Friday, February 1, 2013

King David's Groundhog Day

According to American folklore, a groundhog first emerges from hibernation tomorrow, February 2nd. If it is cloudy, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.

Amazingly, the groundhog's hibernation is actually mentioned in the Midrash - at least, in the view of some.
"And the Lord God cast a slumber (tardemah) upon him" (Gen. 2:21)... Rav said: There are three types of slumber: that of sleep (shenah), that of prophecy, and that of marmita... (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishis 17:5)
The Midrash explains that the last type of slumber occurred with the camp of King Saul, when David sneaked in and removed Saul's spear and water-jug:
That of marmita: "Nobody saw or knew or woke up, for they were all sleeping; for a slumber of God had descended upon them" (I Samuel 26:12) (Midrash ibid.)
The slumber of the mysterious marmita is the deepest type of sleep - but what is a marmita?

Opinions vary. But several opinions (including Anaf Yosef, Rashash, and R. Yosef Schonhak) argue that it is the animal known in Europe as the marmot, which is known to North Americans as the groundhog. Marmots enter a deep hibernation during the cold winter; their heartbeat slows to around five beats a minute, while they only take one to three breaths a minute. The Midrash says that such a deep sleep was placed upon Shaul's camp by Hashem, so that David was able to steal in and out undetected. Nobody in Shaul's camp woke up; it was as though time itself was frozen.

Although the phenomenon of hibernation was known to ancient writers such as Aristotle and Pliny, I haven't been able to discover if there is indeed basis for interpreting the Midrash in this way. If anyone has further light to shed on this, please do so!


  1. Firstly, I think it is verse 12, not verse 10.
    Secondly, may I clarify your question please? Am I correct that you are asking: Is it possible that the authors of the Midrash were aware of a European marmot, an American groundhog, or a (now extint?) Middle Eastern/Israeli equivalent which had a name similar to the word "marmita"?

  2. Thanks for the correction.

    I'm asking if it's possible if the authors of the Midrash knew of the European marmot (as mentioned, it does appear in Greek writings).

  3. Could it be the midrash is supposed to read "dormita" instead of "marmita". I believe the Zohar uses dormita to refer to a type of sleep. I always assumed the word derived from either tardeimah or dormant.

  4. Looking back at your archives you seem to post a new blog about once every 3 days.Yet since Betechs sources and questions you have posted every day. I hope its not because your feeling anxious and trying to change the subject

  5. Gladd to see the Zoologist talking about what he is expert in instead of the usual Haredi/Orthodox bashing.

  6. Hahaha changing the subject and what subject did Dr Betech maintain?
    If you enjoyed Dr betechs argument why dont you go over to his reactionary blog and leave us alone already.
    All people like you are doing is strutting like a peacock when Dr betech just types letters it doesnt even have to be coherent and you will declare victory.

    Btw RNS i have a feeling Dr Betech has instigated a influx of detracters to come here and start a trouble.

  7. Yet since Betechs sources and questions you have posted every day. I hope its not because your feeling anxious and trying to change the subject

    Let's see. One was a post about this week's parashah, based on a question that I got this week. One was a follow-up to the Betech post. And this one was scheduled several months ago, for Groundhog Day. No, I'm not anxious. Why would I be - after all, zooarcheologists agree that there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel, and Betech hasn't brought any evidence otherwise.


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

The Heresy of Noah's Crystal

Following on from last week's post about the ban on "Peshuto Shel Mikra," let's discuss an example of the purported heres...