Thursday, October 16, 2003

King David's Fallen Succah

Towards the end of birkat hamazon, we say Harachaman Hu Yakim Lanu Et Succat David Hanofalet. Or we say Hanofelet.

I heard someone recently give a dvar torah where he explained the difference to be that Hanofalet is past tense, while Hanofelet, which it should be, is a gerund, and it means that is is currently (and continuously) falling.

In sooth, however, there is no real difference between Hanofalet and Hanofelet. The basis for this Harachaman is a pasuk in the last perek of Amos, where the word occurs at the end of a phrase; there is an etnachta by the word. Amos 9:11:

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם.

"In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;"

Because of the etnachta cantillation, we would expect the word to be הַנֹּפָלֶת rather than הַנֹּפֶלֶת. It is a pausal form, slightly more archaic and used in a stylized manner at the end of a half-pasuk or full pasuk. This happens to names as well, for example Lemech becomes Lamech in pausal form, and no semantic difference is conveyed. On occasion, this rule is not followed, and we have the pausal form in a zakef cantillation, or non-pausal form with pausal cantillation.

(The use of hanofalet according to some in benching is a development of people who see that is is at the end of a sentence, and so should get pausal form. But, since the original pasuk had that word where it deserves pausal form and does not get it, we should not impose it, and we should say Hanofelet. That is what Prof. David Segal says.)

In terms of meaning, succah translated as tabernacle, as above, suggests the bet hamikdash. The problem with this is that Amos was a prophet speaking when the first bet hamikdash was still standing, so it does not really make sense for him to be talking about the bet hamikdash being rebuilt if it is standing (on the other hand, he is a prophet!) I think some folks try to use this to show a late authorship of Amos. This is part of a general trend of some modern scholars to say that if anything presented as prophesy is shown to be true, is must have been authored after the events predicted occurred (for example, the book of Daniel). This view presupposes that true prophecy does not exist and works backwards from there, a very unscientific approach in my view.

Many meforshim explain that succat david hanofelet refers to the fallen malchut, kingdom of david. Originally, the davidic dynatry ruled over all of Israel, but then the kingdom split into malchut bet david (yehuda) and malchut yisrael. Metzudat Tzion, Metzudat David, and Targum (not absolutely sure what Rashi is saying) all say this. Malbim takes this as prophecy relating to the first, second, and third Temples (it is prophecy, after all). In context, I think succah as malchut makes a lot of sense.


Anonymous said...

"This view presupposes that true prophecy does not exist and works backwards from there, a very unscientific approach in my view."

I can't tell if you're joking?!

joshwaxman said...

here I was being serious.

Anonymous said...

i'm a student i can't see how hanofalet could be regarded as past tense from a grammatical point of view.. can u help me?

joshwaxman said...

the dvar Torah I led off with was incorrect, and the rest of the post was dedicated towards providing a truer distinction. So I can't help you with this, since I agree that it cannot be regarded as such in this pasuk.

In the general case, as Ibn Ezra will point out, there is no such thing as the present tense in Hebrew. Rather, it is one item which functions as the noun (shomer) and the *neutral* tense verb. The tense of that neutral tense verb often becomes the tense set by the context, so it *could* in certain cases be past, present, or future.


Anonymous said...

a ok..
so it's not a distinct morphological form, but just different "meanings" (nuances) that the participle can take.
thanks a lot
P.S. very interesting blog man! keep it up!


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