1

A speaker of modern Hebrew would translate the following expression from Genesis 1:

וַיְהִי-כֵן

"And it will be so."

But every translation of Torah I have seen says "and it was so."

Couldn't it be translated as G-d saying "and it will be so"? After all, quotes in Torah text aren't indicated, so the translator wouldn't know where the beginning and end of a quote really should be.

But I have heard also that Torah uses future tense to describe past tense. Are there other, clearer examples of this without the alternate meaning?

  • 1
    It means "and it was so". Why would it not mean that? This is standard biblical Hebrew. – Double AA May 6 '15 at 22:51
  • 2
    Actually, in modern Hebrew it would be וִיהִי כֵן with a hirik under the vav. – Ypnypn May 7 '15 at 0:12
  • @Ypnypn In biblical Hebrew too, eg. ויהי נועם... – Double AA May 7 '15 at 3:32
9

See here for more.

Biblical Hebrew employs a rule called the "vav ha-hipuch." The preceding "v'" flips the tense from past to future, or vice versa.

Thus "yehi chen", it will be so; "vayhi chen", it was so.

"Amar Paroh", Pharaoh said; "v'amar Paroh livnei yisrael" -- Pharoh will say regarding the Jews.

"Moshe yedaber", Moses would speak. "Vaydaber Moshe" -- Moshe spoke.

"V'heshiv et hagzela", he will return the stolen item ...

  • 2
    "יהי כן" is in jussive, meaning "let it be so". The translation of "it will be so" is "יהיה כן". – magicker72 May 7 '15 at 0:30
  • Note not all vav's change the tense. Just [four] (three) weeks ago we had ואכלתי חטאת היום and on Pesach we had וישבו המים where the tense doesn't change. – Double AA May 7 '15 at 3:30
  • @DoubleAA "VEyashuvu hamayim" -- the waters shall return. "VAyashuvu hamayim" -- the waters returned. No? "VeAchalti Chatas" is a weird one as it's a hypothetical bridging the simple-past "hikrivu" with the simple-future "hayitav." Sforno's reading has the whole phrase preceded by a "hen", notifying us that this is all a thought experiment, so we know from context it's not the future tense: "suppose that they sacrificed ... and then I ate -- would that be good?" – Shalom May 7 '15 at 4:25
  • @Shalom Yes those are the examples to which I referred. The response to Moshe is indeed hard to parse, but the grammar of that phrase isn't weird at all. It's standard past tense. Consider like it Hoshea 12:11 – Double AA May 7 '15 at 4:34
  • Couldn't it be as Conway said - "let it be so"? – Gregory Magarshak May 7 '15 at 12:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .