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

Parashat Ekev 5761

Related Roots?

*veha:ma:m (Deut. 7:23) ('and He will disturb them noisily') What is the root of this word? Menachem ben Saruk 'the Sefaradi' (10th century), maintained that many verbs have two-letter roots. He did not distinguish between those verbs which later came to be regarded as having Vav or Yud as the middle letter of the three- letter root (known as Nahei Ayin-Vav or Nahei Ayin-Yud), and roots with identical letters as the second and third letter of the root (known as Kefulim). As a result Menachem ben Saruk lists two-letter roots for many words in his dictionary Machberet. Thus in his entry Heh-Mem (first meaning) he uses a number of words similar to veha:ma:m as examples.

Rashi (11th century) frequently accepts this view as correct, but here raises some doubt, writing of veha:ma:m 'It has Kamatz in both syllables, because the last Mem is not of the root. However in *veha:mam galgal eglato (Isaiah 28:28) ('the wheel of his wagon was noisy') all the letters are of the root, therefore one syllable has a Kamatz and the other has a Patach like other verbs which have three letters.' According to Rashi veha:ma:m here, has a two-letter root (as Menachem), but the other occurrence of this word (Isaiah 28:28) is quite different in that it has a three-letter root Heh, Mem and Mem. This is hardly Machberet doctrine.

R' A. ibn Ezra (12th century) refers to Menachem ben Saruk (only) in connection with the meaning of the root Kuf, Dalet, Shin (Deut. 22:9; Haggai 2:12). He regards the idea that Nahei Ayin-Vav and Nahei Ayin-Yud verbs have two-letter roots, to be that of the Sages of France (Exod. 7:1; Psalms 64:7), among whom Rashi was prominent, but in this connection makes no reference to Menachem or to his Machberet. Thus it appears that in Spain the three-letter root theory (which is regarded as standard today) had been accepted, and Menachem's theory had already been abandoned. It may be that, books being rare in the days before print, R' A. ibn Ezra never saw Machberet and knew Menachem's opinion about the root Kuf, Dalet, Shin from an oral report only. He does not discuss the root of either veha:ma:m or veha:mam (in the elegant three-letter root theory it was too obvious), and in principle it is quite clear that he would analyze the first as having the root Heh, Vav, Mem and the second as having Heh, Mem, Mem.

Subsequently for hundreds of years little attention was paid to Menachem's Machberet. Eventually, R' Tzvi (Herschel) Filipowski, of Edinburgh, believing that the two-letter theory has important insights to offer, decided to publish it. The Machberet had been so neglected that he could find only five manuscript copies scattered across the major libraries of Europe. It was finally published in 1854.

The two words discussed here veha:ma:m and veha:mam are a good example of Filipowski's point. Although it is quite clear that in the three-letter root theory they have different roots, nevertheless the basic meaning is the same: 'noise' or 'turmoil.' This is clear from the context. In Mandelkern's Concordance these words are listed under the two distinct roots, but the explanation given for the meaning of these roots is the same. It is arguable that both roots have a common core which is Heh, Mem.

*a:=Kamatz; a=Patah

* * * *

What is the Root?

tivakesh (Deut. 7:25) ('Lest you are trapped') R' A. ibn Ezra explains that the Vav replaces Yud and as evidence quotes yakoshti lakh (Jer. 50:24) ('I prepared a trap for you'). Thus the root of the verb is Yud, Kuf, Shin and tivakesh being Niphal, has a Dagesh in the Vav in accordance with the standard Dagesh in the first letter of the root in the future tense Niphal. This is an example of the elegance of the three-letter theory. It explains the Dagesh in the Vav, an irregular root-letter, in accordance with the pattern of the regular roots.

Rashi (Jer. 50:24), also relates the Vav to the Yud. Thus according to Rashi too, this word has a three-letter root. However Menachem lists tivakesh in his entry Kuf, Shin. It is difficult to understand how he explains the Vav and its Dagesh..

For Torah Readers

Vaye'anekha (Deut. 8:3) ('and He afflicted you'): If the reader misreads the Sheva under the Yud as a Patach it means 'and he answered you!'

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