[M.M.X.I.V. 105] Questions or observations?

This post is going to seem like a meta-meta-meta-analysis.

Why?  I’m going to ask a question that may seem more like an observation, related to observations that could be phrased as questions.  Maybe this post will take a very pedantic tone to it, though…

The big question: Why are there so many ways to translate language?

Let me explain:

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה… הלילה הזה כולו מצה

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות… הלילה הזה מרור

שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת… הלילה הזה שתי פעמים

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין ובין מסובין… הלילה הזה כולנו מסובין

These are the “Four Questions” that are recited at the Passover seder.  One common English translation is:

“Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights, we eat leavened or unleavened breads.  Why on this night do we only eat unleavened breads?

On all other nights, we eat all sorts of vegetables.  Why on this night do we eat bitter herbs?

On all other nights, we don’t even dip once.  Why on this night do we dip twice?

On all other nights, we sit or recline.  Why on this night do we all recline?”

The translation makes it seem like they are questions.  But wait!  In the way that I see it, they appear to be more statement-like than question-like.

The introduction to the four statements/observations/questions really appears to be more of an exclamation, unless מה (what/how) is really an older way to say למה (why).  Based off my knowledge of Hebrew, I translate the first line as “How different is this night from all other nights!”

Each of the Four Questions begins with the construction שבכל הלילות (“that on all of the nights”) and continues with the observation.  There is no use of the word למה, מדוע, or any other word which directly suggests that it is a question!  The use of the ש at the beginning, however, ends up being an interesting construct, as it essentially turns the question into a sentence fragment!  Considering the context of my translation for the prelude statement, I will let the “ש” (that) be appended.  So, the first two lines read, according to my translation:

“How different is this night from all other nights!  (Consider) That on all (other) nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread.  On this night (however,) we only eat unleavened bread.”  In this sense, of course, the formulation of the observation naturally leads to a question.  But, the observation itself is NOT formulated in the form of a question!

Of course, this may partially be the fact that the Four Questions are written in an ancient Hebrew, which had different grammatical rules (notice that if this were written in Modern Hebrew, אנו אוכלין (we eat) would be written אנחנו אוכלים instead).  In fact, in the תורה (Torah), there are no punctuation marks at all, let alone vowel marks!  And in old Hebrew texts where the punctuation marks and/or vowels are printed, the only end-of-sentence punctuation mark is either a colon or a period: never an exclamation mark or a question mark!

Still, it shows that there are times when exclamations or observations can be deduced as questions and vice-versa!


Today is the one-hundred and fifth day of M.M.X.I.V.  That makes fifteen weeks.


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