Thursday, February 4, 2010


Today's lesson is brought to us by the letter ל from the scroll of Ruth מגילת רות

This is another letter with several roles. Let us look at the examples to see the roles. A good place to start is with a phrase we saw in several earlier posts

לָתֵת לָהֶם לָחֶם
to give them bread
Five letters of the 9 in this phrase are playing grammatical roles. In English we always begin an infinitive with 'to'. While this is not the rule in Hebrew it also often happens as it does in the case of the first word, the infinitive of נתן, a word in which 2 of the three letters of the root disappear in this form! (I will postpone this discussion of missing letters till we get to נ.) Like English, the preposition ל can be used the way we use 'to'. In the second word, although often left as understood, we could have said 'to them' as seems to be the case in Hebrew. So this verb appears to require an indirect object with a preposition. Does that verb even appear without one? Or say with an attached object pronoun?

The preposition occurs frequently and is most often translated by 'to' in English. So in Ruth 1:7
לָשׁוּב אֶל-אֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה 
to return to the land of Judah
and in Ruth 1:8
לֵכְנָה שֹּׁבְנָה אִשָּׁה לְבֵית אִמָּהּ
 Go - return - each to the house of her mother
and in Ruth 1:9
יִתֵּן יְהוָה לָכֶם וּמְצֶאןָ מְנוּחָה  
may יְהוָה give to you and may you find rest
and in Ruth 1:10
כִּי-אִתָּךְ נָשׁוּב לְעַמֵּךְ
and they said to her
for with you we will return to your people

and so on.

Well - doesn't it just mean 'to' then. Not so fast. BDB lists more than 25 differing uses. We are just on the surface. We have two uses: with the verb - but infinitives don't require a preposition, so it is not exactly like English, and with nouns and pronouns. The correspondence between English and Hebrew verbs and their use of prepositions is varied. Sometimes it seems that Hebrew requires the preposition and English doesn't and sometimes it is the other way around. Lots of examples below for reading practice.

Ruth 1:12 and a similar use of לְאִישׁ in Ruth 1:13
זָקַנְתִּי מִהְיוֹת לְאִישׁ
כִּי אָמַרְתִּי יֶשׁ-לִי תִקְוָה
גַּם הָיִיתִי הַלַּיְלָה לְאִישׁ
for I am too old to have a husband
for had I said there is hope for me
even if there was tonight a husband

Ruth 1:20 has the use of the preposition where we omit it in English and a separate preposition I have translated as 'to' also
וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן
אַל-תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי
קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא
כִּי-הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד
and she said to them
do not call me Naomi
call me Mara
for bitter is the Sufficient to me - greatly so

Ruth 2:1 has two more examples which I would render 'for' or 'of' in a awkward moment. 'Of' is a common usage particularly in the headings of the psalms.
וּלְנָעֳמִי מוֹדָע לְאִישָׁהּ
Now for Naomi there was an acquaintance of her husband

Ruth 2:14 has one attached to a time word
 לְעֵת הָאֹכֶל גֹּשִׁי הֲלֹם
at the time of eating draw near here

Ruth 2:20
בָּרוּךְ הוּא לַיהוָה
Blessed be he from יהוָה

Ruth 4:3 has an interesting pair
חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר לְאָחִינוּ לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ
the portion of the field of our brother Elimelek

Ruth 4:6. These examples make me ask why the second verb does not take a pronoun as object directly. There's a feel for the language here that I don't yet have. One exercise that might be useful is to list all the various ways one might say the same thing.
 וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לֹא אוּכַל לִגְאָל- לִי
and the redeemer said I cannot redeem her

Ruth 4:13 almost at the end of the whole story
וַיִּקַּח בֹּעַז אֶת-רוּת וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה
 וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ
וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה לָהּ הֵרָיוֹן וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן
So Boaz got Ruth and she became his wife
and he came to her
and יְהוָה gave her conception and she bore a son

Ruth 4:16 a final example - I think there is no correspondence between the preposition and 'his'. It just came out that way!
וַתִּקַּח נָעֳמִי אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד
 וַתְּשִׁתֵהוּ בְחֵיקָהּ
וַתְּהִי-לוֹ לְאֹמֶנֶת
and Naomi got the child
and set him in her lap
and became for him his support

Note 1: Henceforth no more transcription. (There are transcriptions in the previous posts in this series from dalet to kaf. ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ. And there are transcriptions in the series on Psalm 119 א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ). John Hobbins even wants to wean us from נְקֻדּוֹת the nikkudot, all those little dots and dashes, but I am not going there yet. Maybe after I have visited Israel in the fall but I doubt it even then - you can generally hum and haw between letters and beats but the diacritics help me see some patterns that are otherwise invisible (like most of that piel conjugation).

Note 2: I will continue to put my translations close to the Hebrew. That's the state I am in at the moment with respect to understanding. Reading is easier than a year ago, but memory is lagging. I don't want to trouble my readers with more difficulty than I can manage.

Begin soapbox. By the way, I might be wrong. Where I remember an acknowledgment, I will note it. If I forget you, shout. Hitherto note also - I am a devoted servant of the Beloved whose Name is blessed and who makes me happy in the midst of trouble. Happy as written in Psalm 1:1 and Proverbs 8:34, confident as noted in Psalm 91:15. There is no arguing this even if I fall away into depression and skepticism. Therefore I am not first a scholar, if indeed I will ever be one. I study the Bible but I am not first doing Biblical Studies because I am not disinterested. Professionals, squirm if you must. I have been trained in recognizing my errors and I know how to leave things incomplete but do not hesitate to correct me. I like interaction and I don't get much of it. It may be that the Bible in the hands of amateurs is like loaded weapons in the hands of children, but perhaps that is the nub of our problem. I make no apology to those who are objective and distanced from text or life. I don't see either as an option. End soapbox.

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