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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pronoun Dilemma. Who did What to Whom?

As a high school English Teacher, I always taught my students to read and write carefully to make sure that it's clear to what or whom the pronouns are referring.  A favorite reading comprehension (in Israel, called "unseen") question is:
"What is they/them/he/she/it (etc.) on line - referring to?"
Incorrect reading changes the meaning completely.  The same goes for writing and speaking.  In the Jewish Bible, reams have been written about unclear pronouns.  One of my favorites is in this week's Haftara, (from Prophets/Writings) Zachor, which is taken from 1Samuel Chapter 15.  It's a very dramatic and disappointing ending to the Prophet Samuel's relationship with the first Jewish King, Saul.
כו וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-שָׁאוּל, לֹא אָשׁוּב עִמָּךְ: כִּי מָאַסְתָּה, אֶת-דְּבַר יְהוָה, וַיִּמְאָסְךָ יְהוָה, מִהְיוֹת מֶלֶךְ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ס} 26 And Samuel said unto Saul: 'I will not return with thee; for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.' {S} כז וַיִּסֹּב שְׁמוּאֵל, לָלֶכֶת; וַיַּחֲזֵק בִּכְנַף-מְעִילוֹ, וַיִּקָּרַע. {ס} 27 And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it rent. {S} כח וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, שְׁמוּאֵל, קָרַע יְהוָה אֶת-מַמְלְכוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ, הַיּוֹם; וּנְתָנָהּ, לְרֵעֲךָ הַטּוֹב מִמֶּךָּ. {ס} 28 And Samuel said unto him: 'The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. {S}
I used to read it, vividly seeing it as King Saul grabbing the Prophet Samuel's coat, trying to prevent him from deserting him. That's because we hear what seems to be Saul saying:
ל וַיֹּאמֶר חָטָאתִי--עַתָּה כַּבְּדֵנִי נָא נֶגֶד זִקְנֵי-עַמִּי, וְנֶגֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְשׁוּב עִמִּי, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֵיתִי לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 30 Then he said: 'I have sinned; yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.'
But recently, the pronouns have my mind going in different directions.
  • Could it be that Samuel ripped his own coat in mourning over Saul's sins and subsequently being forced to depose him has king?
  • Or did Samuel rip Saul's royal coat to show that he is no longer king?
  • Or did Saul, himself, ripped his royal coat as a sign of mourning and repentance for his sins?

How do you read/understand it?

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