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

Parashat Beshalach 5762

Differentiation unexplained

mi-chamocha mi kamocha (Exod. 15:11) The Masorah states: In the second kamocha the first K af has a Dagesh. (There are no points in the notes of the Masorah.) Why are the two words pointed differently?

The basic rule is that the letters Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Peh, Tav (BeGeD KeFeT) have a Dagesh when they occur at the beginning of a word. The qualifications to this rule are that if the word follows another word which has one of Alef, Heh, Vav, Yud, (EHeVI) as its last letter there is no Dagesh in the BeGeD KeFeT letter - unless 1) there is a pause (indicated by the tune) between the two words; 2) the final letter of the first word is pronounced as a consonant; 3) the words are pressed together (a short vowel or Kamatz at the end of the first word)l; or 4) the stress on the first word is on the penultimate syllable (a short vowel or Kamatz at the end of the first word). The four exceptions to the basic exception are known as the four Mevatelin ('nullifiers' of the basic exception). The qualifications are quoted in some traditional grammar books as being found in the Masorah, and in others without that reference. In Chok Yehu uMvatlav (a booklet on this subject) Rabbi S. Divlitzki states that he has been unable to find the qualification rule anywhere in the Masorah on the Bible. Nevertheless the Masorah does refer to the qualifications without setting them out (Masorah Daniel Ch. 5). Rabbi Divlitzki points out that words terminating in a long vowel are often perceived as having a virtual Heh in that position and fall within the rule. Mevatel no. 2 excludes cases where the final EHeVI letter is pronounced as a consonant, and mevatlin nos. 3 and 4 deal with short vowels. (Chaim Keslin in Maslol - a grammar book of the early Haskala - maintains that when Kamatz is involved it is Kamatz Katan, making it too, a short vowel.) The rule can therefore be summarized simply as saying "When a word concludes with a long vowel and flows on to the next word the letters BeGeD KeFeT commencing that next word are without Dagesh".

Though the rule has been explained mystically (Beer Rehovot; Benei Yissosschor [sic]), it can also be explained in terms of articulatory phonetics. A word that concludes with a long vowel and flows on to the next word (i.e. there is no pause tune) leaves the vocal chords open, with the air flowing, waiting for the next sound to be articulated. The letters BeGeD KeFeT each have a plosive form (indicated by Dagesh) and a fricative form. The plosive form requires a blocking of the flow of air followed by a sudden release. The fricative form requires only the partial blocking of the flow of air. A little air continues to flow to create the fricative sound. It requires less of a change to the status quo in the vocal tract to move from vowel sound to fricative sound than to plosive sound. This is an example of the principal of "least effort".

In Beit Yosef (An encyclopedia of Halacha written by R' Yosef Karo in the form of a commentary on Tur prior to his definitive work on Halacha Shulchan Aruch) we find:

One should take care to say mi kamocha ne'edar bakodesh [with the Kaf] with a Dagesh, for if one doesn't it sounds like blasphemy as the word before is Hashem and it would sound as though one is saying Hashem micha, and micha is the name of the man who stole the Divine Name and made the calf [and quotes a verse (Zech. 10:11) in support].

Here it seems that the concern for a most unlikely misreading is the reason for the peculiar pointing. However Minchat Shai understands this Beit Yosef a little differently and writes: The first [mi chamocha] has the Kaf as soft, and the second one has a Dagesh after Yehu [EHeVI] without a Mevatel in accordance with Masorah. They gave a reminder so one should not err: "the micha which is next to Hashem".

The first mi-chamocha is hyphenated and the second is not. The Dagesh may be a device to distinguish the hyphenated form from the proximate non-hyphenated form. Indeed in Psalms (35:10) the same phrase occurs (and the verse is incorporated in the Shabbat Nishmat prayer) and there, although the Shem precedes it there is no Dagesh in the Kaf.

R' David Bachrach writes:

I believe that Khartoum is spelled with a "Khaf" not a "Chet".

Thank you David Bachrach. Indeed, the accepted scientific transliteration for "Khaf" is 'kh', while "Chet" is transliterated by 'h' (sometimes with a dot under it). Furthermore as "Khaf" is articulated on the palate while "Chet" is articulated gutturally it is unlikely that these sounds became confused. Thus the English spelling supports "Khaf". However, Israel Atlas for High Schools by Prof. Moshe Brawer, Dept. of Geography University of Tel Aviv 10th ed. 1995, Yavneh T.A. p. 56, spells it with Chet. It seems that the spelling requires further research.

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