Tag Archives: Hebrew Grammar

Commentary for Emor

19 May

Unlike English, Hebrew is a gendered language. This means that, like in French or Spanish, each noun is assigned a gender, and all pronouns, adjectives or verbs used for that word must be the appropriate form of the verb for that gender. Thus a large cup (masculine) would be a “cos gadol” while a large bed (feminine) would be a “mitah gedolah.” Searching for any special meaning or psychoanalysis for why someone millennia ago decided that a chair is masculine but a door is feminine is a fool’s errand, but this week’s parshah contains a situation so out of the ordinary that one cannot help but look for meaning in it.


In Lev. 23:3 Shabbat is described using the feminine pronoun, while later in the same chapter (Lev. 23:32) it is given a masculine pronoun. Even more strikingly, Lev. 23:32 where Shabbat is given a masculine pronoun, exactly mirrors a phrase we read last week in Lev. 16:31, except there Shabbat was given a feminine pronoun.


Shabbat has always been a bit of an odd one out. It shares the characteristics of a festival but it is not a festival. It is supposed to be separate from the rest of the week, and yet the regularity with which it occurs make it feel like it is part of the week. While the other days of the week have a corresponding partner day of creation, Shabbat’s partner in creation is to be the Jewish People.


Shabbat is, clearly, a bit of a non-conformist. It is a holy day on which work is forbidden, but it is not a festival holiday. It is part of the weekly cycle and yet it is different from the other six days in a way that no other day is. It is an essential piece of creation, but its role is spiritual rather than physical. Shabbat is described in the Torah as both masculine and feminine because it does not fit in to neat little boxes. Unfortunately, we humans like our neat little boxes because they make the world easier to understand, and thus when something doesn’t fit we read into it the things that we want to read into it to   try to cram it into the box we want it to go in, even though it clearly doesn’t fit. We owe it to Shabbat to let Shabbat be what it is rather than trying to bend it to our own ends.