Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

When faced with the devastating Plague of Hail, Pharaoh called for Moses and asked him to pray to G-d to remove this pox from upon himself and his people. Moses replied that he will indeed do so, saying, “As I exit the city, I will stretch out my palms to G-d and the sounds will stop (chadal)…” (Ex. 9:29). Indeed, the Bible (Ex. 9:33) reports that when Moses left the city and lifted his hands in prayer, the noises and hail stopped (chadal). Yet, when Pharaoh saw that the hail stopped (chadal), he hardened his heart and continued to refuse to release the Jews from bondage (Ex. 9:34).

This essay explores five different terms that denote the verb of stopping or withholding: chadal, mana, kala, chasach, and pasak.

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Rabbi Yosef Grayever of Ostrow (1808–1898) explains that while these synonyms can colloquially be used interchangeably, each word has a specific connotation, thus allowing us to explain how their primary meanings differ from one another.

The way Rabbi Grayever explains it, chadal connotes the inability to perform a certain action, or sustain a reality, that leads to something being stopped – whether this inability stems from nature or from legal considerations.

Mana, on the other hand, denotes stopping by conscious decision rather than the inability to do something. For example, when the Book of Proverbs warns that one should take care not to enjoy the company of sinners, it says “withhold (mana) your feet from their ways” (Prov. 1:15), using a cognate of mana, because it refers to a conscious decision not to fraternize with the wicked.

Rabbi Grayever further explains that pasak means to stop in the middle of something, while chasach implies stopping something from starting in the first place.

Finally, Rabbi Grayever explains that the word kala connotes stopping something because it has already accomplished its goal or because the reason it began is no longer applicable. Examples can be found in the two times that the word vayikaleh appear in the Chumash: At the end of the year-long flood from which Noah was saved, “… the rains stopped (vayikaleh) from the Heavens” (Gen. 8:2), and when the Jews donated enough materials to begin constructing the Tabernacle, Moses commanded them to stop bringing more, and the text reads: “… and the nation stopped (vayikaleh) from bringing” (Ex. 36:6). In both instances, the original reason is no longer present.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) notes that even though chadal refers to stopping or withholding due to a lack of ability to do something, when the word is written with a vav ha’hipuch to denote future tense (v’chadal), then it refers to one who plans ahead of time not to do an action although he could physically or legally do that action. This explains the appearance of the word v’chadal when describing a person purposely failing to offer the Paschal Offering (Num. 9:13), or a person deliberately failing to help his enemy’s donkey that was collapsing under its heavy burden (Ex. 23:5).

Clarifying the difference between mana and chasach, Rabbi Wertheimer writes that mana implies willfully (see II Sam. 13:13) and totally withholding something from another (or totally refraining from a course of action), while chasach implies something that already started that will be stopped in the middle (contra Rabbi Grayever).

Based on this, Rabbi Wertheimer explains why Joseph says that Potiphar gave him all authority concerning his household, except that he withheld (chasach) his wife from Joseph (Gen. 39:9). Since Potiphar had already begun to give over his various responsibilities to Joseph, withholding his wife was merely the interruption of a process that he had already begun. Similarly, when G-d praised Abraham after the Binding of Isaac for his willingness to sacrifice his son, G-d said to him, “You did not withhold (chasach) your son from Me” (Gen. 22:12), because Abraham had already begun the process of giving over to G-d everything he had, withholding his son would have been like an interruption in what Abraham had already initiated.

While Rabbi Wertheimer agrees with Rabbi Grayever’s explanation that kala implies stopping because one had already achieved one’s goals, the Malbim offers a slightly different take on the word. He explains that kala means to stop something that goes against the person or item’s nature. He notes that this word is cognate with the word kele (“jail”) and denotes forcibly detaining something to stop it from performing a certain action. For example, in the above-cited verse concerning the end of the Flood, the nature of rain is to fall from the sky, but when the rain stopped falling at the end of the Flood, it was as though G-d had “detained” the rain to hold it back from descending.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740–1814) explains that mana implies that stopping an act that constitutes a breach of morality or nature. In other words, mana means to stop doing something that you are supposed to be doing, or to withhold something that should not be withheld. This contrasts with Rabbi Pappenheim’s use of chadal, which he sees as carrying no value judgment in terms of whether this act of withholding is good or bad.

Another point that Rabbi Pappenheim makes about mana is that it indicates the presence of external forces stopping one from a certain course of action, as does chasach. In contrast, he explains that chadal implies that a person has stopped doing something without any interference from outside.

In explaining the implication of the word chasach, Rabbi Pappenheim writes that it implies withholding or stopping an act that, according to the laws of morality or nature, should be stopped – to appropriately stop an unbefitting action. Thus it is a corresponding opposite of mana, which refers to stopping an inappropriate action. Rabbi Pappenheim also argues that the word chasach is derived from a conglomeration of the two roots chet-samech (“caring”) and samech-kaf (“protection”), as it refers to one who stops another from performing a morally reprehensible act that goes against nature/morality.

The Malbim explicitly follows Rabbi Pappenheim in explaining that chasach refers to an outside force that impedes on one’s ability to do a certain action. Like Rabbi Pappenheim, the Malbim also contrasts this with the term chadal, which refers to the impediment to a certain action coming from the person himself (whether on purpose or not). [See also Malbim (Ayelet HaShachar §461, Lev. 2:13 §145, Lev. 26:6 §8 and Yair Ohr) on how the verb shabbat (“stop/rest”) differs from these terms.]

Interestingly, these nuances seem exclusive to Hebrew. They are not found in Targumic Aramaic, even when the Targumim use cognates of these Hebrew words.

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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.