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Parashat Lech Lecha  5763

What part of speech is rav?

vechol banayich limudei hashem verav shelom banayich (Isa. 54:13) This pasuk occurs in the haftara of Re’eh and of No’ach and  also in the Talmudic passage which concludes five tractates Berachot, Yevamot, Nazir, Keritot, and Tamid.  The same passage is used in many Siddurim to conclude Pittum haKetoret and Bameh Madlikin.  Yemenites say it between the Shir shel Yom and Ein Kelokenu.  The frequent occurrence of this pasuk is surely reason enough to try and establish its meaning.     

Sometimes rav means quantity and serves as an adjective.  Thus for example in the phrase mispo rav (Gen. 24:25) (‘much fodder’), rav (‘much’), says that the quantity of fodder was ‘much’, and functions as an adjective.  However in verabba alecha chayat hasadeh (Exod. 23:29) (‘and the wild beasts will multiply against you’) verabba (‘will multiply’) which is the feminine of verav, functions as a verb. 

If verav is an adjective the translation of the above pasuk might be ‘And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children’ (Singer’s Prayer Book, 18th ed. 1944, p. 168).  On the other hand if it is a verb the translation might be ‘And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and the peace of thy children will become great’.  Which is the preferred translation?  Examining the commentaries in Mikra’ot Gedolot ‘Haketer’ (ed. Menachem Cohen, Bar Ilan University, 1996) we find:

Rashi does not address this question.  R’ A. ibn Ezra writes, ‘verav a future tense verb because of the Vav’.  R’ A. ibn Ezra is saying that the Vav conversive changes what would otherwise be a past tense verb into a future tense verb.  Radak writes similarly, ‘it shall become great, as rav is a past tense verb of the verbs with double letter roots [the root is Resh Bet Bet] made into future because of the Vav.’  R’ Yosef Karo (the 1st) writes ‘verav is a verb “the peace of your children increases” as one may say vekam (‘and he will rise’), uva (‘and he will come’), vesar (‘and he will move away’), meaning ‘and he will do’ - so one may say verav (‘and he will become great’)’.  R’ Yosef Kaspi writes ‘verav shelom banayich as our sages explained’ [in the five closing passages mentioned above].  R’ Eliezer miBalaganci and R’ Yishaya miTrani do not raise the issue.   Of the seven commentators reproduced, three explicitly write that it is a verb and a fourth refers to the Sages who state that the scholars ‘increase peace;’ that is, they see it as a verb.  The other three commentators do not deal with the question.

What is the attitude of more recent writers?  R’ Yihye benYosef Tzalah (Maharitz, Yemen 18th cent.) in his commentary on this passage in the prayers writes ‘it is a transitive verb’ (Maharitz, Tikle’el Etz Haim, Jerusalem, 1971, folio 103b).  Interestingly modern English translations generally translate rav in this context as an adjective (as Singer’s above).  This is true even of the English version of ‘The Hirsch Siddur’ (Feldheim, Jerusalem – New York, 1969).  Not so the original!  R’ S. R. Hirsch (Germany, 19th cent.) wrote ‘Dann wird reich der Friede Deine Soehne’ which we might render ‘and the peace of thy sons will become rich’ - this translates rav as a verb, in accordance with the early commentators.

Perhaps we can explain the unanimity of the commentators by comparing the context.  The Pesukim close by lead one to expect a verb in the position of the word rav.

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Common Nouns and Proper Nouns
el paran
(Gen. 14:6) Rashi writes that Onkelos is correct in translating el as ‘a plain’and goes on to say that this is not because el means ‘plain’ but that the plain of paran was called el, and the plain of Mamre was called elonei, and the plain of the Jordan was called kikkar, and that of Shittim was called avel, avel hashittim, and similarly baal gad was called baal, and all of them are translated ‘plain’ and each has its individual name.  It would seem that Rashi is arguing that these words are all proper nouns and that they connote ‘plain’.  This creates something of a difficulty, for as is pointed out in Sefer Maslol (Mesilat haShemot p. 165), proper nouns do not have semichut (‘construct state’) and, as can readily be seen in the case of elonei, all of these nouns are in semichut.

Perhaps we can solve this problem by saying that even though these words are part of the name they retain their original common noun meaning and straddle both categories.  Similarly in English both ‘general’ and ‘rabbi’ mean ‘a specific man of rank.’ Both can also be incorporated into a proper name and are then spelled with capital letters.  So we may have ‘General Smith’ and ‘Rabbi Katz’.  Indeed in English, although these words have the ‘capital letter’ feature of a proper noun, they may be used in the plural (an unusual feature for proper nouns).  One may say ‘Rabbis Katz and Levy’.  When translating these names into the language of a people who do not have Jews or armies, both names would have to be translated by a general term indicating a man of rank.  It may be noted that in Hebrew even verbs may be adapted as proper nouns e.g. Yitzchak (future tense), Natan (past tense), Shalom (infinitive).

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Wishing all readers Chag Same'ach ('a happy festival.') Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
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