In which variety of Hebrew did the Sages formulate the Berachot?
leshev basukka (conclusion of blessing for eating in Sukka) ('to dwell in the Sukka')
al netilat lulav (conclusion of blessing for taking the four species) ('to take the Lulav')
These two blessings are said for the characteristic Mitzvot of the Sukkot festival. The term leshev ('to dwell') has a grammatical form peculiar to Mishnaic Hebrew. In Biblical (and in Modern) Hebrew the equivalent form is lashevet. Similarly the word lulav is not to be found in the Bible. It is found in the Mishnah though it may have existed earlier. In Targum Onkelos it appears as the Aramaic translation for kapot temarim (Levit. 23:40) ('date palm fronds'). In Hebrew it is regarded as a Mishnaic word.
The distinction between Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew is mentioned in the Gemara. We find that:Here we have learnt that Mishnaic and Biblical Hebrew may be grammatically distinct! Furthermore we find:
R' Asi (Isi?) asked R' Yochanan 'wine which was masach ('blended') by a non-Jew, what is the rule?' [R' Yochanan] said to him 'why not say mazag ('blended')?' [R' Asi] said 'I say the way it is written "She slaughtered her animals, she mase cha ('blended') her wine" (Prov. 9:2)'. [R' Yochanan] said to him 'the language of the Torah has its distinctiveness and the language of the Sages has its distinctiveness'.Here we have learnt that Mishnaic and Biblical Hebrew may be distinct on a matter of vocabulary!
The standard opening for Berachot baruch ata hashem occurs twice in the Bible (Psalms 119:12; I Chron. 29:10). Similarly hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz (Berachot 38a and elsewhere) is a slight adjustment of the Biblical phrase lehotzi lechem min ha'aretz (Psalms 104:14).
Many Berachot include the word asher. Is this word to be found in the Mishnah? A computer search of the six orders of the Mishnah indicates 59 occurrences of asher. However each and every one of them is in the course of a quotation from the Bible. Clearly the Tannaim knew the word asher (as they knew the whole Tenach) and could quote it freely, but it was not part of their own speech. Because of their thorough knowledge of the Bible it was easy for them to incorporate Biblical words and phrases in their own Hebrew when they felt it appropriate.
A similar question occurs in the Beracha for separating Challa. We find in the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 328:1) that the Beracha is 'to separate Teruma ('raising')' and Ram"a adds 'or, to separate Challa ('a loaf')' (see also Bet Yosef S.V. Shiurim). The Gaon of Vilna comments here:
Teruma as is written 'you shall raise Teruma', but in the language of Scripture Challa means the dough, as is written Challot belulot ('mixed doughs') and there are many [references] like this but in the language of the Mishnah it is called Challa everywhere, and this is why [Ram"a wrote] 'or etc'; nevertheless it is right to bless in the language of Scripture as is written at the beginning of chapter six of Berachot 'Rabbi Yehudah says Bore minei desha'im' ('varieties of vegetation') and he does not say yerakot ('vegetables') in the language of the Mishnah.The Gaon seems to be explaining that this is so because in the Bible the plural form yerakot does not occur. Interestingly in the Mishnah that the Gaon quotes (Berachot 6:1), there is another example of the Sages' preference for Biblical Hebrew. It says 'for the fruit of the ilan ('tree') one says, who created the fruit of ha'etz ('the tree')' - ilan being Mishnaic Hebrew (it also occurs in the Aramaic portions of the Book of Daniel) ha'etz - which occurs in the Beracha - being Biblical Hebrew. In their own usage they said ilan while in the Beracha they preferred the Biblical word etz. Nevertheless the Beracha recited on seeing blossoming fruit tees in Nissan does include the word ve'ilanot.
It turns out that in blessings there are both Biblical and Mishnaic words and phrases. In view of this it is unlikely that the Gaon means that Biblical Hebrew is always the preferred variety. It may be that the Sages, who knew Biblical Hebrew very well, regarded it as a 'High' language appropriate in certain circumstances and not in others. In Switzerland today too, there is a similar system. For some purposes the Swiss use standard German while for others they prefer the Swiss-German dialect. The Swiss know exactly which variety is appropriate for any particular purpose. It may well be that in the times of the Mishnah the Sages too, knew exactly when the High sounding and sacred sounds of Biblical Hebrew expressed their meaning better and when every-day Mishnaic Hebrew was to be preferred. Two varieties of language used in this way is called diglossia.
I will be
pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
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