Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Bamidbar - Bamidbar (Numbers) 1 – 4:20 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

"And YHVH spoke to Moses in the wilderness…" (emphasis added), are the opening words of the Torah's fourth book, Bamidbar (Numbers). In this first verse YHVH is "speaking" – "va’ydaber" – “in the wilderness" - "ba-midbar" - both words originating from the same multifaceted root  - d.v.r (dalet, bet/vet, resh).  Let us examine this root and follow it to a number of unexpected places.  

“In the beginning was the word (davar), and the word (davar) was with Elohim, and Elohim was the word (“davar”)… And the word (davar) became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:1,14). Davar is the spoken word, the all-powerful utterance that creates or generates everything, while “thing” is also "davar."  Thus, all "things" appear to be the results of that which has been "said" or "spoken."  In the Tanach many terms, such as “lies, wisdom, falsehood, truth” and more, are preceded by “d’var” – meaning “thing of….” indicating that the origin of all things is the ‘utterance’.  Davar is that which proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim, and is therefore "the Word of Elohim."  “Matters” or “business” are also “davar” (or “dvarim” in plural form), as we see for example in Shmot (Exodus) 5:13, 19: “Fulfill your works, your – dvarim - daily tasks" (emphasis added), and in Shoftim (Judges) 18:7, reference is made to the Danites who “… had no – dvarim - business with any man” (emphasis added).  Terms such as “deeds" (Jer. 5:28, speaking of "deeds of the wicked") are also “dvarim.” "Reason, motives, customs" (“the custom of the king” in Esther 1:13) also fall within the framework of “davar.”  The literal rendering for “after the order of Malchitzedek” (ref. Ps. 110:4), is “upon my divra, Malchitzedek,” that is, “upon my word.” The form “divra” illustrates the depth and scope of “davar,” which may be also rendered as an “order, pattern, type, arch or proto type." Likewise the “Ten Commandments” are “aseret ha-d’varim,” that is, “the ten words” (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13, 10:4).

From this point let us venture further a-field to “dever,” which is "plague," or “pestilence.”  Although this abrupt transition may seem curious, it is consistent with many such disparities found in the Tanach.  If we remember that "davar" also means "cause," than the "plague," or "dever," illustrates the principle that “the curse causeless/without reason shall not come” (Pro. 26:2).  Indeed, time after time the plague is the result of rebellion against Elohim, as in the case of the plagues of Egypt. YHVH says to Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) about the people of Yisrael: “I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine and by the plague - dever” (Jer. 14:12 italics added). The following is what He speaks to the Land of Yisrael through the prophet Y’chezkel (Ezekiel): “The sword from without and the plague – dever - from within” (Ez. 7:15 italics added). Amos 4:10 records another warning by Elohim to send a plague upon His people.

"Subdue” or "destroy" stem once again from the root d.v.r, with its infinitive “lehadbir.”  In T’hilim (Psalms) 18:47 we find for example: “Elohim… subdues the people under me” (emphasis added). This verb also means “to expel or send away," such as sending off the flock to pasture, or to the desert.  Thus in Mi’cha (Micah) 2:12 the flocks are seen in the midst of their “hidabar,” which is translated "fold" or "pasture."

Hence the "subdued" enemy (or the sinner) is often “pursued," "sent away," or “driven” to the "wilderness" or "desert" - the "midbar."  But just as the wilderness may turn out to be a place of “pasture” for the flocks, it may also become a place of repentance and spiritual refreshing to those who are fleeing (or are forced) there. In the “midbar’s” stillness there are many opportunities to hear the voice of YHVH sounding His Word. The Bible records an impressive list of those who can attest to this fact. Another place where YHVH’s voice is heard is in the Holy of Holies (or “inner sanctuary”), which in Solomon’s Temple is called Dvir (ref. 1st Kings 6:16).  Dvir is the furthest and innermost place within the Temple.  Divine communication, therefore, is to be found in the furthest and remotest of places; sometimes even in a land of banishment and punishment, which may not only become a refreshing oasis, but may even turn into a 'Holy of Holies.'

In summation, the Word, as epitomized by the Son of Elohim, is life giving, but rejecting Him (the "Davar") may result in a plague (“dever”), which subdues and drives ("madbir") one to the desert ("midbar"), there to be spoken to ("daber") by the Living Word ("Davar") Who utters the Word of Truth ("dvar emet") in His inner sanctuary, or most holy place (dvir). “And I will woo her to Me in the wilderness…” we read in Hoshe’ah (Hosea) 2:14. D.v.r teaches us why it was essential for the Israelites to go through their wilderness journey on the road to becoming a nation.

Chapters 1 and 2 of Bamidbar describe the formation of the congregation of Yisrael’s encampment for the purpose of a census (cf. Ex. 30:11-16). However, whereas on the previous occasion (in Exodus) each of them had to "give a ransom for his soul to YHVH while numbering them" (which was of one half shekel that was used for the Mishkan), here they are not required to do so.

"Lift the heads of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their skulls (literal translation, Num. 1:2 emphasis added).  "Nahmanides emphasizes that the census was personal and individual… impressing on us the value and sterling worth of each and every soul which is a unique specimen of divine creativity and a world of its own."  In the same vein, Isaac Arama says: "They were not just like animals or material objects, but each one had an importance of his own like a king or a priest.  Indeed Elohim had shown special love towards them and this is the significance of mentioning each one of them by name and status; for they were all equal and individual in status."[1][1] Yeshua’s death, for each and every man (ref. Heb. 2:9) on the Hill of "Golgota," which is Aramaic for "skull," lends an even greater credence to the above statements. 

In Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shmot (Ex. 1-6:1) we noted that, as soon as the Egyptians embarked on their program of subjugating the Hebrews they treated them as a nameless mass (ref. Ex. 1:10-12), while at the same time attempting to carry out infanticide (Ex. 1:16). This is in striking contrast to what we encounter in Bamidbar chapter 1. In Verse 18 we read, “State their genealogies,” or “declare their pedigree,” or “register their ancestry” (depending on the translation), which is designated by one word - “hit’yaldu” - the root being y.l.d (yod, lamed, dalet) for “child” or “to give birth,” or “midwife” (this, bringing to mind the two midwives who saved the lives of the baby boys from the cruel edict of Par’oh). The usage here of this verb is the only place where it is found in this form, literally meaning to “become a child.” Thus, the restoration of the nameless individuals and clans to their respective origins, with the various groupings and families being recognized, acknowledged and brought to the fore, is part of the redemption process. This aspect of redemption will one day be experienced again when all the names of the families, clans and tribes of Yisrael will be revealed, so as to make up the full Commonwealth of the Household of Yisrael.  

When the roll call was completed and the Levites' duties in the Mishkan were dispensed, "YHVH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 'Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting'" (2:1, 2).  The organizational process, of turning the former slaves into a nation, is continuing.  The Israelites were to array themselves according to their tribes in specified directions around the Mishkan.  The “standard" mentioned here (and in 1:52) is "degel," of the root d.g.l (dalet, gimmel, lamed). In Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 5:10 we read: "My Beloved is bright and ruddy, standing out among ten thousand". “Standing out" is "dagul," of the same root as “degel”. "Dagul" may also be interpreted as "chosen" and "selected."  Again, in the same book, the betrothed says about her beloved, "And His banner ("diglo") over me is love" (2:4). The various banners, or standards (according to the respective tribes) with their emblems, were indicative of YHVH's favor and love toward His "select" people, and over each member of this chosen race. 

The "emblems", mentioned above in 2:2, are "otot" (plural, and "ot" singular). "Ot" (alef, vav, tav) is a widely used term, denoting "sign, token, pledge, assurance, miracle, omen" and more.  Although we do not know what the banners looked like, it appears that each of them had the "ot," or sign, of a particular "father's house," which rendered each tribe much like a family related to a single progenitor. 

Concerning the grouping around the Mishkan, which was in the midst of the camp, Nahmanides says in relationship to this edifice:  “It was a kind of Mount Sinai on which the Torah was given, accompanying them on all their journeying.” Benno Jaccob follows up this idea: “The Lord transferred His presence from Sinai to the Tabernacle, from the sanctuary of the Lord which His hands had established, to the sanctuary which Israel had made'"2 This may account for the strict orders of the camp's formation.

The above mentioned orders, regarding the tribes and their placements, excluded the Levites who were to serve in the Mishkan, and were to be at YHVH's disposal. In the course of the detailed description of their duties and responsibilities for the various parts of the Mishkan, mention is made of the edifice’s sides (Num. 3:29, 35). The Hebrew word here for “side” is “yarech,” of the root y.r.ch (yod, resh, kaf/chaf), meaning “thigh, loin or base.” The thigh represents man’s strength and power (see Gen. 24:2; 47:29), both in terms of virility and force (being also the place upon which the sword was placed). That is why in order for Ya’acov to become Yisrael his thigh had to be injured, and likewise the repentant one, who in order to demonstrate his true intentions smites that part of his body (e.g. Jer. 31:19, Ephraim’s repentance). Similar to the root d.v.r. in some of its uses, “yarech” also refers to the “furthermost point,” to the “backside” or to the “rear” (Jud. 19:1, Is. 14:15), and hence the application to “side.”

The vicarious role of the Levites as firstborn follows in Bamidbar 3:41, 45 with a reference to their required conduct. It says there that, they were to be taken “instead” or “in place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel.” The word for “Instead,” or “in place of,” here (and in numerous other places) is “tachat,” meaning “rear, under or underneath,” thus underscoring the required attitude of humility and servitude congruent with the tasks assigned to YHVH’s ministers.

In chapter 4 we view how the chosen family of K'hat (Kohath) was to dismantle the Mishkan when it was time to move on.  During this awesome procedure they had to restrain themselves and avert their gaze from the holy articles, with the help of A'haron and his sons (vs 19, 20). "They shall not go in to see the holy things as they are being covered, lest they die," is the Parasha's last verse, which literally says, "And they shall not go in to see, at the swallowing of the holy things [lest] they die." The usage here of "swallow" ("bela") for "covering" the Mishkan articles is very unusual. It may be alluding to the fact that an unwarranted gaze could bring upon the onlookers (that is, the members of the K'hat clan) the penalty of being swallowed alive (a form of punishment which was sometimes inflicted – supernaturally - upon offenders, such as in the case of Achan in Num. 16:30-34). Thus, A'haron’s family was being charged with responsibility over the lives of their brothers, the K'hats, whose "keepers" they were to be.


1 New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh
Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and
Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N. 
2        Ibid



Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Most of our attention in the above article was focused on the root d.v/b.r which is still used widely and commonly in Modern Hebrew. Let us do some conjugating of this verb and in this way practice using it. In our Parasha we encountered the unique usage of “hitya’ldu” for “pedigree”, or “genealogy”, while the noun “yeled” is the common word for “child” and “moledet” is one’s “homeland”. This takes us to the “banner”, which in Bamidbar 2:2 is “degel” and in everyday speech is used for “flag”.

I (masculine) speak Hebrew
Ani me’da’ber Ivrit

I (feminine) do not speak Hebrew
Ani lo meh’da’be’ret Ivrit

You (masculine) talk much
Ata me’da’ber harbeh

You (feminine) speak English
At me’da’be’ret Anglit

He is speaking to the child
Hu meda’ber el ha’yeled

The girl is speaking about (lit. “on”) the homeland
Ha’yal’da me’da’be’ret al ha’moledet

The homeland’s flag (lit. the flag of the homeland)
Ha’degel shel ha’moledet





Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Be’har/Bechu’kotai – VAYIKRA (Lev.) 25:1-26:2; 26:3-Ch.27 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The first verse of Parashat B’har (meaning, "In Mount…") serves to remind us that YHVH’s words to the Children of Yisrael, via Moshe, were spoken in Mount Sinai.

The opening of the Parasha focuses on the seventh year suspension of all soil cultivation (known as “Shmita,” whose root sh.m.t is mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 23:11. See Heb. Insights into Parashat Mishpatim - Ex. 21-24).  In spite of this edict regarding work cessation, it is stated, "the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food" (25:6). This declaration contains the familiar and principal thought, similar to the one that accompanies the weekly Shabbat, that YHVH is the Provider and thus the members of the community are afforded an opportunity to exercise faith throughout that year. In fact, contrary to human logic, this very rest will result in abundance

Secondly, every member of the community, as well as the livestock, is equally promised provision for that time period (25: 6, 7). Again, not unlike the weekly Shabbat, the benefits of YHVH's year of land-rest apply to one and all without regard to status and origin. However, this “Shabbat of Shabbats” (v. 4) year, together with the 50th year Jubilee, the "yovel" to which the rest of this Parasha is dedicated - apply only in the Land of Yisrael.

In 25:3 we read: "You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and shall gather its produce." "Produce" or "provender" is “t'vua,” of the root b.o. (vet/bet, vav, alef), meaning “to come, come in or go in"; but also, in another conjugation, to “bring.” Thus, the term "produce" conveys the idea of that which does not result merely from man's productivity or effort, but rather that which "comes" or is "brought" to him from an outside source.

As already mentioned, following YHVH's instructions guarantees that “…you shall live on the land securely. And the land shall give its fruit, and you shall eat to satisfaction; and you shall dwell securely on it" (25:18, 19). To this promise there will be an extra and supernatural blessing added: "I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year. And it shall produce the increase for three years; and you shall sow the eighth year, and shall eat of the old crop until the ninth year, until the coming [bo] in of its produce [t'vua]; you shall eat of the old" (21-22, italics added). Here again we see the connection between “produce” and the verb "to come" (remember, both originate in the same root).

The un-gathered harvest (or “after growth”) is called “that which grows of itself” – “safee’ach,” of the root s.f.ch (samech, pey/fey, chet), literally “adding, attaching, joining (25:5, 11).  In light of verse 25:23, where the addressees (the Yisraelites) are called “strangers [gerim] and sojourners,” it is interesting to note how the verb s.p/f.ch is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 14:1: “For YHVH will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers (gerim) will be joined with them [nisfe’chu], and they will cling to the house of Jacob” (Italics added). 

"Your unkempt grapes" (25: 5, 11) are termed here “ee'nvey (“grapes of”) nezir'cha.” This expression is rooted in the word “nazir” (Nazarite), whose restrictive vows include abstention from wine drinking or grape eating. Why are these grapes qualified by the term “nazir”? The connection is thought to be the Nazarite's hair, which was to be left uncut and unkempt, much like these grape vines. This is reinforced by the first part of verse 5 ("that which grows of itself," alluding to unkemptness).

As mentioned, the second part of the Parasha deals with the Year of the “Yovel” ("jubilee," which is a direct derivative of “yovel”). The primary meaning of yovel is thought to be the word for “horned animal” or for the "horn" itself, which was used for multiple purposes in the ancient Israelite community. Quite possibly the role of the “horned animal” (such as the bull or ox), in leading solemn processions has branched off into nouns and verbs that share the root y.v/b.l (yod, bet/vet, lamed) and are therefore connected to “leading.”  The verb “hovel” is to "lead," thus forming the noun for "stream" which is “yuval,” and for the "produce of the soil" – “y'vul” (‘issuing or proceeding out of the ground’).  Another interesting derivative of this root is “tevel,” meaning "world."  This renders the world and its elements (e.g. streams and produce) as mere ‘issues,’ or results that proceed (or ‘are led’) from that which has originally formed or produced them, but which exists outside of them. Notice the conceptual (and etymological) similarity to our former observation of the term "provender" - t'vua.  “The earth is YHVH’s, and the fullness of it; the world (“tevel”), and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1), affirms this point.

Aside from letting the land lie fallow during the year of the “yovel,” that year was also to be “sanctified” (“vekidashtem”) for the purpose of "proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants…" (25:10). "Liberty" is “dror,” which is the same word for the bird known as "swallow" (e.g. Pr. 26:2), thus lending a graphic rendition to this term.  The yovel year signifies and stipulates that all property, or its calculated value in another form, is to be returned to its original owner. “Dror” for “liberty” is also mentioned in Yishayahu 61:1-2a, where we read:  “The Spirit of Adonai YHVH is upon Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty [d’ror] to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of YHVH…” This “acceptable” year, when “liberty” is proclaimed to the captives seems to also be alluding to a (large scale and “grand”) Jubilee.

But above all the human benefits attached to the yovel, there is a greater significance to its proclamation; a significance that at the same time also forms a ‘Divine paradox’ so typical of Hebraic logic.  In 25:23 we read: “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are aliens and tenants with Me." "Perpetuity" here is “tzmi'toot,” stemming from the root tz.m.t (tzadi, mem, tav) which is to “end, put an end to something" or “freeze assets.”  Thus, reverting property to its original owner demonstrates the fact that it actually belongs to… YHVH, as we just learned from the above-cited Psalm.  And as much as the Torah stresses ownership rights, it also reminds us, almost in the same breath, who the real Owner is and that “we have no permanent city here, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).

Another aspect of the yovel is redemption, “geula,” whose primary meaning is "kin" (denoted by “go’el”).  It is the next-of-kin's duty to buy back that which a member of the family has lost - or perhaps even the family member himself, if he had been conscripted to slavery. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he is to be released on the yovel, “because they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the land of Egypt" (25:42 italics added). This verse is set in a context of the release of (other) slaves (25:44ff). Biblical Hebrew for "slave" and "servant" is one and the same - e'ved - from the root e.v.d (ayin, vet/bet, dalet), meaning "work" or "labor" (and also rendering service to, or worship of, YHVH).

Proper treatment of one's fellow citizen, defined as "brother," prohibits charging usury or interest (ref. 25:36,37). The two words used are “neshech” and “marbit.” The root of neshech (n.sh.ch, noon, sheen, chaf) is also the root for the verb “to bite." "Those who bite" (e.g. Habbakuk 2:7) are therefore the oppressors and creditors. “Marbit” is from the root r.v/b.a (resh, vet/bet) which literally means "much, many, to add, to make greater, to increase." Hence “marbit” is a "monetary increment."

As part of taking care of one’s “brother,” if one’s relative has lost his assets and was sold to “a stranger who sojourns with you, or to a member of the stranger’s family” (25:47 literal translation), the addressee of this injunction is obliged to redeem the one sold. As to the “member of the stranger’s family,” here he is called “eker,” which is a most unusual term. The root a.k.r (ayin, kof, resh) basically means “to uproot,” and thus a “barren woman” is “akara.” But since this word can also mean a “shoot,” then the one plucked out from the parent plant may also be transplanted – albeit into different soil. Further, should the misfortune of being sold as a slave becomes the lot of a native Israelite, he too would feel “plucked out” and “uprooted,” and hence this term may also be applied to, or at least infer the latter. 

Aside from instructions on to how to calculate the redemption payment (25:50-53), specifics are also given as to the possible next of kin who is eligible to redeem (vs. 48, 49) the one who has “become poor” (“mooch”, root of m.oo.ch –  mem, vav, kaf – impoverish, become low).  Having once been others’ servants/slaves, the sons of Yisrael are now the servants/slaves of the One who redeemed them from their lowly state (ref. 25:55), hence YHVH requires that redemption be continually operative in accordance with the measures that He is providing for His people.  The topic of the important place accorded to the Land, which we examined in Parashat B’har with its varied ramifications, continues in Parashat B’chu’kotai ("In My Statutes"), as seen in 26:3-13.  Keeping YHVH's statutes is destined to be reflected in the natural conditions of the Land of Yisrael.  The correlation will be seen in the abundance of rain (and therefore of crops), the removal of dangerous carnivores, demographic expansion, abundance and prosperity.  The other benefits resulting from faithfulness to YHVH and His Word will be peaceful conditions prevailing in the Land and its surroundings, the ability to defeat the enemy, and primarily the fulfillment of His promise to instate His Mishkan in the midst of His people, and to always walk among them (ref. 26:11, 12).

In 26:5 we read, “…and your threshing shall reach [or overtake] the vintage, and the vintage shall reach [or overtake] the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread to satisfaction, and live in your land securely.”  This is especially pertinent in light of Parashat B’har’s sh’mita-year promise: “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 25:21 italics added).  In a prophecy pertaining to a latter day, the prophet Amos echoes this “overtaking”: "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who draws along seed" (9:13). Moreover, we are also reminded of 25:22 (in the previous Parasha: “and [you] shall eat of the old crop… until the coming in of its crop; you shall eat of the old"), by 26:10: "And you shall eat very old provision, and clear away the old because of the new."  In other words, not only will there be a long and lasting overabundance which will remain fresh and usable for the entire time period, but even before it is fully consumed there will be a fresh crop!

Having examined in Parashat B’har one of the words for "interest" - “marbit” (whose root is r.v/b.a), we will now take a look at another word that shares the same root -  “r’vava” (which we also encountered in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah in Gen. 24:60). In 26:8 we read, "…and one hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand (“r’vava”)…" (emphasis added). These promises are sealed with the familiar: "I am YHVH your Elohim, who has brought you out of the land of the Egyptians, from being their slaves.” It then continues: “And I will break the bars of your yoke, and I will make you walk upright" (26:13). "Walking upright" is “ko'memi'yoot,” of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to “rise or get up."  In Parashot Va'ye'tze (Gen. 28:10-32:2) and Vayishlach (Gen. 32:3- Ch. 36) we noticed the significance of Ya'acov's "rising up," as well as that of the special "place" - ma'kom (of the same root) - where he experienced some of his ‘rising.’ Here the sons of this Patriarch are promised "an upright walk," providing they do so in Elohim's chosen paths. Additionally, in 26:37 we encounter the word “t’kuma,” translated "power to stand" (“you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”), with its more modern usage being "resurrection" and "recovery."

But if Yisrael chooses to “..despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break [invalidate] My covenant” (26:15 italics added), a long list of punitive measures follow. “Abhor” here is “tig’al” (root g.a.l gimmel, ayin, lamed), being the first time this word is mentioned (26:11). Some may recognize the similarity of this verb to “ga’al” – redeem (gimmel, alef, lamed), a minor change in spelling and sound (ayin versus alef), and yet a world of difference!  Making void the covenant signifies removing one’s self from under the protective umbrella of redemption, rendering it no longer operational.  Further in verse 18 we read: “if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” The chastisement of “seven times over” is also mentioned in verses 21, 24 and 28.  As part of YHVH’s covenant with His people, provision for national atonement for sin was made available by the high priest sprinkling seven times the blood of a goat on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (ref. Lev. 16:14).  Hence, nullifying of the covenant would result in a similarly seven-fold outcome.

Thus YHVH will not "make them walk uprightly" (as we saw above), but instead will inflict upon them a series of blows. Moreover, He will also "walk contrary" to them (ref. 26:24).The expression "walking contrary" is used nowhere else except in this chapter, where it appears… seven times! The word used for "contrary" – keri -  probably stems from the root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), meaning "to happen." Rashi comments on this: “Our rabbis said: ‘This word signifies irregularity, by chance, something that happens only occasionally. Thus [meaning], 'if you will follow the commandments irregularly…’ Menahem explains it as an expression for refraining… ‘refrain (hoker) your foot from your neighbor's house’ (Prov. 25:17), or of a refraining (va'yikar) spirit…."1. “Keri,” therefore, may refer to an avoidance of performing YHVH’s Word, along with a casual and nonchalant attitude which was also condemned by Yeshua in Revelation 3:15,16, where we read: "I wish you were cold or hot… So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot I will spew you out of my mouth" (italics added), leading us to the curse of eventually being spewed out of the Land (26:32 – 39, and also Lev. 20:22). Thus the “contrary walk” incurs a “seven-fold chastisement.”

The list of curses (26:14-46) is somewhat parallel to the list of the blessings, albeit much longer. It is divided up into several progressive categories: diseases, defeat, drought, carnivorous animals, and a combination of wars, plagues and famines, which will cause parents to consume their own children's flesh.  Finally, after the destruction of the idols and pagan images, there will be a dispersion of the People of Yisrael among the Gentile nations. Under these conditions, and once the Land has been emptied of its inhabitants, its Shabbats will be repaid (as the Israelites did not keep the Sabbatical years that we read about in the last Parasha). These Shabbats will "appease" the land, with the word used here being “tirtzeh” (of the root “ratzon” - “will or acceptance”). Thus, the land "will be appeased" (v. 34, 35) and “accept” its inhabitants.  Accordingly, the "year of acceptance" (Is. 61:2) is “sh'nat ratzon.”  The same word for “acceptance” appeared in Parashat Emor, where we read in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:11 about the Omer: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted [lirtzon'chem] for you…" (italics added).  As we saw above, negligence to observe the Shmita  on the seventh year, is what makes the figure ”seven” stand out, relative to sin and the penalties subsequently incurred. The usage of seven here reminds us of some of the commands which the Israelites will be transgressing, commands that are related to the figure seven, such as the seventh day of the week, the seventh year of rest, and the seven years multiplied by seven leading to the Jubilee, the 50th year of release of all debts and property.

The last part of Parashat Bechukotai deals with laws concerning vows of dedications to YHVH (27:2-29), while the final verses pertain to tithes. Verse 2 introduces the subject of the vows by not merely stating “if a man/person takes a vow…” (literal translation), but curiously qualifies the vow by the verb “yaflee”, rooted in “pele” - y.p/f.a (yod, pey/fey, alef), which means “wonder, wonderful,” such as in “Wonderful Counselor” (Is.9:6). This verb renders these vows as very special. The verse continues (regarding those who were to be subject of the vows) with “souls according to your evaluation to YHVH.” In other words, these are vows concerning the dedication of souls to YHVH whose ‘worth’ the person taking the vow is to determine. In so doing he has to be aware of the awesomeness of his responsibility, hence the unusual usage of the verb “yaflee” above. The “evaluation” (“erech”- ayin, resh, chaf) of souls continues all the way through verse 8, having been defined at the very beginning by the usage of “pele,” which denotes the enormity of the task.

As mentioned, verses 32-33 deal with tithes: “And all the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, all that passes under the rod, a tenth shall be holy to YHVH.  He shall not search whether it is good or bad; neither shall he change it…” (italics added). Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 20:37-38 echoes the terms we encounter here, applying them to YHVH’s sheep and to the land of their inheritance: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.  And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who sin against Me. I will bring them out from the land where they reside, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel” (italics added).  In the above Vayikra (Leviticus) text, we encountered, “He shall not search (also meaning “to inspect”)” – “lo ye’vaker (v. 33).  Y’chezkel 34:12 reiterates this phrase (as if in dialog with the present text), though this time with a positive intent, and so we read: “For so says Adoni YHVH: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out – uvikarteem, as the seeking out – kevakarat – of the shepherd of his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek outa’vaker - My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered …” (literal translation, italics added)

The final verse, which is similar to the opening verse of Parashat B’har (referring to Mount Sinai) seals off the Parasha, and indeed the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with the words:  "These are the statutes which YHVH made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (v. 34 italics added).

[1] New Studies in Vayikra, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner
Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed
Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:
The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The root bet, vav, alef (b.o), as we noted above, is used in both the verb “to come” and “to bring”, while “lead” is of a similar root (or cognate) yod, bet, lamed (y.b.l). “Usury” in biblical Hebrew is very graphically connected to a dog’s (“kelev”) bite, but in Modern Hebrew this noun is confined to the usage related to animals. For our purposes we will look at a Hebrew saying which incorporates both “mountain” and “coming.  In the following Parasha, Bechukotai, emphasis is put on the elements and the land, and the potential blessings (of produce) in response to obedience. This yields words such “eretz” – land, “earth” – ground, “geshem” – rain, and “chadash” and “yashan” – new (produce) and old (produce). By the way, “yashan” for “old” does not pertain to living beings, whether human or animals. “Revava”, “ten thousand”, which we encountered above, stems from the much used root r.v. (“rav” meaning “much” and “great), with “harbeh” – many – being very common in modern speech. In examining the rare term “keri” we encountered the verb “to happen” - “koreh” (with the infinitive being “li’krot”), which does not mean “to read” in spite of the similar sound (but different spelling). We will complete this week’s list with a “visit”.


If Muhammad won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Muhammad
Eem Muchamad lo yavo el ha’har, ha’har yavo el Muchamad

What will the day bring?
Ma ya’vee ha’yom? (literally, what will bring the day?)

If he leads the dog, the dog does not bite
eem hu movil et ha’ke’lev, ha’ke’lev lo noshech

These dogs bite
k’lavim elu nosh’chim (literally, dogs these bite)

Much rain fell on the ground
Harbeh geshem yarad al ha’aretz

What’s new? What’s happening?
Ma chadash? Ma koreh?

The seeds (are) not new, they are old
Haz’ra’eem lo chadashim, hem ye’sha’nim

I am visiting Israel
Ani me’vaker be’Yisrael (masculine)
Ani me’va’keret be’Yisrael (feminine)

She is visiting Israel
Hee me’va’keret be’Yisrael

He is visiting Israel
Hu me’va’ker be’Yisrael




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashat E’mor – Vayikra (Leviticus) 21 – 24 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Emor starts with (literal translation) “and spoke - va’yomer - YHVH to Moshe, ‘speakemor -  to the priests, the sons of A’haron’” (21:1). In both instances the verb used for “speak” is the same one, a.m.r (alef, mem, resh).

The topics with which Moshe was commanded to address the cohanim/priests had to do with their sanctity. The first of these deals with defiling themselves with the dead (v.1), although in Hebrew the word “dead” is missing, and can only be inferred from the context. Perhaps this is a linguistic device intended to illustrate the defilement of death, and thus is omitted (even) from the text. The titles of the previous two Parashot, together with this one, form the sentence: “after the death of the holy ones, say/speak…,” the “speaking” having to do, once again, with the topic of death. The opening of our Parasha seems, therefore, to pick off from the beginning of Parashat Acharey Mot (Lev. 16:1-2), which deals with the aftermath of the death of A’haron’s sons, elaborating on the necessary conduct required for the priests.  

Parashat Emor also contains the well-known chapter 23, which lists and specifies YHVH's appointed times. Chapters 21 and 22, on one end of the Parasha, deal respectively, as we have just seen, with the priests' conduct of holiness, the sanctity of the offerings and the handling thereof.  It is interesting to note the order; the sanctity of the priests ("they shall be holy to their Elohim," 21:6) is followed by the sanctity of the offerings (called "holy things," 22:3), followed by the sanctity of the appointed times (chapter 23).  The other end of the Parasha is made up of chapter 24, with its themes of the perpetual light ("ner ha'tamid" vs. 1-4), and the twelve loaves that were to be set on the gold table (vs. 5-9).  A brief account relating an episode during which YHVH's name was profaned,* as well as the resulting and immediate consequences, together with a series of instructions for penalizing measures applicable in similar cases and a variety of offenses, seal off Parashat Emor.

Chapter 23 is situated in the center of the Parasha, with verses 1 and 2 stating the following: “YHVH spoke again to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, YHVH's appointed times ["mo'adim"] which you shall proclaim as holy convocations [“mik'ra'ey kodesh”] - My appointed times are these…'" Here we encounter the important terms, “mo’adim” and “mikra'ey kodesh” (singular: “mo'ed” and “mikra kodesh”). Mo’ed stems from the root y.a'a.d (yod, ayin, dalet), which is "appoint, design or designate." Thus, we read in Amos 3:3 (literal translation): "Do two men walk together unless it has been designated, or appointed for them [to do so]?" The conjugation of the verb implies that someone else was responsible for their meeting. 

“Mo'ed,” as we see in the text before us, is connected to a specific called-out and destined assembly, many times termed “e'dah” (originating in the same root), which gathers or convenes together. In 24:14 for example, the assembly, or “edah,” is told to stone an offender. In T’hilim (Psalms) 82:1, “Elohim takes His stand in His edah.”  The “appointed times,” therefore, relate to an appointed group of people. There are some who are of the opinion that the word for witness “ed” masculine, and “e’dah” (feminine) also originate from the same root. But there is more…

“Tent of [appointed] meeting” is “Ohel Mo'ed” (mentioned here in 24:3). A similar, though not identical term is found in T’hilim (Psalms) 74:4 and 8, where we read, “Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place… They have burned Your sanctuary." The renderings of “your meeting place” and "sanctuary" here are: “mo’ade’cha” and “mo'adey El,” literally "your appointed times” and appointed times of El,” making evident that Place and Time in the Hebrew mind are not always demarcated by a clear boundary. Our text reveals the “three-strand cord” of place, time and people, as it is held together by the sovereignty of the One who has appointed and chosen them, and who is responsible for bringing about their interactions one with the other. Finally, y.a-a.d is also to “establish a destiny,” and so we read in Romans 8:29-30: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called…” (italics added). In the Hebrew translation of the Greek text, “predestined” is rooted in “ya’ad.” Who are the ones whom He foreknew, predestined and called? As we have seen above (and will see later), the calling and appointing has been and are Yisrael’s, thus establishing again (in context with the above quote), that y.a-a.d refers not only to people, time and place, but also to an eternal destiny (past, present and future). “Eternity” or “for ever” is sometimes designated by the word “ad” (ayin, dalet), such as in Tehilim 48:14. “Mo’ed”, with a slight alteration, will be rendered as “m’ad” – from eternity, or “from of old”, which takes us back to B’resheet 1:14, where “seasons” in the original text is, once again, “mo’adim.”

The “holy convocations,” as mentioned, are “mikra'ey kodesh.” The root k.r.a (kof, resh, alef) makes up the verb “to call” even though the "convocation" - the assembling - is made up of people. The calling, therefore, is what designates the “mikra kodesh.” In addition, these “holy convocations” are also the special times that are synonymous with “mo’adim.” And so, once again, the “calling” proves to be the common paradigm or ‘ingredient’ shared by the People and the appointed times during which they are to convene.

 The first "appointed day" – the “Shabbat” - is also the prototype upon which all the others are established (ref. 23:3). It speaks of rest, trust, and faith directed toward the Heavenly Father (a topic we dealt with at length in Parashat Yitro – Exodus 18-20).

The mo’ed, which starts the annual cycle, is to be celebrated on the first month of the biblical calendar (the month of Aviv). The 14th day of that month is designated as YHVH's Pesach (Passover), whereas the next seven days are called the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread).  The root p.s.ch (pey, samech, chet), which we examined in Parashat Bo (Exodus 10-13:16, in 12:11), means to “pass or skip over.”  The lamb’s blood was smeared on the Hebrews’ doorposts, thus covering and protecting the sons of Yisrael from YHVH's arm, which dealt severely with the Egyptians.  It was by virtue of that blood that YHVH “passed” or “skipped over” the dwellings of the Israelites. The wider scope of the principle set in motion here is the atoning blood of the Lamb of Elohim, that covers and protects the redeemed from sin’s death sentence.

Next is the Feast of Matzot, or Chag HaMaztot (plural of “matza,” which is a thin, wafer-like cracker baked without yeast). “Chag” is feast, whose root, ch.g.g (chet, gimmel, gimmel), means “to circle” (e.g. Ps. 107:27), thus pointing to the cyclical nature and annual reoccurrence of YHVH’s feasts and appointed times.  As we have already seen in Parashat Bo, the root m.tz.h (mem, tzadi, hey) means “to drain or squeeze out” to the very last drop of water.  Yeast can only be activated in an accommodating environment (that is, in water).  Since yeast, or leaven, is likened to the sin which leavens or puffs up the whole lump (Gal. 5:9), water may be compared to the environment which enhances it. The "old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:8) being sin, in the form of the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12), wickedness (1st Cor. 5:13) and more, is removed as the redeemed are constituted "holy matzot; for Messiah, our Pesach [lamb]… has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).  Notice that aside from “matza,” unleavened bread is also called “lechem oni,” translated “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3). Yeshua, who is the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), was born in the House of Bread (Beit-Lehem) and was in Beit Onya (Bethany) - House of Affliction (John 12:1) - six days before He gave His disciples the bread (“matza”) representing His body (Luke 22:19).

"Then YHVH spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘when you enter the land… and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf [omer] of the BEGINNING/re’sheet of your harvest to the priest. And He shall wave the sheaf before YHVH for you to be accepted; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it’" (23:9-11 literal translation, emphasis added). The first harvest (of barley) takes place very early in the spring.  From Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:9 we learn that the picking is "from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing [barley] grain."  Because “omer” is also a measurement (one tenth of an epha), there is no question as to the amount of the "first of the harvest."  Thus, the priest was to wave those first (beginning-resheeet) sheaves before YHVH, "for your acceptance" - lir'tzon'chem (root r.tz.h – resh, tzadi, hey – meaning, “satisfy, favor”), after the Shabbat. This was totally fulfilled by Yeshua, who was in the beginning (ref. Gen. 1;1; John 1:1-2), and is declared to be the beginning and the end (ref. Col. 1:18; 1John 2:13-14; Rev. 1:8, 3:14, 21;6, 22:13).  Following His resurrection, which occurred after the Shabbat, He immediately went up to His Father (ref. John 20:17) to offer Himself on our behalf, thus rendering us acceptable. After that first barley harvest was cut, one was to wait for the day after the Shabbat and count seven weeks, making the 50th day a “mo'ed” which is tied intrinsically to the Counting of the Omer.

The land and its fruitfulness, or lack thereof, was to reflect Yisrael's relationship with YHVH, as it is "a Land for which YHVH your Elohim cares; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year" (Deut. 11:12). The Cycle of the Feasts "from the beginning even to the end of the year" is partly designed for this purpose.  Thus, if the rains come in their due season, watering the ground which responds to the seed (ref. Hos. 2:21, 22), it can indicate that the Nation of Yisrael is walking with their Elohim, "who keeps for us the appointed weeks for the harvest" (Jer. 5:24).  In that case, all is well and the Counting of the Omer can begin. Conversely, the consequence of disobedience and sin is drought (Lev. 26:18-20, 26, for example), which means that there is no barley, no sheaves and nothing to count.  That, in turn, will affect the next mo'ed, which is Shavu'ot. The mo'adim, the Land and the relationship with the Almighty are all linked together, making the life of the Hebrew person inseparable from his Elohim, his Torah, his land and community. The omer, therefore, affects the celebration of Shavu’ot. It also signifies total dependency on YHVH, and speaks of His control over the natural and spiritual causes, conditions and their aftermath.

On Shavu'ot the focus is on "a new grain offering to YHVH" (23:16), also termed "first fruits of the wheat harvest” (Ex. 34:22) called bikkurim, deriving from the word “b'chor” – “firstborn.” Note that in the Hebrew bible this word does not appear in connection with the waving of the first barley sheaves (v. 10), where, as we noticed above, “resheet” (that is, “beginning,” "first" stemming from “rosh” – “head”) is used.  Yisrael is declared "holy to YHVH, the first - "resheet" - of His harvest" (Jer. 2:3).  Hence, both of these special times (the Counting of the Omer and Shavu'ot) are a reminder to Yisrael that as YHVH's firstborn (Ex. 4:22), they too belong to Him, and are described in the same way as Messiah, who is also called the “resheeta” (1cor. 15:20, 23 Aramaic New Testament), the “beginning,” just as is “the first of the Omer” which is waved for our “acceptance. The Feast of First Fruit (Bikkurim/Shavu’ot, see Ex. 34:22; Numb. 28:26) has also been fulfilled by Messiah, when He sent the Spirit of Holiness so that we may be the “bikkurim” – the “first fruit” who were “brought forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Interestingly, on Shavu’ot two loaves baked with leaven are to be waved (23:17,20), making it obvious that these signify YHVH’s two peoples who, unlike His Son, can be still plagued by the power of sin.

Intertwined in this mo'adim ‘inventory’ is an important insertion, which lends another dimension to the feasts and to the life of the sons and daughters of Yisrael. It reads as follows: “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien” (23:22 italics added). The reason given for this injunction, albeit a very short one summarizes it all: "For I am YHVH your Elohim." We found a similar injunction in last week’s portion (Kdoshim), in 19:9-10, which was preceded by the declaration: "You shall be holy for I YHVH your Elohim am Holy" (19:2). YHVH’s heart, His character and deeds express His holiness. He desires to bestow upon His people this kind of holiness, while they, in turn, are to live accordingly.

From the first month through the third - we now move to the seventh, which is replete with mo'adim, starting with the first day. (Rosh Chodesh - "head of the month," the usual term for the first day of the month, is not used here.) The "first day" of the seventh month is to be a “shabbaton,” a Shabbat-like day, and also a “mikra kodesh” - a "holy convocation" (23:24). It is to be a “zich'ron tru'ah,” that is, a day dedicated to remembering and to making a “sound or a blast.”  “T'ruah” is a generic noun; it is not used exclusively for this day of remembrance, thereby shrouding this mo’ed with some obscurity. The raising of human voices, or the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn), or a silver trumpet can all produce the “t’ruah” sound. The combination of 'jarring' the communal memory and the emphasis on sound could possibly be in preparation for the tenth day of the month, the most solemn of all the feast days, “Yom HaKippurim,” literally "Day of the Atonements" (v. 27).  The sound of the alarm is intended, therefore, to help the People of Yisrael recall the greatness of their Elohim, His deeds and commandments, as well as their own responses and shortcomings. In other words, it is a call to self-examination leading to repentance. Since “tru'a” signifies a number of different calls and alarms (e.g. Num. 10:5, 6,9,10), “…blessed is the people who knows [understands, discerns] the “tru'a” [the specific sound and its intent]; O YHVH they walk in the light of your countenance!" (Ps. 89:15).

The Day of Atonement is a mikra kodesh, "on exactly the tenth day" (23:27) to commence on the previous evening (according to verse 32); and "it is to be a Shabbat Shabbaton" - a Shabbat of Shabbats.  What else singles out this day? In addition to a total cessation of labor, it is also to be a time of "affliction of the soul." To “afflict" here is “(ve)ee'ni'tem,” the root being a.n.h (ayin, noon, hey), shared by the adjectives “humility” or “self-denial.” Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 58 clarifies for us the kind of affliction YHVH is referring to: "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to afflict/humble [ah'not] himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to YHVH? Is this not the fast, which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor [ah’ni, the same root] into the house…?"  (vs. 5-7 emphases added). Thus, he who truly afflicts himself is not necessarily engaged only in ceremonial acts, but, rather, empathizes with the afflicted and comes to their aid. Lastly, a quick glance back to Pesach will remind us of the "bread of affliction" - lechem oni - literally "bread of affliction or humility," which is another name for the “matza,” as we already noted above. Lechem Oni, therefore, is a fitting title for He who is the "Bread of Life," the Pesach's Matza, and who is also described in Z’char’yah (Zechariah) 9:9 as "humble - ah'ni - and mounted on a donkey."

The other aspect of the Day of Atonement, the “kippurim” or “kapara” of the root k.f.r (kaf, fey, resh), with its primal meaning "to cover," we have examined a number of times (particularly in Parashat Noach – in Gen. 6:14). The ultimate sin-covering and subsequent forgiveness was epitomized in the life and atoning death of Yeshua, who became the final sacrifice and ransom for all (ref. 1 Tim.2:6).

We are still in the seventh month. On the 15th day, the Feast of Succot - Booths or Tabernacles - is to be celebrated for eight days. The first day is to be a holy convocation, on which no work is to be preformed. This feast is to be kept "when you have gathered in the crops of the land" (23:39), and is therefore another one of those special times, during which the Israelites are reminded of the connection that the Land and its produce bear to their relationship with Elohim. They are also enjoined to dwell in “succot” (“booths”) “…for seven days…so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt" (vs. 42, 43). This is the only mo'ed after which there is an eighth day. Aside from being a mikra kodesh, it is also described as an “atzeret,” translated "solemn assembly" (v. 36). The root a.tz.r (ayin, tzadi, resh) means, "restrain, hold back, refrain," as well as "to rule, possess and to check."  "Solemn," in reference to the "assembly" is no doubt a development of "restraint," denoting the importance of the day.

Succa” (singular for “succot”) stems from the root s.ch.ch. (sah'mech, kaf, kaf), meaning to “cover, protect or a (temporary) shelter.”  Its primal root is to “weave together" (for example, "You have woven me - tesukeni - in my mother's womb," Ps. 139:13). "Succa" is also a "thicket." Besides being translated as a literal shelter for men and animals, this word is used figuratively; especially known is the “fallen succa - dynasty - of David," which YHVH promises to restore (Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16). The "mercy seat" - kaporet - in the Holy of Holies was covered by the wings of the Cherubim, which are described as “covering the mercy seat with their wings” (Ex. 25:20). The term "covering" in this instance utilizes “soche'chim,” which shares the same root as “succa.”

While Succot brings together several aspects and reasons for all the other mo'adim, it also points to future events. As we noted previously, Succot is the only feast that is followed by an eighth day (which seems to stand on its own). A full (and prophetically complete) unit of days is always comprised of seven days. The eighth day, therefore, signifies a new beginning. The restoration of David's “dynasty,” or “house,” when compared to a succa clearly indicates that the Feast of Succot is yet to have an even greater fulfillment. On the day that, “the Branch of YHVH will be beautiful and glorious… there will be a succa to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain," is an exciting future promise found in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 4:2, 6.  

Shabbat, by commemorating the Creator’s work and His redemption of the Hebrews from bondage and their everlasting covenant, lays the foundation for the mo'adim; whereas the mo'adim illustrate the various phases of the life and path of faith.  At the same time Shabbat, being the epitome of rest and cessation of all self-effort, is also a foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom. Thus it represents, as well as stands for, the destination of the Believer's path, and hence is twofold; a foundation, but also a tangible image of the goal. In this way the Shabbat may be compared to Messiah Yeshua, in that He too is the foundation, the Root, as well as the Branch - both a Beginning and an ultimate Destination (ref. Revelation 22:16).



* The word used there for “profaned” is “yikov”(root k.v.v, kof, vet, vet) and means “to bore a hole.” Thus, as we saw last week, when examining the verb ch.l.l, which also means to “profane or desecrate,” such an act constitutes ‘hollowing out’ or ‘making empty’ (implying meaninglessness) that which is of greatest import, seriousness, and sacredness.


Some of the word definitions were gleaned from:

The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, ed. Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.                                            
Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, ed. Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, New York.1999.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

In the past we have focused much on “daber” (d.b.r or d.v.r), being a common form of “speak” or “say” (and have looked at the many derivations of this root). In our Parasha it occurs several times as “speak” and “say”. However, this time we also meet up with “emor” (“say”, “speak” or “tell” imperative, second person, singular, masculine). The root a.m.r (alef, mem, resh) can be a reference to a more formal way of “speaking”, signifying a greater emphasis on one’s words. In Modern Hebrew it is often used as “tell”. In addition to “saying” and “speaking” our Parasha text also touches upon the verb “to call”, although in its noun form - “mikra” (translated “convocation”). In its verb form it is “li’kroh”, the root being k.r.a (kof, resh, alef). The Feast of Unleavened bread, mentioned in chapter twenty three’s  “mo’adim hall of fame”, is Chag Ha’matzot. “Chag” (or Hag or Khag) is the common reference to a feast or a holy day (of which we have no shortage in Israel…). “Acceptance” occurs several times in the current Parasha, but in Modern Hebrew “wanting” (not in a sense of “lacking”, but rather “desiring”) is “li’rtzot”, of the root r.tz.h (resh, tzadi, hey) and is of course used to a very great extent in everyday speech. Finally, we have put much emphasis on “resheet” (especially in order to underscore the fact that this is what the first of the barley harvest is named, making a direct connection to Yeshua”), and thus we will see how it is used in its modified form as “first”.

What are you (masculine) saying?
Ma ata omer?

What are you (feminine) saying?
Ma at omeret?

He is speaking with the child
Hu me’da’ber eem ha’yeled

She is speaking with the brother
He me’da’beret eem ha’ach

I am (masculine) saying: “(have) a joyful feast!”
Ani omer, “chag same’ach”

I am (feminine) saying: “this is Sunday”
Ani omeret, “hayom yom Rishon”

What do you (masculine, plural) want?
Ma atem rotzim?

What do you (feminine, plural) want?

Ma aten rotzot?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Acharey Mot/Kdoshim – Vayikra (Leviticus) 16-20 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This week’s first Parasha opening verse: "Now YHVH spoke to Moses after the death [“acharey mot”] of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew close to YHVH, and died" (Lev. 16:1, literal translation, emphasis added) underscores the combination of "drawing close" to YHVH and "death." Thus, in verse 2 we read, "Tell Aaron… not to come [just] at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die…” (italics added). This is the solemn introduction to the long and detailed account of the necessary preparation and sanctification process of the High Priest’s entrance to the Holy of Holies, culminating with: “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all… For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you that you may be clean from all your sins before YHVH. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever… This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year…" (16: 29-31, 34).

Without actually pronouncing the term it is, of course, the description of Yom haKippurim. But rather than commence with that special day, its purpose, timing and varying procedures, the text first deals with the needed course of action in relationship to the High Priest, while the theme of Yom haKippurim unfolds gradually and inductively ultimately bringing to light its goal. What is more, as we saw above, in this particular context the instructions are mentioned against the backdrop of the death of Ah’aron’s two sons, which enhances the seriousness and solemnity of the day, albeit without calling it by its explicit name.

The term “atonement” in its various forms (which includes “kaporet” – translated “mercy sit,” but in Hebrew is rooted in k.p.r – “to atone” or “cover” as we saw in Ex. 25:17), is repeated many times over in chapter 16, as is the blood of the atonement, with which many of the items mentioned were to be sprinkled. What is the purpose of sprinkling blood on inanimate objects? “So he shall make atonement for the Holy [Place], because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel” (Leviticus 16:16, 19 italics added). In the process of carrying out the requirements for sin-atonement, the articles used had become contaminated by the sins of the people.

In 16:2 we encounter the expression “inside the veil - parochet - before the mercy seat - kaporet."  The veilparochet - is made up of the same letters as “kaporet.”[1] The rest of verse 2 says, "I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat - kaporet." Thus, the rendition of mercy seat and the veil in the same verse makes for an alliteration (kaporet and parochet), highlighing the connection of these two articles and the position of the mercy seat within the veil, where the High Priest may enter only under very strict and special conditions. “Parochet,” stemming from p.r.ch (pey, resh, kaf), means both “separating” and “covering” and together with “kaporet” points to the ‘cure’ for sin by the provision of the covering and the requirement of separation.

After readying himself and making a sin offering as atonement for his own person and household, the High Priest was to take two male goats, which he was to obtain from the congregation. These two were to be placed "in front of YHVH" at the opening of the Tent of Meeting where lots had to be cast for them, "one lot for YHVH and one lot for Aza'zel" (ref. 16:5-10). The goats mentioned here are “s'eerim” ("hairy ones," sa'eer = "hairy"). The casting of lots is "goral," which is of the root g.r.l. (gimmel, resh, lamed), meaning "stone or stony place," since the lots comprised of stones shaken after being put into a piece of cloth or a container [2]. Thus, in Matthew 27:35 we read the following about Yeshua: "Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, 'They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots'" (Ps. 22:18). In the same chapter of Matthew (v. 15-17 and 21b) we read the following:  "Now at the Feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Yeshua Bar Abba (Barabbas). Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you want me to release to you? Bar Abba, or Yeshua who is called Messiah?'… They said, 'Bar Abba!'" The verdict was pronounced. The goat on which YHVH's lot fell was to be a sin offering, as it is written: "Elohim by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3b).

The other goat was to be for Aza'zel (sometimes translated “scapegoat”). “Aza’zel” is a compound word, made up of the word “az” (ayin, zayin), meaning “strong,” but can also be read as “ez” – goat, and “azal” (alef, zayin, lamed) - “that which is used up,” or “is no more.” This goat that was “to be no more,” was sent to the wilderness by the hand of a suitable ("eeti," meaning “timely”; "et" = the "right or appointed time") person (ref. 16:21). Thus, Yeshua Bar Abba the criminal and counterfeit of Yeshua the Son of the Father, stood in proxy, as it were, for the goat that was allowed to live for the purpose of being sent to the wilderness, or “eretz grzera” ("land of separation," 16:22) with all the sins and iniquities.  The root g.z.r (gimmel, zayin, resh) is literally “to cut off, remove, decreed.”  And while it was decreed that the unrepentant Bar Abba would be cut off and removed from the Father with his sins (see Is. 59:2), Pilate was the timely person who facilitated the whole process and scenario.  Yet, it also says about the “Suffering Servant” of Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:8:  “For He was cut off [nigzar] from the land of the living” (emphasis added). We see, therefore, that in spite of our above comparison of Yeshua and Bar Abba, respectively, to the two goats, Yeshua also fulfilled the role of the second goat, as is confirmed by 16:21: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat...” (italics added). Yeshua Bar Abba, although partially fitting the role of the goat that was sent to the wilderness, definitely did not act the part of carrying vicariously sins and iniquities for the purpose of their removal.

Whereas chapter 16 began with a strong exhortation and command to the High Priest regarding time, place, and procedures of coming before YHVH, chapter 17 enjoins the ordinary people not to sacrifice according to their own whims, lest they should be suspect of sacrificing to idols, or be even led astray and carry out such acts. And so we read in 17:7: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot…" "Demons" here is “s'eerim,” again, the word that we have just encountered in the previous chapter for “male goats.” Goat worship prevailed in Egypt and it is thought that the demons worshipped there were in the form of male goats. [3] And as we see quite often in the Hebraic world and mindset - in the very essence of the transgression the solution is already provided (such as the word “chet” – sin – illustrates, with the same root forming a verb which means “purification”). Here we see that for the sin of serving the goat/demon – s’eer – a provision has already been made by the usage of two goats (s’eerim).

Parashat Acharey Mot is made up of four sections. Aside from the part which leads up to Yom haKippurim, and the section regarding the right place for the offerings, there are two more sections concerning the prohibitions of eating meat with blood (17:10-16), and incest (Ch. 18). In the four sections, all so different one from the other, one phrase is repeated like a refrain (see the italicized words in the following): "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you" (16:29 italics added); "…this shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. Also you shall say to them, ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice’…" (17:7-8 italics added); "And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger…” (17:15 italics added). Finally, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you" (18:26 italics added).

"Stranger" is “ger,” and originates from the root “gur” (gimmel, vav, resh), meaning "to dwell, tarry, sojourn," as well as “to fear (see Ps. 22:23 for example: “fear Him all you offspring of Israel”). The stranger’s defenselessness and vulnerability may be a cause for fear (hence the oft repeated reminders as to the proper attitude toward him and the inclusiveness with which he is to be treated).

The last section of Parashat Ahcarey Mot deals, as mentioned, with the prohibitions against incest and other sexual offences. It is sandwiched between statements regarding the practices of the dwellers of the land which the Israelites have just left, and the practices in the land which they were about to enter (see 18:3, 24-25). We just observed that YHVH’s people were enjoined to include the strangers living among them, while here they are solemnly warned not to defile themselves with that which their neighbors were defiling themselves (v. 27). We see here a fine line between including the ones who choose to come into the households of Yisrael, and between keeping firm and clear boundaries of separation from other non-Israelites. 

According to Torah, when one comes in contact with anything which is (ritually) unclean, one is contaminated by it. The converse, however, is not true; i.e., coming in contact with that which is holy does not necessarily make one holy. The land, therefore, by reason of the practices of its inhabitants would be subject to spiritual contamination with the resulting consequences that “… the land [will] vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you" (18:28). The following Parasha (Kdoshim) closes off with the same warning, as part of the command to stay separate (ref. 20:22).

Finally, in 16:30 we read: "For on this day He [some translations replace “He” with “the priest”] shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you; for all your sins, before YHVH you shall be cleansed," or “before YHVH you shall be purified,” or “before YHVH you shall purify yourselves.” Here is a fervent call to appropriate by faith the atonement enacted by the Almighty, and thus to receive the fulfillment of His promise. However, without the High Priest, first and foremost, complying implicitly with all of YHVH’s instructions this could not be achieved.[4]         
                               
"And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: `You shall be holy [plural -kdoshim], for I YHVH your Elohim am holy'" (19:1-2 emphasis added). The rest of this Parasha, like the previous one, constitutes a portrait of the 'holy’ or ‘set-apart’ Israelite, whose Elohim is Holy, a fact which could render him of the same status - as it says in Genesis 1:27: "So Elohim created man in His own image; in the image of Elohim He created him" (italics added).  In fact, in chapter 19, “I am YHVH” is repeated 15 times and is tagged to the various injunctions (with “your Elohim” being added in some of the cases). Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (italics added).

In contrast to most of YHVH's addresses in the previous Parashot we have been studying, here the “entire congregation of the sons of Israel” – kol ah’dat b'ney Yisrael (19:2), is being addressed on the matter of being as set-apart as their Elohim. We have here an assortment of directives, both of commission and omission. The penalties described (and mainly found in chapter 20), even if not exercised and carried out in our day and age, are indicators of the way YHVH views the transgressions to which they are appended.

The theme of Parashat Kdoshim is encapsulated in 20:24b-26: "I am YHVH your Elohim who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore distinguish (literally “separate”) between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And you shall be holy to Me, for I YHVH am Holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine." This clearly illustrates the contaminating effect which the unclean has upon Elohim's People. At the same time, it highlights the separateness of those who belong to Him and who are rendered set apart by this fact. The single verb used here for “separate” and “distinguish” is “havdel” (b.d.l, bet, dalet, lamed), used 3 times in the creation account in B’resheet 1: in regards to the separation of the light from darkness (v. 4), the separation of the water above the firmament from the water below it (vs. 6,7), and in creating heaven’s lights that were to divide light from the darkness (vs. 14,18). Thus the usage of the root b.d.l points to the distinct category that YHVH had allocated for His people among other people groups, as well as to the way they were to conduct their daily life.

Going back to chapter 19, we will notice that most of the injunctions or clusters thereof end with "I am YHVH your Elohim." Thus, we read about reverence for father and mother and keeping the Shabbat. This is followed by a command to reject idols. The issue of peace offerings is succeeded by how one is to treat those less fortunate than one’s self (the poor and the sojourner), by leaving for them the gleanings of the fields and vineyards, for “… I am YHVH your Elohim." Theft, deception, lying and swearing falsely in YHVH's name are enumerated next. These constitute "profaning" His Name (vs. 8, 12, 29, in the latter, the translation says “do no prostitute”), which is “chalel” (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed) meaning, “to make hollow or burrow,” and is also the root for "casualty" (such as in war). Dealing unjustly (a.sh.k – ayin, shin, kof, oppressing and stealing) with one's fellow man, cursing the deaf and putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, diverting justice in court, tale bearing and not taking responsibility when a friend's life is in danger, all are sealed by "I am YHVH." Obviously we are moving here into more subtle matters that may not be necessarily noticed by society at large, but will be seen by Him whose "eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth" (ref. 2nd Chr.16:9; Zech. 4:10b). This takes us to even deeper issues of the heart, such as, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (19:17).

"Brother," aside from its obvious meaning, could also relate to one's “fellowman,” just as do the following terms: "Associate" - amit (19:11, in the translation ‘one another,’ while in vs.15,17b the translation renders it as ‘neighbor’), and "re'ah," that is, “friend or fellowman” (again, more commonly rendered "neighbor" in the English translations. See 19:13,16,18). The utilization of these terms clarifies that ‘others’ are equal to one’s self, and therefore should be treated accordingly. In verse 17 there is also an instruction of commission, relating to the action that should be taken when the need arises to reprimand or rebuke one’s fellow man (rather than harbor hatred and bitterness in one’s heart). If "open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Prov. 27:5), how much more does this apply when hate is the option? One is not to nurse vengeance nor bear a grudge against one's own people, logically leading to the highest dictum; that one is to love one's fellow man as one's self (v. 18), while in Hebrew the word used is “re’ah” – friend, associate. Again, this is sealed by "I am YHVH."

After the prohibitions regarding mixing of seeds and improper nuptials, chapter 19 continues with the tending of trees in YHVH's Promised Land - which for the first three years are to be considered  “uncircumcised” – “arelim,” and in the fourth are to be “praises to YHVH" -  “hiluleem” (ref. 19:23-25), and with prohibitions concerning all pagan idolatrous customs. "I am YHVH" seals these passages, and is also appended to the Shabbat’s observance and to the honor due the elderly. The next cluster deals with the sojourner, because of the Israelites’ own experience in Egypt. Chapter 19 ends with the injunction to utilize strictly honest and just measurements, as befitting a Nation of a just Elohim. "You shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them…" (v. 37) brings this chapter to a close, to which words we must append 18:5 (of the previous Parasha) “…which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am YHVH.”  It is no wonder, therefore, that the Renewed Covenant's mandate is to do just that – to enable His People to live out this Torah of Life (or life of Torah) through Him Who is the very Giver of Life.

Chapter 20 echoes chapter 18 (in Parashat Acharey Mot), in dealing largely with various forms of incest, forbidden forms of cohabitation, and abominable sexual practices, which are described by the phrase, “exposing the nakedness” (again, nakedness is tantamount to not having a “covering” – “kippur”). “Nakedness” here is “erva” of the root a.r.h. (ayin, resh, hey). A similar word, stemming from the root a.r.r (ayin, resh, resh) and means “stripped” and “childless” is “ariri” (e.g. Gen. 15:2; Jer. 22:30). Thus we read verses 20 and 21: “And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness - erva. They shall bear their sin. They shall die bereft of children – arireem. If a man takes his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness - erva. They shall be childless - arireem” (italics added).  This makes evident the fruitlessness and lifelessness of sin, symbolizing the fact that sin results only in death (bareness in this case).


[1]  Notice the "k" and "ch" here denote the same letter, i.e. "kaf".
[2] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown
Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
[3] Online Bible, Gill Commentary
[4] Thirty verses relay the High Priest’s orders, versus one verse with
 instructions for the people.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our Hebrew Tools this time are congruent with the Parashat Acharey Mot, and are therefore centered on “death”, which is “ma’vet” in Hebrew. Drawing from Parashat Kdoshim, we will focus on the “separation” – havdel – and look at a couple of its usages. Many are familiar with the “havdala” – literally separation – service at the end of Shabbat to distinguish it from the weekdays. On Shabbat we particularly love to praise our Elohim, and so we’ll learn how say that in Hebrew.


After death
A’charey ha’ma’vet (lit. after the death)

He died
Hu met

She died
He metta

After his death
A’charey moto

After her death
A’charey motah

After Shabbat Havdala is done
A’charey Shabbat oseem Havdala (lit. after Shabbat doing Havdala)

To differentiate between holiness and that which is not holy
Le’havdil beyn kodesh le’ma she’lo kadosh*

We will praise Elohim on Shabbat
Ne’ha’lel et Elohim be’Shabbat


*Hebrew has a word for that term, ”chol”. “Chol” does not mean “defiled” or “impure”. It simply refers to anything which isn’t necessarily “kadosh”.