A few years ago I was pondering what it means when there is a kri/ksiv when the kri and ksiv are homonyms. A prime example of this is when there is a kri/ksiv on the word lo when both the kri and ksiv are read lo, but one is spelled lamed aleph and the other lamed vav. While this issue has crept into my head several times, especially when the laining of the week would have an example, I never dedicated much time to pursuing the idea until recently. In the back of my head I kept wondering if the possible solution to this issue was something that could be a fundamental way of understanding lashon hakodesh.
There are certain languages that are considered to be tonal and others that are not. Being a tonal language means that the pitch which a speaker uses is not just helpful in understanding context and emotion, but even definition. For example, many tonal languages have homonyms found in the language that change meaning based on whether the speaker enunciates these words with a high pitch or low pitch tone. I began to consider that maybe lashon hakodesh is somewhat tonal in nature. It is important to note that there are very few homonyms in lashon hakodesh, but the tonal nature would be just as integral to the enunciation of any word, not just a homonym, as the proper vowels being used. Thus, if one were to say a word that should have a high pitch sound incorrectly, he may have spoken the word incorrectly and it might not have any meaning. It would be comparable to changing the vowels of a word without spelling a new word with the rearrangement such as spelling versus spilleng. Whereas, if it were a homonym that were spoken incorrectly, it could actually have a new meaning.
An integral part of laining is the fact that the words are read with a specific cantillation, trop. The nature of trop is such that it forces the reader to read the text with proper perspective. Many times the trop forces the reader to take pauses in places that had the reader continued reading without pause he would have misunderstood the verse. In this fashion the trop helps keep the proper punctuation in place. Perhaps, trop also forces the reader to enunciate with proper pitch in order to give that element to the word. Trop forces the reader to sound some words in higher pitch than others.
In order to test this hypothesis I decided to research the occurrences of kri/ksiv on the word lo as mentioned above. (Note: From this point on I will refer to lo with an aleph as aleph and lo with a vav as vav.) There are eighteen examples in tanach when there is a kri/ksiv with the kri being vav and the ksiv being aleph. The following cantillation marks can be found on the words being discussed: esnachta, munach, mahpach, tipcha, mercha (including one with a makaf to the following word containing a mercha), and sof pasuk (connected to the sof pasuk via makaf). I then decided to see how many alephs there were with the above trop. I was hoping to find very few or no alephs with this trop and a disproportionate amount of vavs that would. The theory would then be supported since it would then seem that the trop is adding the tonal element and although the word is written aleph it is sounded vav due to the trop. This would then prove that the kri adds the tonal element and although the word is written as aleph, the ksiv, it is read as vav, the kri.
The research did not show the anticipated results, but it showed something extremely interesting. I actually found the opposite of what I had anticipated to be true. With alephs I found the above mentioned trop occurred a total of two-thousand five-hundred and nineteen times. When I looked for similar vavs I found that there were only four times that they had the above trop. I found that to be somewhat astounding as such a staggering difference clearly displays that the alephs with that trop is normal and that the vavs are exceptions. If it was normal for the vavs one should see a much higher rate of having these cantillations. I also found it notable that all four exceptions can be found in Sefer Yirmiyah. Although one can come up with many theories as to why this is the case, that is not the purpose of this writing.
Just to be certain, I then took the examples when the ksiv is vav and the kri is aleph and found that there are only two cases like that in tanach. Interestingly, both are found in Sefer Shmuel and one has a pashta and the other is attached to a word with a kadma. When looking at the alephs that had these markings I found only one such occurrence. However, the vavs can be found with these markings one-hundred and two times. The one exception mentioned above is found in Sefer Devarim.
It would seem that the trop clearly does not reflect the kri rather it is an element of the ksiv. It is uncertain whether this is some function of trop or if it is an issue of lashon hakodesh being somewhat tonal, but it is fascinating to notice that trop does not reflect the kri. In today’s day and age it is certainly unreasonable to correct the shaliach tzibbur if he makes a mistake in trop with regard to a kri/ksiv of this nature or any other word, since we find no halachic precedent to do so. Perhaps, even when they were more attune to these issues they were only lechatchila and preferred, but not absolute ways of reading. Or, perhaps since we are not so familiar with these changes to the words we only correct items that are noticeably different to the populace.
Regarding the first question, how does one practically read a kri/ksiv that has the kri and ksiv as homonyms, I am still not one-hundred percent sure of the answer. Maybe kri means the intention and thought of the reader, so if in his head he was thinking aleph then it is an aleph. Again, I am not familiar with any source stating that if the shaliach tzibbur mentions he intended the wrong word that he must go back to that earlier place. So, I guess I am open to suggestion.
The following were the kri/ksiv cases with aleph as ksiv: Shemos 21:8, VaYikra 11:21 and 25:30, Shmuel 1 2:3, Shmuel 2 16:18, Melachim 2 8:10, Yeshaya 9:2, 49:5 and 63:9, Iyov 6:21, 13:4 and 41:4, Mishlei 19:6 and 26:1, Tehillim 100:1 and 139:16, Ezra 4:2, Divrei HaYamim 1 11:20.
The exceptions were: Yirmiyah 48:12, 49:1, 49:31 and 50:32.
The following were the kri/ksiv cases with vav as ksiv: Shmuel 1 2:16 and 20: 2.
The exception was: Devarim 32:29.