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Parsha Notes: Sh’lah

June 12, 2014

As I mentioned earlier, the list of the spies that opens this parsha (Numbers 13:4-15) is arranged in the form of a song. Each verse has the same cantillational structure, i.e., the first two words marked with a zaqef qatan, and the last three words with a tip’ha and sof pasuq, with the exception of the verses that name the spies for the tribes of Efraim and Menashe. Hoshea bin Nun’s full name completes verse 8, and the mention of his tribe is marked with a tip’ha, making that verse lack a zaqef, whereas Gaddi ben Sussi’s tribe is identified in verse 11 specifically as the tribe of of Joseph and the tribe of Menashe, and marked with an ethnahta. The special verses are in red.

וְאֵ֖לֶּה שְׁמוֹתָ֑ם לְמַטֵּ֣ה רְאוּבֵ֔ן שַׁמּ֖וּעַ בֶּן־זַכּֽוּר׃

יג,ה לְמַטֵּ֣ה שִׁמְע֔וֹן שָׁפָ֖ט בֶּן־חוֹרִֽי׃

יג,ו לְמַטֵּ֣ה יְהוּדָ֔ה כָּלֵ֖ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּֽה׃

יג,ז לְמַטֵּ֣ה יִשָּׂשכָ֔ר יִגְאָ֖ל בֶּן־יוֹסֵֽף׃

יג,ח לְמַטֵּ֥ה אֶפְרָ֖יִם הוֹשֵׁ֥עַ בִּן־נֽוּן׃

יג,ט לְמַטֵּ֣ה בִנְיָמִ֔ן פַּלְטִ֖י בֶּן־רָפֽוּא׃

יג,י לְמַטֵּ֣ה זְבוּלֻ֔ן גַּדִּיאֵ֖ל בֶּן־סוֹדִֽי׃

יג,יא לְמַטֵּ֥ה יוֹסֵ֖ף לְמַטֵּ֣ה מְנַשֶּׁ֑ה גַּדִּ֖י בֶּן־סוּסִֽי׃

יג,יב לְמַטֵּ֣ה דָ֔ן עַמִּיאֵ֖ל בֶּן־גְּמַלִּֽי׃

יג,יג לְמַטֵּ֣ה אָשֵׁ֔ר סְת֖וּר בֶּן־מִֽיכָאֵֽל׃

יג,יד לְמַטֵּ֣ה נַפְתָּלִ֔י נַחְבִּ֖י בֶּן־וָפְסִֽי׃

יג,טו לְמַטֵּ֣ה גָ֔ד גְּאוּאֵ֖ל בֶּן־מָכִֽי׃

The special structure of verse 8 is readily explainable: really, all of the other verses should have that same simple form, but because every spy but Joshua had a name and patronym wich is phonetically longer than Joshua’s, (his has four true syllables and one phantom patah, whereas all the others have at least five) the tip’ha on each of their tribe’s names was upgraded to a zaqef, because in the standard cantillation system (as opposed to the system used for the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job) there is a limit to how many syllables that can appear in the domain of the sof pasuq before necessitating another disjunctive trop. Try reading and singing each verse as though there were a tip’ha on each of the tribal names: it will sound very awkward to then have to say the whole spy’s name and patronym on the sof pasuq. Conversely, if you were to read verse 8 as though there were a zaqef on the word Efraim and a tip’ha on Hoshea, it would sound too slow.

However, this does not explain the special division of verse 11.

I believe that the answer lies in the back story of each spy, and can be explained using the Vilna Gaon’s method of expounding the cantillation marks.

Joshua and Caleb advocated for marching on Canaan, and the ten others were opposed. Joshua only spoke up afterwards, when the people began to consider returning to Egypt. Most of the spies’ tribes are thus marked with a zaqef, from the word meaning upright, because they were firm in their opinions. This includes the nine spies from every tribe except for those of Joseph and Judah. However, Caleb, the spy of Judah, was just as a firm in his beliefs, so his tribe is also marked with a zaqef. Joshua, who was not as strong, and as the Midrash says, Moses prayed that he withstand their evil counsel (See Rashi to 14:16), is marked a tip’ha, with is of lesser force than a zaqef (when they appear in the same verse), and Gaddi ben Sussi, the Menashite spy, who, as the Midrash says, took after his ancestor, Joseph, when he spoke wrongly, is both associated directly with Joseph (unlike Joshua) and has his tribe marked with an ethnahta, the greatest pause within a single verse, to show that he was even firmer in his resolve than the other spies.

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