Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Small things

One of the satisfactions of trying to read familiar passages in their original language is the occasional discovery of small intimations that didn't make it through into English.

Here is a sentence from the story of Hagar and Ishmael being driven out from the household of Abraham in the twenty-first chapter of Genesis:
וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם מְצַחֵק.

"Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she bore to Abraham, playing." That last word, "m'tzacheq", the participle, is sometimes also translated "mocking" or "laughing." And it's from the same three letter root from which the name of the son of Abraham by Sara is taken, יִצְחַק, "yitzchaq," our "Isaac." And since the mem at the beginning of the word "m'tzacheq", marking it as a participle, also can function as a prepositional prefix, the suggestion of the word "m'tzacheq" is not only that Ishmael was playing, or even mocking, but that, whatever he was doing, it was "from Isaac," taking something from Isaac.

Understand, it doesn't say that grammatically, but it suggests it with a sort of rough pun on the two uses of the prefix. It's not a large point, or one not made apparent by the whole context in any case. And, as one purely self-taught in this language, I recognize that I may be reading things in that aren't there. No way to really know. A small thing, really.


Pisco Sours said...

Your analysis of "Yitzhak"/"m'tzahek" is pretty much identical to the Jewish analysis of the text. I think you ought to make this blog more widely known; you're obviously a good and knowledgeable writer.

rick allen said...

Thanks for the kind word.

Good to know I'm not entirely out to sea vis a vis those who actually know what they're talking about.

And, let's see, you take the prize for the, what? ten-thousanth post? No, wait, the first.