QUESTION: Rav Yehudah explains the etymology of a number of Aramaic words. However, he explains that they derive from contractions of Hebrew words (for example, he explains that "Dasha" (door in Aramaic) comes from the Hebrew words, "Derech Sham"). How can words in Aramaic be contractions of words in a different language, Hebrew?
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that many Aramaic words have their roots in Hebrew. In general, Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew, and many of its words are corruptions of Hebrew words. (The son of the Vilna Ga'on, in TIRGEM AVRAHAM, shows that every word of Targum Onkeles stems from a Hebrew root.) Rav Yehudah teaches that these words, too, have Hebrew roots.
(b) The TIFERES YISRAEL (in "Boaz" to Pesachim 10:3) explains that the Aramaic and Greek words that are commonly found in the Gemara were not used by the Sages in the way that they were used in their original languages. Rather, the Sages Hebraicized the words and altered them from their original form. The Gemara here explains that the Sages pronounced certain Aramaic words in specific ways in order to make them sound like their Hebrew counterparts. (RAV YAKOV EMDEN, in Hagahos ha'Ya'avetz to Megilah 7a, offers a similar explanation for the Gemara's statements about the meaning of the name "Teveryah," even though it is known that the city was named in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberias.)
AGADAH: Rebbi Zeira asked Rav Yehudah a number of questions about worldly matters.
(a) First he asked why, when the flock walks along, the goats go before the sheep. Rav Yehudah answered that since goats are dark-colored and sheep are white, it is appropriate for them to go first, because darkness preceded light at the time of the creation of the world.
(b) Second, Rebbi Zeira asked why the tails of sheep cover their private parts, while the tails of goats do not. Rav Yehudah answered that since the wool of sheep is made into clothing to cover man, it is appropriate that the sheep themselves be covered.
(c) Third, he asked why camels have short tails, while oxen have long ones. Rav Yehudah answered that camels have short tails because they eat thorns, and oxen have long tails because they frequent the swamps and they need a long tail to swap away the bothersome flies.
The MAHARSHA explains that these observations are more than physical explanations for natural phenomena. They allude to spiritual realities which the Sages wisely disguised in worldly terms.
(a) In the first question, the goats allude to the nation of Yavan (as in Daniel 8:8). The sheep allude to the Jews (Yirmeyahu 50:17). Rebbi Zeira asked why did the Yevanim rule for many years in the times of the second Beis ha'Mikdash, first under the reign of Alexander the Great and then under the reign of other Greek kings, before any Jewish kings came to power?
Rav Yehudah answered that this historical progression was already hinted to in the account of Creation. The Torah tells us that darkness preceded light ("v'Chosech Al Penei ha'Tehom" precedes "va'Yehi Or") when the world was created. The Midrash teaches that "v'Chosech Al Penei ha'Tehom" ("darkness was on the face of the depths") refers to the Yevanim, who "darkened" the eyes of the Jews with their persecution, and "va'Yehi Or" ("there was light") refers to the Chashmona'im, who took power at the time of the miracle of light (Chanukah).
(b) Next, Rebbi Zeira asked why the generation that was exiled at the time of the destruction of the first Beis ha'Mikdash merited to be informed when the end of their exile would come, while the generation that was exiled at the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdash -- and all subsequent generations until the present day -- have not merited to be informed when the end of the present exile will come. Why was the end to the present exile not revealed?
Rav Yehudah answered that since the first generation did not attempt to hide their sins but sinned openly, they merited that the end of their Galus was revealed to them and was not hidden. During the time of the second Beis ha'Mikdash, though, the people attempted to hide their sins. Therefore, the end of this Galus is kept hidden from us, as the Gemara in Yoma (9b) says.
(c) Third, Rebbi Zeira asked why the tail of the camel is small. The Midrash says that the camel, "Gamal," alludes to the kingdom of Bavel. The ox (or cow) is a symbol of the Jewish people ("Bechor Shoro Hadar Lo..." (Devarim 33:17)). Rebbi Zeira wanted to know why the downfall and end (tail) of Bavel came abruptly as they were punished at once for all of their sins, while the punishment of the Jews comes slowly, little by little (the tail represents lowliness and being humbled by punishment).
Rav Yehudah answered that since Bavel ate the thorns -- that is, they consumed the Tzadikim who are referred to as "thorns" (Eruvin 101a), Hash-m punished them at once with completely obliteration. The Jewish people, on the other hand, are never punished at once for all of their sins. Rather, Hash-m has mercy on us and He punishes each sin -- represented by the fly, which is a symbol of the Yetzer ha'Ra -- individually. Thus, the tail of the ox is long; the punishments for the sins of the Jewish people occurs over an extended period of time in order to enable the Jewish people to maintain their existence.