Vayigash: Language and Translation

The language in verses 30 and 31, at the opening of this portion draw a number of commentaries.

[44:30] [And] Now [v’atah], therefore when I come to thy servant my father and the lad is not with us — seeing that his life [nefesh] is bond up in the lad’s life —

[44:31] And it shall come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us — he will die [vamet], and thy servants shall bring down the grey hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.

Pay attention to the syntactical construction of the above verses. The verse divisions in Genesis usually correspond to the grammatical construction of a complete sentence, the modern punctuation of a full stop corresponding to the ancient notation denoting the verse-ending (sof pasuk). In the above quoted verse (30), according to the grammatical construction, we have only a subordinate clause. The verse ends in the middle of the sentence before we reach the main clause. The next verse (31) continues with a further subordinate clause:

And it shall come to pass when he sees…

the suspense being intensified until the climax is reached and the main clause, for which we have waited so long, follows and comprises (in Hebrew) the single word vamet “he will die,” driving home the stark pitiless consequence of the tyrant’s callousness. Judah, as it were, had hesitated to utter the dread word, delaying it by adding qualification to qualification.
–Nechama Leibowitz, New Studies in Breishit/Genesis, 486-487*
[bracketed material added above]

Fox* notes in his translation that the Hebrew, nefesh, in verse 30, commonly translated as “life,” also means “emotions” or “feelings.” In addition, Fox remarks on the fact that Judah uses the expression “our father” [avdecha] in verse 31: “Is Yehuda unknowingly including Yosef?”

The Stone Chumash* adds commentary based on “And now”:

Especially now that our father had warned us that any mishap affecting Benjamin wold not be attributable to simple happenstance, but that he would blame us for having brought misfortune upon him (Sforno [1470-1550 Bologna and Rome]). …and he will die immediately. If we could have a chance to tell him that Benjamin had stolen your goblet, our llaw-abiding righteous father would accept the justice of your decree, but when he sees that Benjamin is not with us, he will die before we have a chance to tell him (Dubno Maggid [Yaakov Krantz (1741-1804)])

*For complete citations and more information on translations and commentaries, please see Source Materials.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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