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

Parashat Devarim 5761

Imperative or Infinitive?

havu lakhem (Deut. 1:13) ('appoint' or 'designate') R' A. ibn Ezra (1089-1164) comments 'havu is an irregular word, for the Heh [which is read with a Kamatz] ought to have been pronounced with a Sheva and a Patach.' R' A. ibn Ezra is saying that this word is an imperative like benu ('build!') where the first letter has a Sheva-na but because the first letter of havu is a Heh [which cannot have a Sheva-na] we would expect it to have a Chataf-patach but in fact it has a Kamatz, therefore R' A. ibn Ezra calls it irregular. However R' David Kimche (Radak, circa 1160-1235) writes 'This word is customarily used for the giving of advice or help to do something which had been mentioned but is not fully imperative; it is rather more like an infinitive or noun, therefore the word serves both feminine and plural equally.' (Radak, Gen. 11:3) Radak is arguing that this special form has special meaning. But what does he do with havu, our form of the verb that is in the plural? Unfortunately we do not have Radak on Deuteronomy.

Can either of these commentators claim the support of Rashi (1040-1105) on this question? Rashi writes 'Prepare yourselves for this matter' and R' E. Mizrachi (1450-1526) comments on this passage of Rashi, 'every occurrence of hava means preparation and invitation for something (to happen). It means give advice or help for this matter, for there is no difference between the above [havu lakhem] and hava nitchakma lo (Exod. 1:10) ('let us take counsel against them') even though in hava the stress is on the first syllable, while in havu the stress is on the last syllable.' R' E. Mizrachi goes on to point out that the two forms are also equated in Sifrei (a commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy written in the Talmudic era). The Sifrei (Deut. 13) states 'havu means "advice" as it says havu lakhem 'take advice' and similarly it says hava nitchakma lo.

According to the explanation of R' E. Mizrachi that there is no difference between havu and hava it would seem that the opinion of Rashi is that havu is a regular imperative, for Rashi writes 'prepare' in the imperative. In many places where Rashi thinks that the verb is in the infinitive he points this out (e.g. Exod. 20:7; Deut. 3:6).

* * * *

A Morsel of Grammar for Thursdays

Once, upon a Thursday, a well-versed gentleman who was an elder of the congregation, led the prayers at Meshekh Chokhma Synagogue, in Kiryat Sefer, Israel. Surprising some of the congregants, he concluded the Psalm for the day with: umitzur, devash asbi'aeka (Psalms 81:17) ('and from a rock, I will satisfy you with honey'). There is no question or dispute that this is the correct reading of the phrase, it is just that many people who lead the prayers leave out the pause after the word umitzur, and instead pause after devash, so that what they say means 'and with a rock of honey, I will satisfy you!!!' Why should we suppose that there is 'a rock of honey'? It is therefore worthwhile to remind people that the te'amim ('tunes,' often known by the Yiddish word trop) on this verse indicate a pause after the word umitzur.

Job, Proverbs and Psalms have a special set of trop called te'amei emet (emet is an acrostic of the initial letters of the Hebrew names of these books Iyov, Mishlei, Tehillim). The word umitzur has two tune markings on top of it, the first looks like a Resh in reverse (like an Azla in the other books of the Bible), and the other looks like a heavy dot (a Revia in the other books of the Bible). In the te'amei emet these are (together) called Revia-mugrash (other names are: kateif yemin umyushav; gozer, tipcha), which have the status of a pause of the third level of the four levels of pause in te'amei emet (see table at the end of R' S.Y. Weinfeld's book Ta'amei HaMikra, Eshkol, Jerusalem, 1981). Thus the trop too, indicates that one should pause after the word umitzur.

The classical commentaries too, support this reading of the verse. Rashi writes on this verse 'He satisfied them with honey when they walked in His way as it says "and He gave them honey to suckle from a rock".' R' A. ibn Ezra has the same opinion. He writes 'He satisfied them with water from a rock - it was sweeter than honey.' From all the above it is clear that publishers of prayer books should take care that there is a comma inserted after the word umitzur.

A second point: In some publications, including authoritative works like Roedelheim prayer books and Rabbi M. Breuer's edition of the Bible, the final Khaf of asbi'aekha is rafa - without a Dagesh.

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