Warning: The following Rashi is slightly technical and is best skipped by readers who are not familiar with Biblical Hebrew.
This Rashi was incompletely done last week so we are redoing it this week. This Rashi affords us a glimpse
into how to treat Hebrew Grammar. Verse Nu21-30c states
We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even to Dibon, and we have laid them waste VaNaShiM even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba
Rashi makes two comments on the Hebrew VaNaShiM:
VaNaShim uses the language of shemamah destruction. The dot in the Shin indicates
a missing root letter. Literally Rashi appears to say that
the root of VaNaShim is Shin Mem Mem. However literally Rashi simply relates VaNaShim and Shemamah.
As I will show below, based on a RadaK, Rashi undoubtedly takes the Hebrew root of VaNaShim to be Nun-Shin-Mem which
to cite Rashi uses the language of Shemamah.
Rashi continues and comments VaNaShim means they destroyed them. Rashi appears to be saying
that the terminal mem of VaNaShim refers to the object of the verb. (In Hebrew one can indeed suffix a mem
to indicate a direct object.) However I would suggest that Rashi regards the occurrence of VaNaShim as intransitive - they destroyed.
Rashi adds the direct object - they destroyed them in order to make the verse sound better. That is Rashi is not
interpreting the terminal mem as indicating an object but rather Rashi is explaining that the verse left out the object, them,
because it was understood! Below we will present an extremely deep alternate explanation of this second Rashi comment.
Let us delve a little further into this Rashi. The first issue before us is the root of the Hebrew VaNaShim. How does one identify
a root? One studies the meaning and the grammatical form. One then looks up in tables till one finds that form. My favorite source
of tables are the appendices in volumn 5 of Ibn Shoshan. Applying this procedure we get four
- The meaning of VaNaShim based on the context of the verse is destruction. But the official Hebrew root for destruction
is Shin Mem Mem. This sounds reasonable enough except that for a 1-2-2 verb (Shin-Mem-Mem) the plural, first person,
future causative is VaNoShem. (Table 10, Ibn Shoshan). And that is the problem. The verse does not say VaNoShem but rather
says VaNaShim. This approach (Shin-mem-mem) is mentioned by Radack in his book Roots.
- The Silverman Grammatical Konkordance suggests that VaNaShim comes from the root Nun-Shin-Hey. Table 9 of Ibn Shoshan
suggests the form VaNanSheh. Silverman suggests that the terminal mem indicates an object and this terminal mem
changes the segoL to a chirik. Hence VaNaNSheH Otham becomes VaNaNShim which becomes VaNaSShim with a doubled
root letter. So Silverman seems to be following the two Rashis: Silverman is arguing that 1) The root is Nun-Shin-Hey and 2) the terminal
mem indicates a direct object. Rashi then fills in and explains that the Shin becomes dotted so that the word can avoid two nuns.
Furthermore the segol changes to a Chirik.
- Radack cites his father (something he occasionally does) who suggests that the root is Yud-Shin-Mem. The Yud-2-3 verbs
are covered in Table 2 of Ibn Shoshan. Except these tables say that the word should be conjugated VaNoShim. And that is the problem: It
is not conjugated that way - it instead is conjugated VaNaShim.
- However Radack cites the similar form YaTztziv. YaTztziv has the same form as NaShim! But we know that YaTzTziv
comes from the root Nun-Tzade-Beth. The Nun-2-3 verbs are covered in table 3 of Ibn Shoshan and bullseye - the plural, first person,
causative is NaShShim as occurs in the verse. Besides the Radack's example of YaTziv we have the example from Ibn Shoshan,
Let us summarize:
- Based on the form NaSShim, NaPPil, YaTztziv we see the root of NaSShim as Nun-Shim-Mem. (Table 3 of Ibn Shoshan: First person
- The root Nun-Shin-Mem fulfills Rashi's criteria of using the language of Shemamah destruction.
- Furthermore the form NaSShim also fulfills Rashi's criteria having a dotted Shin
to compensate for the missing initial root letter Nun.
- If we follow this then the simple meaning of the verse is intransitive: we destroyed until Nopach that is until Maydevah. Rashi
therefore supplies the elliptical direct object, We destroyed them until Nopach.
- But there is a beautiful encylopedic Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar Rabbah 3:13 which lists the 10 places in the Bible where words have dots over them.
We have explained these biblical dots as indicating strikeout. In fact there is a dot on the resh of Asher ad maydevah. So as you see
there are two dots too explain: #1) The dot in the actual Biblical text on the Resh and #2) The dot in the written Biblical text
on the Shin. The Rashi above explained the dot on the Shin. The Midrash Rabbah explains the reason for the dot on the Resh - that is, the Midrash
Rabbah explains what is stricken out:
They destroyed both cities and people until Nopach; but until Maydevah they did not destroy both, just one. In other words,
the destruction is stricken by the dot and becomes a weaker destruction - a destruction of people but not of cities also!
- But then we have a beautiful explanation on Rashi's comment They destroyed them. Rashi was not explaining the direct object.
Rather Rashi was explaining the dot on the Resh indicating a strikeout: Until Nopach they destroyed people and cities but until Maydevah they
just destroyed the cities (possibly letting the people escape).
As can be seen this innocuous grammatical Rashi is rich and complex. There are four theories on the real root. There are two possible
dottings to be explained. I hope this Rashi convinces the reader that grammatical Rashis are not a matter of lookup but involve careful debate
Finally we point out that the issue of Destroying people and cities or just cities is a modern issue also. One example are certain
types of weapons of mass destruction which kill off the population but leave the buildings and structures intact. A second recent example is the
expulsion of the Jews of Gaza: Recall that a serious discussion point was whether to destroy the houses also or just expel the inhabitants. It is
always meaningful to find modern themes echoed in ancient Rashis.