The answer is known, but what is the question?
ma nishtana halayla haze mikol haleilot? (Mishna Pesachim, 116A) ('How nishtana this night from all other nights?') Many English translations render the verb nishtana in the present tense. However, the Hebrew form is past tense, and this was already noted in the 17th century by R' Shabetai Sofer in his commentary on the Haggada shel Pesach (annotated edition Satz, Y. ed., Yeshivat Ner Israel, Baltimore, Md. 1987). It may therefore be translated 'How did this night become different from all other nights?' or 'What happened to make this night different?' and continues 'that on all other nights we (now) eat … dip … lean etc.' In light of this the answer in the opening passage of the Haggada is excellent "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out … (past)" and the conclusion also fits perfectly "This Matza which we eat (now) is because the Egyptians made our lives bitter … (past)"
We have noted that the word nishtana is part of the text of the Mishna. The Sages called this variety of Hebrew Leshon Chachamim (Chulin 136B and elsewhere). It should therefore not be surprising if it is a form which is not to be found in the Bible. R' Shabetai Sofer writes:
The root of the word nishtana is Shin Nun Heh and it is a form combined of the Nif'al and Hitpa'el conjugations, for if it were straight Hitpa'el it would be nishna like nivna (1 Kings 6:7) ('it was built') for it too is of the roots with a silent Heh as the third letter and its root is Bet Nun Heh, and if it were straight Hitpa'el it would be hishtana like vehishtanit (1 Kings 14:2) ('and change') but in nishtana the [first] Nun is of the Nif'al conjugation and the Tav and the Dagesh in the second Nun are of the Hitpa'el conjugation …
Even though R' Shabetai Sofer wrote primarily on Nusach of prayer and on grammar, he based his work on a broad tapestry of sources including Gemara, Poskim, works of Kabbala, and grammatical works, demonstrating his mastery of all parts of the Torah and making him worthy of the approbations of the most famous rabbis of that generation including Rabbi Shemuel Eliezer HaLevi (Maharsha). His approach to grammar was to base the rules on the language of the Bible, hence his explanation of nishtana. This explanation has since been extended to the many words of this form in the Mishna establishing a Mishnaic conjugation, the Nitpa'el, 'which is a form combined of the Nif'al and Hitpa'el conjugations.'
The Blessing of Redemption
'… and he concludes with redemption … R' Akiva says … baruch .. gaa'al yisra'el' (Mishnah Pesachim 116B)
This blessing concludes the maggid ('telling') section of the Passover Haggada. What it means depends on the grammatical form that gaa'al manifests. Rabbi Eisenberg in his article mechkar bevirkat gaa'al yisra'el in 'Zevach Mishpacha' published by the Feldheim family, points out that there are many blessings which conclude in the past tense but all of them have asher or she- breaking the flow of words between the opening of the blessing and its conclusion. All other blessings both open and conclude in the present. He then explains that gaa'al may be a past tense verb in which case it must be read as though it were shegaa'al ('who has redeemed') or it is possible that it is a noun in Semichut ('construct state') and means 'redeemer of … ,' as chaarash even (Exod. 28:11 see Rashi there) means 'a skilled worker of stone ' Rabbi Eisenberg prefers the second possibility.
What have others written about this blessing?
The Gemara (Pesachim 117B) comments on this Mishnah 'For the reading of the Shema and Hallel gaa'al yisra'el, for prayer go'el yisrael; Why is this? [The Gemara answers "It - prayer"] - is mercy.' Rashbam explains this passage as follows "For the reading of the Shema" - '[means] The blessing of redemption following the reading of the Shema,' "and Hallel" - '[means] That of Passover eves, where one concludes gaa'al yisra'el in accordance with R' Akiva in our Mishnah that he [the narrator at the seder] tells and praises about the redemption of Israel which passed.' It seems that Rashbam is using many words to avoid writing simply leshon avar ('an expression of past tense'), a very simple term. The implication is that he did not regard gaa'al as a past tense verb. If so it must be a noun in Semichut and as such refer to the past (see also Chochmat Manoach, Berachot 38a that nouns may refer to past, present and future).
Bach (Shulchan Aruch O. Ch. 66 S.V. M"Sh vechotem) writes 'We must examine our custom at Ma'ariv on festivals when we say the evening prayer-poems and conclude "blessed are You G-d, King, Rock of Israel, vego'alo" [with a Vav after the Gimmel) (nusach Ashkenaz). It is as though one said go'el yisrael, [not in accordance with the above Gemara]; rather one should say vego'alo without a Vav and this refers properly to the past redemption as mentioned above.' It would seem that if one says 'vego'alo without a Vav' one is using it as a noun; this implies that the Bach holds that it is a noun and as such refers to the past. Indeed R' A. Kaplan translates this blessing 'Redeemer of Israel.'
However Me'iri (Pesachim 117B), Ta"z (O.Ch 66), RSh"Z (ibid.), and Ya'avetz (Siddur) all write that it is past tense. Similarly most English translations consider it a verb in the past tense and render it 'has redeemed.'
I will be
pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
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