Friday, October 03, 2008

חטא - The Aleph At The End

(Picture courtesy of

If the Hebrew language is not written with vowels, why is the word חטא (sin) written with an aleph at the end? Shouldn't it have simply been spelled חט?

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim wrote that he heard from his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, that the aleph in the word חטא stands for Hashem (the Alufo shel Olam) and that this symbolizes that He too is also present in our sins. Before continuing his elaboration of this teaching, however, the Degel wrote,

"There is a profound way of interpreting this, but I am afraid to explain it, for my heart hesitates lest I err in my vision, chas v'shalom. Therefore, I shall only give a slight hint, and if Hashem grants me the privilege of understanding the matter thoroughly, I shall explain further."

The wicked person has no qualms about the sins he commits and so this Aleph at the end becomes mixed up and becomes indistinguishable from the other letters in the word חטא. The simple Jew, on the other hand, feels ashamed after he commits a sin because and understands that the Aleph is waiting for him after his sin.

In order to remain cognizant of the Aleph at the end, the Degel wrote that a person must embrace the dichotomy of living with splendor, knowing that he is a part of Hashem's holy nation, and at the same time living with with true and absolute humility. He can neither focus too heavily on his distinguished lineage and carry himself in an aristocratic and pompous manner, or focuses too heavily on his worthless and believe that he is not the right person to fulfill any mitzvah.


At October 3, 2008 at 7:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger Leora said...

Wonderful drawing to go with this post.

neither focus too heavily on his distinguished lineage and carry himself in an aristocratic and pompous manner, or focuses too heavily on his worthless
Well-written. Keep the balance.

At October 3, 2008 at 3:24:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would propose a different answer. There is a difference between consonant clusters without shvas and with shvas. Without shvas, we don't pronounce it. E.g. rosh or rishon, or yiru in the last paragraph of birchat hamazon.

On the other hand, where you have a consonant cluster where every letter is pronounced, you will have a sheva marking it. Thus, in the word chet, as we find it in Devarim 15:9, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא, there is a sheva nach under the tes. That is there because both the tes and the aleph are pronounced. Just as in the word Ard, there is a sheva nach under the resh, and in yaft, there is a sheva nach under the feh.

Even though we Ashkenazim do not typically pronounce the aleph, it has a role of glottal stop. (Try saying battle, but then say it without the t's, that is ba-ull.) I believe the Teimanim pronounce it. This is obviously difficult to pronounce at the end of a word, but I think it is somewhat probable that this is what is intended.

(Related, I once saw a midrash in yalkut midreshai Teiman that in the word Vayar Balak, one would expect a mapik in the aleph -- it would seem to tell them to pronounce it, just as we have in certain hehs at the end of the word. But since there is, strangely, no mapik in Vayar, it should be darshened as he feared rather than that he saw.)

Kol Tuv,

At October 3, 2008 at 3:26:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another interesting point is that in Yerushalmi it is actually spelled without an aleph. And in certain Italian manuscripts as well, the noun without an aleph -- something Shadal says was done to distinguish the verb from the noun.

Kol Tuv,


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