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Parashat Bamidbar 5762

When does one withdraw?

degel machaneh dan (Num. 2:25)('the flag of the camp of Dan') machaneh dan (Num. 2:25) ('the camp of Dan') The first machaneh has its accent on the final syllable, the second machaneh has its accent on the first syllable. Why? Although the phrase nasog achor (Psalms 44:19) ('withdraw') tells us that with faith in G-d we do not withdraw from our enemies, here we limit our discussion to the grammatical, borrowed, use of this term.

Most words in the Bible have the accent on the last syllable. The technical term for this is mil'era ('from the bottom'). There are also many words that have the accent on the second last (penultimate) syllable. The technical term for this is mil'eeil ('from the top'). A handful of words have the accent on the third last syllable (mil'eeil dilemil'eeil). The tunes, (te'amim in Hebrew), marked on the words of the Bible fall into two major categories and are known as mafsikim ('stops') or melachim ('kings'), and mesharetim ('servants'). The former come at the end of a phrase, the latter flow into the former.

When there is a one-syllable word, or a two-syllable word that is mil'eeil, the accent is in effect at the beginning of the word. If it follows a word that is mil'era and has a meshareit, there are two adjacent accented syllables; this is too close for the comfort of the Hebrew reader. To alleviate this phonetically uncomfortable situation, the accent on the first of the two words is frequently pushed back. This change is known as nasog achor. In machaneh dan the accent is pushed back in conformity with this rule.

The 18th century grammarian R' Chaim Kesslin sets out the above rule in sefer maslol (Netiv 12) and then lists the following exceptions: 1) In the case of a phrase with three words, where the second word has two syllables - so that if pushed back the accented syllable will come to be next to the accented syllable of the first word in the phrase (because that word is mil'era) - the rule of nasog achor will not operate (Judging by his examples this exception only applies when the first word of the chain of three is a single syllable word.). 2) nasog achor will not operate across a closed syllable boundary; that is if there is a sheva nach or a dagesh before it. 3) the accented suffixes -tem, -ten, -hem, -hen, -chem, -chen, are not affected by the nasog achor phenomenon. 4) present tense verbs and nouns concluding with a consonant are also unaffected.

He then proceeds to disagree with R' Zalman Hanau* (whose work influenced Enlightenment studies of Hebrew grammar) who states that nasog achor will not affect a word if there is a word preceding it which is hyphenated to it (Zohar Hateiva, Teivat Hamikra, 16, republished by Yehuda Arye Guttman, Brooklyn, N.Y. '95). R' Hanau explains his rule by arguing that the length of the phrase necessitates a slight pause after the second word of the unit of three words and this pause is sufficient to block the operation of the nasog achor rule. R' Kesslin maintains that there are too many exceptions to maintain this rule. Without taking sides in the above debate (degel is not hyphenated to machaneh) there may be something in the structure of the phrase that will explain the difference between these two words.

*R' Yechezkel Landau (author of Noda Biyhuda) wrote of him 'because of his great resentment of those who preceded him he changed a number of things with malice. And sometimes his brilliant mind misled him. For he found it a light matter to invent new rules that were not mentioned by the early grammarians. Therefore even though he was outstanding in this science one should not rely on his novel ideas.' (Approbation to the "Critiques" R' Mordechai Dusseldorf, republished with "Luach Eresh" of Ya'avetz, R' David Yitzchaki ed., Otzreinu, Toronto, Canada, 5761, p. 321)

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Varieties of Hebrew

veshameru et mishmarto (Num. 3:7) ('and they will look after their appointed task') Rashi writes 'Every appointment to which a person is appointed and which he is obliged to carry out is called mishmeret ('appointed task') throughout the Bible and in the language of the Mishnah as is stated in relation to Bigtan and Teresh "after all my appointed task and your appointed task are not identical" and similarly "the appointed tasks of the Levites and the priesthood".' Rashi frequently (157 times according to the Chalamish program) refers to the 'Language of the Mishnah' or the 'Language of the Sages' sometimes using a word of the same root and at other times of another root, but only here does he totally equate mishmeret of the Bible with mishmeret of the Language of the Mishnah.

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
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