Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
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Parashat Terumah 5761


[Traditional Hebrew grammar is the study of systematic patterns of the Biblical text. Hebrew grammarians call ‘root’ a group of some of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet common to a set of words having some related element of meaning. It is not a matter of sounds - consonants and vowels. It follows that the four letters Alef, Heh, Vav, Yud, which frequently have vowel value can nevertheless be root letters while the vowel marks (‘nikud’) cannot. Sometimes a word has a root where not all of the letters are apparent.]


Whatever happened to the Nun? ‘Hasrei Peh Nun’ and other Nuns


Yidev’enu (Exod. 25:2) (‘donate’) Rashi explains that this word is a variant of the word nedava (‘a gift’) implying that the root is Nun, Dalet, Bet and the Nun has been dropped. Rashi frequently discusses the dropping of the letter Nun (Gen. 49:10; Exod. 3:22; Isa. 1:30; 44:10 and elsewhere).

Frequently the conjugation of the regular verb requires a silent Sheva under the first letter of the root (e.g from the root Zayin, Mem, Resh, we obtain yizmor ‘he will cut’ - silent Sheva under the Zayin). In the parallel case if the first letter of the root is a Nun it may be dropped and ‘compensated’ by placing a Dagesh in the following letter (e.g. from the root Nun, Quf, Mem, we obtain yiqom - Dagesh in the Quf ‘he will revenge’). In our case we can compare yishmer’enu, (‘he will guard it’) where there is a silent Sheva under the Shin, with Yidev’enu where the Nun of the root has been dropped and compensated by a Dagesh in the Dalet. If we limit ourselves to the written text we cannot go further than this. However if we pay attention to the phonetic structure of the two words yishmer’enu and Yidev’enu and remember that the Dagesh doubles the pronunciation of the letter – a Dagesh is as though there were a silent Sheva between two identical letters – we may discern that phonetically the two words remain parallel if not identical. Verbs that have this pattern of droppng the Nun, which is the first letter of the root, are known as Hasrei Peh Nun (‘droppers of the Nun of the first letter of the root’). In the shorthand of Hebrew grammar the first letter of the root is referred to as Peh, a reference to the root of the prototype verb Peh, Ayin, Lamed.


ve’izim (Exod. 25:4) (‘and goats’) Rashi writes: fleece of goats; therefore Onkelos translated umei’azei (‘that which comes from goats’) (Rashi according to ‘Be’er Rehovot,’ a grammatical commentary on Rashi, holds that the Mem of umei’azei has a Tzeirei). According to the Be’er Rehovot we can explain that generally the prefix Mem has a Hiriq and the following letter has a Dagesh Hazaq which compensates for the dropping of the Nun of the word min from which the Mem prefix is derived. For example in mitzideha (infra 25:32) (‘from its sides’) the Dagesh indicates the dropping of the Nun of the word min. However when the word to which the Mem is prefixed commences with the guttural letter Ayin that does not receive a Dagesh, the Mem takes a long vowel (compensation for the lack of compensation!). Here too it should be noted that the dropped Nun had, what in principle was, a silent Sheva. (For these purposes, it seems, Hebrew and Aramaic are similar.)


milemata (Exod. 27:5) (‘from below’) The Lamed and the Tet both have a Dagesh to compensate for a dropped Nun: the Lamed for the Nun of min, and the Tet for the Nun of the root Nun, Tet, Heh.


venatata (Exod. 25:16) (‘and you will put’) The root is Nun, Tav, Nun, and the final Nun, which would have been expected to take a Sheva, has merged with the Tav of the suffix which now has a Dagesh. In all these cases a Nun with a Sheva has merged with the following letter. The Sheva is a requirement, but not a rule.


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zeicher (deut. 25:19) (‘memory’) Because of varying reports on whether Rabbi Eliyahu the ‘Gaon’ of Vilna read the first syllable of the word with a Tzeirei or Segol, the Mishna Berura writes that it is correct to read it both ways in order to carry out the mitzvah in its fullness. As far as I can remember this teaching was unknown in my childhood in Australia. However today it is widely followed. In Miqraot sheyesh lahem hekhrea (‘verses which can be determined’) (Tevunot, 1990) Rabbi M. Breuer collects significant evidence in favor of the reading with Tzeirei. He writes that in recent decades the discovery of ancient manuscripts uniformly supporting the reading with the Tzeirei, is conclusive. Keter Aram Tzova, relied on by the Rambam when writing his own Sefer Torah, also had the Tzeirei. Rabbi Breuer argues that had the author of the Mishna Berura known of the Tzeirei in Keter Aram Tzova he would not have maintained his opinion. Rabbi Breuer’s important study should be translated into English.

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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