Most people are aware that Hebrew verbs
come from three-letter roots. Each root is
conjugated in the 8 dimensions of
person, gender,plurality, tense, activity,
modality, direct-object, and prepositional connective. For example
the root Shin Mem Resh means to watch.
The conjugations Shin-Mem-Resh-Tauv-Yud
and Nun-Shin-Mem-Resh-Nun-Vav mean
I watched and we were watched respectively.
The rules for Hebrew grammar are carefully described
in many modern books and are well known. Rashi will sometimes comment when a verse is using a rare conjugation
of an odd grammatical form.
When presenting grammatical Rashis my favorite
reference is the appendix in volume 5 of the Ibn Shoshan
dictionary. This very short appendix lists most
We should emphasize that the great 19th century commentator,
Malbim, introduced the powerful grammatical observation that
the same root can change meaning solely based on the prepositional
connectives used with it. From time to time we present intriguing
examples illustrating this rule.
Today Rashi distinguishes two forms that differ by one vowel. Rashi frequently
used this pedagogic technique - teaching grammar by forms that differ
in one vowel - to facilitate the student focusing on minutae.
Suppose we have a Hebrew 3 letter verb: X-Y-Z. Then the active form
of that verb in third person, singular, past is conjugated with a Kamatz-Patach,
X(Kamatz)-Y(Patach)-Z. For example, Ashan means he smoked, and
similarly, Asham means he was guilty. However a Kamatz-Kamatz
punctuation would indicate a noun, not a verb. For example, Ashon, means
smoke and similarly Ashom means a guilt offering. These
two examples are actual Rashi comments which may be found in the Rashis at
Ex19-18a and Lv05-19a respectively.
Advanced Rashi: We have brought two examples of Rashis that distinguish
the Kamatz-Kamatz vs. Kamatz-Patach conjugations. For more Rashis commenting
on the contrast of this pair as well as other Rashis on other similar pairs see the
conjugation section at
Rashi brings several other comments on this verse which however are unrelated
to the grammatical observation we just made. We will therefore comment on these
other Rashi comments embedded in this Rashi in future issues.