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Further to the pauses in the verse Shema Yisrael

Last week we noted that there is a debate among the scholars as to the pauses required in the verse Shema Yisrael. In the opinion of Darkei Moshe (O. H. 61) and Korban ha'ed (Jerusalem Talmud Ch. 4 Hal. 8) the critical phrase in the Jerusalem Talmud 'they did not pause between word and word' (ibid) - which they should have done - means that one should stop after the word Yisrael, the word Elokeinu, and the word ehad, so that the verse divides into three phrases of two words each. In the opinion of the Penei Moshe one ought to stop after each and every word. The latter opinion is supported by the tunes and the vowels of the verse; the Nun with Qamats in the Divine Names is the pausal form, and all the other words in the verse have pausal tunes. This dispute may be resolved in accordance with the Talmudic adage 'Both these and those are the words of the living G-d' (B.T. Eiruvin 13b). We can say that the former authorities only took the major pauses into consideration while the latter took even the slightest form of pause into consideration. Accordingly one could punctuate the verse, satisfying both opinions, as follows: Shema, Yisrael; Hashem, Elokeinu; Hashem, ehad. This fits in well with the traditional tune used by cantors when they take the Torah from the Holy Ark.

Singular and Plural

You shall not serve their gods as it is a trap for you (Deut. 7:16). Here the computer underlined 'as it is a trap for you' in green, indicating a non-grammatical construction! Although R.A. Ibn Ezra did not have a computer he was bothered by the same fact - while 'gods' is plural 'it is a trap' is singular. This is why he comments 'each one of their gods' is a trap. Similarly above (verse 10) on the verse 'And He repays those who hate Him to destroy him' (one would have expected 'them') R.A. Ibn Ezra comments 'each one of their haters' and adds 'like "The righteous (plural) will be secure (singular) like a whelp" ' (Proverbs 28:1). So we can see that the grammatical rule which says that pronouns or verbs must agree (must be the same in number - singular or plural), as the noun they refer to, is not absolute.

Similar words; different roots

vehamam ('disturb them') (Deut. 7:23) Rashi notes 'the vowels of the He and of the Mem are both Qamatz. This is because the final Mem is not part of the root of the word, vehamam is similar to veham otam. However in the vehamam gilgal eglato (drive the wheel of his wagon) (Isaiah 28:28) all three letters belong to the root, therefore the He has a Qamatz and the Mem a Patah - as any other verb with a three-lettered root'. The implication in Rashi is that two-letter roots are common and in this case the root is He Mem. Later (and currently accepted) grammarians maintain that there is a middle letter to the root and it is a Vav. Both views agree that the final Memof vehamam in Parashat Eqev is a suffix. In the area of words and their roots Rashi frequently followed Menahem ben Saruq (see below).

The Reading and the Meaning

lemaan annotkha vaye'annekha (Deut 8:2/3) In the opinion of Menahem ben Saruq in 'Mahberet' the root is the two letters Ayin Nun and this root carries 12 meanings. He lists them by way of examples and in some cases he adds short definitions. However even the theory that roots have three letters (popularized by R. Yona ibn Janah, a student of R. Yitzhaq ibn Jaktilla, one of Menahem's students), allows for more than one meaning per root. In our case in the Niphal Ayin Nun He means to be subjugated while in the Piel it means to cause pain. Thus small changes in reading can distort the meaning significantly.

An historical note

Although Menahem ben Saruq lived in 10th century Spain, his major work, 'Mahberet,' was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1854 by R' Tzvi (Herschel) Filipowski. Filipowski compared five manuscripts, edited the book, wrote comments (in Hebrew) including references to all the places where the work is quoted by Rashi, and was also involved in the physical printing of the work as - he points out - typesetters able to handle the Hebrew alphabet were hard to come by in Scotland. He also wrote a partial translation and an introduction (in English) arguing that the two-letter root theory had much to offer and had been unfairly abandoned. This book in one volume with related works, has recently been re-published in facsimile by H. Wagshal in Jerusalem.

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


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