Friday, January 1, 2010

Vav - connector par excellence

Vav is the shortest section
8 columns in BDB
7 taken up with itself.
Of the other 10 words,
all are proper names or
unique textual misfits
except וָו the hook.

Clearly this letter names itself and itself only.  In my Hebrew Latin concordance, listing every textual meme in TNK, Vav occupies 1/2 of a column in 6000 columns - that's about 0.000001 %. It lists 3 words, vav, vzr (?) Proverbs 21:8 and vlk - without definition, thought to be a misprint for ylk, whom we have met already. How errant that word is! (Joke). And vav itself is used only in Exodus for the building of the tabernacle.

Was vav the easiest letter to engrave and so a divider that became a hook? For all its rarity in the beginning of roots, I bet that vav begins more 'words' in Scripture than any other letter! It is everywhere as connector. And it is everywhere in differing roles.

וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי־נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה
vehaya hana`ar 'asher 'omar 'eleyah hati-na kadek v'eshtah
and let it be that the lad! lass to whom I will say - give please your jar that I may drink
Just look at all that grammar going on in this verse! That first word, וְהָיָה some would not divide since the vav defines the verb as preterite. But it is still a vav + a verb that could be recognized on its own as 3rd person masculine singular perfect, and the phrase vav-conversive, as if we are converting perfect to imperfect, is common in the literature. It is clear that it is the backbone of narrative. And here too it is translated in the jussive, like a third person imperative.

It was tricky to find an occurrence of 'I will say' that is not preterite in an English Bible. It occurs in direct speech. (This verse should have been more fully dealt with under aleph). And note that the text has the male form of lad נַּעֲרָ instead of the female form, lass נַעֲרָה - that we have seen so clearly in Ruth. (where is the 'he'?) It is read as lass though writ as lad.  And what about those hooks? - One joins the text to the surrounding narrative and the other acts as a relative pronoun!

BDB lists several meanings for vav - and, or, but, and many more. But vav is not limited to connecting phrases with each other, it also plays significant grammatical roles as suffix - third person singular possessive for instance. So in Ruth we have already seen
וְשֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ נָעֳמִי
veshem ishto naomi
and the name of his wife, Naomi.
and for a plural example
אַחַר אֲשֶׁר אֶמְצָא-חֵן בְּעֵינָיו
'axar 'asher 'emtsa-xen be`eynaiv
after the one in whose [his] eyes I will find favor
lit: after the one that I will find favor in eyes of him
And vav is the third person plural ending for verbs - right across the board of all paradigms in all the conjugations. So when Mahlon and Chilion die - it reads
and they died.
Hey - how do you pronounce this letter - it is all over the map! ve, va, u, o, v! Sometimes it behaves like a pure vowel and sometimes like a consonant. There are rules but I am lousy with rules. I simply can't remember them at my age (about 4). I think they have to be heard rather than visually memorized so that the light dance of the vav is known against the heavier gutturals of the other letters. Vav is like the fool in the Tarot pack - everywhere and yet nowhere - except in the tabernacle.

Besides the third person plural suffix of verbs, it also is in the second person masculine plural suffix of verbs in the imperfect. (I didn't find an example in Ruth - so none given for this exercise.) And with nun (always nu) it is in the first person plural perfect. This form does not occur in Ruth but the pronoun 'our' - with the same form nu occurs in Ruth 2:20
קָרוֹב לָנוּ הָאִישׁ מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ הוּא
 qarov lanu ha'ish migo'elnu hu
near to us is the man and he our redeemer
Hopefully this will allow me to see and hear more clearly what role vav is playing in the word whether attached in front of or after the root. I think that is enough for a first pass at this complex letter. We will see it again with taf in the formation of the feminine plural of a noun. Here's one from Ruth
with his lasses -
vav in two roles. It is a remarkable letter.

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