Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Brief thought on Chayei Sarah - irregular spelling

I posted this initially on Facebook (two weeks ago), but am parking it here so that I can readily find it. I've posted here similarly in the past, but this is more concise.


This week's thought on the parsha (Chayei Sarah):
Nekudot didn't originally exist for Biblical Hebrew. And the letters aleph, heh, vav, yud originally only functioned to denote consonants. Eventually, those letters (aleph, heh, vav, yud) were used as "imot hakriah", to indicate a vowel sound. So, for instance, a heh at the end of the word to indicate a kamatz, or a yud in the middle or end of a word to indicate a chirik or a tzeirei. But this didn't always happen.
That explains, for instance, why in Chayei Sarah, Bereishit 24, Rivkah is referred to as הַנַּעֲרָ. We shouldn't wonder whether she was cisgender. It is just the archaic, or original, way of writing her name.
So too in the beginning of Chayei Sarah, in Bereishit 23. To indicate a vowel at the end of a word, writers were not always consistent, because the spelling had not yet regularized. (So for instance, when Avraham pitched his tent - ohalo, it has a krei uksiv by being spelled with a final heh rather than a vav.)
So you have
לֵאמֹר לוֹ
שְׁמָעֵנוּ אֲדֹנִי
לֹא-אֲדֹנִי שְׁמָעֵנִי
and so on. Consider the possibility of reading every one of these, with a vav shuruk, or vav cholam, or cholam aleph, as the word "loo" (as in e.g. pasuk 13,
לוּ, שְׁמָעֵנִי
). And rewrite the pasuk divisions, so that no pasuk ends with a leimor, or with a leimor lo, but each reads leimor lu adoni shemaeini. See how the narrative restructures, and some questions are resolved. (Such as what Ephron is really refusing in pasuk 11.)


Jamie said...

I don't see what you're getting at with your last comment ("what Ephron is really refusing"). Can you expand a bit, please?

joshwaxman said...

Sure. In pasuk 11, Ephron says No. But Avraham asked for the field and he is giving the field. So what is the no? Rashi explains, based on pasuk 9 having "full price" and pasuk 13 having "I am giving the money", but pasuk 11 not listing a payment, that Ephron was offering it for free.

But pasuk 11 it is just as readable with Ephron agreeing to his part of the transaction, just not happening to list the money Avraham will give. Because all that is needed is his agreement to Avraham's proposal.

Ibn Ezra grapples with it, and interprets "No" in pasuk 11 as "yes". He writes Lo = Ken (yes) my master. However, you should hear me. Maybe we can read Rashbam as the no meaning that he is adding the whole field, not just the cave. Seforno grapples with it and says that the no = you didn't need to go the the heads of the tribe to intercede on your behalf.

This is because the "no" seems out of place.

But change to lo into a lu, and he is not disagreeing at all.


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