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The Usage of the Word "לֵּאמֹר"

Torah Thoughts on Parshas Korach by Rabbi Avraham Isenberg

"וַיֹּאמְרוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵאמֹר הֵן גָּוַעְנוּ אָבַדְנוּ כֻּלָּנוּ אָבָדְנוּ"  בְּמִדְבַּר י"ז:כ"ז

“And Bnei Yisrael said to Moshe, saying: ‘Behold, we perish, we are lost, all of us are lost.’ ”  BeMidbar 17:27

Minchas Shai  quotes Or Torah (Rabbi Menachem Lonzano) in Parashas Vaera, who says that every place that the words “Moshe” and "לֵאמֹר"  appear together, the letter "ל" has a Dagesh, except for one case, that found in BeMidbar (32:25). There, the tribes of Reuven and Gad speak to Moshe and tell him (לֵאמֹר) that they are willing to accept the conditions set where they promised to accompany the rest of the nation in the conquest of the land of Canaan. The questions are: What is the significance of the Dagesh and why did the Or Torah not bring the instance cited above from our parashah? (They are, for all practical purposes, seemingly identical.)

The Or HaChaim (Devarim 1:16) says that the word "לֵאמֹר" is not always a direct quote. Instead, it is an imperative for further elucidation. He applies this to virtually every instance where Moshe was being told about a mitzvah – לֵאמֹר  – in order that he relay it further.

The Dagesh emphasizes the joining of the two words, and is known as a "צָרְפָן", a subset of the type of Dagesh that doubles its letter (as in the “ט” of "מַה טֹּבוּ"). It follows that every time the word "Moshe" is followed by "לֵּאמֹר" it is not just about a quote that is to be related, but the requirement of an entire explanation, by virtue of the נִקּוּד itself. The same is not true where the tribes of Reuven and Gad address Moshe. The words spoken to Moshe were a direct quote to Moshe Rabbenu and signified nothing more than the condition being accepted by Reuven and Gad for that specific situation. As to why in this week’s parashah, our verse, with identical Trop and no Dagesh in the “ל”, seems to have been skipped, one possible answer is that the direct quote from Bnei Yisrael carries no positive lesson. Better not to mention the moanings of the Jews and leave it at that.

A good lesson to take from this is that we should all put the Dagesh on positive teachings when we use our power of instructing (לֵּאמֹר) current and future generations.


Rabbi Dr. Avraham Isenberg received Semichah from Rav Ahron Soloveichik, זצ''ל, in 1974. He received his B.A. from Roosvelt University in 1971, Masters Degree from IIT in 1976, and doctorate from JUA in 1978. Rabbi Dr. Isenberg, an accomplished Ba'al Kri'ah, has been teaching Hebrew Grammar and Mesorah in Chicagoland for over 47 years, and gives lectures and seminars in Milwaukee and South Bend. He has been active in AFTA (Association For Torah Advancement) since 1964. He is a businessman and has been active in developing the Jewish Community in South Haven, MI.                                                   

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