Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
Parsha Homepage | Previous Issues

Parasha Vayechi from 5763

pachaz - its form and its meaning

pachaz (Gen. 49:4) In the Mesorah this word is annotated Lamed with an apostrophe indicating that it is an abbreviation for leit ('there is none' - like it anywhere in Scripture. Unique - Mikraot Gedolot HaKeter, Genesis, Intro., Israel, 1997) It is a very low frequency word; even words of the same root occur only twice elsewhere in Scripture (Chalamish program, Judges 9:4; Zef. 3:4). Rashi writes 'the pachaz and the panic which you hurried to show your anger is like those waters which hurry in their flow'. Even though Rashi explains pachaz with the words of movement 'which you hurried', he is not suggesting that pachaz is a verb. By quoting the word pachaz with the prefix Heh ('the definite article') Rashi indicates that it is not a verb. Furthermore, Rashi makes this quite explicit by writing 'pachaz is a noun and therefore its stress comes before the last syllable, and both syllables have a patach [PAchaz] and were it [a] past tense [verb] it would be half [the first syllable] kamatz, and half [the second syllable] patach, and its stress would be on the last syllable [paCHAZ]'.

Nouns whose vowels are patach patach like pachaz, na'ar ('a youth'), sahar ('the moon'), nachal ('a river') belong to the conjugation (family) of nouns which have the stress on the second last syllable and are called Segolate nouns (like beged ('garment'), degel ('flag'), melech ('king'). (In Hebrew the position of the stressed syllable is always given with reference to the end of the word. This is because the default position for stress is the last syllable, in particular instances stress occurs on the second last syllable, and very rarely on the third last syllable.) Because Heh, Chet, and Ayin are guttural letters (pronounced in the throat), the principle of economy of effort prefers a back vowel such as patach as it is pronounced by pushing the back of the tongue into the throat. Therefore when the second or third letter of a root is Heh, Chet, or Ayin, Segolate nouns tend to replace the segol with a patach. Hence Rashi's proof that a word where both syllables have a patach is a noun. Ramban also calls it the name of a thing ('a noun'), and the Ralbag calls it the name of a quality ('an adjective'). R' A. ibn Ezra, Radak, and R' Yosef Bechor Shor explain the term using expressions of movement. Nevertheless with regard to part of speech there is no reason to assume that they disagree with the other commentators.

What does pachaz mean? It is always difficult to establish the meaning of a low frequency word. We have seen that Rashi explains it as 'a hurry.' Rashbam writes 'your pechiza and panic was like water which spills' [of which nothing remains] so it seems that he agrees with R' Saadya Gaon who translates it so according to R' A. ibn Ezra and Neve Shalom (a partial Hebrew translation of R' Saadya Gaon's Arabic). The opinion of R' A. ibn Ezra himself seems to be that it means 'hurry' and is an inverted form of the root of chipazon (Chet Peh Zayin - thereby adding a handful of further occurrences in Scripture) like simla ('a frock') and salma ('a frock'), keves ('a lamb') and kesev ('a lamb'). Radak explains it to mean 'lightness and speed.' The Ramban extends the search for related words to the Hebrew of the Mishna where it means 'irresponsible' and adds that it may be an inverted form of chipazon. R' Yosef Bechor Shor explains it as 'hurry' and adds that it may be an inverted spelling. Ralbag explains it as meaning 'hurry'.

* * *

Further to lizman hazeh or lazman hazeh

amar Yosef (Gen. 49:22) ('Yosef said') Rashi writes rasha hazeh omitting the definite article Heh from the word rasha. This occurs frequently in leshon chachamim (Mishnaic Hebrew) and justifies lizman hazeh.

* * * *

In connection with the correct reading of Yissachar, R' Ezriel Sternbuch suggested that I refer readers to R' David Yitzchaki's Ketzirat Ha'Omer, essay 3, at the back of his edition of R' Ya'akov Emden's Luach Eresh (Otzreinu, Toronto, Canada, 2001). The following is R' Yitzchaki's conclusion:

The basic reading is always Yissachar in accordance with the opinion of Ben Asher, and a large number of Early and Late commentators and all accurate Chumashim. Anyone who always reads Yis-sachar in accordance with the opinion of Ben Naftali and in accordance with what the Heichal Beracha wrote, has what to rely on - but this is contrary to our accepted tradition of deciding according to Ben Asher. However, we have not found an authoritative source to read Yisaschar - furthermore anyone who sometimes reads with two Sinin and sometimes with one Sin is grasping both ends of the rope.

These comments have been put into book form for publication in English and Hebrew. Dedications are available for both books.

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
E-mail address:


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel