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

Parashat Bo 5762

Ellipsis of Heh

lei'anot (Exod. 10:3) ('submit') Onkelos translates this word "le'itkana'a" (Itpael conjugation) and Rashi notes this with approval. Generally verbs in the Nif'al conjugation in Hebrew are translated by the Itpael conjugation in Aramaic. Similarly R' A. ibn Ezra comments "Of the Nif'al conjugation." However there is a slight difficulty with this interpretation. If it is Nif'al as Rashi and R' A. ibn Ezra maintain one would expect the form to be le'hei'anot. To deal with this difficulty the Rashbam writes "From Ayin Nun Heh, lei'anot [as] from Resh Alef Heh, leira'ot." In the case of leira'ot there is an actual example available (that the early grammarians looked for) which cannot be read any other way (Exod. 34: 23-24) and there is also a full spelling of the word leheira'ot (Deut. 3:24) so we can see the Nif'al form both with and without the Heh. Hence lei'anot too, is Nif'al with ellipsis of Heh. No doubt Rashi and R' A. ibn Ezra concur.

In truth the ellipsis of Heh is common. The grammar books all record that the Heh of the definite article may be absorbed by the prefixes Bet, Chaf and Lamed; for example kayom (Gen. 25:31), kehayom (Gen. 39.11); and similarly the Heh of Hif'il is sometimes absorbed - lachati (Ecc. 5:5), lehachati (Kings I, 16:19). Here we can see that the careful reader must always follow the Mesorah and leave out the Heh only when indicated. One should not do so in accordance with one's inclination or with social speech habits of Heh-dropping. In the spoken language carelessness in these matters is common. However this in no excuse for sloppy reading of the Torah.

* * * *

What does kachatzot mean?

kachatzot (Exod. 11:4) Rashi provides two interpretations: [1] "Like 'at the rising' (Jud. 13:20), 'at the anger' (Psalms 124:3); this is its plain meaning to fit it into its context, for chatzot is not a noun related to chatzi ('half')." Rashi is saying that kachatzot is the infinitive with the prefix Kaf meaning "at" rather than "about." This is why Rashi quoted other infinitive verbs with prefixes. Rashi goes on to say [2] "and our Sages expounded it as 'about midnight', and said that Moshe said 'about midnight' meaning either before it or after it, and he did not say 'at midnight' in case Pharaoh's astronomers erred and said that Moshe made a mistake." According to this exposition chatzot is the term for that point in time at which the first and the second half of the night meet, and "about" that point in time there would be a Manifestation of Divinity and the first born of Egypt would die.

The Rashbam writes "kachatzot comes from Chaf Tzade Heh like kaasot [cannot be found, perhaps it should be: laasot] comes from Ayin Sin Heh; kaalot hamincha (Kings 2 3:20) from Ayin Lamed Heh - that is to say when the time comes at which the night divides." It seems that he is explaining the word the same way as Rashi does in 'the plain meaning.'

R' A. ibn Ezra writes: "Some grammarians said that kachatzot is the infinitive, meaning that when it is exactly midnight, for they wanted to equate it to 'and it was at midnight' (Exod. 12:29). Now it is well-known that no scholar has the ability to know the moment of noon unless he has large instruments of copper, and midnight is even more difficult, so in my opinion there is no need for this approach, kachatzot - means 'after the first half of the night has passed, the time which remains in the second half." R' A. ibn Ezra maintains that this can be proven from verses where there is mention of people rising at chatzot and, being human, they cannot act during a point in time (see Ruth 3:8; Psalm 119:42), thus it must be after the astronomic midnight.

* * * *

An unusual form for the imperative!

veshachatu hapasach (Exod. 12:21) ('and slaughter the Pesach lamb') R' A. ibn Ezra writes "It is the imperative of the Kal conjugation and we have not found this class of verbs anywhere in the Bible to be in a conjugation which has a Dagesh [Pi'el, Pu'al, Hitpa'el]. The Shin would be expected to have had a Chirik like the Mem of mish'chu (Exod. 12:21). However because of the guttural letter following, it has received a Patach, as is normal for these letters as in bacharu lachem (Josh. 24:15) and many like it. Therefore the Shin has a Patach as an imperative and both [shachatu bacharu] are in the one conjugation". R' A. ibn Ezra is demonstrating that it is common for guttural letters to create an environment conducive to Patach. This is because Patach is produced with the back of the tongue pushing into the throat (try it), a position similar to that for articulating the guttural consonants.

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