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

Parashat Nitzavim-VaYelech 5762


vehitbarech (Deut. 29:18) Rashi writes 'An expression of blessing, he will think in his heart a blessing of peace for himself' and Rashi translates vehitbarech into Medieval French as bendira sei 'he will bless himself' (R' Moch? CATANE 'Otzar Le'azey Rashi' Lebovitz-Kest Pocket Library of Torah Classics Jerusalem, 2000). Rashi continues 'like vehitgalach (Levit. 13:33), vehitpalel (Kings 13:6)'. It seems that in all these cases Rashi interprets the Hitpael as indicating that the action is reflexive (it affects the actor). Therefore vehitgalach means 'he will shave himself', vehitpalel means 'he will meditate'. The Sages interpreted vehitgalach as meaning 'by any person' (not necessarily a priest) (Sifra 134:4) accordingly it is passive and not reflexive. It would seem that Rashi is explaining the plain meaning and not questioning the halacha which the Sages derive here. Therefore in verses such as hitpalel el H' (Num. 21:7), which appear to mean 'pray to God' and the action is not reflexive, the interpretation is 'through meditation in the heart, reach out to God'. This is quite explicit with regard to Eliezer the servant of Avraham; 'And he said, Lord God of my master Avraham, appear up before me today,' (Gen. 24:12) and later, when describing this event, he says, 'I had hardly finished talking to my heart' (ibid. verse 45) so we can see that he had turned to God via his heart.

* * * *

The Vocalization of Mem-Heh

meh asa meh chori (Deut. 29:23) Some months ago R' E. Sternbuch pointed out problems dealing with the vocalization of the word mem-heh. In his commentary to this verse Minchat Shai deals with this question. From his discussion it is apparent that one must rely on the Masorah. He quotes many verses where meh has a Segol even though it is not in front of a word that starts with Heh, Chet, or Ayin. Some of his examples can be found at (l Sam. 4:6; l Kings 14:14; ll Kings 1:7, 4:13; Isai. 1:5).

* * * *

Mapik Heh

ulmaan yerushaim lo eshkot, ad-yetze chanogaH tzidkaH, vishuataH (Isai. 62:1) ('and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be silent until her righteousness emerges like bright light, and her salvation ') The upper case letter 'H' has been used to indicate the special Mapik Heh in Hebrew. There are three letters Heh here which are identical in pronunciation but vary in meaning.

With regard to pronunciation of the Heh: Rabbi M. Ch. Cheshin was concerned with the widespread dropping of Heh. In his reading primer HaMesoret HaShalem (Jerusalem, 1979) he dedicates page 69 to this problem. He explains that Heh is pronounced by a continuous stream of air [that is to say the larynx is open, M.K.], while Aleph is pronounced by halting the airflow [the larynx is closed and then opened, M.K.]. He goes on to say that grave errors will occur if these letters are not kept apart, and concludes with a prayer 'May G-d give us the merit that we pronounce our prayers properly'. It is possible that the dropping of the Heh in the spoken language has its origin in the fact that many of the early speakers of Ivrit were natives of Russia, and in Russian there is no [h] sound (and that is why the family name Horowitz became Gurewitz), so they came to the Land without having developed the ability to pronounce [h]. However, this reason is not sufficient to allow the dropping of Heh in the reading of the Torah and our prayers.

According to the Masorah one should pronounce every Heh at the beginning or in the middle of a word. At the end of a word there are two possibilities: most Hehs are silent and only indicate the reading of a vowel in that position; those Hehs in which the Masorah places a dot known as a mapik (Aramaic for 'brings out') should be pronounced. As far as meaning is concerned: in the word chanogaH the mapik in the Heh indicates that the Heh belongs to the root, is a consonant, and an integral part of the word like the Nun and the Gimmel. However, with regard to tzidkaH, vishuataH the mapik Heh is a suffix, it indicates third person feminine possessive, and means that we are referring to the righteousness and salvation of Jerusalem. The reference to Jerusalem is feminine, because in Hebrew, the names of all cities are feminine.

Correction In the Tenach, which Rabbi M. Breuer edited (according to the Masorah of Ben Asher in Keter Aram Tzova), he indicated that hoshiah and hatzlichah should both be read with ultimate stress.

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