Va'hashem amar (the Mem has a Qamatz) (Gen. 18:17) ('And G-d said') Generally a verb of this type (Qal conjugation, masculine, third person) has a Qamatz in the first syllable and a Patah in the second. Here, because it occurs at a pause in the pasuk, the second syllable is lengthened a little and the Patah, which is a short vowel, is replaced by a Qamatz, which is the equivalent long vowel. Such changes occur frequently in the Tenach.
Similarly on Shemini Atzeret in Tefillat Geshem the word geshem occurs in a position which requires a stop, and the Gimmel should be read with a Qamatz. It is a matter of dispute whether or not this is so when the same phrase is said in Shemone Esre during the year.
G-d's name Alef Dalet Nun Yud occurs four times in Sefer Bereishit and all of them in our Parasha. At the first occurrence (Gen. 18:3), Rashi reports that whether or not the name is holy (ie referring to G-d) is a matter of dispute in the Gemara. In a subsequent pasuk (Gen. 9:18) Rashi comments that the sages interpreted this name as holy. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra disagrees there, and interprets that name as non-sacred. The reason the Nun has a Qamatz is that it is at the end of a pasuk. (Rabbi Chavel in his notes on Rabbenu Bahya Gen. 18:3 SV Vehu hol, provides a source for the view of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra that this name is non-sacred. It is: Pesikta Zutreta 19:2.) Normally when Alef Dalet Nun Yud is an ordinary word meaning 'my masters', the Nun should have a Patah, and only when in a pausal position should the Nun have a Qamatz. On the basis of this passage of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, Rabbi I.A. Herzog (the late Chief Rabbi of Israel) wrote that one should always pronounce G-d's name as though it was in a pausal position, in order to take a moment at least, to ponder what the mouth was producing (Heikhal Yitzhak 1).
From Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra's discussion it appears that Sefaradim in his day distinguished between Patah and Qamatz - it would seem in the length of the vowel. Likewise Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, and other Sefaradi poskim (Sh. A. O. H. 25:7) distinguish between Qamatz and Patah. They make this clear in their discussion of whether one should say lehaniah with the He having a Qamatz or a Patah in the brakha for tefillin. Nevertheless, Rabbi Ya'akov Emden wrote in the Introduction to his Siddur that in his opinion they did not make this distinction, and Rabbi I. A. Herzog wrote (ibid) that they do distinguish between the sacred and the profane, in that for the sacred they lengthen the vowel a little.
Rabbeinu Bahya wrote about this at length and said that there is a difference in pronunciation which changes the meaning of the word, for the Qamatz indicates a separate identity and therefore is appropriate for the Holy Name. However in Gen. 19:18 it is non-sacred, and there the Nun has a Qamatz because it is at the end of the pasuk. He is following Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra.
When we come to the verse Shema Yisrael in Parashat Va'et'hannan IYH we will return to the discussion of the Qamatz as a pausal form in G-d's Name.
I will be happy to receive comments on
these notes in English on Hebrew grammar related to the week's Parasha.
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