Redundancy In Torah

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Tanakh, like many written works, is filled with repetitions. Sometimes verses repeat almost verbatim within the same chapter or story.  Elsewhere, a later story will recall an earlier one using similar language.  At times, even within a verse or two, phrases will repeat.  How are these doublings to be understood?

While Midrash will often seek meaning in repetition, distinguishing between each appearance of a phrase and demonstrating that each has its own significance, Peshat commentators often attribute repetition to "דרכי המקראות", recognizing some reiterations to be literary or stylistic devices. Doublings might come to elaborate on and clarify a previous statement, connect narratives, highlight an important point, or simply beautify the text. At times, too, they might simply reflect everyday speech in which repetition is a natural means of expressing strong emotions or emphasis. Below, we will will explore several literary devices which entail repetition and how they might explain apparent redundancies in the Biblical text.

Heading Followed by Details: כלל ופרט

Some cases of repetition in Tanakh might be accounted for by the principle commonly known as a "כלל ופרט" or "כלל ואחר כך מפרש". This is a literary device in which a narrative opens with a general statement which is then elaborated upon.  The verse/s following the heading provide explanatory notes or details which involve a restatement of the original verse. Several examples follow.  Alternative readings of the doublings can be found in the footnotes.

  • "וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ" (Bereshit 1:27) – Bereshit 1:27 speaks of the creation of man.  In Bereshit 2:7, we again read of man's creation: וַיִּיצֶר י"י אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן .הָאֲדָמָה Mishnat R. Eliezer 1 and others explain that the first verse only describes the end result of mankind's creation, while Chapter 2 describes the specifics of how that transpired. Similar claims are made about other overlapping aspects of the two creation stories, understanding that in Chapter 1 the Torah first presents a general overview of the world's creation and then in Chapter 2 it returns to provide greater detail about its most significant individual components.  For discussion see Two Accounts of Creation.
  • "וַיָּרׇץ לָבָן אֶל הָאִישׁ" (Bereshit 24:29-30) – Bereshit 24:29-30 shares that Lavan ran to Avraham's servant, "וַיָּרׇץ לָבָן אֶל הָאִישׁ", then speaks of his seeing the jewelry on Rivka, and finally repeats, "וַיָּבֹא אֶל הָאִישׁ".  ShadalBereshit 24:30About R. Shemuel David Luzzatto explains that Lavan did not approach the servant twice, but rather verse 29 is a general statement which is explained by verse 30 which details what prompted Lavan run to the servant. After seeing the jewelry on Rivka, Lavan decided it was worth greeting the servant.1
  • "וַיָּשֶׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל י״י" (Shemot 19:8-9) – In the description of the preparations for revelation, we are told twice that Moshe relayed the people's words to Hashem, in Shemot 19:8 and 19:9. RashbamShemot 19:8-9Vayikra 9:24Vayikra 10:2About R. Shemuel b. Meir suggests that the repetition is another example of the Torah being "כולל ואחר כך מפרש", as verse 9 provides the context of verse 8.‎2
  • "וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י״י וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ" (Vayikra 9:24) – Vayikra 9:24 describes a Divine fire consuming Aharon's offerings on the eighth day of the consecration ceremony ("וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י״י וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ"). Vayikra 10:1-2, then speak of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, where the verse similarly shares, " וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי י״י וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם". According to most commentators these refer to two distinct events. RashbamShemot 19:8-9Vayikra 9:24Vayikra 10:2About R. Shemuel b. Meir, though, suggests that Vayikra 9:24 is not the conclusion to chapter 9 but the heading of the story of Nadav and Avihu, telling the reader of a fire that is to come in the continuation of the story.3
  • Service of Yom Hakippurim (Vayikra 16) – In the description of the cultic service of Yom HaKipurrim in Vayikra 16, there is a dual doubling. Twice the chapter mentions the sacrificing of Aharon's sin-offering of the cow (in verses 6 and 11) and twice it mentions the sacrificing of the nation's sin-offering of the goat (in verses 9 and 15).  It is possible that the offerings are really first sacrificed in verses 11 and 15 and that verses 6-9 are simply an abstract of what is to come.  They introduce the sacrifices and atonement to be achieved and then the verses backtrack to provide the details of the procedure.
  • "וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת אֶלֶף וּמֵאָה הַכֶּסֶף לְאִמּוֹ" (Shofetim 17:3-4) – In both Shofetim 17:3 and 17:4 the verses speak of Michah returning the money he stole to his mother. RashbamShemot 19:8-9Vayikra 9:24Vayikra 10:2About R. Shemuel b. Meir suggests that verse 3 is a general statement of what took place, while the following verse backtracks, providing the details.4
  • Other examples – Bereshit 9:5,5 Bereshit 25:16,6 Bereshit 28:10,7

Resumptive Repetition

Another literary device which might explain several cases of seeming redundancy in the Biblical text is a technique known as resumptive repetition.  Since Tanakh does not have parentheses, commas, and other similar markers, it will sometimes use repetition to hint to the reader that a section of text is parenthetical. By repeating the last statement made before the digression, Tanakh lets the reader know that the tangent has ended and that the earlier narrative is now resuming.  At times, too, this technique points to achronology in the text, indicating that the intervening unit occurred simultaneously with the surrounding story. For an interactive module on this topic, see Resumptive Repetition.

I. Resumptive repetition of a phrase or more to resume an earlier narrative

II. Resumptive repetition of a full verse or more to connect consecutive books 

III. Resumptive repetition as an indicator of achronology – In the examples below the resumptive repetition serves not only to resume the original narrative but also to indicate  that the intervening unit occurred simultaneously.19 In some of the examples, the resumption is formulated in a past perfect form which further hints to the achronology.20

  • Bereshit 37:36 and Bereshit 39:1 – The saga of Yosef's sale is interrupted by the story of Yehuda and Tamar.  The narrative resumption might hint to the fact that the two events overlapped in time.21
  • Shemuel I 4:11 and Shemuel I 5:1 – Shemuel 4:11 mentions the Philistine's taking of the ark, then switches focus to speak of events taking place in the Israelite camp, only returning to speak of what happened to the ark in Chapter 5. The simultaneity of the two events is highlighted by the resumptive repetition.
  • Shemuel I 14:1 and 6 – The chapter breaks off the narrative of Yonatan's foray into the Philistine camp to spotlight Shaul's simultaneous inactivity in the Israelite camp and then resumes the original narrative. Here, too, the text points to the synchroneity of the events by employing a narrative resumption.
  • Shemuel I 28:1-2 and Shemuel I 29:1– Chapter 28 opens with the Philistines gathering for battle ("וַיִּקְבְּצוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֶת מַחֲנֵיהֶם"), but then cuts off to tell the story of Shaul and Ba'alat Ha'Ov. The original narrative is resumed in Chapter 29, echoing "יִּקְבְּצוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֶת כׇּל מַחֲנֵיהֶם". It is likely that here, too, the technique indicates that the two stories overlapped in time.22
  • Shemuel II 13:34-37 – Shemuel II 13:34 tells of Avshalom fleeing after having murdered Amnon. The point is repeated in verse 37. Sandwiched in between the two verses is a description of what is simultaneously going on in the palace when word of the murder arrives.
  • Melakhim I 20:12 and 16 – The narrator switches off between the Aramean and Israelite camps, employing resumptive repetition to highlight the split screen.

IV. Resumptive repetition of individual words within a sentence23

V. "Double VaYomer" – See discussion below.26

VI. Poetic Doubling (פסוקי דשמואל) – See discussion below.

Double Vayomer

In many verses, one finds that the word "וַיֹּאמֶר" is mentioned twice despite there not being an explicit change in speaker in between.27 At times, there is no speech at all in between the two occurrences of the word "וַיֹּאמֶר" (as in Bereshit 22:7:"וַיֹּאמֶר יִצְחָק אֶל אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי"),28  while at other times, the initial "וַיֹּאמֶר"  is followed by a speech, but in the middle of that speech, the word "וַיֹּאמֶר" appears again, seemingly for no reason. Several explanations have been given for the phenomenon,29 with some viewing this as simply a literary device and "a way of the text",30 and others assuming that there is something to be learned from the doubling in each case:31

I. Cases in which no speech interrupts the two "ויאמר"'s

  • Resumptive Repetition – Ibn Janach, Ibn Ezra, R"Y Bekhor Shor,32 and others33 suggest that in many such cases, the doubling might be another example of resumptive repetition,34 where the word is doubled due to a digression or an intervening explanatory note which breaks the flow of the verse. Thus, for instance in Shemot 1:15-16, the elaboration "אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה" severs the initial "וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם" from the content of his speech, necessitating repetition of the word וַיֹּאמֶר"‏‏".‎35
  • Actual repetition – Ibn Ezra and Radak suggest that a double "וַיֹּאמֶר" might alternatively indicate that the speaker repeated himself, saying the same thing twice (usually due to great emotion). For example, in Esther 7:5, Achashevorsh might have repeated his question "מִי הוּא זֶה וְאֵי זֶה הוּא" in his great fury.

II. Cases in which there are two speeches – Several explanations have been given for the phenomenon:

  • Pause – In cases where a new "ויאמר" interrupts a long speech, the doubling might indicate that there was a pause between the two utterances. This pause might indicate that there was a lack of expected or desired response, necessitating the speaker to resume speaking,51 or that there was an unstated event52 or passage of time that occurred in the middle. The speaker might also intentionally pause for dramatic effect.
  • Change of Topic – At times, though two speeches follow one another, both addressed to the same person, they might comprise a discussion of distinct topics. As such, each subtopic might receive its own unique introduction. 
    • Legal material109 – Shemot 30:11-17,110 Shemot 31:1-12,111 Shemot 34:10-27,112 Shemot 35:1-4,113 Vayikra 6:1,17114 Vayikra 7:22,28,115 Vayikra 14:33-15:1, Vayikra 18:1-19:1, Bemidbar 3:11-14, Bemidbar 27:6-12,116 and many others.
    • Narrative material117 – Bereshit 9:1-17,118 Bereshit 17:3-15,119 Shemot 6:1-2,120 Shofetim 8:23-24,121 Shemuel I 26:17-18, Melakhim I 22:4-5,122 Melakhim II 3:7-8,123 Melakhim II:22:9-10,124  Yechezkel 4:15-16125
  • Elaboration – See Bereshit 15:2-3, 19:9, Shemot 3:14, 16:6-8126

Poetic Doubling (פסוקי דשמואל)

Rashbam notes a phenomenon, dubbed after him "פסוקי דשמואל‎,"127 found in several poetic passages, in which a verse opens, diverges to mention the subject (or to elaborate), and then doubles the opening before finishing the thought.128 For example, see Bereshit 49:22: "בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן" or Tehillim 92:10:  "כִּי הִנֵּה אֹיְבֶיךָ י״י כִּי הִנֵּה אֹיְבֶיךָ יֹאבֵדוּ". What is the purpose of the doubling in such cases?

Rhetorical Devices

Sometimes, repetition in Tanakh might serve a purely stylistic function, used for emphasis, literary beauty and the like.

  • Anaphora – In this rhetorical device a word or sequence of words is repeated at the beginnings of neighboring clauses. Some examples follow:
    • Melakhim II 18:32 – "וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אֶרֶץ כְּאַרְצְכֶם אֶרֶץ דָּגָן וְתִירוֹשׁ אֶרֶץ לֶחֶם וּכְרָמִים אֶרֶץ זֵית יִצְהָר וּדְבַשׁ"
    • Devarim 8:7-9 – "אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה אֶרֶץ נַחֲלֵי מָיִם...אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה...אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא בְמִסְכֵּנֻת תֹּאכַל בָּהּ לֶחֶם"
    • Yirmeyahu 31:3-4 – "עוֹד אֶבְנֵךְ וְנִבְנֵית בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד תַּעְדִּי תֻפַּיִךְ וְיָצָאת בִּמְחוֹל מְשַׂחֲקִים עוֹד תִּטְּעִי כְרָמִים"
    • Hoshea 2:21-22 – "וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי לְעוֹלָם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט... וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה"
    • Eikhah 3: 25-27 – "טוֹב י"י לְקֹוָו... טוֹב וְיָחִיל...  טוֹב לַגֶּבֶר"
  • Epiphora – In this rhetorical device a word or sequence of words is repeated at the ends of neighboring clauses. Some examples follow:
    • Bereshit 1:25 – "וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כׇּל רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה "לְמִינֵהוּ
    • Devarim 32:10 – "יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר... יְסֹבְבֶנְהוּ יְבוֹנְנֵהוּ יִצְּרֶנְהוּ כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינוֹ"
    • Tehillim 118:10-12 – Each verse ends with the phrase: "בְּשֵׁם י"י כִּי אֲמִילַם"
    • Tehillim 136 – Every verse of the psalm ends with "כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ".
  • Emphasis (כפל לחזק) – Often an idea is repeated simply for emphasis.

כפל הענין במלות שונות

This is a term coined by Radak, and used by him over 270 times.135  He notes that often when an idea is doubled in a verse for emphasis, it will use synonymous rather than identical language. This is simply the way of the text and one need not look for any significance in the choice, for the meaning is essentially the same. Other exegetes disagree, and in such cases of parallelism will assume that each seemingly synonymous clause or word really comes to teach something unique. Some examples follow:

  • Bereshit 32:8 (וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ) – The verse mentions that Yaakov was both "very afraid" and "distressed."  Bereshit Rabbah suggests that the doubling teaches that Yaakov feared two things, both lest he die and lest he kill. Cf. Radak who suggests that the phrases are identical in meaning and doubled only to highlight Yaakov's great distress.
  • Bereshit 49:6 (בְּסֹדָם אַל תָּבֹא נַפְשִׁי בִּקְהָלָם אַל תֵּחַד כְּבֹדִי) – Contrast Radak who claims that the two clauses are parallel in meaning with Bereshit Rabbah and Tanchuma who claim that the first clause refers to the act of Zimri and the second to the rebellion of Korach.
  • Shemot 19:3 (כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) – Contrast Ibn Ezra who suggests that the two clauses are parallel, doubled for emphasis, with Rashi who differentiates between both the verbs (seeing one as being gentle speech and the other as harsh speech) and the nouns (having one refer to the women and the other to the males). R"Y Kara, too, differentiates between "תֹאמַר" and "וְתַגֵּיד", suggesting that the latter refers to recounting events of the past while the former to stating what should be done in the future.

Doubled Reference

At times, Tanakh will seemingly redundantly refer to an object of a verb by both a pronoun and a named noun. For example, Shemot 2:6 reads: "וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת הַיֶּלֶד", she saw it, the boy.

  • Explanations of the phenomenon:
    • Some commentators136 view this as being the "way of the text" and see no special significance in the doubling. Tanakh sometimes simply adds an explanatory reference, explicitly defining the pronoun for the reader.
    • Others137 suggest that the doubling is significant, and either explaini why the elaboration is necessary in each specific case, or distinguish between the pronoun and noun, suggesting that in such cases maybe the verse refers to two distinct objects.
  • Several examples follow: