Sunday, August 02, 2009

Is it ve'eschanan or va'eschanan?

This is a fairly straightforward question to resolve. Just look at the pasuk in a Chumash, and it is:
כג וָאֶתְחַנַּן, אֶל-ה', בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לֵאמֹר.23 And I besought the LORD at that time, saying:
and there is no dispute on this matter in masorah. But in popular speech, it often becomes ve'eschanan, with a sheva under the vav rather than a kametz. Thus, a Google search yields the following number of hits:
ve'eschanan: 1,530 hits
v'eschanan: 4,140
vieschanan: 76
vietchanan: 2
v'etchanan: 11,700
ve'etchanan: 14,200

In contrast, with a kametz can also be much more popular:
va'etchanan: 134,000
va'eschanan: 23,000
vaeschanan: 37,400

and so on. I would guess that you can probably find some interesting demographic differences between these two clusters.

Why is it vaetchanan, with a kamatz under the vav? This is the difference between vav hachibbur and vav hahippuch. If it would be vav hachubbur here, there would be a sheva under the vav and the intent would merely be "and", but not to reverse the apparent imperfect (future) tense to perfect (past) tense.

A vav hahipuch, on the other hand, would take etchanan, which is a first person imperfect, and change it into a perfect (past) tense word. And this is what we want, since Moshe is talking about past rather than future actions.

For a typical vav hahipuch, there is a patach under the vav and a dagesh in the next letter. This is not possible here, for the aleph is a guttural letter and thus does not take a dagesh. Instead, we have compensatory lengthening, in which the patach in lengthened into a kamatz. The weirdness of this form, combined with the softness with which we Ashkenazim pronounce the kamatz, is quite likely behind this popular mistaken pronunciation of it as if with a sheva.


E-Man said...

Would you have to repeat the word during torah layning if you said veeschanan?

joshwaxman said...

i am not a posek, so consult your local Orthodox (shul) rabbi, but i would guess yes, given that it is a real change and one that modifies the meaning.
i asked my FIL, who is a baal koreh, and he concurs. (saying that certainly if it was at the time, or at the end of the aliyah, though not so positive if at the end of the entire parsha and then someone noted it.)



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