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Parasha Chukat 5763

Masculine and feminine forms of nouns that denote inanimate items!

chukat hatorah (Num. 19:2) ('the statute of the Torah'): What is the difference between chok and chukka ('statute'), shir and shira ('song'), eden and edna ('pleasure')? A basic assumption is that if there are two words in a language each must serve a different purpose. R' Yaakov Levi has undertaken pioneering research on this issue in his book limudei lashon (Jerusalem 1990, distributed in Europe by J. Lehmann, Gateshead, in Israel by the author), and has successfully explained distinctions between many of these pairs. For eden and edna he points out that the masculine form refers to the individual case while the feminine is the generalization. This distinction is usefull for many masculine-feminine pairs. For shir and shira he refers the reader to Mechilta (15:1) where the masculine form is interpreted as the song for the more powerful (final) salvation. He does not distinguish between chok and chukka, possibly because R' Bachya (here) explains the difference according to Kabbala.

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For accurate reading

velo-haya mayim (Num. 20:2) ('and there was no water'): The rules of intonation in the Torah avoid two stressed syllables adjacent to one another. In its standard form haya has its stress on the last syllable. In its standard form mayim has its stress on the first syllable. With mayim following haya there would be two stressed syllables adjacent to one another. To avoid this the stress on haya moves back one syllable, hence haya. This rule is known as nasog achor ('drawn back'). The rule has exceptions and exceptions to exceptions making it extremely complex. One exception is that the rule does not apply to those present participles and nouns which conclude with a consonant that follows a long vowel, e.g. yotzeir or (Isa. 45:7), ocheil eisev (Psalms, 106:20), yoveil hi (Levit. 25:10), tahor hu (ibid 13:40), because the long vowel cannot change into a short vowel (Ch. Keslin, mislol, mesilat hanikud, netiv 12; ot 93) [because] as the author explains elsewhere - For were nasog achor to apply, the long vowel would become a short vowel, and the word would appear to belong to a different declension of nouns, and one could err as there would be no distinction between noun and verb (participle). Thus if nasog achor were to apply to ocheil eisev the Tzere of the Chaf would become a Segol and would be indistinguishable from the noun ochel ('food'). Therefore nasog achor cannot apply. However in the case of present participles of the declension of Nachei ('silent') Lamed-He (Yud) and of Nachei Lamed-Alef the rule of nasog achor does apply, e.g. boneh ir (Gen. 4:17), osei fele (Exod. 15:11), uvore ra (Isa. 45:7), as they do not have a change of vowel as they do not conclude with a consonant. These declensions also do not have nouns which have the stress on the second last syllable on the pattern of the participle, so there is no room for error (ibid, mesilat hashemot, netiv 12; ot 82). R' Shabbetai Sofer explains this differently (Siddur Rashas s.v. dome lach).

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The definitely known sword

pen bacherev etze likratecha (Num. 20:18) ('in case I come out against you with the sword'): The definite article 'the' (indicated here by Patach under the prefix Bet) is normally present when the noun has been used previously and has thereby become identified or 'definite.' One might therefore ask 'Which sword?' The classic commentators provide us with two answers.

Rashi comments [Eisav is saying] 'You [Israel] pride yourself with the voice which your ancestor bequeathed to you and so you say "and we cried out to G-d and He heard our voice" (above v. 16) I will come out against you with that which my ancestor bequeathed to me "live by your sword" (Gen. 27:40).' Rashi has therefore provided an antecedent, and dealt with the grammatical question raised 'Why is the definite article used as a prefix to cherev ('sword')?' The answer is: It is the sword mentioned in the blessing of Yitzchak.

However, well-known things do not need to be identified in order to receive the definite article. Thus we find hashemesh yatza al ha'aretz (Gen. 19:23) ('the sun came out on the land'), and uvasheil mevushal bamayim (Exod. 11:9) ('and properly cooked in {the} water'). Hence R' O. Sforno comments 'The masses of people of Edom are bloodthirsty, and at the slightest friction that might occur between the people of the land and the passing people, the people of the land will take to the sword against the passing people.' We can see that R' O. Sforno regards 'the sword' as a well-known item that receives the definite article without any introduction.

It may be that Rashi maintains that the rule that well known items receive the definite article without the need for an introduction applies only to items of Nature such as the sun the earth and water. On the other hand R' O. Sforno maintains that a reference from another part of the Torah is an insufficient antecedent, while commonly known objects are part of the rule even if not part of Nature. To establish these hypotheses both commentaries need to be checked right through the Tenach.

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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