FW: Cover your feet, please!

Leeroy Malachinski Leeroy at cool.dk
Sat Feb 17 18:20:40 EST 2001

In an earlier post Dan Wagner quoted an interesting problem. The problem
concerned the meaning of the expression "to cover the feet" (mesik hu et
raglav, Judg. 3:24 and lehasek et raglav, 1 Sam 24:3). In neither of the
contexts is it 100% clear what is meant. Let me state up front that I do
not believe there is enough data to know exactly what the expression
means. Usually it is understood to mean "to relieve oneself" but in the
aforementioned post it was argued that it might mean "to take a nap".

>Some commentators have attempted to explain the etymology of "cover your
>feet" by saying that a man's long robes would literally cover his feet
>when he squatted down to do his business.

This explanation could suffer from the problem of assuming that people
would have pants or at least one kind of clothing for the upper body and
one for the lower. Thus, when they would cover their feet they would pull
down the lower body garment which would then cover their feet. It seems to
me more likely that people wore some kind of tunic. Thus, when they would
have to relieve themselves they would pull up that tunic. In that case
they would actually "uncover their feet". In Ruth 3 we hear that Ruth
should go and uncover Boaz' feet. Now, if to uncover the feet is the exact
opposite of covering the feet, these passages might in fact throw some
light on the passages in question. It seems to me that also here it is
unclear what exactly is going on. :(  Certainly, she is not waking him up.
While it could be understood that  the purpose would be to know him - in
the biblical sense - again it does not seem to be what is going on.

A case for sleeping should not be rejected a priori, however. For
instance, whatever the expression in Ruth means, sleep is indeed present.
Another detail in the 1 Sam 4 story says that David secretly cut off the
corner of Saul's robe. The word for secretly is "lat" (24:4). In Judg.
4:21 Yael is also secretly ("lat") sneaking up on Sissera who is sleeping
or at least lying down. And again in Ruth 3:7, Ruth is sneaking  secretly
("lat") up on the sleeping Boaz. So perhaps "lat" has something to do with
sleeping, although not all occurrences include the theme of sleep. What is
also interesting is that the root "lot" can mean "to cover", so perhaps it
is a wordplay in all these instances.

None of this, however, is conclusive (not to say highly speculative) and
the expression might easily mean to relieve oneself or something else.
Here one could note that in both the Judg. 3 and 1 Sam 24 Saul and Eglon
seek to (or are thought) "to cover their feet" in a cool place and in
privacy. This meaning is how tradition seems to have understood it (Some
versions, and Jewish commentators).

It would be interesting to hear if anyone know of a similar expression in
a cognate language.

I too would love to hear other interpretations.

All the best,


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