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The Passuk in Bereishis 15:9, describing the opening of the Bris Bein Habesarim says:

קחה לי עגלה משולשת ועז משולשת ואיל משולש ותור וגוזל.

There are a boatload of opinions on what Meshuleshes and Meshulash mean (3 years old, 3 of them, a 3rd born, a fatty one etc. etc.), however, I had always understood it to mean that it was an animal cut into 3 pieces. I have not been able to find this Peshat anywhere though, which really bothers me, as that likely means there is something clearly wrong with it, but I can't figure out for the life of me what that is!

It fits very well for a number of reasons. Firstly, we have similar words meaning the same thing (see Devarim 19:3), it would explain why Avram cut the animals and not the birds. It would explain why he knew to cut them without Hashem telling him. It would also explain why the word pieces and not halves is used in the continuation.

So I'm looking for a source that mentions this Peshat, and/or something that would disqualify it directly.

Edit: I spent a while researching it last night myself, and I think I may have an answer, but I really don't like it, so I'd like to see what others come up with first.

Edit: Thanks to mevaqesh for suggesting that I make a list of all commentaries I have checked, even if they do not comment here or on this in specific point. While I don't remember all of them, I'll start a list (in no particular order): Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Yonasan, Targum Yerushalmi, Rasag, Rashi, Ri Kara, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Bechor Shor, Chizkuni, Radak, Ramban, Ibn Caspi, Seforno, Kli Yakar, Kesav VehaKabbalah, Malbim, Netziv, RDZ Hoffman, Abarbanel, Rabbeinu B..., Or Hachaim, Alshich, R' Chaim Paltiel, Daas and Hadar Zekeinim, R' Hirsch, Mendelssohn, Reggio, Professor Artom, Living Torah, various Christians/Christian translations, etc.

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Ralbag on this pasuk explains that it was the way of covenant-makers to cut animals in half and walk between the two halves which somehow symbolized the coming-together of the two parties. If that is the case then it wouldn't make sense to cut the animals into three pieces, because the whole point is to specifically have two halves.

ר"ל שחלק הבהמות לחצאים כי כן היה דרך כורתי ברית שהיו חולקין דבר אחד לחצאים והיו עוברים בין החלקים ההם להורות על שהם שבו כמו גוף אחד לחוזק האהבה אשר ביניהם

Similarly in Jeremiah 34:18 we see a covenant that involved cutting the calf into two pieces. Several of the commentaries there point out (like Ralbag) that this was the way of covenant-makers.

Radak

כן היא דרך כריתת הברית וכן ברית אברהם בין הבתרים

Metzudas Dovid

וחוזר ומפרש שכרתו העגל לשני חלקים ועברו בין החלקים כי כן היה דרך כורתי ברית וכמ"ד בברית בין הבתרים ויבתר אותם בתוך וכו

Although none of these commentaries provide a source that this was the standard way of making covenants, see this article about ancient covenants which states:

As the ceremony started, the representatives would take the animal sacrifice and cut it down the middle from head to tail. The two pieces of the sacrifice were laid open with the bloody side facing upward. Since the animal was usually quite large, a significant amount of blood would escape, flowing toward the center of the two pieces of the sacrifice (p.24, emphasis added).

As the two representatives walked between the two pieces of the sacrifice and faced each other, they would look to heaven and say something like this: “Do so to me as has been done to this animal if I break this covenant. If I fail to keep this covenant, may I die even as this animal has died” (p. 26, emphasis added).

  • Pretty good. I'm not sure that the Bris would be any worse off if there were 3 pieces though, as indicated by the article you quoted (being cut into three pieces is just as bad as being cut in half) or by the Ralbag (three thirds still make a whole), plus, for each of these Mefarshim, they are operating based on the assumption that the Bris Bein Habesarim was cut into halves, so that sort of disqualifies their comparisons. If it was me writing a peirush, I would still at least meantion such a peshat somewhere and knock it down if I felt it was proven wrong by this. – רבות מחשבות Jan 1 '18 at 18:28
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    Also, it also sort of strengthens the peshat in that it doesn't anywhere say "in halves" or "in two" in our case, (except for perhaps "batavech", see my comment to sabbahillel below), but it does say it in Yirmiyah. +1 btw. – רבות מחשבות Jan 1 '18 at 18:29
  • @רבותמחשבות I think the idea of two rather than three is that the two halves of the animal represent the two people (or two parties) making the covenant. Having three parts wouldn't work for that (unless, perhaps, they were making a three-way covenant). – Alex Jan 1 '18 at 18:32
  • could be, although the imagery shown in both the Ralbag and the article disagrees with that interpretation. Also, we could say that cutting into 3 allows both parties to pass together side by side, also a nice idea. – רבות מחשבות Jan 1 '18 at 18:40
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You ask for an explicit showing that the animals were divided in half and not into three parts. Rav Hirsch explains the three as tripling in great detail (which is too long to go into). He shows that the usage of the term משולש means tripling as in the phrase חוט המשולש. That is it means that the significance and symbolism of each animal is to be tripled and that is why the division of the animals shows that three generations will be oppressed. There are also others who explain this but I will concentrate on him for the usage.

The following pasuk Lech Lecha 15:10 would seem to show the reason that would disqualify it directly. Thus Rav Hirsch seems to explain that the torch going between the (two) pieces shows the promise as to what will happen. Indeed we see from some of the explanations of the avodas zarah (going between two lines of fire) that this is meant to show a dedication and a promise. Since the fire went between the animals, Hashem was making the promise.

The fact that the division is not referenced until pasuk 15:10 also shows that the term משולש does not mean split into three parts as the animals were to be taken משולש and later divided.

Rav Hirsch says

As שַלֵש means to do something three times, חוט המשולש (Eccl. IV.12) a threefold cord, the משלשת and משלש here can also mean nothing bu three times, three calves, three goats, and three rams.

Lech Lecha 15:10

וַיִּקַּח־ל֣וֹ אֶת־כָּל־אֵ֗לֶּה וַיְבַתֵּ֤ר אֹתָם֙ בַּתָּ֔וֶךְ וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אִֽישׁ־בִּתְר֖וֹ לִקְרַ֣את רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְאֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֖ר לֹ֥א בָתָֽר:

And he took for Him all these, and he divided them in the middle, and he placed each part opposite its mate, but he did not divide the birds.

Rav Hirsch translates this as

And he took all these unto Him, and He divided them in the centre, and He laid each piece opposite its corresponding piece, but the birds divided He not.

Rav Hirsch says that the subject of וַיְבַתֵּ֤ר is Hashem and not Avraham and that Hashem was doing the dividing. However, we see that it is a breaking apart and not a tearing into three parts.

Looking at Rashi and Rav Hirsch (as an example), we see that בַּתָּ֔וֶךְ is translated by Rav Hirsch as in the center and the pieces are explicitly placed with a path in the center for the smoking torch to go between.

Rav Hirsch explains:

וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אִֽישׁ־בִּתְר֖וֹ לִקְרַ֣את רֵעֵ֑הוּ the divided parts were laid down each part opposite its corresponding part so that it was apparent they were waiting to be joined together again, that is why וְאֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֖ר לֹ֥א בָתָֽר is added there. Just the power to soar upwards remaining unbroken was what was necessary for the hoped for reunion of these broken powers.

"And then, when the sun had gone down and complete darkness had set, lo, it was a smoking furnace and a torch of fire - it had been a refining and an enlightening - which had temporarily kept these pieces apart" (עבר not עובר) - the purification was completed, the enlightening had worked, the broken parts were joined again.

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    Onkelos translates Batavech as B'Shaveh (i.e. equal parts), and many Rishonim understand that Avraham was the cutter. Nothing in this answer would be a reason for no one to even mention this Peshat. It's simply repeating Rav Hirsch on the story, and assuming everything he says is absolute. – רבות מחשבות Jan 1 '18 at 18:21
  • @mevaqesh I managed to correct the typo but need to wait until I get home for further edits. – sabbahillel Jan 1 '18 at 22:48

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