Illustration Credit: Elad Lifshitz, Dov Abramson Studio


What do you need to know to read Torah? You might think it is enough to know all the vowels and all the notes to make sure you are pronouncing and singing everything right. But other things matter too, like accents, or the part of the word you say a little bit stronger than the rest.

Did you know that accents can totally change the meaning of a word? Think about the word, “address” (the way Americans and Canadians pronounce it). If you say ADD-ress (accent on the first part of the word), it means a place where you send a letter or where someone lives. But if you say add-RESS (accent on the end of the word), it means to speak to someone or to call them something. Can you think of other examples?
In Hebrew, accents sometimes tell us about the timing of a word—like, whether it is about the past or about the future. Look at this verse from the first aliyah of our parashah:
וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י לָתֵ֣ת אֹתָ֔הּ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹ֑ב וְנָתַתִּ֨י אֹתָ֥הּ לָכֶ֛ם מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃
I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the LORD.”
The orange letters show the accented parts of the words, and you can see they have notes on them to show you that the accent belongs there. When the accent goes at the end of verbs (action words), it usually means that the word is about something that will happen in the future. When the accent moves back in the word, it usually means that something happened in the past. (Makes sense, right? Future = forward; past = back). So, in this case:
וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ = I will bring you to the land
אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י = Which I promised
וְנָתַתִּ֨י אֹתָ֥הּ לָכֶ֛ם = I will give it to you

Don’t refuse to pay attention to those accents, they can affect the meaning! (See what we did there?)