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Parashat Bo 5761


shithi (Exod. 10:1) 'that I put' - R' A. Ibn Ezra (late 11th century) reports three opinions among the scholars of Spain as to the correct grammatical analysis of this word. [1] There are those who say that shithi is like binu (Deut. 32:7), simu (Gen. 43:31), and the like. Similarly yashit, yasim, yavin [which have Yud as the second-letter-of-the-root] - R' A. Ibn Ezra is saying that according to these scholars shithi belongs to the Qal conjugation and its root is Shin, Yud, Tav. [2] There are those who say that it belongs to the Hiphil conjugation though lacking [the Hiphil prefix hi], for they found o mi yasum ileim (Exod. 4:11), lasus alayikh letov kaasher-sas al-avotekha (Deut. 30:9), which are of the Qal conjugation [R' A. Ibn Ezra understands that these belong to the verbs which have Vav as the second-letter-of-the-root which changes to Yud in Hiphil]. [3] There are those who say that yasis is like yasus [that is to say Yud and Vav are interchangeable as the second-letter-of-the-root] and shithi is like sumi and they are all of the Qal conjugation. In the opinion of R' A. Ibn Ezra the third group maintains that the root of shithi is Shin, Yud /Vav, Tav and it belongs to the Qal conjugation.

What is Rashi's stance on this complex question? There are two readings in Rashi here. One says shithi - sumi, the other shithi - simi. It would seem that sumi agrees with the views reported by R' A. Ibn Ezra of [2] and [3], and negates [1], while simi agrees with the views he reports of [1] and [3] and negates [2].

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balayla hazeh (Exod. 12:12) 'on this night' The word for 'this' in Hebrew has a masculine and a feminine form. Here it is masculine indicating that the word for night must, according to the rule of agreement, be masculine too. A check in the concordance indicates that the two places in this chapter (here and v. 42) where zeh ('this') occurs with layla ('night') are the only occurrences in the Bible, and both refer to the first night of Passover. From these, and also from the word shimurim (ibid, ibid) ('guardings'), which is masculine, it is evident that there is emphasis in the text on the masculinity of the 'night.'

In fact, layla ('night') is regularly masculine. R' A. Ibn Ezra mentions this at the beginning of Exodus (1:1), and in his commentary to Psalms (124:3) where he points out that the word nahla ('river') is masculine and the Heh at the end of the word is unstressed and is not a suffix indicative of femininity and as such is similar to layla. It is worth noting that in both cases R' A. Ibn Ezra does not provide quotations to support the assertion that layla is regularly masculine. There simply is no need. Use of the word layla with masculine words in grammatical agreement is so frequent in the Bible that it may be taken as known to all. For the doubtful, a few instances are in order (Gen. 19:35; 26:24; 40:5; II Sam. 2:29; Psalms 19:3; 104:20; 139:12).

Furthermore, there is a grammatical principle involved. In his book on Hebrew grammar, Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto (RAMHAL 18th century) (ed. E. Brieger, NY 1994) argues that feminine nouns are those which connote biologically determined creatures (female beings), and similarly nouns which have the same form as those nouns. For example words like isha ('woman'), yalda ('girl') are feminine because of their biological connotation. They have a stressed Qamatz Heh suffix. Other nouns, which have the same suffix such as brakha ('blessing'), hazmana ('invitation'), are also feminine. Layla does not have the required suffix - the Qamatz Heh suffix in layla is unstressed. My late teacher Zvi Grossman z"l, pointed out that there is a group of three nouns in this class: leyl/layla, nahal/nahla, and mavet/maveta, each of which has an unstressed Qamatz Heh suffix and all are masculine.

The commentary of the Haggada attributed to the Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, on ma nishtana halayla hazeh states that the agreement between the words layla and zeh (masculine) is exceptional. This needs further study.

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


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