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Parashat Hukat 5761

Semitic Languages

lemei nida (Num. 19:9) ('into waters of nida') What does nida mean here? Onkelos (2nd cent.) translates this term as 'into waters of adayuta' ('sprinkling') and R' Sa'adya Gaon (9th-10th cent.) 'into waters of alnatz'ah' which is explained in 'Neveh Shalom' (by R' Amram Korah, a late 19th century Yemenite scholar giving Hebrew translations and commentary to the translation of R' Sa'adya Gaon, published in Keter HaTorah, Ha'Tag' HaGadol Hamisha Humshei Torah, ed Yosef Kapah, Yerushalayim, '719) "as 'into waters of' hazaya ('sprinkling') as it states vayadu even bi ('and they cast a stone at me') and see Rashi z"l." Indeed Rashi (11th cent.) explains 'into waters of' hazaya 'sprinkling' and adds 'like vayadu even bi (Lamentations 3:53) ('they cast a stone at me') leyadot et karnot hagoyim ('to cast out the horns of the nations' Zech. 2:4) a term meaning throwing.'

It is well known that by way of interchange of letters (not necessarily of the same point of articulation in the vocal tract) it is possible to relate Aramaic words to Hebrew cognates. Thus our case is an example of the frequent equivalence of a word that has a Zayin in Hebrew to a word that has a Dalet in Aramaic. Other examples are: zachar ('male') in Hebrew, dachar in Aramaic; zahav ('gold') in Hebrew, dahava in Aramaic. Therefore Onkelos translates lemei nida 'into waters of adayuta' (which is the Aramaic for the Hebrew haza'ah) and R' Sa'adya Gaon and Rashi accepted this interpretation. However R' A. ibn Ezra translates it as "into waters of exclusion" as Onkelos translates nida in other contexts, not accepting the relationship which the above commentators assume as a guide to translation.

However in many instances R' A. ibn Ezra uses relationship of words in Hebrew with Arabic words to clarify the meaning or grammatical structure of words in the Tenach. In at least one place (Exod. 15:2) R' A. ibn Ezra argues that he can clarify the meaning on the basis of Arabic which Rashi could not do. Thus it is agreed by all the commentators that these languages have a familiar relationship. This is mentioned in the Gemara too: 'Rabbi Chanina says [Babylonia] their language is close to that of the Torah' (Pesach. 87:2). For more that 200 years, scholars have been calling these languages 'Semitic' (after Shem the son of Noah). One of the features of these languages is the preponderance of three-letter roots. It is from here that the term 'anti-Semitism' has spread - meaning hatred of the people of the famous Semitic language.

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A Three-Letter Root

venashim (Num. 21:30) ('we will make [them] desolate') 'The Shin has a Dagesh - it is an expression of shemama ('desolation'), this is what the proverb speakers will say "venashim them up to Nofach" [that is to say] we made them desolate up to Nofach' (Rashi). 'For the Shin having a Dagesh indicates the second Mem of shemama as though he wrote shemama with two Mems' (R' Eliyahu Mizrachi, 15th-16th cent.). The Be'er Rechovot (18th cent.) writes that according to Rashi the root is Shin, Mem, Mem, as though it said venashmim and the Dagesh in the Shin indicates the dropping of the middle Mem, and this the Be'er Rechovot writes 'is contrary to the rules of grammar, for in the opinion of Rashi we then need to say that the Dagesh in the Shin indicates the loss of a letter following, and in truth Dagesh can only indicate the loss of a letter before it.'

It is possible that the Be'er Rechovot is right and Rashi is in error 'for we have found that even the early Amoraim erred in decisions on dinim and afterwards reversed themselves' (Sefer Chafetz Chaim, (19th cent.) Hil. Leshon Hara 6:8 in addendum) but before accepting such a conclusion one should first check carefully. First one must note that Rashi does not write that the Dagesh in the Shin indicates the dropping of the middle Mem; this is something that the Be'er Rechovot reads into Rashi (R' E. Mizrachi does similarly). Second, Rashi is not alone. R' A. ibn Ezra writes venashim is of the double-letter verbs [ie the root is Shin, Mem, Mem] and the Chirik is in place of Kamatz-katan [i.e. Tzerei], as we find vayaseiv elokim et ha'am. Minchat Shai (16th-17th cent.) writes 'the Nun has a Patach and the Shin has a Dagesh like im-lo-yashim'' (Jer. 49:30) and there Radak (12th-13th cent.) writes 'it is an expression of shemama' as does Rashi here. We can see that R' A. ibn Ezra (a pioneer of Hebrew grammar) and Radak (the codifier of Hebrew Grammar) agree with Rashi; how can Be'er Rechovot read a meaning into Rashi which is clearly against the rules? Thus we must say that the Dagesh in the Shin is a special rule for the double-letter verbs, perhaps to maintain the over-all three-letter structure of the root but not to replace a specific letter.

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
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