SALT - Monday, 19 Tammuz 5776 - July 25, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 28
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            The final section of Parashat Matot tells of the distribution of the region east of the Jordan River which Benei Yisrael had captured from the Emorites, as well as the conquest of new territory by members of the tribe of Menashe.  In the last verse of the parasha, we read, “Novach went ahead and captured Kenat and its surrounding cities, and he called it Novach, in his name.”

            Rashi observes that the word לה (“it”) in this verse is grammatically peculiar.  The possessive word לה normally ends with a “mapik hei” – a hei with a dot, such that it is pronounced “lah” (with an “h” sound at the end).  Here, however, the dot is mysteriously missing.  Rashi cites Rabbi Moshe Ha’darshan as explaining that the Torah omitted the dot from the hei so that the word would sound like the word לא (“no”).  It thus alludes to the fact that although Novach sought to make an eternal name for himself by giving the newly-captured territory the name “Novach,” his efforts failed, as the name did not endure.  (See Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s Torah commentary where he explains the significance of this point.)

            It has been suggested that Rashi’s comments may perhaps shed light on the authentic pronunciation of the kamatz vowel, which appears under the lamed in the word לה, as well as the pronunciation of the cholam vowel, which is used in the word לא.  Among contemporary Jewish communities, we find different pronunciations of these vowels.  Sepharadim, generally, make no distinction, or a very subtle distinction, between the kamatz and the patach, pronouncing both as a short “o” sound (as in the word “top”), and they pronounce the cholam vowel as a long “o” (as in “go”).  Most Chassidic groups, as well as many followers of Polish and Hungarian pronunciation, pronounce the kamatz in a manner resembling the pronunciation of the shuruk sound by other groups (the “oo” sound, as in “too”), and the cholam as “oy.”  Among adherents of the Lithuanian tradition, it is common to pronounce the kamatz as a short “u” sound, such as in the words “sun” and “under,” and to pronounce the cholam as “oy,” like the common Chassidic tradition (or as a long “a” sound, as in “ate”).  According to all these customs, there is little resemblance between the kamatz sound and the cholam sound, such that the word לה which is spelled with a kamatz – could sound like לא – which is spelled with cholam.  As Rabbi Moshe Ha’darshan assumed a resemblance between the sounds of these two vowels, his remark would seem to prove that he did not follow any of the aforementioned traditions.

            Such a resemblance does exist, however, according to the tradition of many German and other Western European communities, who pronounce the kamatz as a short “u” (as in “sun”) and the cholam as a long “o” (as in “go”).  Adherents of this tradition pronounce the word לה as luh and לא as lo, which sound somewhat similar.  Rashi’s comment, then, might lend support to this tradition regarding the pronunciation of these two vowels.  This observation was made by Rav Menachem Chaim Galitzky, in a letter to the periodical Neizer Ha-Torah (Tevet, 5768).