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

Parashat Chaye Sarah 5761


Numbers in Grammar and Halacha

meah shana ve'esrim shana vesheva shanim (Gen. 23:1) ('one hundred and twenty seven years'). In the Hebrew the word for 'year' is repeated after the hundred, the tens, and the units - in the case of the hundred and the tens it is singular, while after 'seven' it is plural. This is an instance of a regular feature found throughout the Tanach: numbers which are multiples of ten qualify singular nouns. This has an effect on Halachah. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Ramo) lays down "One should write yamim up to ten and thereafter write yom " (E.H.126:4). Here, as in a number of other halachot, we can see that the rules for writing Hebrew are determined by what is found in the Tanach.

* * * *

What is the root?

mishtaeh (Gen. 24:21) Rashi, Rabbi A. Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Radak, all make a point of stating that the root is Shin, Alef, Heh and that the meaning is 'surprise'. Rashi, Rashbam and Rabbi A. Ibn Ezra explain that the conjugation is Hitpael (one of the seven conjugations of Hebrew verbs), and Rashi adds that when the first letter of the root is Shin the Tav of the Hitpael comes after the Shin rather than before it, as would be expected (metathesis). Rashi deals with this matter in detail at the end of Parashat Miketz (Gen. 44:16), which is the appropriate place. The reason it had to be dealt with here is that Saadya Gaon translated 'received drink from her' as though the root were Shin, Tav, Heh with the Tav as part of the root. Because of Saadya Gaon's great status all the commentators felt the need to register their disagreement. However there is another reading of the Tafsir of Saadya Gaon, which is similar to the commentators' interpretation of the verse. Both these readings are also found in some editions of Onkelos. (see: Rabbi Amram Korah, a Yemenite rabbi of the previous generation, in his commentary 'Nevei Shalom' on Tafsir of Saadya Gaon in Sefer Keter HaTorah [ed. Rabbi Y. Kappah], and Rabbi Y. Kappah in his notes on his translation of Tafsir of Saadya Gaon in Torat Haim, Mosad HaRav Kook.)

* * * *

Who borrowed from whom?

It is well known that languages borrow words from one another. In modern spoken Hebrew borrowed words are often derived from European languages: an example is 'hello' for opening a conversation. Words similar to hello are to be found in most European languages. The source of this widespread word is problematic. Major dictionaries, which endeavor to provide a source for every word, have not found a source for hello. Perhaps they should examine the haftarah of Hayei Sarah (I Kings 1). There we read that the prophet Nathan said to Batsheva 'ha-lo shamaat' (ibid. v. 11), which may be translated literally as 'did you not hear' but which is actually a rhetorical question with the word ha-lo serving to introduce the conversation. The commentaries Metzudat David and Malbim hint at this. It may well be that the European term 'hello' has its origin in the Biblical ha-lo.

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


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