Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ibn Caspi and nikkud, pt ii -- What does the nikkud on HaNimtzah indicate?

Summary: In a previous post on Miketz, I discussed Ibn Caspi on nikkud, and how he felt that a particular kamatz on a word indicated the position of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. Though we do not have that particular kamatz, this is an important assertion, especially when combined with what we have in this post, that the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah got this meaning from Moshe. And combine that with what we saw in an earlier comment regarding trup, that since it reflects original intent, it makes no sense to argue with it.

Here, we consider Ibn Caspi's comment about the kamatz in hanimtza, whether it is dispositive, and whether it really means to preclude the first person plural verb.

Post: First, read the summary, above. Now, to continue...

Bereishit 41:38:

לח  וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה, אֶל-עֲבָדָיו:  הֲנִמְצָא כָזֶה--אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בּוֹ.
38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants: 'Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?'
On this pasuk, Rashi says:

Will we find [anyone] like this: Heb. הִנִמְצָא כָזֶה [Onkelos renders:] הִנִשְׁכַּח כְּדֵין, will we find such as this? If we go and seek him, will we find [anyone] like him?- [from Gen. Rabbah 90:1] הִנִמְצָא is an interrogative expression, as is every “hey” used as a prefix and vowelized with a“chataf pattach.”

הנמצא כזה: הנשכח כדין, אם נלך ונבקשנו הנמצא כמוהו. הנמצא לשון תמיהה, וכן כל ה"א המשמשת בראש תיבה ונקודה בחטף פתח:

where the implication of all the "we" verbs is that this is a plural verb, with the nun designating "we".

מא, לח]
הנמצא כזה -
בנין נפעל והוא פועל עבר כאומר הנמצא בעולם כזה.
ויתכן להיות הנו"ן סימן המדברים הנמצא אנחנו כזה, דברי פרעה אל עבדיו.

The first is that it is a niphal verb, meaning a passive verb. This would mean "could there be found." But as a secondary possibility, he allows that the nun could designate the speakers, and thus the person. It could then be a first person plural noun.

Regarding this pasuk, Ibn Caspi writes:
לח) הנמצא כזה. אחר שאנשי כנסת הגדולה שמו בו קמץ הם קבלו ממשה שהוא תאר מנפעל:
As the Anshei Knesset HaG'dolah placed in it a kamatz, they received as tradition from Moshe that it is an adjective derived from niphal (passive).
That is, if I understand Ibn Caspi correctly, he endorses Ibn Ezra's primary explanation on the basis of the nikkud, and on the same basis rejects Rashi's only explanation and Ibn Ezra's secondary explanation. If he is right, then just as it is notable that Ibn Caspi refuses to divert from nikkud, it is interesting that Rashi and Ibn Ezra were willing to do so. Unless they did so out of ignorance of the rules of dikduk, which is difficult to believe.

However, either I don't understand Ibn Caspi, or else Ibn Caspi is making a mistake here. Because in Biblical Hebrew, for III-Aleph roots (where the third root letter is an aleph), even in the first person plural perfect (=past tense) verb ("we found"), there would be a kamatz. The aleph causes a lengthening of the vowel patach. And so, we get nothing from this, and either explanation of Ibn Ezra is possible.

Turning now to defend Ibn Caspi, I would guess that he was considering as a possibility that first person plural imperfect (future tense) verb, a niphol, rather than the perfect (past tense verb). And we would have a cholam there, and it would not be modified in any way, such that we should expect hanimtzo, "will we find". And since we do not have a cholam, but rather a kamatz, it must be that the Men of the Great Assembly, via tradition from Moshe Rabbenu, explained it as a niphal.

This may be so, but surely Ibn Caspi realizes that people reading his commentary have already read other commentaries? (Indeed, at times, he almost seems to depend upon it.) And they would see his comment in terms of Ibn Ezra's statement, and be confused. Unless he is responding to someone else; or else believes that the imperfect is the only alternative which would make sense semantically.

At the end of the day, it seems quite possible that Ibn Caspi is incorrect, either in the vowel pattern of III-Aleph first person plural perfect, or in believing that the imperfect is the only alternative to the niphal.

Regardless, more interesting than that is his assertion that nikkud is written by Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, and that this is based on a Sinaitic tradition, and that it is therefore dispositive. And how (elsewhere) he says the same regarding trup. This might not seem so radical at all -- but it is useful to plot out the positions of various Rishonim, especially if it is the case that other Rishonim argue.

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