Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Bereishit 5761


Theological Grammar

bereishit bara elokim (Gen. 1:1) ("In the beginning G-d created") Further on, at the story of the creation of Man (Verse 26) Rashi explains that the name elokim is singular even though it has the suffix im which usually indicates plural. Rashi comments that in case anyone would think of interpreting it as plural the verse continues "and He created man - and it does not say - and they created" confirming that elokim is singular. In fact the name elokim appears earlier, in the very first verse in the Torah. One may ask why did Rashi not explain this important point then and there - dealing as it does with a core belief in Judaism - monotheism?

However it seems that Rashi's problem (Verse 26) lay in the prefix and suffix of the words agreeing with elokim. These - Nun in na'ase ("we will make"), and nu ("our"), translated as "in our image"/ "in our likeness"- seem to indicate plurality. Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the "Netziv") in his introduction to Haamek Davar, (Sec. 8) writes "There are many roots which have two meanings". We will extend this idea and say that the suffix im has two meanings: the first - plurality, and the second - indicating greatness or lordship as we find "the owner was warned (plural form, singular in its agreement with the rest of the sentence) and he does not take precautions" (Ex. 21:29). Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra writes so explicitly. One of his proofs is that in Arabic there is a royal plural. So too nowadays in English, when Queen Elizabeth II refers to herself, she says "we".

Accordingly, it seems that Rashi understands the ending im to be greatness or lordship and Rashi's opinion is identical with that of Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra. Therefore the name elokim is absolutely singular and Rashi's problem arose only inverse 19 where the prefix Nun and the suffix nu occur.

* * * *

Word Stress

Every boy who learns a parasha for his Bar Mitzvah is aware that the marks on the words for the tunes, known in Yiddish as trop and in Hebrew as te'amim, indicate (among other things) which syllable is to be stressed. This is important information, for a change in the position of the stress may change the meaning of the word. Rashi explains this in his discussion of the word baAH (stress on the last syllable - present tense); BAah (stress on the penultimate syllable - past tense) (Gen. 29:6).

In this week's reading we find KAra (penultimate stress) LAYla (Gen. 1:5) and further on kaRA (ultimate stress) yamim (ibid. 1:10). The question arises: does this difference carry meaning?

The tunes can be divided into two classes (melakhim, mesharetim) - we will call them major and minor tunes. The major tunes indicate pauses in the reading, while the minor tunes indicate that the word is to be read in tandem with the following word. When a minor tune comes at the end of a word, and in the word following it there is a tune on the first syllable, the latter may make the former retreat one syllable. In the word LAYla the stress is on the first syllable, and because of this the minor tune on the word KAra (which would otherwise be kaRA) retreats. This avoidance of two stressed syllables being next to each other creates a pleasant rhythm. The retreat of stress is not rare. It is worth noting that in the blessing of the Torah, BAhar BAnu and NAtan LAnu are affected by this rule. When this occurs, there is no change in meaning.


Sefer Dikdukei Shai (Hebrew, S.Y. Mandelbaum, Yerushalayim 5759 p. 163) reports Rabbi Y. Kaminetsky having said that the fact that this change of stress occurs without change of meaning indicates that stress is not critical to meaning (non-phonemic) and therefore a Torah reader who has made an error in stress in any reading need not be told to repeat.

I will be happy to receive comments on these notes in English on Hebrew grammar related to the week's Parasha.
Good Shabbos and good yom tov, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919


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