June 15, 2024
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An Insight Into Psalm 142 and Ex. 15 (‘Oz Yashir’)

Many of us have been reciting Psalm 142 regularly. Verse 4 has: “be-orach זו ahalech….” That Hebrew word is pronounced “zu.” (The vav has a “shuruk.”) I have not taken a survey but surely most of us think “zu” has the same meaning as זה, or “zo,” and means “this.” So we imagine the phrase means: “In this way I walk, they have hidden a snare for me.”

But recently I was reading the Daat Mikra edition of Tehillim and it pointed out that “zu” means אשר here. אשר means “that” or “which.” So the proper translation of this phrase is: “On the way that I walk, they have hidden a snare for me.” There is no “this” being emphasized.

Then I learned that every time “zu” appears in Tanach it has the meaning אשר. The Even-Shoshan concordance (p. 328) lists all 14 times we have “zu” in Tanach. Here are four of them:

Ex. 15:13: “nachita be-chasdecha am zu gaalta” (=“the people that You redeemed”)

Ex. 15:16: “ad yaavor am zu kanita” (=“the people that You acquired”)

Isaiah 43:21: “am zu yatzarti li” (=“the people that I formed for myself,” haftarah of “Va-Yikra”)

Psalms 143:8: “hodieini derech zu elech” (“make known to me the path that I should walk”)

All these phrases read much smoother when we realize that “zu” means “that.”

The word in Aramaic for “that” is די , often shortened as a prefix to ד. It is well-known that ד and ז sometimes interchange. (I have explained why in an earlier column.)

Returning to Ex. 15:13 and 16, if we look at both the ArtScroll Stone Chumash and The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, they do not translate זו as “that” in these verses. At Ex. 15:13 they have: “this people that You redeemed” and at 15:16 they have “this people You have acquired.” Similarly, at Isaiah 43:21, they have: “I fashioned this people” (p. 1165, haftarah section).

As to Psalms 143:8, this verse is not found in the ArtScroll Stone Chumash. But it is found in ArtScroll’s Stone Tanach. Here their translation is good: “let me know the way I should walk.” But their translation of 142:4 fails: “on this road that I walk.”

(I am not criticizing ArtScroll here, as I only learned most of this subtle material recently myself! I am merely mentioning items for ArtScroll users to be aware of.)

———

The next step is to analyze the word זה. זה and וזה appear over 300 times in Tanach. On p. 324, Even-Shoshan lists 10 times where he believes the word means “that” or “which.” He lists two more on p. 325. This is not an exact science and we do not have to accept every “that/which” meaning that Even-Shoshan proposes. (On the other hand, there are surely more than the ten that Even-Shoshan proposes.)

Here are some of the convincing ones proposed by Even-Shoshan:

Psalms 74:2: “Har Tziyon zeh shachanta bo” (=that You dwelt within)

Isaiah 25:9: “Hineh Elokeinu zeh kivinu lo ve-yoshieinu” (=that we hoped for)

Mishlei 23:22: “Shema le-avicha zeh yeladecha”(=that gave birth to you)

Now let us discuss another verse with זה, a famously difficult verse, Exodus 13:8.This verse instructs what you should tell your child “ba-yom ha-hu”: “Baavur zeh asah Hashem li be-tzeiti mi-Mitzrayim.” In this verse, “zeh” is usually taken to mean “this.” Rashi understands the instruction as: In order that I should do commandments (such as these Pesach-related commandments), God did [miracles] for me when I left Egypt.

But S.D. Luzzatto suggests that “zeh” means “that” here. In his view, the instruction to the child is: I am observing this holiday and eating this matzah because of that which God did for me when I left Egypt. (For more on this verse and a discussion of the views of many commentators, see Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot, Bo.)

Whether “zeh” in any particular verse means “this” or “that” has ramifications for what the trop should be, as the trop follows the manner in which the words are connected. For one brief discussion, see Luzzatto on Ex. 13:8. (I admit that the trop may not always follow the modern approach to the word “zu.”)

———

We said earlier that in none of the 14 times that “zu” appears in Tanach does it mean “this.”

Nowadays in our betrothal ceremony, the custom is for the groom to recite: “harei at mekudeshet li be-tabaat זו…” The intended meaning of the last two words is “with this ring.” Thus we should expect the last word to be “zo.”

Yet R. Aryeh Kaplan, in his Made in Heaven (1983), p. 180, cites the phrase with “zu.” The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, p. 204 (1984) also has “zu.” Someone I know who is very knowledgeable about grammar made sure to reject these and said “zo” at his wedding.

But “zu” was not an error by R. Kaplan and ArtScroll. There is much precedent for “zu” in earlier sources. For example, it is the nusach in the Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefillot, p. 502 (1914), and I have seen it in many earlier siddurim.

(The Talmud at Kiddushin 5b has “harei at mekudeshet li,” without words following this.)

This is a difficult topic to research as a typical work of halachah does not include vocalization.

Also, in many early sources they were not using a טבעת, a female noun that requires זו (instead of the male form: זה), so the issue did not arise. For example:

-Kol Bo, 75: “harei at mekudeshet li be-kesef zeh”—R. Karo, Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer, 27: “harei at mekudeshet li ba-zeh”

According to R. Kaplan, the earliest source that used the phrase “be-tabaat זו” was probably Rashi. See Sefer Ha-Orah 2:3, a work from the school of Rashi. But there is no vocalization here.

(R. Kaplan, at p. 180, n. 36, cites another statement of Rashi in the work Issur Ve-Heter, but I have not been able to see this work and I suspect there is no vocalization there either.) Another early source with “be-tabaat זו” (without vocalization) is Sefer Ha-Manhig (c. 1200), sec. 104.

Siddur Avodat Yisrael (1868) was a siddur that thought seriously about grammatical issues. It chose “zo.” More recently, the Koren Siddur (2009) and the new RCA Siddur, Siddur Avodat Halev (2018), chose “zo” as well. I have also seen “zo” in siddurim connected to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l.

Here is my suggestion to explain the arisal of the “zu” nusach. Even though scholars today (including the Even-Shoshan concordance) are of the view that “zu” did not mean “this” in Biblical Hebrew, earlier Jewish sources (e.g., Targumim, Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim) did think “zu” sometimes meant “this” in Biblical Hebrew and later Hebrew. Moreover, it was possibly viewed as a more emphatic form for “this” than “zo” was.

The betrothal ritual with its specification of an object would have been a good place to use what was believed to be an emphatic form.

I would like to thank Rabbi Ezra Frazer for his assistance with this column.


Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected]. My late father was named Harry and my mother is Lee. For their 50th anniversary, they had a ceremony reenacting their wedding. The mesader kedushin was my uncle Rabbi Benjamin Blech. He began the ceremony: “Harry at mekudeshet Lee…”

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