Nif’al Nachei Lamed-Heh/-Yud
hayom hashem nir’ah (Levit. 9:4) (‘today Hashem nir’ah’) Onkelos (Eretz Yisrael, early in common era) (always avoiding anthropomorphisms) translates [‘the glory of G-d’] mitgale (‘reveals itself’). R’ Saadya Gaon (Egypt-Iraq, 9th-10th cent.) translates into Arabic yitgale (‘will reveal Himself’). R’ O. Sforno (Italy, 15th –16th cent.) comments ‘has already’ i.e. past tense nir’ah ‘revealed Himself.’ R’ S.R. Hirsch (Germany 19th cent.) translates ‘will appear.’ R’ A. Kaplan (America, 20th century) translates this phrase ‘G-d will reveal himself.’ Eminent scholars of different eras and regions allocate different tenses to this verb! What actually is the tense of nir’ah?
Traditionally the rules of Biblical Hebrew grammar are determined by examining the text of the Bible. (Although distinctions between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew are mentioned in the Gemara (Hulin 137b; Avoda Zara 58b), systematic study of Mishnaic Hebrew is a fairly modern phenomenon.) As the word nir’ah prefixed by what appears to be the definite article Heh (‘the’) occurs twice (1 Kings 11:9; Daniel 8:1), it might seem that it is a participle rather than a true verb. However the Targum (1 Kings 11:9), translates it as past tense and interprets the Heh as meaning ‘which’ rather than ‘the.’ R’ David Kimchi (Radak, Provence, 12th-13th century,) (ibid.) follows the Targum and points out that there are a number of other examples of this construction which he collected in his work on grammar Michlol (Lyck edition, 43b). Radak was one of the pioneers of the study of Hebrew grammar – hence the tradition that the Heh may mean ‘which’ and nir’ah (and by implication all Lamed-Heh/-Yud verbs with Kamatz) must be past tense. Presumably it is to this tradition that R’ O. Sforno defers when he interprets our verb as past tense.
Other scholars were more intent on context. The passage deals with the happenings of that day as they are programmed to occur. The setting is the future. Indeed in verse 6 they are promised that G-d’s glory will reveal itself, and there the grammatical form is, indeed, future.
The root of this verb is Resh Alef Heh/Yud, (known as a Lamed-Heh or Lamed-Yud verb because of the special characteristics of verbs whose third root-letter is Heh – one of which is interchanging with Yud or vice versa) and the Binyan (‘conjugation’) is Nif’al. Both traditional grammarians such as R’ M. Ch. Luzzatto (Ramchal, Italy-Holland-Eretz Yisrael, 18th cent.) in his Sefer Hadikduk (Shaar 2, Chelek 2, Ch. 3) and modern grammarians such as Dr Sh. Barkalai in his Luach HaPe’alim HaShalem (8th ed, Jerusalem, n.d.) list nir’ah or similar Lamed-Heh/-Yud verbs with a Kamatz under the second letter of the root as ‘past tense,’ while when they have a Segol under the second letter of the root they are listed as ‘participle.’ The consensus follows the tradition.
In truth there is little difference in meaning between passive verbs in the past tense and in the present tense. If something is broken it also was broken. If something was eaten it also is eaten. Nevertheless as we have seen the distinction is deeply entrenched among Hebrew grammarians.
shehakol nihyeh or nihyah?
The above has repercussions in Halacha. The verb Heh Yud Heh/Yud is also a Lamed-Heh/-Yud verb. Should the Beracha ‘shehakol’ be followed by the word nihyeh (the Yud with a Segol – participle) or nihyah (the Yud with a Kamatz - past tense)?
R’ Isaiah ben Elijah Di Trani (Italy, 13th cent.) quoted, with approval, by the Shiltei Gibborim (commentary on Rif, end of Berachot Ch. 6) maintains that all Berachot refer to the past (including borei peri and hamotzi) and that therefore the correct reading is nihyah (the Yud with a Kamatz). (If the participles borei and hamotzi refer to the past why not have the participle nihyeh and it too will refer to the past?)
Chochmat Manoach (17th cent. commentary) in discussing the Gemara (Berachot, 38a) which states that motzi refers to the past, points out that ‘everyone’ knows past tense in Hebrew, and this is a participle – however it functions as an adjective and so refers to the past, present and future. He goes on to list Berachot in the past tense (all of which connect the opening of the Beracha with the ending by asher or she-) and says that the common feature of these is clear, but ‘shehakol’ is not of that group (why not?) so it should be followed by nihye (the Yud with a Segol) as most Berachot are in the present tense and we follow the majority. (Rabbi Eisenberg in Mechkar bevirkat gaa’al yisra’el in Sefer Zevach Mishpacha (Feldheim) points out that all Berachot whose conclusion is in past tense have the word asher or its abbreviation she- between the opening of the Beracha and its conclusion. He suggests that in the Beracha gaa’al yisrael the word gaa’al is a noun.)
Magen Avraham (167:8) discusses the dispute and lays down that nihyah (the Yud with a Kamatz) is correct.
The grammarian R’ Zalman Hanau (17th-18th century, Shaarei Tefilla 312) states that the verbs of all Berachot are participles therefore nihyeh must have a Segol. Ya’avetz, both in Lu’ach Eresh (443) and in She’elat Ya’avetz (nos. vary: 94-95 or 104-105), states that R’ Zalman Hanau is not authority and it should be nihya (the Yud with a Kamatz - past tense). He refers to his father (Chacham Tzevi) as laughing about people who say it with a Segol.
Nevertheless Aruch HaShulchan (O.Ch. 167:7) concludes that nihyeh (the Yud with a Segol – participle) is correct. See also, Be’er Hetev (O.Ch. 204)
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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