Parshat Mishpatim & the Vav Ha’Hipuch


Parshat Mishpatim

Shmoth 23.29 “I will not drive them away from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field outnumber you.”

and the beast of the field outnumber you – what do we learn from here: (Is it not written, “And the L-RD will make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if thou shalt hearken unto the commandments of the L-RD thy G-D, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them;?” [Devarim – Deuteronomy 28.13])

RASHI: and… outnumber you: Heb. וְרַבָּה, and will outnumber you. [The word וְרַבָּה is not an adjective, but a verb in the past tense. The “vav” converts it to the future.]

This “vav” is the vav hahipuch – וָו – הַהִפּוּךְ

Watch here <> for an explanation of how the vav hahipuch works.

A unique usage of the ‘vav’ occurs in Biblical literature: Prefixed to a verb in the past tense, it converts the verb into the future, and vice versa: Before a verb in the future tense, it converts it into the past.

This ‘vav’ is called in Hebrew וָו – הַהִפּוּךְ literally, ‘the inversion vav’. In English, it is known as ‘vav consecutive’, or ‘the vav marking the past/future’ (the latter name is by the Academy of The Hebrew Language in Jerusalem).

It should be emphasized that it is not the conjunction “and”; it is merely a marker for a change of tenses. Examples:
וַיֹאמֶר מֹשֶה = Moses said
וְשָמְרוּ בְּנֵי יִשְרָאֵל = the children of Israel will keep

The voweling of this ‘vav’ from the past tense to the future follows the same rules as the conjunctive ‘vav’ (part “A” above), including the exceptions [2].

The voweling of this ‘vav’ from the future tense to the past is normally with a ‘patach’, followed by a ‘strong dagesh’ in the next letter, e.g.,
וַיַּרְא , וַתֵּשֵב, וַנֵּלֵךְ . There are two exceptions:
1). Before an ‘aleph’ of the future tense, which cannot accept a ‘dagesh’, the ‘vav’ is voweled with a ‘kamatz’: וָאֶשְלַח , וָאֲדַבֵּר
2). Before a ‘yod’ with a ‘sheva’, the ‘vav’ retains its ‘patach’ but the ‘yod’ does not get a ‘dagesh’: וַיְהִי, וַיְדַבֵּר

Although this ‘vav’ does not mean “and”, a good translation, using judicious literary license, may introduce the conjunction “and” on occasion, in order to maintain the smooth flow of the text.
Examples: (italics added for clarity)

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר.וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי-טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים
בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶךְ. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם…
= G-D said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light. G-D saw that the light was good, and G-D separated the light from the darkness. G-D called the light Day…

וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי -בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד = There was evening and there was morning, one day. (A similar conjunction is implicit in the Hebrew text.)

וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְתְּ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלַךְ וַיִּבֶז עֵשָו… = Esau ate, drank, rose, went his way, and spurned…

It is unfortunate that, in such instances, a respected translation like the Hertz/Soncino Press [3] introduces “and” practically every time there is a ‘vav consecutive’. The previous examples read there,
“And G-D said ‘let there be light.’ And there was light. And G-D saw the light that it was good; and G-D divided the light from the darkness. And G-D called the light Day…”
“And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
“and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way, and spurned…”
Such a rendition is choppy and does not convey the fluid, majestic continuity of the Hebrew text.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the literary style of Biblical Hebrew, complete with the ‘vav consecutive’, is found also in secular writings. Notable among those is the first modern romance novel in Hebrew, “אַהֲבַת צִיוֹן “, by Avraham Mapu (1880-1867), an author of the ‘Haskalah’ (Enlightenment) movement.

Shmuel Yoseph (“Shy”) Agnon (1888-1970), a Nobel Prize laureate (1966), also used this style in some of his works.


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