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(Leviticus 1:4, KJV) And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

A priori, I would have expected the subject of וְנִרְצָ֥ה to be the burnt offering. But this interpretation doesn't seem to fit the Hebrew grammar, because וְנִרְצָ֥ה is 3MS but the burnt offering הָעֹלָ֑ה is feminine. If the subject isn't הָעֹלָ֑ה, what is it?

  • Pascal why do you think the word וְנִרְצָ֥ה is masculine? – Bach Jan 23 '19 at 3:22
  • @Bach The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon lists it as masculine. Moreover, if it were feminine, wouldn't it be ונרצתה? – Pascal's Wager Jan 23 '19 at 3:42
  • @Pascal'sWager—Yes. As it is a ל"י verb, נרצתה is indeed the conjugation of the feminine. – Der Übermensch Jan 23 '19 at 5:08
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I actually think that in this case the verb ונרצה has a subject, which is the word קרבן, which is masculine and fits perfectly the verb. We can see in the preceding verse (verse 3): אִם-עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ מִן-הַבָּקָר זָכָר תָּמִים יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ, which is translated "If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish", and in the sequential verse (verse 5): וְשָׁחַט אֶת-בֶּן הַבָּקָר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. So it is plainly manifest that the "son of herd (בן הבקר)" is the dominant description of the offering in verses 3-5. Furthermore, it is noticed that the word קרבן is the main subject through the whole chapter, while the word עלה comes only to decribe the kind of the sacrifice: זָכָר תָּמִים יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ (verse 5) and in verses 13 and 17: עֹלָה הוּא which is translated "it is (masculine) a burnt sacrifice". Notice especially verse 9: וְקִרְבּוֹ וּכְרָעָיו יִרְחַץ בַּמָּיִם וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הַכֹּל הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עֹלָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ-נִיחוֹחַ לַיהוָה, that shows that although the word עלה is mentioned, the subject is masculine (קרבו, כרעיו). So clearly the issue discussed in this chapter is the "offering" and its kinds (goat, dove, etc). Another reason that shows clearly that ונרצה is not an impersonal verb is the continuation of the sentence: וְנִרְצָה לוֹ לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו, which means "it shall be accepted for him IN ORDER to make atonement for him." That is to say, the "thing" to be offered is a means for atonement (רצון, ריצוי) before God. It is written in the previous verse: יַקְרִיב אֹתוֹ לִרְצֹנוֹ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, which means, he will offer IT (אותו) as a thing accepted (לרצונו) before God. Thus the same word naturally continues to function as a masculine subject in verse 4 (ונרצה לו). If it was indeed an impersonal verb, it should have described the GOAl ITSELF and not a means for the goal, which is the atonement (כפרה). The verse states clearly that the sacrifice was the thing accepted (נרצה) as a means for the atonement (כפרה ,לכפר עליו).

Here is the ultimate proof from Leviticus 19 5-7: וְכִי תִזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח שְׁלָמִים לַיהוָה לִרְצֹנְכֶם תִּזְבָּחֻהוּ. בְּיוֹם זִבְחֲכֶם יֵאָכֵל וּמִמָּחֳרָת וְהַנּוֹתָר עַד-יוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בָּאֵשׁ יִשָּׂרֵף. וְאִם הֵאָכֹל יֵאָכֵל בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי פִּגּוּל הוּא לֹא יֵרָצֶה.

The subject of these verses is זבח שלמים, a masculine noun. As in chapter one, the sacrifice is (literally) "for your acceptance (לרצונכם)" . Then Verse 7 tells: וְאִם הֵאָכֹל יֵאָכֵל בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי פִּגּוּל הוּא לֹא יֵרָצֶה. Again, we have the same verb as in chapter 1 (ירצה) in passive, relating to the masculine subject (זבח).

(Note: I need a help in editing the answer so to be more readable and clearer to understand).

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  • This is indeed a reasonable possibility (just as b a's solution, however), but the reasoning can be clarified on a few points. (1) By "emphasis" I think you mean that קרבן is the subject rather than עלה. That it is the subject allows it to be easily elided in the next verse, as in the last two clauses of v. 3 (starting with יקריבנו and יקריב). But you must recognize that this is odd considering that עלה is repeated in v. 4a. This can however be explained by the fact that קרבן is not only used for animal sacrifice, which would make ראש קרבן somewhat odd. – user2672 Jan 26 '19 at 9:34
  • (2) "Another reason ... is the continuation of the sentence" - I fail to see how this supports your reading and contradicts one with an impersonal verb; this part can be translated the same with an impersonal verb as well. (3) I think your reading is one of several possibilities, and with the lack of comparative material (only a few instances of רצה in the nif`al), it cannot be said with certainty which is the most probable reading. It would be good if your answer would acknowledge this. (4) Some typos: masculine (2x); sacrifice; emphasis; before. – user2672 Jan 26 '19 at 9:37
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וְנִרְצָה is used here as an impersonal verb that doesn't refer to any particular subject.

"It will be accepted to him" is an awkward translation into English, because in English to be accepted isn't used in this way. However, in Hebrew this isn't awkward. Here is the same construction with another verb without a subject (Numbers 15:26):

וְנִסְלַ֗ח לְכׇל־עֲדַת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל

Literal translation: It will be forgiven to all the congregation of the children of Israel

Idiomatic translation: All the congregation of the children of Israel will be forgiven

This is the case even when the masculine וְנִסְלַח might otherwise be taken as referring to the feminine noun חַטָּאת sin (e.g. Leviticus 4:26,35, 5:10,13). There is no need for agreement because the verb is used impersonally.

Another example is חָרָה לוֹ (Psalms 18:8) it is raging to him (= he rages). Gesenius (121a) mentions this phenomenon briefly and brings some other examples, e.g. לֹֽא־עֻבַּד֙ בָּ֔הּ (Deuteronomy 21:3) it wasn't worked with it [the cow] (= it [the cow] wasn't worked), וַיֻּגַּ֣ד לְרִבְקָ֔ה (Genesis 27:42) and it was told to Rebecca (= and Rebecca was told).

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