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Parashat Vayehi 5761


Second person masculine and third person feminine, singular, future tense verbs

Al tavo nafshi … al teihad kevodi (Gen. 49:6) (‘may my soul not come … may my honor not unite’) Rashi comments "Kavod (‘honor’) is masculine, and against your better judgment you must interpret it as addressing the honor, saying ‘you my honor do not unite with them’."

Rashi’s comment can be understood by noting that second person masculine and third person feminine, singular, future tense verbs are identical.

  1st pers. 2nd pers. 3rd pers.
Masc. avo tavo yavo
Fem. avo tavo’i tavo
  1st pers. 2nd pers. 3rd pers.
Masc. eihad teihad yeihad
Fem. eihad teihadi teihad

They must be distinguished by their context. ‘nefesh’ (‘soul’) is feminine and all agree that tavo refers to ‘nefesh’ in the third person – Ya’akov, our forefather, prays that ‘may she, my soul, not come’ in their council. However in Rashi’s opinion, the verb teihad cannot be interpreted in the same way, as it refers to ‘kavod’ (‘honor’), which is masculine and therefore he interprets ‘you, my honor, do not unite with them’; because ‘kavod’ is masculine we must say that teihad is second person masculine.

Rabbi David Kimhe (Radak) disagrees with Rashi and writes ‘teihad is feminine, for the honor is the soul’. However no one including Radak, disagrees with the principle that future, masculine, second person and future, feminine, third person are identical.

In light of the above principle, the phrase ‘uvishuatekha tarum vetagbiah qarneinu’ (end of Morning Blessings) needs to be examined. Is ‘tarum’ masculine second person or feminine third person?

Rabbi Ya’aqov Emden writes in his Siddur ‘tarum’ and ‘tagbiah’ are intransitive verbs [that is to say they do not require an object for the action described by the verb, MK] in the third person (and in brackets we find in Yiddish ‘zi zolen zich derheiben’ [‘she will raise herself,’ MK]) in the feminine referring to ‘qeren’ [dual parts of the body are feminine, MK]. If they were transitive verbs [that is to say requiring an object for the action described by the verb, MK] second person masculine (in Yiddish ‘do zolst machen derheiben’ [‘you shall raise’MK]) it would have needed to be ‘tarim’ with a Hiriq (Hiph’il).

Indeed Baer’s siddur Avodat Yisra’el refers to a work called Vaye’etar Yitzhaq which ‘corrected’ the text to ‘tarim’. He counters this innovation with three arguments: 1. In all siddurim and manuscripts we find ‘tarum’. 2. In ‘Shemoneh Esrei’ the wording is ‘veqarno tarum bishuatekha.’ 3. It is also in Psalms (89:14, 18:25, 112:9). Baer, a student of Rabbi Wolff Heidenheim, expresses surprise that his teacher followed the view of Vaye’etar Yitzhaq. However, this approach avoids the problem raised by Reb Ya’aqov Emden. Nowadays, the widespread siddur Tefillat Kol Peh has ‘tarim’ in the Morning Blessings (but not in ‘Shemoneh Esrei’).

Because Baer’s opinion that ‘tarum’ should not be changed, and that Reb Ya’aqov Emden’s opinion that ‘tagbiah’ is an intransitive verb is forced, Baer decided to change ‘tagbiah’ to ‘tigbah’ (and to fulfill his obligations to the rabbi, who in his approbation praised him for not including editorial change based only on conjecture, he indicated that this form is to be found in the Mahzor printed in Prague in 1613). Baer’s version is followed by Singer’s Prayer Book, which was published in 1890 under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire R’ Nathan Adler. My copy is of the 18th edition (1944). By then 317,000 copies had been printed.

Iyun Tefilla (Otzar HaTefillot) indicates a number of verses in the Tanakh where ‘lehagbiah’ is intransitive (Psalms 113:5; Ovad. V 4; Jer. 49:16) and concludes that Baer’s change to ‘tigbah’ was unjustified. It thereby supports the view of R’ Y. Emden. R’ S. R. Hirsch follows R’ Y. Emden both in text and translation.

In conclusion, on grammatical grounds, ‘tarum’ is the preferred reading both in the Morning Blessings and in Shemoneh Esrei. This view is supported by R’ Y. Emden and by R’ S. R. Hirsch, both major authorities.

* * * *

eineikhem ro’ot (ibid 45:12) (‘your eyes see’) The verb is feminine in form. This indicates that the word for ‘eye’ in Hebrew is feminine. Indeed the dual parts of the body are all feminine! HaKetav VehaQabbala (a commentary on the Torah with Kabbalistic ideas) suggests that the reason for this is that femininity is a characteristic of receptivity. The dual parts of the body receive their life-power from the heart. The word lev (‘heart’) in Hebrew is masculine.

I will be happy to receive comments on these notes in English on Hebrew grammar related to the week's Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919


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