the related root קוב from which we get קבה the stomach, the abdominal cavity.

Balak 22:11

הִנֵּה הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם וַיְכַס אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ עַתָּה לְכָה קָבָה לִּי אֹתוֹ אוּלַי אוּכַל לְהִלָּחֶם בּוֹ וְגֵרַשְׁתִּיו:

"Behold the people coming out of Egypt, a nation, has covered the 'eye' of the earth. Come and curse them for me, perhaps I will be able to fight against them and drive them out."

Note the intensity of the word for curse based on hollowing them out, making them empty, driving a hole through them. This is uniquely used by Bil'am

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According to the Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the writings of R' Hirsch, the root קבב simply means to "hollow." Thus:

  • "to curse" - לכה קבה לי (earlier in the Bilam passage - Bamidbar 22:11). Seemingly he views a curse as a cessation of blessing - a "hollowing out" thereof. He would not be alone in this view, but I cannot find others who say the same.
  • "to remove support" - מה אקב לא קבה א-ל. Interesting that he does not view this as the same as a curse. Perhaps here he means not to curse but to "remove Hashem's support". Thus: how can I remove them from existence? Hashem will not remove His support from them.
  • "capacity measure" - the ubiquitous measure known as a קב. Presumably because you measure things in a hollow container.
  • "alcove" - your passuk of a קובה. It's simply called as such because it's a big, open space.

Although he doesn't mention it, the similar wording of "stomach" (זרוע לחיים וקבה, or your passuk of stabbing Kozbi in her קבה) now makes sense - it's a hollow cavity inside the body.

I believe we can now answer our original question of why it uses the word of קבה instead of אהל. What do all of the other words on the list have in common? They're used for destructive purposes. To curse. To destroy. Even the wording of her stomach, Rashi to that passuk says that he stabbed them in the place where they sinned. As for קב? Maybe because "one who loves money will never be satisfied with money" (Koheles 5:9), and measures are often used to cheat people in business (see Vayikra 19:35-36).

Thus, our passuk uses קבה instead of אהל in order to demonstrate that he was using it for a destructive purpose as well.

  • I'm really interested in where you got the meaning "to remove support" from, would you like to share that with me? – Levi Jun 13 '18 at 18:24
  • @Levi Reread the first line of this post. :) – DonielF Jun 13 '18 at 18:52
  • my mistake, I have that one :) so it's easy to look it up, thank you – Levi Jun 13 '18 at 18:58

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