Morsels of Hebrew Grammar  
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Parashat VaYikra 5761

When the last letter of the root of a Verb is Aleph or Heh /Yud

ve’asa:* (‘and he did’); hata: (‘he sinned’); ve’samakh (‘and he placed’); veshahat (‘and he slaughtered’); velaqah (‘and he took’); vetaval (‘and he dipped’); venatan (‘and he gave’); (Lev. 4:2-7) All these verbs have the simplest verbal form – the conjugation is Qal, the tense past, the number singular, and the gender masculine. Nevertheless there is a slight variation in their vowels. This is not determined by the Vav which many of them have - it is determined by the structure of the syllables. Because the last letters of the roots of the first two verbs belong to the group of letters known in the Mesora as YeHU [Yud, Heh, Vav, Aleph], (this is the order in which the group appears in the Mesora, hinting at the Tetragrammaton; many modern grammar books have re-arranged them in alphabetical order EheVI [Aleph, Heh, Vav, Yud]) the syllable becomes open. For this reason there is a Qamatz in the second syllable ve’asa:, hata:. The other verbs have a Patah in the second syllable, ve’samakh, veshahat, velaqah, vetaval, venatan.

* * * *

bore p’ri hagefen/hagafen (‘Creator of the fruit of the vine’) Rabbi Shabtai Sofer (16th Century) writes on the Kiddush of the Passover Haggada (in his siddur, which could well be termed the ‘official’ siddur of Ashkenazi Jewry. It received the approbation of the Council of the Three Lands – the Jewish Parliament – and of the leading rabbis, among them the Maharsha. Rabbi Ya’akov Kaminetsky wrote (1983): I feel it would be a desecration to request the approbation of rabbis of our era.):

It is most amazing that all Jews read the Gimmel of hagefen with a Segol in view of the fact that in accordance with the rules of Hebrew grammar it is known that Segol changes to Qamatz at the pausal positions Etnahta and Sof Pasuq as explained in chapter one, excepting for a small number of words which are listed by the Radak in the Mikhlol, (section on nouns, declension Segolates with two Segols), but gefen does change (see Judges. 9:12; Hos. 14:8 in both places the Gimmel has a Qamatz), and as we say in the Morning Blessings shelo asani a:ved, asher heikhin mitzadei ga:ver which have a Qamatz because of the pause as explained there. Therefore it seems right to me to read the Gimmel with a Qamatz and no one may deviate, even though people are not accustomed to this and they will not wish to abandon their error …

It seems that his opinion was accepted by the Ashkenazim, and today their Siddurim have the Gimmel of haga:fen with a Qamatz even though in his day “all Jews read Hagefen with a Segol” as do many Eastern communities even now, although Yemenites read it with a Qamatz. It is possible that when the blessing was introduced, in the pronunciation of the Sages, even at a pause Gefen was with a Segol. Rabbi Shabtai Sofer’s evidence for the ‘correct’ pronunciation is from Scripture and his quotes from the morning blessings are from words other than Gefen which do not prove that Gefen had the same change.

*Note: where this is discussed, a: indicates the long vowel Qamatz

A morsel of Yiddish

My cousin Michelle Feiglin (Australia) asked, ‘What is the origin of the Yiddish word davenen (praying)?’ She added that she had already asked people knowledgeable in Hebrew and German [That was the right thing to do, most of the vocabulary of Yiddish is derived from German and Hebrew.] and they assured her that there are no words similar to davenen in those languages.

davenen may be derived from an Aramaic word to be found in the Babylonian Talmud. There it states “Abaye saw Rava dave [Rashi explains mabit - looking intently] to the west” (Shabbat 35a). Rashi’s interpretation of the word mabit is to be found on the verse vera’ah oto (Num. 21:8) where Rashi says ‘an ordinary seeing, while at the biting of the snake it says vehibit – he looked intently – “When a snake bit a man and he would look intently etc” (Num. 21:9) for the person bitten by the snake would not recover quickly unless he looked intently at it, that is to say with intention’ (Rashi Num. 21:8). So according to Rashi habata is more than just seeing and can be taken as having a meaning close to meditation. If this derivation is correct, the original Yiddish speakers, who were steeped in both the written and oral Torah, did not significantly change the meaning of the Aramaic word dave when they formed the Yiddish davenen.

We must search for Hametz “in case one finds a dainty morsel and intends to acquire it” (Pesahim 6b).
Morsels of Hebrew Grammar will not appear on Pesah!

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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