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Sh'mos 4:8–9:

וְהָיָה אִם לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לָךְ וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ לְקֹל הָאֹת הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהֶאֱמִינוּ לְקֹל הָאֹת הָאַחֲרוֹן.‏
וְהָיָה אִם לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ גַּם לִשְׁנֵי הָאֹתוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּן לְקֹלֶךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר וְשָׁפַכְתָּ הַיַּבָּשָׁה וְהָיוּ הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר תִּקַּח מִן הַיְאֹר וְהָיוּ לְדָם בַּיַּבָּשֶׁת.‏

I've always understood this as:

(And) it will be that if they won't believe you... then they will believe....
And it will be that if they won't believe... then you shall take....

That seems like the most obvious translation. The JPS chumash, however, has (with emphasis supplied):

And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.
And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe even these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.

Note the difference between the translations: Mine has an overarching "will be" governing an if-then statement. The JPS's, on the other hand, has the "will be" ("shall come to pass") logically attached to the "then", with the "if" clause parenthetical: logically, its translation is the same as:

And, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, it shall come to pass that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.
And, if they will not believe even these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, it shall come to pass that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.

The effect, of course, is the same (if the people don't believe, then Moshe pours the water); but how it's presented is different: what it is that's "coming to pass" (will be) is different.

(L'havdil, Christian translations that translate "והיה" generally do so to match the JPS's, though the Witnesses' matches mine. Translations that don't render "והיה", like some Christian ones and, l'havdil, Rabbi Kaplan's, don't have to choose between the JPS's translation and mine.)

My question is whether there's any source to support either translation.

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It's a bit illogical to have an "it will be" on an event that's only an "if", so I would think that the "it will be" in both translations are supporting the latter clauses. –  YDK Nov 18 '11 at 0:23
    
@YDK, I think both ways make sense logically. Either "if X then it will be that Y" or "it will be that {if X then Y}". –  msh210 Nov 18 '11 at 1:37
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2 Answers

והיה is and it was in simple translation. But in the Bible language, (an antique language), it is exactly like - if !!!

I mean:

והיה אם=IF   /     and it was that if = IF
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On Deut. 21:14, where we have the same ...והיה אם... ו formulation (about the husband of the yefas toar hating her and sending her away), Rashi comments (from Sifri) that "the verse is predicting that you will end up hating her." So in that case, at least, the "it will be" refers to both the אם clause and its outcome. (If the אם clause was parenthetical - "It will be, if you don't like her, that you shall send her away" - then that's like any other conditional, not a certainty. By contrast, if we translate, "It will be that if you don't like her, then you shall send her away" - that brings out more clearly that the "if you don't like her" is a guaranteed outcome ("it will be").)

On the other hand, in Zech. 6:15 the usual order is inverted, with the result ("People from far away will come and build Hashem's palace...") preceding the condition ("והיה אם you listen to the voice of Hashem your G-d"). The commentaries there say that והיה refers back to the first half of the sentence - i.e., "People from far away will come..., if you listen..." Which would make the condition parenthetical, as in the JPS translation of the verses in Shemos.

Generally, though, it probably does make more sense to assume that והיה covers both halves of the sentence. This would contrast with verses in which אם precedes והיה, like Gen. 32:9 and Lev. 25:28. (Although it is true that in neither of those cases is there another verb following והיה, unlike in the verses under discussion.)


Thinking further about this, another proof for your translation (that והיה refers to both the condition and the outcome) might be this: When והיה is followed by an auxiliary verb, then that second verb doesn't have a ו (for example, והיה הוא יהיה לך לפה, Ex. 4:16; והיה הוא ותמורתו יהיה קדש, Lev. 27:10 and 33). Here, by contrast, the outcome (והאמינו לקל האת האחרון or ולקחת ממימי היאר) is introduced with a ו, as are other places where you have "והיה X, then Y." This seems to me, then, to indicate that in this case the outcome is not a continuation of והיה, but of the condition.

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+1. The proof from Deut. is based on the fact that Rashi quotes both the v'haya and im lo...? If not, I don't get the proof; would you mind explaining? Rashi to Zech. seems strongly to say the "if..." is parenthetical (though as you note it's a different sentence structure than the usual and ); many thanks for finding that. The verses in Gen. and Lev. seem to be using "והיה" with an explicit subject which is not a clause, respectively the second camp and the item sold, so would not seem to be relevant here. Unless I'm missing something.... –  msh210 Nov 18 '11 at 1:46
    
@msh, about Deut., the point is that Rashi seems to be taking והיה as definitive: "it will most certainly happen that you will hate her..." If אם... בה was parenthetical, that wouldn't work. And about the last two cited verses - not sure what you're saying: isn't the והיה in each of those serving the same syntactic function as the first והיו in Ex. 4:9? All three of them are introducing something that will happen to the noun: "the second camp will be saved," "the sold property will remain in the buyer's possession," and "the water... will become blood." –  Alex Nov 18 '11 at 17:33
    
Still don't understand the Deut. proof. Sorry. As to Ex. 4:9, I agree. But והיה in Ex. 4:9 is different: it applies to a clause, not a thing. –  msh210 Nov 18 '11 at 17:41
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