3. כל [KOL] – A LOT OF EVERYTHING

The next word on our list is כל  [KOL]. It means ‘all’ or ‘everything’. It is a common word because it is used in a lot of different phrases and idioms. For example, to say ‘very’ we say  כל-כך [KOL KACH] as in היא כל כך יפה – she is so very beautiful – which is the title of a well-known Kaveret song.

Or to say ‘this is definitely right’ we would say כל שכן – literally ‘every yes’ . A shop is a כל בו [KOL BO] meaning ‘everything is in it’. At the Seder we invite all the needy with the phrase כל דכפין and on Yom Kippur we start our prayers with כל נדרי – all our vows. Indeed, the word כל  is so frequent that it can be found everywhere – or בכל מקום (every place)!

When I was younger I was impressed by the wonderful blessing that comes at the end of the Grace after Meals.  There are lots of requests at the end of this prayer – and the most bountiful is the request that we should be blessed by God בכל מכל כל – meaning with ‘all of every everything’. You can’t get much better than that!

But actually, the phrase doesn’t mean that at all. The KOL’s here are references to specific blessings found in the Torah. In the book of Genesis, each of our forefathers was given a blessing using the word כל. Concerning Abraham we read: The Lord blessed Abraham in all. [Gen. 24:1]  Concerning Isaac it is written And I ate of all, [Gen 27:33] and concerning Jacob it is written For I have all [Gen. 33:11]. We are not asking for lots of everything – but rather, to be blessed the way that our forefathers were.

One last note on the word כל. There is only one vowel in this word – a Kamatz, which looks like a small letter ‘T’. In the Ashkenazi tradition this vowel is pronounced ‘oh’. In the Sefardi tradition, and in modern Israeli Hebrew, it is usually pronounced ’ah’ . But not always. Sometimes a Kametz is pronounced ‘oh’ even in modern Hebrew. When this happens it is a Kamatz Katan – or a small Kamatz. Pronounced ‘ah’ it is a big Kamatz or a Kamatz Gadol . It can be very confusing because these 2 vowels are usually written the same way. KOL is one of those words where the Kamatz is a small Kamatz. It is always pronounced as ‘oh’ – hence  KOL and not KAL.

But there is one exception. There is a strong Masoretic tradition that in Psalm 35, in the verse כל עצמותי תאמרנה – All my bones shall say, Lord who is like you – KOL should be pronounced KAL. I haven’t found any reason for this tradition.

This teaches us to be careful when we use the word KOL. Saying ‘all’ is very dangerous, because very few things in this world are consistent. When you say all, you will usually be proved wrong. There is almost always an exception to ‘all’. Or, as I like to say, always isn’t always always – sometimes it is sometimes.

 

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

 

My Hebrew Word thanks the World Zionist Organisation and Masorti Olami for their support of this Project.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 comments

  1. Chaim,

    Thank you for ALL that

    I have always understood that the short word caf lamed is an abbreviation for caf vav lamed and that is why we read Kol and not Kal

    Is there anything in that ?

    Shabbat Shalom

    Tony ( Tibber )

    1. The reason for the small Kamatz in the word KOL is more complicated than that. According to normal Hebrew grammar, we would expect the word KOL, standing by itself, to have a long vowel. Therefore, when it appears by itself, it has a Holam – which is the single dot after the word that has the ‘oh’ sound. But KOL is a short word, and when it comes in a sentence or as part of speech, it is usually is attached to the word that follows it. This causes the emphasis to move to the following word, and the word KOL is ‘swallowed up’ by the word that follows it.

      To look at one of the examples in the original post, in the phrase כל-כך [KOL KACH], it is spoken as if the phrase was only one word, and the word KOL becomes an unemphasised syllable in this word. That causes the vowel to shorten from a holam to a Kamatz, and since this is now an unemphasised closed syllable, the Kamatz is a small Kamatz.

      You can see this this principle in action if you look carefully at the siddur or the Torah. When the word KOL is attached to the word after it, it has a Kamatz as the vowel and there is no cantillation mark. There is a hyphen after the KOL to attach it to the following word. All these are signs that it is a small Kamatz. When KOL stands separately, it has a Holam as the vowel and it has its own cantillation mark. For example, in Psalm 145 we read טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו – The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is upon all his deeds. The first KOL stands alone, and has a Holam, the second one is part of the phrase ‘all his deeds’. It has no cantillation, has a hyphen after it and has a small Kamatz.

      The word KOL is usually attached to the word that follows it. This happens over 3000 times in the Hebrew bible. But, in Psalm 35 the KOL stands on its own, and according to the Masoretic tradition it has its own cantillation mark. But the vowel is a Katamtz. Since such a word needs a long vowel, the Kamatz must be a big Kamatz. I do not know the reason for this exception.

  2. Andrew L (IIRC) told me a while ago that the alleged קָמַץגָדוֹל in Psalm 35 isn’t, and that its misattribution as such is due to wrongly applying the rules for linking trop to grammar in the prose sections of the Bible to a poetic section of the Bible, which as you know has different trop.

    1. As I said, I don’t really know the background to the Kamatz Gadol in Psalm 35. You are right that the cantillation system is different in the poetic parts of the Tanach – but in any case the word KOL here is a anomaly, because of the hundreds of of instances of the word KOL appearing in Psalms (and other books), this is the only case where a cantillation mark and a Kamatz comes together. This is an outlier regardless what system of cantillation is being used.

  3. Thanks. I liked your last sentence – it sums up a lot about the Jewish condition.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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