What’s the other epistemic?
Well, it’s an uncertainty epistemic. The speaker is allowing as how his statement might not work out due to missing information.
The format is imperfect verb ending in i for feminine, and u for masculine, followed by nun. (OK, nun sofit. There, are you happy?)
The best example is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gd tells Avraham what’s about to happen and why, and Avraham feels like it’s not fair that everybody should die, good and bad. So he starts off, what if there are 50 people who are good, will You destroy the cities then? Gd says “No.” “And what if five of the fifty are lacking?” And the form he uses is yach’srun. It starts in Genesis 18:28.
אוּלַי יַחְסְרוּן חֲמִשִּׁים הַצַּדִּיקִם חֲמִשָּׁה הֲתַשְׁחִית בַּחֲמִשָּׁה אֶת־כָּל־הָעִיר וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אַשְׁחִית אִם־אֶמְצָא שָׁם אַרְבָּעִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה:
Avraham doesn’t know for sure there are 45 good people in the cities; he doesn’t know if there are any. He’s using “lacks five” as an opening wedge to reduce the number. He stops at 10. (There’s a midrash for that.) And then when he gets up the next morning, he sees that the cities have been destroyed. He can see the smoke from where he is, miles to the west of where the cities were. Well, he tried.
Another good example is in the “tree” story, see lesson 74 on Genesis 3:3-4. The woman says “lest we die,” and uses this form. She’s not sure she’ll die, or whether Adam will die at the same time she eats or what. She’s never seen it happen. The serpent also uses t’mutun, but he’s not sure he’s right about them not dying. He too has never seen it happen.
ג וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ־הַגָּן אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ פֶּן תְּמֻתוּן:
ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ אֶל־הָאִשָּׁה לֹא־מוֹת תְּמֻתוּן:
The speaker doesn’t know enough to be sure he’s right or that things will come out his way, so the nun epistemic has to be based on an imperfect verb.
Now let’s look at Deuteronomy 5:7 because it has a slam-bang impact on the understanding of the uncertainty epistemic that I need two posts to explain.
כִּי אִם־כֹּה תַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם מִזְבְּחֹתֵיהֶם תִּתֹּצוּ וּמַצֵּבֹתָם תְּשַׁבֵּרוּ וַאֲשֵׁירֵהֶם תְּגַדֵּעוּן וּפְסִילֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ
Read this several times and notice that it has two verbs in imperfect aspect in a future sense as well as the two uncertainty epistemics. Now read it again and notice that there’s a different object for each verb.
The reason that’s important is that Jewish law treats each of the four situations differently.
When you get to the Holy Land and see an altar, you know that it’s a pagan altar. How? Because you know from Genesis that in his own lifetime, Avraham had to rebuild an altar which he was the first to build. Altars don’t necessarily last long. People steal the stones for building. So if you find an altar, it’s pagan, and you have to tear it down.
When you get to the Holy Land and see a matsevah, you know it’s a pagan matsevah. How? Because Yaaqov set up two on the east bank of the Yarden and the Holy Land is on the west bank. Moshe set up twelve but that was at Mt. Sinai. So if you find a matsevah, it’s pagan and you have to overthrow it.
Next week I’ll get into the rest of the verse and then go on to the thing about epistemics that will really give you a headache.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved