Today Hebrew grammar is well understood and
there are many books on it. Rashi, however, lived
before the age of grammar books. A major Rashi method
is therefore the teaching of basic grammar.
Many students belittle this aspect of Rashi. They erroneously
think that because of modern methods we know more. However Rashi
will frequently focus on rare grammatical points not covered
in conventional textbooks.
There are many classical aspects to grammar whether
in Hebrew or other languages. They include
- The rules for conjugating verbs. These rules govern how you
differentiate person, plurality, tense, mode, gender, mood, and
designation of the objects and indirect objects of the verb. For
example how do you conjugate, in any language, I sang, we will
sing, we wish to sing, she sang it.
- Rules of agreement. For example agreement of subject
and verb, of noun and adjective; whether agreement in gender or plurality.
- Rules of Pronoun reference.
- Rules of word sequence. This is a beautiful topic which is
not always covered in classical grammatical textbooks.
Today we discuss some aspects of the
conjugations. In all languages there are several present tenses.
Although all three of these sentences are present their meaning as well as
their conjugation, indicated by the underlined words, differ. For example the simple present
indicates activity actually being done now. By contrast, the habitual present indicates
intended activity in the past, present and future. As can be seen from the underlined words
the conjugations used to indicate the differents presents can differ.
- Simple present: I am going to the store.
- Habitual Present: I go to the store every day for work.
- Informational/Conditional Present: If I need food I go to the store.
Verse Gn29-08b discussing when the shepards in Beer Sheva watered their flocks states
And they said: 'We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep and then return the stone to its place on the mouth of the well.'
The underlined words until....be gathered ....roll indicate a conditional present.
The words until ...be gathered indicates a future action and is conjugated in the text
with a future conjugation. The word roll indicates action that habitually happens daily.
Like any habitual action it refers to the past, present and future. Because the conditional
trigger of this action is the future gathering of all the flocks the conjugation of this habitual
present is indicated via a past conjugation and a prefix vav, which always indicates the
future in Biblical Hebrew.
Advanced Rashi: Two further points should be made: First the meaning of the verse
is clear We habitually gather every day, roll the stone, water the flock and return the stone.