When does Heh as a suffix make a noun feminine?
ve'eileh (Exod 1:1) ('and these') R' A. ibn Ezra comments that as the letter Heh at the end of the word is unstressed it does not make the word feminine. It occurs as eil without the Heh and has the same meaning. (This comment is surprising, as the Heh is not preceded by a Kamatz.) The same, he points out, is true of the word laylah ('night'), which occurs as leil without the Heh and has the same meaning as laylah. It is also true of nachlah (see Psalms 124:30) ('a river'), which means the same as nachal. My teacher R' Tzevi Grossman a"h maintained that there is just one other word in this class: mavtah (Psalms 116:15) ('death'). This also has an unaccented Heh suffix and without it 'mavet' means the same. The rule is that only a stressed suffix consisting of Kamatz followed by Heh, indicates that the word is feminine. In view of the above I have heard it said that it is unlikely that a comment found in some editions of the Hagadah shel Pesach, discussing laylah as though it were feminine, and attributed to the Gaon of Vilna, is really his.
The 'u' (or 'oo') sound
ukal (Exod. 3:2) ('was eaten') Rashi compares this word to ubad (Deut. 21:3) ('was worked') and to lukach (Gen. 23:3) ('was taken') indicating that the Pual conjugation has passive meaning. However, the sound 'u' (or 'oo') does not always indicate passivity. In the very next verse we find asura-na and Rashi explains 'I will move from here to come close to there' indicating that here this sound does not indicate passivity. The same is true in the priestly blessing, the word viychuneka (Num. 6:28) is not passive. Rashi explains it as 'may He give you grace.' It is in fact a contraction of viychonein otcha.
History and Geography of Grammar?
venitzaltem (Exod. 3:22) ('and you shall despoil') Rashi (11th century), says that this word is of the same root as vaynatzelu (infra 12:36) and vayitnatzelu (infra 33:6) and the Nun is part of the root. Rashi then quotes Menachem ben Saruk (10th century) as listing the last of these in the Tzade section of his Machberet together with vayatzeil (Gen. 31:9) and hitzil (ibid. 15) (Machberet entry Tzade Lamed section 5). According to Menachem the root must therefore be Tzade Lamed. Rashi, who frequently follows Menachem's opinion, here contests this view at length arguing that the root is Nun Tzade Lamed. R' M. Ch. Charaz in Leshon Chaim (a clear elucidation of the grammatical points in Rashi on the Torah, available at 24 Sonnenfeld St Jerusalem, new ed., 1976) maintains that Rashi's view is that because the Nun is pronounced it cannot be of the same root as vayatzeil and hitzil. He does not attempt to explain Menachem's view.
In the course of explaining this dispute, R' Charaz maintains that the scholars of France follow the view that those verbs which drop a letter in certain parts of the conjugation have 'two-letter roots.' The scholars of Spain [whose view on this matter prevailed] have classes of verbs such as those called Chasrei Pe Nun, (the initial Nun drops out) and Nachei Lamed Heh, (silent final Heh), to explain various aspects of this phenomenon. R' Charaz seems to be on sound ground here, as R' A. ibn Ezra makes the same point at least with regard to Nachei Ayin Vav (silent middle letter Vav) (R' A. ibn Ezra Exod. 7:1; Psalms 64:7). However R' Charaz goes on to say that Menachem was a French scholar! In fact Menachem lived in Spain throughout his life, his students were in Spain, and the word "Sepharadi" ('Spaniard') is prominent on the title page of his work. Rashbam the grandson of Rashi and a contemporary of R' A. ibn Ezra mentions the three-letter structure in a number of places (e.g. Gen. 27:12; 30:11; 41:51; Exod. 13:4;) as does Rashi here, but at Exod. 2:7 he writes about Nchei Ayin Vav and calls them two-letter roots, so it seems that in his day the full three-letter root system had not yet been accepted. This explains why in his day R' A. ibn Ezra could define the idea by geography. However in the days of Menachem the acceptance of the two-letter theory was not limited to France and later the three-letter view was not limited to Spain. The better interpretation of this dispute is in terms of history - the early theory accepted roots of one to five letters. This theory was first ousted in Spain and later in France. Later the three-letter theory was universally accepted. However R' Tzevi (Herschel) Filipowski (19th century) argued that there was much to be learned from the earlier theory, searched out copies of the Machberet from major libraries scattered across Europe and published the book.
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I will be
pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and