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Parashat Vayishlah 5761

 

hamahane haahat vehikahu (Gen. 32:9) (' the one camp and smote it') The Hebrew word ahat ('one') which qualifies mahane ('camp') is feminine, while the suffix hu ('it') on vehikahu which refers to the word for 'camp,' is masculine. This raises a problem: what is the gender of the word mahane ('camp')? There seems to be an internal contradiction in the verse; part of it refers to mahane as feminine while the other part refers to mahane as masculine!

Rashi deals with this problem by stating that mahane is both masculine and feminine. He supports this view by quoting a verse where it is feminine (Psalms 27:3), and another where it is masculine (Gen. 33:8). Rashi proceeds to generalize, pointing out that there are a number of words which appear in the Tenakh as both masculine and feminine. Examples which Rashi gives are shemesh ('sun') which is masculine (Gen. 19:23; Psalms 19:7) and feminine (2Kings 3:22); ruah ('wind') which is feminine (Job 1:19), masculine (ibid.), and both (1Kings, 19:11); and esh ('fire') which is feminine (Num. 16:35), and masculine (Psalms 104:4).

This raises a question. What is it that gives a word its gender? While Rashi appears to have taken the criteria for masculine and feminine for granted, Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto (Ramhal) did not. In his book on grammar (ed. and annotated E. Brieger, New York, 1994:10) Ramhal writes that a noun which denotes a biologically male creature is masculine in language, and one which denotes a female is feminine. Furthermore, any noun which has the same form as a noun denoting a male creature, will now be masculine, and one which appears in the same form as a feminine noun will be feminine.

In dealing with the above exceptional cases, Rashi also takes for granted that an adjective which qualifies a masculine noun will have a masculine form, and one which qualifies a feminine noun will have a feminine form. Similarly, when the action performed by the being denoted by the noun is described, the verb utilized must be masculine or feminine in accordance with the noun it refers to. In grammar this similarity of gender is called the rule of agreement. (see Kiddushin 2b, and Tosefot sv Kashu there, the Ritva daf 3 sv alla wrote that this passage of Gemara is by Rav Huna Gaon)

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hannani (Gen. 33:11) ('He was gracious to me') Rashi points out that the first Nun has a Dagesh because it serves in place of two Nunin. He explains that it should have said han'nani, for words of the root Het Nun Nun must always have two Nunin, and the third Nun is part of the suffix. Thus we find asani (Isaiah 29:16), zevadani (Gen. 30:20). Rashi makes a similar comment (infra 34:16) and so does Rabbi A. Ibn Ezra (Lev. 14:4).

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Qiryat ha'arba (Gen. 35:27) ('The town of four') Rashi points out that wherever there is a name made up of two words, the second word receives the Heh of the definite article. If this rule applies in modern Hebrew speech, a person hailing from a place called Qiryat Sefer will be known as a Qiryat ha'sifri.

Note: Further to the discussion of Yissakhar, it was brought to my attention that in I Samuel (9:1) the name Binyamin is written as two words.

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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