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A relative of mine who works in the aviation and meteorology industry is grappling with the pasuk in Mishlei 25:23, which reads:

"As the north wind begets rain, so a backbiting tongue [begets] an angry countenance."

Rashi explains that "the north wind is accustomed to beget rain and a backbiting tongue is accustomed to [beget] an angry countenance."

The difficulty that aforementioned relative is having is that as far as he was taught [with regards to meteorology], the north wind in Israel is a dry wind (i.e., it does not bring rain).

Is the information he received faulty? That is to say, is the North wind in Israel actually a wet wind?

Or is the common translation faulty? (A local rabbi I asked said that the Hebrew doesn't actually say the north wind brings rain, but rather "drives" it away.)

If not, why does Mishlei say what it says?

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    I haven't looked into this, but maybe "north wind" in the verse and in meteorology mean winds from opposite directions? – msh210 Aug 15 '17 at 12:59
  • see e.g.: he.wikisource.org/wiki/… – Loewian Aug 15 '17 at 15:34
  • ...just an idea here, but usually(every one except Egypt) the empires that oppressed Israel/Judah came "from the north", actually northeast, bit still, Assyria especially, and Aram were northward from them. Possibly a connection/secondary meaning?"Rain", meaning trouble/tribute demanding/etc....? – Gary Aug 15 '17 at 17:53
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While many of the European commentaries (e.g. Rashi, Ralbag, Metzudos, Malbim) and even recent translations do indeed seem to translate the verse as you have cited, the Talmud in Taanith 7b seems to interpret it with the opposite meaning:

אמר רבי שמעון בן פזי: אין הגשמים נעצרין אלא בשביל מספרי לשון הרע שנאמר רוח צפון תחולל גשם ופנים נזעמים לשון סתר

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said: The rains are withheld only due to the sin of those who speak slander, as it is stated: “A north wind annuls rain, and an angry countenance, a backbiting tongue.”

As Rashi himself explains there:

תחולל - תבטל, כמו "לא יחל דברו" (במדבר ל:ג) כדאמרי' ביבמות (דף עב.) דרוח צפון ברור הוא ומביא אורה לעולם מה שגשמים נעצרין ופנים נזעמין שמראה הקב"ה שאינו מביא מטר לעולם מפני לשון שקר רכילות. ופשט המקרא כשם שרוח צפון תחולל גשם כך פנים נזעמים מפני לשון שקר:

תחולל [means] "it shall annul," as in "he shall not break his word" (Numbers 30:3)...

Rabbeinu Yonah (שערי תשובה ג ריב, cited here) also interprets תחולל in the verse as preventing:

כאשר רוח צפון תפזר עננים ותמנע הגשם - כן פנים נזעמים ימנעו לשון הרע, כי בראות המגיד את פני השומע והנם זועפים, יחדל קול המון גשם דבריו"

Just as a north wind scatters the cloud and prevents the rain - so too an angry countenance prevent wicked speech, for as the relater sees the face of the listener that they are enraged...

See also the seemingly related root in בראשית ד:כו

אָז הוּחַל לִקְרֹא בְּשֵׁם ה

which is also interpreted with roughly opposite meanings (see e.g. Rashi vs. Ibn Ezra).

That said, assuming I am interpreting the site correctly, WindFinder.com seems to happen to be showing (as I am typing this) a wind blowing roughly from the north/northwest into Israel that should be carrying moisture from the Mediterranean:

IsraelWinds from Northwest

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    Very interesting. Oddly enough, the footnote to that Gemora in the Schottenstein Talmud says: "The plain meaning of the verse is: Just as the north wind brings about the prevention of rain, so false talk begets an angry countenance. (Rashi)" Which is contrary to how Artscroll themselves translated that same pasuk in their Stone Tanach. – Qoheles Aug 15 '17 at 16:58
  • @Qoheles I'm assuming in both locations they are following Rashi's respective explanations. – Loewian Aug 15 '17 at 20:48
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The Targum Proverbs provides the key to understanding Proverbs 25:23.

According to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project, this verse appears as follows in the Targum.

רוחא גרביתא בטנא דמטרא היכנא אפי קניסתא ולישנא משטיא ׃

The literal translation from Aramaic would appear as follows:

The north wind is pregnant (writhes and twists in pain) because of the rain; likewise the vindictive face, and the tongue by acting stupid.

Another alternate reading (variants) for the same verse according to the same source would be the following:

The north wind is pregnant (writhes and twists in pain) because of the rain; likewise the face seething with anger, and the tongue by lying in wait to attack.

The idea is that the rain causes the north wind to twist and turn like a woman writhing in labor pain; so too the stupidity of the tongue causes the face of another to twist and turn with vindictiveness and anger.

The Targum therefore helps us to understand the Biblical Hebrew for the same verse, or at least how the rabbis translating into Aramaic had understood the grammar of the Biblical Hebrew for this verse.

Proverbs 25:23 (Masoretic Text)

ר֣וּחַ צָ֭פוֹן תְּח֣וֹלֵֽל גָּ֑שֶׁם וּפָנִ֥ים נִ֝זְעָמִ֗ים לְשׁ֣וֹן סָֽתֶר׃

The word in bold is the triliteral root verb חיל (khül), which is in the pôlēl stem, which is a rare in Biblical Hebrew. According to Heiser & Setterholm (2013), we read the following:

pôlēl — A rare Hebrew stem that is actually the piʿʿēl stem for middle waw/yoḏ (‘hollow’) verbs. Note that these middle waw/yoḏ (‘hollow’) weak verbs mimic geminate verbs in the pôʿēl stem by repeating the third consonant. The pôlēl corresponds in meaning to the piʿʿēl. As a stem associated with the piʿʿēl, the pôlēl may express the bringing about of a state. The object of the verb’s action “suffers the effect” of the action. See J.-M. §59a, §80h; BHRG §18.8.3.4; GKC §67l, §55c & paradigm M [note: GKC occasionally labels this as pôʿēl, though it does make a distinction between those forms which come from middle waw/yoḏ (‘hollow’) verbs and those from geminate verbs].

What makes this verb different is that the verb חיל (khül) is intransitive, which means it does not take an object. Thus the word for rain in this verse גֶּשֶׁם (gheh'·shem) is understood as the agent by which the intense writhing in pain occurs. This approach to the grammar is why the rabbis who translated the Targum Proverbs made the northern wind to appear suffering because of the rain (and in parallel, why the face writhes in pain because of the tongue acting stupid).

So the verb חיל (khül) in the pôlēl stem of Biblical Hebrew would not so much have the meaning of annulling/preventing but instead, experiencing intense pain and anguish (intransitive sense). The comparison to Numbers 30:3, where the transitive verb חָלַל (khä·lal') appears in the hifʿîl stem, and then comparing with the instransitive verb חיל (khül) in this verse (Proverbs 25:23), which appears in the pôlēl stem, are not similar nor are they comparable: that is, they are two different verbs with two different meanings and in addition, they are in two different stem forms (not to mention that one is transitive and the other intransitive).

In summary, the Targum Proverbs provides the key to understanding Proverbs 25:23.


Source:
Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.

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