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

Parashat Va'Et'chanan 5762

How one analyses a verb depends on the theory one follows

va'et'chanan (Deut 3:23) ('and I beseeched') Rashi (11th cent.) comments that this word means requesting something as a gift matenat chinam ('gift in exchange for having done nothing'). Rashi adds 'Even though the righteous can expect [reward] for their good deeds they do not request anything from the Omnipresent other than a gift in exchange for having done nothing' The Chizekuni (13th cent.) explains the word as meaning 'I was filled with pleading' and refers to Genesis (42:21) for a similar use of the word. He goes on to say that according to Rashi who relates va'et'chanan to chinam the final Nun must be seen as replacing the Mem of chinam. It may be that Chizekuni understands Rashi as counting the Mem as the third letter of the root.

The Gur Arye (Maharal miPrague 16th cent.) appears to be responding to this reading of the Chizekuni when he writes that he sees Rashi as being in accordance with standard grammar. He explains 'the root of chinam is Chet Nun Nun, for the Mem in chinam is a suffix like the Mem of rekam for the second Nun [of the root] is absorbed in the Dagesh of the Nun of chinam as is the way of Hebrew.'

Let us try to give the Chizekuni a different interpretation. Because he refers to Rashi constantly it is clear that Chizekuni knew that Rashi frequently quotes Menachem ben Saruk and follows his analysis of words having from one to five letters. It was Menahem's student Yehudah Chayyuj, a contemporary of Rashi, who developed the rigid three-letter root theory that became universally accepted. Rashi still accepted the older theory that roots could have one or two letters. It follows that according to Rashi the root of both va'et'chanan and chinam might well consist of the two letters Chet Nun. If so the final Nun of va'et'chanan might be seen as an additional letter, replacing the additional letter Mem of chinam. In 1855 Tzvi (Hirschel) Filipowsky published the Machberet of Menachem ben Saruk from manuscripts, in the hope that it would revive interest in the older theory.

* * * *

Attention Readers of Nachamu! (Isaiah 40)

In some shules the appointed Torah reader also reads the Haftara, while in others the Oleh himself does. Whoever reads Nachamu should be aware of some common errors that need not occur.

gavo'aH (Isaiah 40:9) ('high')

Mapik The letter Heh is not sounded at the end of words in Hebrew unless there is a Mapik (dot) in it. That is to say without the Mapik the Heh has the status of a vowel. However Heh with a Mapik has the status of a consonant and should be pronounced just as it is at the beginning or in the middle of a word. Presumably, because speakers of European languages do not commonly pronounce the sound [h] at the end of words, some people drop this sound in Hebrew too. If it has a Mapik it should be pronounced.

Patach Genuva (Stolen Patach) It is common knowledge that when there is a Patach under a Chet at the end of a word the Patach is pronounced before the Chet (it stole its way in). In fact the rule concerning Patach Genuva applies equally to three letters Heh, Chet, and Ayin. Of course here only consonantal Heh (with Mapik) is involved. Therefore one must read gavo'aH. Sometimes there is discussion about including a slight [w] sound between the two vowels [o'a] and it appears that there are some regional traditions that support this. The short advice is - unless you have been educated in a tradition that does this - don't try.

koye (Isaiah 40:31) ('those who hope')

The letters here are Kuf Vav Yud. A basic rule of reading according to the Masorah (which should be taught in grade one) is that each letter is read with its following diacritic mark (sheva or vowel). Exceptions: 1) letters at the end of a word 2) Alef and Yud in the middle of a word 3) Heh, Chet, and Ayin with Patach Genuvah. In koye in reliable editions of Tenach the Tsere is under the Yud. Hence the Kuf is to be read with the Cholam-Vav, and the Yud is to be read with the Tsere. The Vav here is a vowel, otherwise the Tsere would have to be under it. The Radak comments 'this word is spelled with only one Yud, and it is the Ayin Hapoal (middle letter of the root); the Yud of the plural disappears but remains in pronunciation.' That is to say it is read as though there were two Yuds.

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