Friday, July 20, 2018

Past and Future

ספר דברים by nature is full of challenges relating to the tense of verbs. There was one that slipped by me a few years ago. It's not that I didn't catch it, just that I failed to correct it on the spot after deliberating in my mind. Not sure which is worse.

משה רבינו relates (א:י"ג) that he instructed the nation to gather wise men וַאֲשִׂימֵם בְּרָאשֵׁיכֶם. Although this is being related in the past, he is stating that he said in the past that he will place these men as heads of the nation - in the future. The בעל קריאה mistakenly put a קמץ under the וי"ו of ואשימם which I am pretty sure would change it from future to past. This is an easy mistake to make as everything which follows is indeed in the past tense. This is also tricky to catch since the difference between the וי"ו ההיפוך and the regular וי"ו is a שוא and a קמץ or פתח. But here it ends up being a difference between a קמץ and פתח. (See the comment by Bezlalel for more detail as to why this ends up being more tricky.)

Hopefully recording this now will help me be more mindful of it in future years.

Don't you worry

    In pasuk ל"א:ח, Moshe gives Yehoshua words of encouragement upon his taking over of Moshe's position. The pasuk ends off, לא תירא ולא תיחת. In pasuk א:כ"א, Moshe commands B'nei Yisroel, with regards to their seemingly imminent conquer of Eretz Yisroel, אל תירא ואל תיחת. The commands are almost exactly identical. The only difference is the exchange of the word אל for the word לא.

    Both לא and אל may both be translated as "don't." However, there is a difference between the two. The word אל is, for the most part, confined to a single meaning. Alternatively, the word לא is slightly more flexible. It can take on the form of a command, as in לא תרצח, thou shall not murder. However, it can also take on the form of a promise or assurance. Perhaps the clearest example of this is when HaShem commands Moshe to prevent בני ישראל from ascending the mountain to fight following the incident with the spies. Moshe is told (א:מ"ב) to declare "לא תעלו." The simple reading is clearly, "do not go up!" However, Rashi quotes from a Midrash, "לא עליה תהא לכם אלא ירידה," it will not be an ascent for you, rather a descent i.e. you will not succeed. Here we see clearly that the word לא can mean both a command and a promise, even at the same time.

    Therefore, in our parsha, Yehoshua is not being commanded not to fear, but rather being promised that he will have nothing to fear. In דברים, he is being told not to fear. Indeed, the expression in דברים is said in the context of other commands. In our parsha, however, it is stated in the context of other promises.

    I understand that the above distinction is not 100% clear-cut and there are numerous examples which might throw it into question. I'm open to suggestions.

     Recently, I heard a different approach from משך חכמה. In the פרשה of קרבן פסח - שמות י"ב:ט he explains that אל implies a certain tone of בקשה whereas לא is a more definite prohibitive commandment. Perhaps that explanation can be applied here as well. As leader of the nation it was imperative that יהושע show absolutely no fear whatsoever. Therefore it was delivered in the form of a commandment - לא תירא ולא תיחת. But when בני ישראל are being briefed prior to their imminent entry into ארץ ישראל it is simply stated in the form of a request. Or, alternatively, we can suggest that this "request" was made just prior to the demand for spies which had drastic consequences. With that now many decades in the past but its lessons still very clear, a mere request was no longer appropriate. It was clear that the to not fear and not tremble must be an outright commandment.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Don't miss the Mapik!

The first עליה of the פרשה contains many instances of a מפיק ה. Sometimes I think they should have an oxygen tank up there just to get through it. For many of them, it might not be entirely critical as its meaning is clear without the מפיק ה. However, for words like אִישָׁהּ where missing the מפיק ה would change the meaing of the word from "her husband" to "a woman," it is of utmost importance to make sure that these words are pronounced properly.

To afflict or to answer

כָּל נֵדֶר וְכָל שְׁבֻעַת אִסָּר לְעַנֹּת נָפֶשׁ

Of course, one should not get too distracted with all the מפיק ה's that they miss the important nuance in this פסוק. An erroneous פתח under the ל would change the meaning of the word from that of affliction to that of answering. En garde!

[Also, it is best to stress the דגש חזק in the נו"ן for the same reason as per the anonymous comment below.]

The Interrogative

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם מֹשֶׁה הַחִיִּיתֶם כָּל נְקֵבָה

When the soldiers returned with the women they had captured from מדין we find משה quite annoyed. He exclaims in a rhetorical manner, "You let the all the women live?!" A rhetorical question, however, is still a question. The understanding of this statement as a question hinges on the ניקוד of הַחִיִּיתֶם. If this word were to be mispronounced הֶחֶיִֵיתֶם it would lose its interrogative form and be understood as a statement - "You have let all the women live." While the message of the פסוק would ultimately be the same, I think this mistake would distort the true meaning of the word and should definitely be corrected on the spot.

The Cold has Passed

This past שבת I did not daven in my normal venue and therefore, was not in my usual position to correct. There were two faulty accents which unfortunately went completely uncorrected. The first was at the end of מטות:
ל"ב:ל"ח וַיִּקְרְא֣וּ בְשֵׁמֹ֔ת אֶת־שְׁמ֥וֹת הֶעָרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּנֽוּ
The בעל קריאה put the accent on the first syllable, BA-nu, instead of the second, ba-NU. This changes the meaning from "built" to "us" or "among us."

Then, in מסעי:
ל"ד:ד וְנָסַ֣ב לָכֶם֩ הַגְּב֨וּל מִנֶּ֜גֶב לְמַעֲלֵ֤ה עַקְרַבִּים֙ וְעָ֣בַר צִ֔נָה
Here, the accent was mistakenly placed on the last syllable, tzi-NAH. It must be on the first syllable, TZI-nah. The real meaning is "to Tzin." However, the way it was pronounced, it would seem to mean "and the cold passed," or "the shield has passed," as in תהלים צ"א:ד.

Whose tribe is it anyway?

וְלֹא תִסֹּב נַחֲלָה מִמַּטֶּה לְמַטֶּה אַחֵר

A slightly embarassing story: A number of years ago, I was all ready for this פסוק and when the בעל קריאה pronounced it לְמַטֵּה אַחֵר I pounced on him and corrected him. One of the גבאים then corrected me and showed me that his חומש clearly said לְמַטֵּה.

First, let me clarify my position. When I was going over the פרשה the night before, I noticed that the תרגום of למטה אחר was "לשבטא אחרנא". This would mean that the term is translated as "another tribe." Pronouncing it לְמַטֵּה would give it סמיכות and it would then be understood as "the tribe of another. If that were the proper form, the תרגום would have been "לשבטא דאחרנא." The former also seemed to be the more intuitive understanding of the words. I was therefore quite confident that this was the right pronunciation and לְמַטֵּה would distort the meaning of the word.

It turns out I wasn't completely wrong. As the ספר אם למקרא (which I was finally able to score for myself) points out, there is a מחלוקת as to how this word is to be pronounced. Indeed, R' Breuer, on whom my חומש was based, says it should be לְמַטֶּה . But there are others who disagree. The בעל קריאה actually called me in the middle of the week to acknowledge this and stated that had he known, he would have made sure to pronounce it לְמַטֶּה in accordance with R' Breuer.

Nevertheless, when פ' מסעי comes around every year, I make sure to keep my mouth shut on this פסוק.