The first pasuk of Ekev, Devarim 7:12:

וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַֽאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃

את has a mahpach and המשפטים has a pashta, which means that המשפטים are more connected to את than האלה. But in several other places it's the opposite, for example Devarim 31:28:

הַקְהִ֧ילוּ אֵלַ֛י אֶת־כָּל־זִקְנֵ֥י שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֖ם וְשֹֽׁטְרֵיכֶ֑ם וַֽאֲדַבְּרָ֣ה בְאָזְנֵיהֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְאָעִ֣ידָה בָּ֔ם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ

This time את has a yetiv, meaning הדברים are more connected to האלה. My sense is that the yetiv version is more common than the mahpach pashta one for phrases of the form את ה____ האלה, but maybe I'm wrong.

Why the difference? I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what it even means to have a greater or lesser connection to את vs. האלה.

  • 1
    Mishpatim is an extra syllable longer. Longer words require more breaks.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 18:17
  • @DoubleAA What about 4:6 (כל-החקים is also 4 syllables)?
    – Heshy
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 18:32
  • 2
    True. Length is definitely a factor in extra splits for full words, but I think the real culprit there for the inconsistency is the Makkaf, cf judaism.stackexchange.com/q/70727/759 . Why את and כל and כי sometimes get Makkafs and sometimes not, and that really can mess with how things are split. Fundamentally we'd all agree that את is more tied to משפטים than האלה is.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


The cantillation marks are not word-dependent, but are instead driven by the logical placement of the words in their context.

For example, the phrase “את הדברים האלה” appears 30 times in Scripture. The phrase “את ה____ האלה” appears 50 times. In both instances the cantillation marks vary. So cantillation is not tied to words, although word length and vowels play a role.

Instead, the cantillation is more tied to the logical arrangement of words within verses based on a system of logical dichotomy. For example, the schematic depiction of the cantillation structure of Deut 7:12 appears below, and below that, Deut 31:38. Please click on the respective images to enlarge for better viewing.

This image provides the schematic depiction of the cantillation structure of Deut 7:12 Please notice that in the example above, the word הָאֵ֔לֶּה carries the Zaqef Qaton, and therefore “captures” the weaker Pashta disjunctive accent in the word הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ which is inseparably connected to אֵ֤ת in logic, because of the Mahpach (not the Yethib!*) on that word is the “slave” to the Zaqef Qaton. Therefore the word הָאֵ֔לֶּה modifies the phrase אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙. This image provides the schematic depiction of the cantillation structure of Deut 31:28 In like manner, please notice that in the verse immediately above, the word הָאֵ֔לֶּה carries the Zaqef Qaton but now this word is inseparably connected to הַדְּבָרִ֣ים in logic because of the Munnach, which is the “slave” to the Zaqef Qaton. However, this two-word phrase is “capturing” the weaker Yethiv disjunctive accent on the Hebrew object marker אֵ֤ת. This particular emphasis on the object marker (which is not translated) would convey exclamation - viz., “...THESE WORDS!”

In summary, the pronunciation of cantillation is debatable, however the logical structure of cantillation is more objective because of the dichotomies. And so it is not the words that drive the cantillation, but the logical placement of those words that drives the cantillation. That is, the disjunctive accents “cut up” the verses into dichotomies (and sub-dichotomies) which provide the logical arrangement and understanding of Hebrew verse.

* The Yethib disjunctive accent and the Mahpak conjunctive accent appear the same - they are “identical twins” and therefore may confuse the reader. The difference between them is that the Yethib falls before the vowel (on the right side) whereas the Mahpak will be written after the vowel (on the left side) of one-syllable words.

  • "This particular emphasis on the object marker (which is not translated) would convey exclamation - viz., “...THESE WORDS!”" That's the only line here which answers the question. How do you know it's true?
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 2:19
  • I agree with @DoubleAA, how does connecting הדברים to האלה imply exclamation? Based on the midrashic reading Rashi brings in Eikev (even the small mitzvot that get trampled with people's heels) I would have thought the need to stress "all of them as a unit" is even stronger there.
    – Heshy
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 10:55
  • @DoubleAA - The exclamation point is apparent not only from the acute and proximate contrast of two disparate disjunctive accents, but no less important is the observation of Rashi on this very verse, who indicates that trumpets were not used to summon the congregation of Israel at this time as expected. In other words, the exclamation at this point of the verse is to indicate both the sense of urgency and shouts (instead of trumpets) in order to summon the assembly to the Tent of Meeting TO HEAR THESE WORDS.
    – Joseph
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 13:38

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