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Parashat Shelah 5761

What is the correct vowel for interrogative Heh?

hehazak (the Heh has a Segol) .. harafeh (the Heh has a Hataf-Patah), ham'at (the Heh has a Patah) .. hatovah (the Heh has a Hataf-Patah) .. habemahanim (the Heh has a Patah) .. hashemeinah (the Heh has a Patah) (Num. 13:18-20) ('is it strong? .. is it weak? .. is it few? .. is it good? .. are they in camps? .. is it fat?') In each case the Heh indicates that the phrase following is a question. What determines which vowel is appropriate for the Heh?

The default position is Hataf-Patah - harafeh

If the interrogative Heh comes before a letter that has a Sheva, the Hataf-Patah expands to Patah - ham'at (This is because Hataf-Patah is a type of Sheva-Na, and there cannot be two Shevas at the beginning of a word. According to R' Zalman Hanau (Raza"h, 17th-18th cent.) the following Sheva then becomes a medium Sheva. (Raza"h, a grammarian of distinction and a controversial scholar, declared that the category medium Sheva exists in order to explain why the letters bg"d kf"t do not receive a Dagesh Qal after a Sheva which otherwise has all the characteristics of a Sheva-Nah. However the concept of the medium Sheva remains a matter of dispute.) Sometimes the following letter receives a Dagesh (see Sefer Dikdukei Shai).

If the letter following the interrogative Heh is a gutteral letter with Qamatz, the Heh has Segol - hehazak.

If the letter following the interrogative Heh is a gutteral letter with vowels other than Qamatz, the Heh has Patah - hahiyitem (Num. 31:15).

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Absorption of Letters

veheimatah (Num. 14:15) ('and you will kill') From the verse veheimit ish (Exod. 21:29) we can see that the Tav is the last letter of the root. To express second person (you did ) we need the suffix tah. It emerges that veheimatah is the equivalent of vehaimat-tah and one Tav is absorbed in the other and we remain with one Tav having a strong Dagesh.

The Rambam points out that one must not pronounce a letter with a Dagesh as though it did not have one, nor a letter without a Dagesh as though it had one. He goes on to say that therefore one must take care to leave a space between words like bekhol levavekha and va'avadtem meheirah (Yad, Hil. Kriat Shema 2:9). The implication, as is pointed out in Kesef Mishneh, is that the same letter pronounced twice with no sound or pause between them becomes the equivalent of that letter with a Dagesh in it.

Rabbi David Kimhe (Mikhlol 73) makes the same point. The Bet Yosef (Sh. A. O. H. 61) quotes him and concludes 'Rabbi David Avudraham wrote this too'. For this reason some take care to pronounce the Shin of veyitkadash separately from that of shemeih rabbah.

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Peshat and Derash

mibilti yekholet (Num. 14:15) Rashi writes that it means 'because He did not have the ability to bring them, He slaughtered them. yekholet is a noun'. R' A. ibn Ezra explained 'it is a noun like yevoshet (Gen. 8:7) and it is not an expression of character in the manner of the drasha'. Rashi and R' A. ibn Ezra agree that yekholet is a noun and it would seem that both have said this in order to point out that the plain meaning is different to that of the drasha which takes it as an adjective (Berakhot 32/1).

vatitzpeno (Josh. 2:4) ('and she hid [him?]') There is a difficulty here. The story is about two men and if we understand vatitzpeno to mean 'and she hid him' we wonder why does it not say 'them'? Rashi (ibid) provides three answers to this question. 1. She hid them in a narrow spot as though they were one. 2. According to a Midrash the two men were Pinehas and Calev, and Pinehas stood in front of them and they did not see him because he was an angel. 3. She hid each one separately and we find a similar grammatical structure in 'oil and incense yesamah lev (Prov. 27:9) ('makes the heart happy') in the singular and it does not say yesamehu lev ('make the heart happy') in the plural.

The Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu (GR"A) of Vilna, writes that vatitzpeno means the same as vatitzpon and the Vav suffix is one of the additional letters he'emantiv. The same form occurs in beno be'or [which means son of Be'or], but just as the Sages interpret Scripture there to say Be'or was his son in prophecy because of the extra Vav, so they interpret Scripture here to say that she hid only one man.

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
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