[b-hebrew] The Name "Levi"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 10 11:10:13 EST 2007

The JPS1917 translation of the text regarding the name “Levi” is as follows:
“And she conceived again, and bore a son;  and said:  'Now this time will my 
husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons.'  Therefore 
was his name called Levi.”  Genesis 29: 34
The three key words here are as follows:
LAMED-VAV-heh = “be joined” or “be attached” or “accompany”  [At Genesis 
29: 34, this word appears in the following form:  yod-LAMED-VAV-heh.]
LAMED-VAV = “to him” [Although the vav functions as a vowel-type sound here, 
it nevertheless is the same letter as the vav in the two other words that are 
explicitly forming a pun here.  Thus by a little stretch, we can get the 
second phrase at Genesis 29: 34 to be part of this pun by taking notice of this 
LAMED-VAV-yod = “Levi”
Note that each one of these three words prominently features lamed + vav, in 
that order.
Pun #1
Leah hopes that her husband Jacob will be “joined”/L-V unto her by virtue of 
the birth of her third son, “Levi”/L-V.
As always, the first pun reflects the immediate circumstances of the son’s 
birth, namely, how the mother hopes the son’s birth may improve the mother’s 
situation with Jacob.
Pun #2
Leah hopes that her husband Jacob will be “joined”/L-V unto her, by virtue 
of Leah having given birth “to him”/L-V (that is, to Jacob), of their third 
son, “Levi”/L-V.
This starts with pun #1, and then adds to it one more element, the word “to 
him”, meaning that “to Jacob” has Leah given another son, Levi.
Pun #3
When Levi grows up, his life will be characterized by “Levi”/L-V being “
joined”/L-V “to him”/L-V, that is, Levi will be joined to his slightly older 
brother, Simeon.  (Levi is probably born less than 12 months after Simeon.)  
Levi joins in with everything that Simeon does.  In particular, Levi joins 
with Simeon in killing the men of Shechem, and Levi joins with Shechem in almost 
murdering their younger half-brother Joseph.
For this, Levi gets a terrible final curse from his father Jacob at the end 
of Jacob.  Note that the very first line of text in this curse starts out by 
explicitly stating that Simeon and Levi are “brothers”, or as nicely translated 
in this respect by the JPS1985:  “a pair”.
The author of the Patriarchal narratives explicitly tells us that the name “
Levi” is a pun on the word “joined”.  Furthermore, the author explicitly tells 
us that Leah hopes that her birth of “Levi”/L-V “to him”/L-V, that is, to 
her husband Jacob, will cause Jacob to be “joined”/L-V to Leah.  
The question then is whether the author is, in addition, deliberately using 
this same pun to foretell what Levi’s main role will be later in life.  For the 
third time in a row (like Reuben and Simeon), we see that such is in fact the 
case here.  “Levi”/L-V will in each of two critical cases “join”/L-V “him”
/L-V, that is, Levi’s slightly older brother Simeon, both in killing the men 
of Shechem, and in almost murdering their young half-brother Joseph.
So for each of Reuben, Simeon and Levi, we have seen that their names 
function on at least two very different levels, based on the imaginative puns that 
the author of the Patriarchal narratives explicitly sets forth in the text.  The 
meaning of the name regarding the immediate circumstances of each son’s birth 
is explicitly set forth.  Leah hopes that the birth of “Reuben”/R-B-N means 
that God has “looked”/R “upon”/B her “affliction”/N.  Leah sees the birth 
of “Simeon”/S-M-N as meaning that God has “heard”/S-M that Leah is “hated”
/S-N by Jacob.  And finally, Leah hopes that the birth of “Levi”/L-V means that 
Jacob will be “joined”/L-V to Leah, by virtue of Leah having given another 
son “to him”/L-V (that is, to Jacob).
But in each case, these puns also foretell the most important actions that 
each of these three sons will do in the remainder of the text.  “Reuben”/R-B-N 
will “look”/R “upon”/B one of his father’s minor wives, and hence cause his 
father “affliction”/N.  In part for that reason, Reuben receives a final 
curse from his father.  “Simeon”/S-M-N will “hear”/S-M that his full-sister 
Dinah has been with a man of Shechem, and will “hear”/S-M his young half-brother 
Joseph’s dreams, and that will make Simeon “hate”/S-N the men of Shechem and 
Joseph.  (The actual word sana’/”hate” does not appear in chapter 34 of 
Genesis regarding the Shechem incident;  importantly, the word sana’/”hate” does 
appear four times in chapter 37 of Genesis regarding the Joseph incident.)  
Finally, “Levi”/L-V will “join”/L-V “him”/L-V, that is his slightly older 
brother Simeon, both in killing the men of Shechem, and in almost murdering 
Joseph.  This causes Simeon and Levi to get a joint ultimate curse from their father 
Jacob, as they are truly a pair.
You just cannot get finer clever Hebrew wordplay than that.  One consequence 
of that is that if we think through the puns that the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives is giving us for the first three sons of Jacob, we can see that 
there is no way that any of those three sons is going to get the coveted honor 
of being named by Jacob to be the leader of the next generation of the new 
monotheists.  No, the battle for that coveted honor will quickly boil down to 
only two legitimate contenders:  Judah and Joseph.  And the winner of that 
critical contest will assuredly be foretold by the puns the author gives us for the 
names “Judah” and “Joseph”.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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