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

Parashat Shelach 5762

What does lechem mean?

ki lachmenu hem (Num. 14:19) ('for they are our lechem') Rashi and R' A. ibn Ezra comment 'We will eat them like lechem'. In the Torah the word lechem has a wide range of meaning. It is used for particular items of food: e.g. lechem isheh (Levit. 3:10) ('the lechem of burning') referring to the lard of the peace offering that is burnt on the altar; or lechem min hashamayim (Exod. 16:4) ('lechem from heaven') referring to the manna. There are also instances where it seems to mean food generally e.g. lo al halechem levado (Deut. 8:3) ('not on food alone'). In colloquial Hebrew today it means bread - this is also one of its meanings in the Torah, e.g. lechem panim (Exod. 25:30) ('showbread'); and lechem matzot (ibid. 29:2) ('unleavened bread'). In our verse, the commentators do not explain the meaning of the term lechem, because it does not matter whether this is 'bread', some other food, or food generally. They are concerned with the implication of the phrase, and make it explicit by adding nochlem 'we will eat them'.

* * * *

Letters at the beginning of words with and without Dagesh

eretz kena'an (Num. 13:2) ('the land of kena'an') the Chaf has a Dagesh; lemateh yehudah, kalev (ibid. verse 6) ('for the tribe of Yehudah, Kalev') the Chaf has a Dagesh; vaya'alu vanegev (ibid. 13:22) ('and they went up in the Negev') the Bet has no Dagesh; legoy gadol (ibid. 14:12) ('a great nation') the Gimmel of gadol has a Dagesh; veyimalei chevod (ibid. verse 21) ('and glory fills') the Chaf has no Dagesh; ki chol (ibid. verse 22) ('for all') the Chaf has no Dagesh; lama zeh (ibid. verse 41) ('why?') the Zayin has a Dagesh; belulah vashemen (ibid. 15:6) ('mixed in oil') the Bet of vashemen has no Dagesh. For purposes of Degeshim the Alef-Bet falls into three categories, the letters Alef, He, Het, Ayin, Resh (Ahachar) do not receive Dagesh (there are some exceptions in the Bible in accordance with the Masorah); the letters Tet, Samech, Shin, Kof, Tzade, Nun, Vav, Zayin, Lamed, Yud, Mem, (Tas Sheketz Nozlim) receive a Dagesh Chazak (which doubles the strength of the letter); the letters Bet, Gimmel, Dalet, Kaf, Pe, Tav, (Begad Kefat) receive both the Dagesh Chazak and the Dagesh Kal (which changes the articulation from fricative to plosive). In addition the letters Alef He Vav Yud (Ehevi or Yehu) sometimes indicate vowels. Hence a dot in a He at the end of a word is not a Dagesh. It is known as a Mappik and indicates that the He is to be sounded as a consonant.

Generally the letters Begad Kefat at the beginning of a word receive a Dagesh Kal e.g. eretz kena'an. However there is an old rule expressed in the language of the Masorah that can best be explained by way of the articulatory process. When a word concludes with a vowel the larynx (vocal chords) is open. From this position it is easier to move to a position for fricative consonants (which allow some escape of air) than to move to a position for plosive consonants (which require a complete blockage of the air flow). However if the word concludes with a consonant or there is a break for breath, there is no further purpose in the rule. The rule states that when the letters Begad Kefat are at the beginning of a word which follows a word concluding with the letters Ehevi then the Begad Kefat letters are soft (without Dagesh) e.g. vaya'alu vanegev. The rule goes on to list exceptions. The first of these is that if the letters Ehevi are consonantal the rule of softening does not apply e.g. legoy gadol. The second is that if the two words are separated by punctuation indicating a pause (for taking breath) the rule of softening does not apply e.g. lemateh yehudah, kalev. The other exceptions deal with words concluding with short vowels or Kamatz (in this context, some argue, this must be a short vowel!) that generate a Dagesh Chazak in the first letter of the following word e.g. lama zeh.

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