In parshat Noach, perek 7, pasuk 23, The opening word "וַיִּמַח" is presented as an active verb, attested to by the presence of the word אֶת (I am summarizing the discussion of rashi and the Sapperstein explanation, driven by the lack of a dagesh in the mem).

כג וַיִּמַח אֶת-כָּל-הַיְקוּם אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה עַד-רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיִּמָּחוּ, מִן-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּשָּׁאֶר אַךְ-נֹחַ וַאֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ, בַּתֵּבָה

The ramban, when he discusses this section of the pasuk uses the idea in the passive, as it is used further on in the pasuk.

In fact, from pasuk 17 and on, the opening verbs are either in the active form with an initially explicit subject - "hamayim" or "hateivah" (as in וַיִּרְבּוּ הַמַּיִם, וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת-הַתֵּבָה, וַתָּרָם, מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ. יח וַיִּגְבְּרוּ הַמַּיִם וַיִּרְבּוּ מְאֹד, עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַתֵּלֶךְ הַתֵּבָה, עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם) or in the passive (וַיְכֻסּוּ, וַיִּגְוַע). In this pasuk, though, there seems to be an importance to the fact that the verb is active and yet no subject is listed. If it has been in the passive (either with or without the אֶת), it would have made perfect and consistent sense. Does anyone have any insight as to why this choice of the unattributed active might be? I can understand not wanting to attribute erasing mankind to the water which was just a proxy for hashem and thus making the verb singular, but then why not say "elokim" in the beginning of 23?

1 Answer 1


The difference between active and passive verbs has nothing to do with whether or not there is a subject, but whether or not that subject is having the verb done to it (whether or not it is the "patient", in other words, rather than the "agent"). The verbs ויכסו (in 7:19 and 20) and ויגוע (in 7:21) are both in possession of subjects (ההרים and כל-בשר, respectively).

As for the active verbs that you mention, what gives you the impression that וימח (in 7:23) lacks a subject? It is in possession of an initial yud, marking it as a 3rd masc. sg. imperfective. There's your subject: a masculine singular entity. Were its subject the water, it would say וימחו, given that water (מים) is a masc. pl. word.

That said (and this is where Rashi's observations are relevant), the only thing that indicates to us that this is an active verb with כל-היקום as its subject is the Masoretic vocalisation - not the presence of the word את. Had they placed a dagesh in the mem, it would be a niphal and not a qal. Compare, for example, וימּחו later on in that same verse, and וישּאר immediately afterwards. The presence of את does not, by itself, prevent us from reading the verb as a passive. Examples of niphals that take את include Genesis 4:18 and Deuteronomy 12:22, amongst others.

  • "whether or not that subject is having the verb done to it" that would make it the direct object, not the subject. the actor of the verb is the subject, the recipient is an object. vayimach has an object (kol hayikom) but only an implied subject (via the vav). So the subject is an absent singular masc. entity. The presence of the word et indicates that the kol hayikom is a direct object of an active verb and not a passive subject with an absent object of the preposition "by." In my question I wrote that with or without "et" it would have made sense in the passive.
    – rosends
    Oct 23, 2012 at 1:18
  • The way I read the question was that it's asking why the agent isn't specified, since (assuming it's Hashem) He's not mentioned anywhere recently. If I didn't misinterpret the question (which I may well have), then this answer doesn't answer it. Ping @Dan.
    – msh210
    Oct 23, 2012 at 1:22
  • Not true, @Dan. If I say that "the man was hurt", "the man" is the subject of the sentence and not the direct object. כל-היקום in 7:23 would be the subject of the sentence if the verb were וימּח (niphal). As the verb is in the qal, it is the object of the sentence and the subject is masc. sg. That rules out the possibility of the subject being "water".
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 23, 2012 at 1:38
  • "the man" is the subject of the sentence but not the subject of the verb. to be a sentence is to have a subject but that doesn't mean that a verb has an actor. In your sentence, "the man" is the recipient of an action by an implied actor. But once one is only implying an actor, then why use an active construction? might as well stay with the passive and the implication instead of an active implication.
    – rosends
    Oct 23, 2012 at 2:10
  • @Dan I feel like this conversation might be straying away from the topic, but there are sentences without subjects just as there are sentences without verbs. I don't agree with the way that you are using the word, but I also don't think it impacts on my answer. You wanted to know why the subject of the (active) verb is not expressly signalled. Once you take into consideration the fact that it requires a masc. sg. subject, who else but God could it possibly be? (Or are you actually asking a question on the Masoretes: why not put a dagesh in the mem?)
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 23, 2012 at 2:16

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