Towards the end of parashat Bo (Shemot 13:15), we have the following pasuk, about Makkat Bechorot:
This pasuk, and the underlined word, comes into play in Menachot 29b.
ראמי בר תמרי דהוא חמוה דרמי בר דיקולי איפסיקא ליה כרעא דוי"ו דויהרג בניקבא אתא לקמיה דרבי זירא א"ל זיל אייתי ינוקא דלא חכים ולא טפש אי קרי ליה ויהרג כשר אי לא יהרג הוא ופסול
Rami bar Tamrei, who was the father-in-law of Rami bar Dikulei encountered a vav in ויהרג whose leg was severed with a hole [so that it looked like a yud]. He came before Rabbi Zera, who said to him: bring a child who is neither wise nor foolish. If he reads it ויהרג then it is kosher. If not, then it is יהרג and it is pasul.
To explain, if the vav is severed, then it perhaps looks like a yud. And recall that there are no nekudot in a Sefer Torah, only consonants. If the word is written ויהרג, then the word would be וַיַּהֲרֹג , vayaharog, “and He killed”. Meanwhile, if the verb were a passive verb, meaning “and he was killed”, then it would be וַיֵּהָרֵג. This is because the imperfect would be of the form yikkatev, יִכָּתֵב, with a chirik under the yud, gemination (doubling via dagesh) of the first root letter (kaf), kametz, second root letter (tav), tzeirei, and final root letter (vet). With a root of הרג, the first root letter is a guttural and so cannot receive gemination to double it. Instead, due to a process of compensatory lengthening, the chirik under the yud is lengthened to a tzeirei. And the vav hahipuch (va + gemination of the yud via a dagesh) turns the imperfect into a perfect.
If the word were ייהרג, then it would not conform to the typical spelling of words in Tanach. However, that would be valid in Mishnaic Hebrew as a way of writing יֵיהָרֵג, as a way of making the nikkud clear. We find this in the Mishna in Sotah 9:7 and Makkot 1:10, as well as in a few Yerushalmis and Bavlis.
Further, there is only a single instance of the word ויהרג in the Torah -- the pasuk in parashat Bo cited above. There are instances of the word in Nach, but recall that the question was whether the text was kasher or pasul, which makes more sense in the context of Torah.
Further, when looking only at the two words in sequence, one is a straightforward reading and the other is blaspheming. In the former, Hashem kills. In the latter, Hashem is killed. Putting aside any blasphemy, in the context on the pasuk, for someone who can read fluently and understand context, it is obvious that it is Hashem killing the firstborn of Egypt, rather than vice versa.
וי"ו דויהרג - כל בכור אירע במקום נקב ונראה כמין יו"ד:
דלא חכים - דאי חכים מבין שמחרף הוא לומר יהרג כלפי מעלה ואומר ויהרג:
לא טפש - שאם טפש אינו יודע לקרות אלא אות שלימה:
That is, because of the hole, it appeared something like a yud. If the child were wise, he would know that the passive reading was blasphemy and he would be influenced, perhaps inappropriately, to read it it as וַיַּהֲרֹג. And if the child were foolish, he would only know how to read a complete letter, and so couldn’t weigh in as to what the letter / word appears most like.
Tosafot there comments:
ואי לא יהרג הוא ופסול. יש לדקדק מכאן דכתיב ויהרג חסר בלא וי"ו. מ"ר:
“And if not, then it is יהרג and is pasul”: There is to deduce from here that it is written [consonantally, in the Torah] as ויהרג chaser without a vav [between the resh and the gimel for the cholam]. From the mouth of the Rav [=the Ri, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shmuel HaZaken; See here.]
The implication of this deduction of Tosafot appears to be that, in the time of the Ri, there was some doubt as to the correct spelling of the Torah text, with some [all?] Sifrei Torah spelling the word malei. Otherwise, why bother to make such an observation.
To explain Tosafot, if the word in the Torah were spelled malei vav, with a vav between the resh and the gimel, then it would have to be the active verb, with a cholam, because if it were the passive verb, then there should be a tzeirei between the resh and the gimel. Since the gemara implies some ambiguity, the word must have been spelled chaser vav.
While this proof is pretty solid, one might have some doubt as to the strength of this proof. For one thing, if the gemara wanted to say that the implication is ייהרג, it could have easily put in an extra yud. Elsewhere, in Mishnayot and Gemarot, it makes use of the double-yud. Also, the idea that it is blaspheming is present in Rashi, but not in the gemara itself. Maybe it would have been interpreted as a smudge or dot, rather than being reinterpreted as a yud. It depends how vavs were written back then. E.g. from Bar Kochba’s letters, look at the vav of Shimon.
If so, then we could say that ואי לא יהרג הוא ופסול means that if not, it is yaharog, just without the initial vav. The word איפסקיה and the word כרעא imply a severing of part of it, though.
Looking at some manuscripts, we see that Ktav Yad Vatican has what we have in our gemara:
However, if we look at the Munich manuscript (top of the page),
we discover that the alternate reading is not provided. That is, while our printed texts have:
אי לא יהרג הוא ופסול
the Munich text has:
ואם לאו פסולה
such that we don’t know exactly how the non-ויהרג Torah text is to be read.
Looking at the Leiberman database, we see the following additional variants:
MENAHOT 29b Oxford - Bodl. heb. c. 17 (2661) 84-85 this:
דרבי זורא אמ ליה זי איתי ינוקא דלא חכים ולא טפיש אי קארי ליה ויהרג כשיר ואילא ייהרג
So it actually has ייהרג with two yuds. The others are not particularly interesting.
Vilna and Venice: essentially the same as Vatican, with the יהרג given.
There also is a variation whether it is the כרעא of the vav, or just the vav, which is severed.
Before moving on from the variant Talmudic texts, I’ll just note this. Our printed gemara has:
ראמי בר תמרי דהוא חמוה דרמי בר דיקולי
If I recall correctly, this was one of the examples the Noda BiYehuda gave of marrying someone who’s father had the same name -- thus, Rami married Rami’s daughter. But Soncino translates here “also known as” and comments in a footnote (2) that:
And we indeed see the word דהוא rather than דהוא חמוה. Also, I would note, this should be obvious. Tamrei and Dikulei both mean date-palm.
Minchas Shai comments on this pasuk, gemara, and Tosafot. (Indeed, the above was my own expansion after seeing Minchas Shai.)
ויהרג -- “There are sefarim which have it [ויהרוג] malei, with a vav after the resh, but it is apparent that it is chaser, from that which they say in Hakometz Rabba [that is, Menachot 29b:
רמי איפסיקא ליה כרעא דוא"ו ויהרג בנוקבא -- to explain, the vav [in the beginning of ויהרג] occurred in the place of a hole [in the parchment] and it seemed like a yud.
אתא לקמיא דר’ זירא א”ל זיל אייתי ינוקא דלא חכים ולא טיפש -- to explain, that if he was wise, he would understand that it would be blaspheming to say ייהרג regarding the One On High, and so would say ויהרג
אי קרי ויהרג כשר ואי לא ייהרג הוא ופסול.
[End quote of the gemara.]
And the Ri [in Tosafot] comments that from here it is implied that ויהרג is chaser, without a vav between the resh and the gimel, end citation in the Aguda [?]. And see as well in the Mordechai, perek Hakometz.
And so too in the Masoret, it states: there are four which are malei in the language of hariga, namely:
- וכל שריה אהרוג in Amos [2:3]
- עת להרוג [in Kohelet 3:3]
- כי נמכרנו אני ועמי להשמיד להרוג ולאבד [in Esther 7:4]
- ולהרוג בשונאיהם [in Esther 9:16 -- we have וְהָרוֹג בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם without the lamed. Thanks to MG.]
And it does not reckon ויהרג of here [in Shemot]. We thus deduce that it is chaser. And so too in sefer haTerumah and the Rama, za”l.
The Rama says this here:
The Mordechai (siman תתקנ”ג) to which Minchas Shai referred reads:
The Mordechai writes that it is spelled chaser in most sefarim, and that the ambiguity is evidence that it is chaser. And though it is not concrete proof [raayah], it is a zecher [supporting evidence].