Monday, October 24, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’resheet – Genesis 1:1 – 6:8 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The Hebrew language is characterized by remarkable conciseness, which allows information to be conveyed in very succinct forms.  Along with that, it is also a very picturesque language, and often content and form (in the Tanach, especially) are congruous. Thus, this first Parasha, being as it is, a narrative of the origins, is replete with information, eternal patterns and principles, yet all are communicated very briefly, with matching terminology.  In fact, the latter deserves individual attention.  Although this time we will not cover the full gamut of terms included in Parashat (“Parasha of”) B’resheet, in the weeks to come some of them will show up in other Parashot (Parasha in plural form), and it is then that we will try to do them justice. 

God’s name appears here as the composite “Elohim,” of the root “el” meaning “strong, mighty, powerful.” Elohim is in the plural form, a fact which lends the word much greater dimensions. But in addition to that, Elohim not only includes “El,” but also “Eloha,” yet one more word, of the same root, for the Almighty, both forming the plural “Elohim.”

B’resheet is both the name of the first Parasha, and the name of the book of Genesis. “B’resheet bara Elohim…” At the first, beginning –b’resheet - created - bara – Elohim - God. The meaning of r’sheet is “first, beginning, start and prominence” and it stems from the root (resh, alef, shin) - “head.” (Notice the river in 2:10 that comes out of Eden and divides into four streams. The latter - i.e. the “streams” - are also called here “heads”). The usage of this phraseology, therefore, establishes a foundation that the prime and first cause is Elohim, who is the initiator of everything.  In Colossians 1:16, 18 it says of Messiah Yeshua: “For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth… He is also the head of the Body… and He is the beginning… so that He might come to have first place in everything” (italics added).  This above passage indeed exhausts “r’sheet” to its fullest.  Interestingly, the very first 3 letters which constitute the Bible’s opening word, “b’re(sheet)” are also the same as the ones that make up the next word, “bara,” which is “created” (the letters being bet, resh, alef). Thus, “created” appears twice in a row in the very beginning of the Holy Writ, as if to add an extra emphasis to the fact that Elohim is truly the Creator. Note that the verb “bara,” to “create,” refers exclusively to the Creator, and never to man. The adjective for “healthy” or “fat” – “bari” (such as in Gen. 41:2; Jud. 3:17) also stems from the same root, as do verbs such as, to “clear up” an area (e.g. Josh. 17:15, 18), and “eat” (2nd Sam. 12:17); the latter two being almost contrary to each other. This, as well as other connected verbs, point to the act of creation as being multi-facetted. In fact, the primary meaning of “bara” is to “release the varying elements or materials so as to enable them to exist, materialize, express themselves, or grow.” 

The initial and foundational act of creation culminates with, “And Elohim called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (v. 5).  This “one day,” rather than “first day,” is “yom echad” unlike the rest of the days, which are termed, “second, third…” etc. Since “echad” -  unity of plurality – is such a significant term, and is attached to Elohim’s nature (“hear Oh Yisrael, YHVH our Elohim is ‘one’) its usage here underscores the Presence of Elohim in the creation process, emphasizing the fact that the “one day” will continue to accompany the creation of each of the subsequent days.  A “latter day” passage in Zechariah 14:6-9, which appears to take us full circle, states the following: It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to YHVH -- neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.  And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem… And YHVH shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be that YHVH will be one and His name one” (literal translation, italics added. Also notice the creation ‘elements’ of water and light).   

The act of creation involved processes of separation.  Elohim separated light from darkness (Gen. 1:4); water from water (vv. 6, 7).  He created the lights in the heaven to separate the night from the day (v. 14-16, 18), and the seasons one from the other.  He also distinguished between the different types of flora and fauna (vv 11, 12), between man and woman, and finally between the weekdays and the Shabbat.  The verb used for separating is “havdel” (of the root b.d.l, bet, dalet, lamed), to “divide or separate,” but also to “distinguish.” One word about the light and darkness: The word for darkness is choshech ( - chet, shin, kaf). The verb for deprive or withhold (as it appears in Genesis 39:9, for example) shares a very similar root - (chet, sin, kaf). Thus the small vowel change, of the letter "shin" into a "sin," reveals that "darkness" is simply a condition in which light is being withheld and is therefore only a "default state."

But when He separated the water from the land (or brought forth the land from the water), Elohim said: “Let the water under the heavens be gathered - yikavu - to one place” (1:9).  A “mikveh” is therefore a place of the gathering of water and stems from the root, k.v.h.(kof, vav, hey), which is also the word for hope.". Each time we read in English “wait for the Lord,” the verb in Hebrew is “kaveh.” Thus, our hope is found while we are being gathered to Him who is our Mikveh: “Oh YHVH, the hope ("mikveh," here, rather than the standard "tikva") of Israel… “ is the cry of the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) in 17:13.  According to Romans 6:3-5, we have been immersed into Him, which makes Him the mikveh (place of immersion), “for in hope we have been saved” (Rom. 8:24 italics added). Our hope, then, lies in the fact that we are in Him, and He is in us, and therefore we walk now in new life (see Rom. 6:4) as a new creation.  Thus the "mikveh" stands for a place of being gathered to and for 'immersion in hope,' seen both in the act of creation and in the act of the spiritual re-birth.

The progressive process of creation renders each day's accomplishment a preparation for the one that will follow.  And whereas above we touched on the 'separation' aspect of creation, here we see its integrative aspect.  Separation and integration, though seemingly mutually exclusive, actually work hand in hand and are typical of the Hebraic mind and character, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the first and second chapters of the Bible.

Although each day's creative work was different from the next, the days were separated one from the other in an identical manner, by an evening and a morning.  This ‘feature’ set the pattern for the days that were to come, which unlike the days of creation, would be identical or similar one to the other.  The day began in the evening - erev - and it is interesting to note that among its many meanings, “erev” also means a “pledge” or a “guarantee.”  Thus, the promise of the day to come is found in the twilight of its predecessor.  “Boker,” "morning," is another word rich in diverse meanings, one of which is to “inquire, frequent or visit,” connoting concern and care (see Ezk. 34:11,12). Once again, there is an assurance for things hoped for from the One who is in charge of Time and who operates within it (e.g. Jer. 33:25, Lam. 3:22-23). One example of YHVH regarding Time is made apparent in 2:2, where He is seen “resting” (after having completed His work), while the word in Hebrew is “sha’vat” of the root sh.b/v.t* meaning to "cease, and is similar to the root - to "sit.” It is this root which also forms the word “Shabbat.”

As for the pinnacle of creation, man and woman, they were created "in the image and likeness" of their Creator (1:26).  “Image” is "tzelem" - from the root “tzel” which is a “shadow.” At best a human being may reflect the Almighty in the same way a two dimensional shadow 'represents' (as a shadow) a three-dimensional object. “Likeness” is “d'moot, which contains the word “dam”  – "blood" (from which are derived words such as “adama” for “earth,” “adom” for “red” and “adam” - “man”).  Here we see a clear connection to the Messiah, who incarnated in a flesh and blood body as the “Last Adam.”  Man and woman were created different and at different times, yet “in the image (tzelem) of Elohim created He him, male and female created He them” (v. 27). Once again we see differentiation and oneness together.  He - man - was created both male and female, and likewise the male and the female together reflect the "tzelem" of the one Elohim. In 2:24 we read that they were to become “one flesh,” and yet that could only take place after woman was taken out (separated) from man’s own body (ref. 2:21). The woman’s formation was totally different than that of the man’s. Not only was she formed from the rib taken out of Adam’s side, but that act of formation is called “building” – va’yiven – literally, “and He [Elohim] built the rib which He took from the man, into a woman…” (2:22).
One more point concerning this union: In 2: 18, 20 the woman, the "help suitable" (as translated in most versions) for man, is described literally as a help “contrary or opposite” to him – “ezer ke’negdo” (“neged” being “in front of” or “opposite to”).  Originally, Chava* (Eve) was to be Adam’s counterpart, compatible to him. The two were to complement one another as two opposite forces do, attracting and polarizing at the same time.  

In the last verse of chapter 2 we read: ”And they were both naked ("aroomim"/plural), the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (v. 25).  In 3:7 a major change takes place: “And the eyes of the two of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed for themselves girdles of fig leaves.” The man and his wife made for themselves coverings from the leaves of a fig tree. The latter alludes to their attitude, as the word for “fig” - t'ena – is closely related to “to'ana” which is a “pretext” or “looking for excuses.” In Shoftim (Judges) 14:4 Shimshon (Samson) is seen looking for such a pretext or “an occasion against the Philistines.” In 3:21 we are told that Elohim “clothed them - va’yalbishem,” the root being, which is the verb for to “dress” and also forms the word for “clothes, garment ” – l’vush or malbush. We just noted that, “the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed,” (plural) “lo yit’boshashu” of the root (bet, vav, shin). Thus, although of no etymological connection, because of the similarity of consonants some rabbinical interpretations connect “l’vush” - garment - to “bosh” - “shame” (remember the b and v sounds are interchangeable), as indeed the garment’s purpose was to meet the need awakened by the shame of being naked.

In the last episode depicting our protagonists, we see them being sent ("expelled" in Hebrew) out of the Garden, but not without a hint of a hope.  East of Eden, Elohim placed the Cherubim and the two-edged ("revolving") sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life (ref. 3:24).  This image conjures up another - one in which Cherubim were also placed above a "sword," that is the sword of the Word (see Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), in the form of the tablets written by Moshe (Moses). These tablets were placed in the ark, above which an image of two Cherubim was installed.  Is this a subtle picture, inserted into the somber scene of the expulsion, of a future Holy of Holies where atonement (covering) was to be made? Once the Holy of Holies (through the ultimate atonement) became accessible to all, so did the way to the Tree of Life, through Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The post-Edenic life was very different from that which Adam and Chava had experienced prior to their act of disobedience – this is evidenced by the life of their progeny. The story of Kayin and Hevel demonstrates the immediate results that followed the great transformation which took place in man’s disposition. In fact, the description of the events in chapter 4 is replete with linguistic connections to the previous chapter, a fact which illustrates the direct link that the parents’ actions and attitudes had on their posterity. Let us follow a little chart of such comparisons, in literal Hebrew translation. But just prior to that, let’s pause to ponder Chava’s reason for naming her firstborn as she did. “I have acquired a man from YHVH” (4:1), were her words. “Acquired” – “kaniti” (k.n.h – kof, noon, hey) – to buy or purchase. Was she under the impression that her suffering at child birth was the price she was paying for having a son? Purchasing is also a function of a redeemer (who buys back his next of kin who has been taken captive, for example). Was Chava mistakenly seeing herself as a “redeemer” of her firstborn? If so, did the birth of the next son bring with it disillusion, and thus he was named “Hevel” – “futility” (literally the “mist that comes forth from one’s breath”)?

Chapter 4

v. 2 Cain was a tiller of the ground

v. 7 If you do well you will be
carried’ but if you do not do
well sin crouches at the opening and to you is its desire but you will rule it

v. 9 Am I my brother’s keeper?

v. 10 The voice of your brother’s
blood is crying to Me from the ground

v. 12 When you work [till] the ground it shall no longer yield its strength to you

v. 14 You have driven me out today from the face of the ground/earth and I shall be hidden from Your face

v. 16 And Cain went out from the presence of YHVh and dwelt in the land of Nod east of Eden

Chapter 3

v. 19 By the sweat of the your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground from which you were taken

v. 13 And the woman said, the serpent has caused me to be ‘carried’ [in sin] and I ate
v. 16 and to him [your husband] is your desire and He will rule you

ch. 2:15 And YHVH Elohim took man and put him in the garden to till and keep it
v. 10 I heard your voice in the garden and was afraid

Back to Chapter 3
v. 17 Cursed is the ground for your sake, in sorrow you shall eat of it
v. 23 And YHVH Elohim sent him out of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken
v. 8 And the man and his wife hid from YHVH Elohim
V. 10 And I was afraid, because I was naked and hid myself

v. 24 And He drove out the man and He placed the cherubim east of the garden of Eden

Finally, let us follow the genealogy of the forefathers as listed in chapter 5. The names form the following: Man (Adam) is appointed (Shet) mortal (Enosh) sorrow (Keinan).  One who praises EL (M’halal'el) will come down (Yared), teaching (Chanoch) that His death will send (Metushelach), the hidden king (Lemech, whose name contains the three letters for king, but not in the right order), and rest (No’ach). 

* B and V sound are denoted by the same letter – bet
* The “ch” consonant sound is the same as the “ch” in the Scottish “Loch.”

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The opening word of the Tanach and of our Parasha, b’resheet, is of course “in the/a beginning”. “B’resheet” stems from “rosh” – “head”. In verse 16 (of chapter 1) we encounter “govern”, which although translated as a verb, is actually here in a noun form - “memshala” – government. The “head” of the “government” is the “prime minister”. Above we observed that “bara” – created – also yields the adjective “bari” – healthy, a useful word and a desired condition. In 2:15 we read:  “Then YHVH Elohim took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” – “le’ovda ule’shomrah”. The Modern Hebrew rendering would be: “La’avod ve’lishmor”. “Oved” – tend, work – is also related to Kayin, who was a “tiller of the ground” – “oved adama”, which reminds us of the “avoda” (toil, work) that was also assigned to his father, Adam, regarding the Garden.  But unlike his father, he was not willing to be a “keeper” – “shomer”, when he asked Elohim, “am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9).

Prime Minister
Rosh Memshala (lit. head of government)

The Prime Minister is healthy
Rosh ha’Memshala bari (lit. head of the government is healthy)

Are you working? (m.)
Ata oved?
Are you working? (f.)
At ove’det?

Yes, I am a guard (m.)
Ken, ani shomer
Ken, ani shomeret (f.)

To work is healthy
La’avod ze bari

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hebrew insights into Parashat Ve’zot Habracha – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 33-34 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The Torah’s last Parasha, with its prophetic blessings upon the People of Yisrael and the individual tribes, is also the last curtain for Moshe who takes his leave off the stage of history. We have seen the Patriarchs bless their sons before their departure, and now we view Moshe blessing the people whom he had carried in his bosom like a father (sometimes in spite of himself, ref. Num, 11:12) for over forty years.

The opening statement, “ve’zot habracha” (“and this is the blessing”), indicates that the first and more general component of the blessing (33:2-5) is part and parcel of one singular blessing that Moshe delivers as YHVH’s spirit rests upon him. That is to say that each tribe’s blessing is not separate from the word bestowed upon the nation as a whole. The very usage of “b’racha”, singular, implies that YHVH is considering each individual tribe as part of a complete entity.

The glorious and majestic description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai is likened to an epiphany of YHVH Himself, denoted by His “coming,” “rising” and “shinning forth” over physical and geographical locations (ref 33:2). An equivalent description, although underscored by a more specific prophecy, found in Chavakuk (Habakkuk) 3:3-4 will perhaps help us realize that this expose’ of YHVH may not be restricted only to the event which took place at Chorev, as YHVH is not bound to, or limited by Time, even when He intercepts our dimensionally-confined world. Thus, we may infer that a wider scope of revelation of Yisrael’s Elohim is presented here. Interestingly, in “He came with ten thousands of saints” (33:2), it is not the usual “ba” (“came”), but rather the Aramaic “ata,” evoking the Aramaic “maranatha” – or “maran ata” (Revelation 22:20) - that is, “Master come” or “the Master has come.”  The enigmatic meaning of verses 2 and 3 is matched by the very words and syntax used, all of which are complex and extraordinary, presenting a challenging task for the commentators. The literal rendering, for example, of “ten thousands of saints,” mentioned in verse 2, is literally “ten thousands of holiness,” the word used there being “kodesh.” Thus, if the text is referring to “ten thousands of saints” or “holy ones,” why are “His holy ones” in the next verse (v. 3) rendered as “k’doshav” (“kadosh” - “holy one”), plain and simple? If in both cases the meaning is “His holy ones,” why are the terms not identical? Or, is it possible that “ten thousands of holiness” is not a reference to “saints” (or “angels” according to rabbinic interpretation) at all, but is a description of His abode (from which He is said to be coming) being “abundant in holiness”?

The next expression in the same verse (2) is no less problematic. That which is translated either “firey law” or “flashing lightning” is “eshdat” in Hebrew, being a term that appears nowhere else. If broken in two it is: “e’sh” – fire – and “dat” – “law, edict” or “manner of things.” However, “dat” is found only in Esther, one time in Ezra and in the Aramaic sections of Daniel, making its usage here, at such an early stage, totally doubtful. According to the B.D.B Lexicon “eshdat” was originally “esh yokeh-dat,” that is “burning fire” (with the first two syllables now missing). [1] According to this viewpoint we should read, “On His right (that is by the right hand side) is a burning fire.”

Verse 3 reads: “Indeed, He loves the people; all your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps, carrying Your words.” This presents several problems. It changes mid-sentence from third to second person. “He who loves the nations” or “peoples” is described as “chovev amim.” The root ch.v.v. (chet, vet, vet) – love dutifully – also forms the name Chovav, which is one of the names of Moshe’s father-in-law (ref. Num. 10:29). According to Daat Mikra, “even when He expresses love toward all peoples, ‘all His Holy ones’ are Yisrael and they are ‘in Your hand.’” Therefore the change to second person in the second part of the verse denotes YHVH’s closeness to His people. Daat Mikra adds that the rest of the verse should read: “And they will be smitten at Your feet, and receive Your Word,” [2] whereas according to BDB the verb “tuku,” (“smitten”) is of dubious meaning and should therefore be understood as: “will be assembled,” as it is more compatible with the context. [3]

Yisrael’s present and future destiny is defined in the next two verses (33:4, 5). Since Moshe is mentioned here in third person, the question arises whether he is speaking of himself, or is the assembly intoning the following: “Moses charged us with Torah, an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob. And there was a king in Jeshurun” [remember last Parasha’s Yeshurun, “the one who has been straightened,” in contradistinction to Ya’acov who is “winding” or “crooked”?]; when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of Israel together” (vs. 4, 5). For the “assembly of Jacob” we have here the unusual form of “kehila” (of the root k.h.l), rather than the frequent “kahal” or “eda.” “Kehila” appears to refer to a more organized form of the congregation, or society, rather than to a random assembly of the multitudes. Thus, when the People of Yisrael is in unison they become the redeemed community ruled over by YHVH while inheriting the Torah, rendering them no longer a wayward Ya’acov, but Yeshurun, whose paths have been made straight. 

At this point Moshe confers on each tribe its respective prophetic blessing.

The first three tribes to receive their blessings are the firstborn Reuven, who in spite of having lost the birthright (ref. 1st Chronicles 5:1, 2), symbolizes here this significant position; Secondly, Yehuda (Judah), who was to receive the kingly position, while Levi is third to be given his blessing which is the office of the priesthood. There is no mistake - this is the order of YHVH’s Kingdom: the birthright comes first, ideally consisting of kingship and priesthood. However, in the un-regenerated state the birthright had to be divided up into its two offices (namely the ‘kingly’ and the ‘priestly’), which were only brought together in Yeshua (ref. Zech. 6:13). But when YHVH’s kingdom will fully manifest upon the earth, His people will form the long-awaited-for nation of priests (after the order of Malchitzedek) and kings (e.g. 1st Peter 2:9).*

Since Yehuda, according to the blessing (v. 7), was destined to be “brought to his people,” it is apparent that he will be separated from them at some point. This prediction became fact when the ten northern tribes seceded from the united kingdom ruled by Yehuda, and were later exiled and dispersed and until now have not been reunited with their estranged southern brethren. 

Of Levi it says (in verse 9): “who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; and he has not acknowledged his brothers, nor knew his own son, for they have observed Your word and kept Your covenant.” The word for “acknowledge” is “hekir,” also meaning to “recognize” and stems from the root (noon, kaf/chaf, resh) used in “nochri,” “stranger,” and in the verb “hitnaker,” to be “estranged.” This term describes Yoseph’s initial treatment of his brothers in B’resheet (Genesis) 42:7. The Levites, who were also to assume the position of judges, could not be “partial” to anyone, including their own family members, or as the Hebrew has it, they could not (in their official capacity) “recognize or acknowledge" their relatives, but rather, had to become “estranged” from them. “Estrangement” and “recognition,” although appearing to be contradictory, are in fact not that far apart; at times it takes the former in order to achieve the latter (as was the case with Yoseph and his brothers).

The description enumerating Yoseph’s blessing (vs. 13 – 17) resembles a trail going up and down hills, descending into valleys and underground resources and climbing mountain tops; a journey, which while topographical and geographical, also crosses the boundaries of Time and is ‘intercepted’ by the human element as well as by heavenly bodies, such as the sun and the moon (recalling to mind Yoseph’s dreams). “Meged” - translated “precious - is the leitmotif of this passage, as it is repeated five times within a few verses. Its expanded meaning is “excellence, glory, and gifts of choice” in reference to nature.[4]  In verse 15, Yoseph’s hills and mountains are termed “ancient” (“kedem” - “first, initial, primary”), and “everlasting” (the word being “olam,” which also means “futurity”). Both the heavens and the abyss are destined to contribute toward Yoseph’s well being. That which the ground will produce for him on a monthly basis will grow so fast, that it will seem as though “expelled” (“the best yield” is “geresh,”, to “expel, force out”) by the earth (v. 14). On the one hand “he shall push out the peoples” (v. 17), but his leadership position is not likened to the prowess of a king or a military leader, nor even to that of a typical priest, but rather to that of the Nazarite (ref. end of v. 16 – “n’zir ehcav”, literally the “nazarite among his brothers” and translated as “the one who was separated from his brothers,” or “a prince among his brothers”). The title used here originates in “nezer,” a “crown or a miter,” which is made up of the nazarite’s uncut hair (as we saw in Parashat Nasso, in Num. 6). The “nazarite” - or “nazir”- is one who takes upon himself an oath to abstain from worldly pleasures.

Z’vulun (Zebulun) is told to rejoice in his “going out” (v. 18). In Parashat Ki Tetze (in Deut. 21:10) we already noted that “going out” many a time connotes going out to war (ref. 1st Ch. 12:33), and in Z’vulun’s case also going out to sea (ref. Ya’acov’s blessings to his sons, in Gen. 49:13). Yisas’char’s (Issachar) tent dwelling is an antidote to Z’vulun’s “going out,” and refers to homestead and attachment to the land (the tent dwelling here does not seem to suggest a nomadic life style; cf. Jacob’s blessings, Gen. 49:14), and perhaps also to the wisdom and discernment characteristic of this people (ref. 1st Ch. 12:32). The mutual cooperation between these two neighboring tribes is captured by verse 19. Yisas’char “shall call the peoples to the mountain. There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness,” while Z’vulun will make provisions of “the bounty of the seas and treasures hidden in the sand.”

Naphtali is “satisfied with favor,” which is “s’vah ratzon” (v. 23), while Asher, who is “favorable in the eyes of his brothers,” is “r’tzooy echav” (v. 24). Both these words emanate from the root, which is to “please, accept, favor.”

In verse 15 we read about the “ancient – kedem – mountains,” while in verse 27 Elohim, who is described as a “dwelling place” (“me’ona”), is also called “Elohey kedem,” translated here as “eternal.” Thus, He who always was from the very beginning, is also the One who will ever be and it is He who will enable Yisrael to “dwell alone securely” (v. 28, literal translation; cf Bil’am’s blessing, Num. 23:9), as He Himself is her dwelling place while “underneath [her] are [His] everlasting arms” (v. 27).

Moshe’s last words constitute an exhilarating exclamation: “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people saved by YHVH, the shield of your help, and who is the sword of your excellence! And your enemies shall be found liars to you, and you shall tread on their high places” (33:29). It is most likely that Moshe himself did not compose the last eight verses of D’varim (chapter 34, or even the entire chapter, consisting of 12 verses). About his body it is said, “He buried him…” (34:6), inferring the direct involvement of the Holy One of Yisrael in this task. And although in Sh’mot (Exodus) 33:20 YHVH said to Moshe: “You cannot see My face. For there no man can see Me and live,” here we read, in verse 10: “And never since has a prophet like Moses arisen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face.”  These words do point to Moshe’s intimate knowledge of the Almighty, Who Himself is said to have “known” Moshe (cf. 1st Cor. 13:12). “Panim el panim” (“face to face”) implies exposure before someone, as in Hebrew “face” is not only an external image, with the root p.n.h (which we have noted several times in the past) meaning “to turn.”  Thus “face” is that which “turns” to look at and respond to another. And while “panim” is the “exterior,” or the “surface,” “p’nim” means “inner” (ref. Ezekiel 40:19,23 etc.). Thus “panim” - face – also reflects that which is on the inside. In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 this principle is applied in a powerful way to each individual believer: “We all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld [‘turned toward’] the glory of YHVH as in a mirror, are being changed [on the inside] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by YHVH, the Spirit” (italics added).

[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979
[2] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Cook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[3] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon
[4] Ibid. 
* More information on the “firstborn factor” may be obtained
from our book, Firstborn Factor in the Plan of Redemption, which can also be read online. See

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our short Parasha yields several words which are common in Modern Hebrew.  “Yeshurun” is of the root (yod, shin, resh), which means “straight” as well as “honest”. The verb “hekir”, for “recognize” and “familiar” (“mukar”) is also very useful, as well as “rotzeh” – “want” and “ratzon” – will. Finally, “face” – “panim” – is not something we want to miss, especially when we “recognize” someone… Notice “panim” is always plural in Hebrew.

He is an honest man
Hu eesh yashar

The road is straight
Ha’kvish yashar

Do you (m.) know him?
Ata makir oto?

I know (f) her
Ani makira ota

What do you (m) want?
Ma ata rotzeh?

What do you (f) want?
Ma at rotzah?

Is he familiar to you (m)?
Hu mukar le’cha?

Yes, his face is familiar
Ken, ha’panim she’lo muka’rot (lit. the face of his…)

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ha’azinu – D'varim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 32 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Ha’azinu, which consists almost entirely of the ”Song of Moses” - Shirat Ha’azinu in Hebrew - is the crescendo that has been building up in the Dvarim (Deuteronomy) account. It is a recitation which summarizes the Israelites’ history, projecting future situations, while at the same time continually revolving around a central pivot - YHVH as the Almighty and as the loving Father of His people. Shirat Ha’azinu (the Ha’azinu song or poem) was to bear testimony for future generations. Last week heaven and earth were also summoned as “witnesses,” as they are, indeed, here too: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (32:1, italics added). The imperative “ha’azinu” (“listen”) is a derivative of “ozen” – “ear,” and would therefore be best translated “give ear.”  Psalm 80 also opens up with:Give ear- ha’azina - O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!...” Perhaps if we “give ear” the Shepherd of Yisrael will also give ear to our cry.

The common Hebrew word for “scales” is “moz’na’yim”. The ancients must have known that it is the ear which is responsible for balance, thus connecting the two words which stem from the root a.z.n (alef, zayin, noon). With that said, the picture depicted before us is of the heaven and earth acting as scales which are to weigh Israel in the balance.

You will notice that many of the verses are made up of couplets, where the same point is stated once and then repeated with a slight variation. The first two verses of the poem serve as a good example of this poetic device, which is so typical of biblical poetry:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

My doctrine shall drop as the rain;
My speech shall drop down as the dew,

As the small rain on the tender plant,

YHVH’s love and care for Yisrael form the backdrop against which Yisrael’s past and future are respectively described and cast. According to the poem, the people’s relationship with and toward YHVH appears to be a primary cause of the events (past, present and future) which befall them. 

Verse 4 exclaims that YHVH is “the Rock whose work is perfect.” The word used here for rock is “tzur.” This word is repeated a number of times in our song, and thus we read in verse 13, in reference to YHVH’s benevolence toward Yisrael, “He made him suck honey from the rock and oil out of the flinty rock” (italics added). In response, Yeshurun (Jeshurun) – rooted in "straight,”?acts?more?like?apYa’acovt(derived?from crookedness”),land;“scorned9the?Rockbofftheir Salvation” (v. 15).  Verse 18 reads thus: “You forgot the Rock who birthed you.” The verb used here for “forgot” is “teshi,” of the root (noon, shin, hey), which is also the root for the name Menashe (Manasseh). The imagery of the “rock,” a substance that is definitely not associated with tenderness, much less with motherhood, is juxtaposed with metaphors related to birthing and suckling. This type of unusual imagery is echoed somewhat in 1st Corinthians 10:1 and 4, where we read: “Our fathers…. all drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Messiah.”

In verses 30 and 31 there are several more references to “tzur,” while in verse 37 the “rock” is the one in whom “refuge is taken” (“chasayu”, ch.s.h., chet, samech, hey – to “take refuge”), being a more conventional usage of the rock metaphor. Because the idols of the peoples were often made of stone, or carved into a rock, “tzur” is also used here in relation to the gods of the pagans (e.g. verse 31), contrasting the term with Yisrael’s Elohim, who is totally detached from the literal substance of the rock.

Other parts of our text appear to highlight different attributes of Elohim, one in particular is found in verse 27, but let us also include verse 26. YHVH says about His treacherous people:  “I will make an end of them, I will make their memory cease from among men. Were it not that I dreaded the enemy’s provocation, lest their adversaries should misconstrue, lest they should say, ‘our hand is exalted and not YHVH has performed all this’” (italics added). This last verse (27) contains a very daring anthropomorphism [personification-humanization of YHVH], “indeed attributing to Him the sentiment of fear, as it were… has no parallel in the Torah.” In this commentary Nechama Leibowitz includes other instances where Moshe expresses concern over the desecration of YHVH’s name among the nations and concludes: “This concern over desecrating the Divine name… assumes a much more intense and extreme form in our sidra [Parasha]. Here it is the Almighty Himself who is, as it were, “concerned” over the world being misled and diverted from the path leading mankind spiritually forward. He is filled with apprehension lest His name be brought into disrepute instead of sanctified and His sovereignty universally recognized and acknowledged, which is the ultimate goal of all creation.”[1]  

I will make an end of them…” (back to verse 26) is couched here in a very unique term, which appears nowhere else in the Tanach (O.T.) - “af’ey’em.” Several possible interpretations of this term have been extrapolated. Most “have traced its meaning to the word pe’ah – “corner,” others to af (“anger”).” Rashi breaks up the word into its three syllables, and comes up with: “af ey hem,” which is a question that reads as follows: “In anger (“af,” meaning YHVH’s anger), where are they?” Thus implying that YHVH’s anger has reduced them to non-existence.[2]?Da’attMikra4offersyanother interpretation, with the same “pe’ah” – “corner, edge” in mind: “I will not leave of them as much as an edge.”[3]

Another verse that requires some attention is verse 5 - where it says: “They have corrupted themselves: they are not His sons; it is their blemish; they are a crooked and perverse generation.” And although the Hebrew there is somewhat obscure, according to Da’at Mikra it should read, “His sons’ blemish is theirs” (literal translation), that is to say: “their perversion is of their own making, and therefore they are “lo-banav,” “not-His-sons.” This is similar to the name that will be given at a much later date to Ephraim - “not-My-people”0(“Lo-Ami,”oHos.1:9).rIn?contradistinction, verse 6 names YHVH as “your father, the One who purchases you” – “kone’cha.” Quite often the term “koneh” (k.n.h, kof, noon, hey) – to “buy, or purchase” – is synonymous with redeeming, and lends the latter act its graphic meaning, as the role of the redeemer is primarily to pay for and buy that which is lost (such as freedom or property). In 1st Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23, Shaul (Paul) reminds the redeemed community: “You are bought with a price.” “Kone’cha,” with its similarity to “ken” (a “bird’s nest”), inspired Rashi to suggest that this is a reference to the nest that YHVH is making for Yisrael (see also verse 11) [4].

At this point, starting with verse 6 and through 14, the poem expounds very tenderly on the establishing of the Israelite nation, and on the care and love bestowed on it by its Maker. That Yisrael, even in its nascent state, had a major role in global affairs is made apparent from verse 8: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel” (italics added). When one takes into consideration the fact that the above separation took place after the Flood, and more particularly that YHVH scattered the people during the Tower of Ba’vel (Babel) era (see Gen. 10:25, 11:8), this statement becomes all the more significant and points to a future that is even greater.

A string of verbs, which follow one another in progressive intensity and describe YHVH’s involvement with Yisrael is introduced in verses 10 & 11. “He found him…He compassed him about … He cared for him…. Like an eagle that stirs up His nest… He hovers… He spreads his wings… He takes him… lifts him….”  The “desert land,” the “waste” and the “howling wilderness” mentioned here (v. 10), bring to mind a lost entity wandering around, and thus these verbs appear as the solution and response to the people’s dire condition. The usage of these verbs is fraught with activity: “vay’vone’nehu” (root b.n.h, bet/vet, noon, hey), translated “cared,” in actual fact could relate to “bina” – “wisdom” and thus may read: “endowed him with wisdom.” Another possibility is that the above verb stems from “hitbonen,” which is to “look closely, watch,” or to “boneh,” “build, build up, or edify.” “Guarded him” is a translation of “yitz’renhu,” which is of the root, (noon, tzadi, resh), meaning to “keep, guard, watch, hide, protect.” It is from this root that “netzer,” the “branch” of Yishayahu (Isaiah) 11:1 is derived, and the “watchmen” – “notzrim” – of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:6. “Hovers” is particularly interesting, as it is “ye’ra’chef,” of the root (resh, chet, pey/fey), which is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:2 in reference to the Spirit of Elohim. We recall the idea of being protected from above as well as being airborne in Parashat Va’era, in Shmot (Exodus) 6:7, 8 where we read YHVH’s promise: “And I will take you…. to the land concerning which I lifted up My hand…” (italics added). In Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:4 YHVH addressed Yisrael: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” Parashat Ha’azinu, therefore, echoes and captures promises of the past, transferring them to the Israelites’ present reality on the threshold of the Promised Land.

Next is the enumeration of the goodness and plenty that was conferred upon Yisrael, and with which she shall be blessed in the future (vs. 13-14). Verse 15 witnesses a transition, and once again there is an inventory, if you will, of densely listed verbs. Unfortunately, not all of them can be translated into verb form in English: “Yeshurun grew fat… kicked… became fat… became thick… covered in layers… forsook Elohim his maker….” In Hebrew all these are in verb form and follow one another thusly: “va’yishman… va’yiv’at… shamanta, avita, kasita, va’yitosh… vay’na’bel,” almost in stampede fashion. Just as before, where YHVH’s intense activities around His people were depicted in verb form, action-laden, so too here - the Israelites’ intent on turning away from their Creator is described in a chain reaction of fast moves.

The excerpt of verses 28-35 presents a controversy, which has been engaging the commentators for generations. Who is the subject of verses 28-29? Is it Yisrael, or is it the enemies? In verse 30, again, who is being chased, is it Yisrael, or the enemies? Verse 36: “For YHVH will bring His people justice; and He shall have compassion on His servants…” seems to indicate that the former section would have referred to the enemy. However, according to verses 30 and 31, it would appear that Yisrael is the subject of the section: “How shall one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them and YHVH had shut them up?  For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” Who is it that YHVH is “selling”? (Remember verse 6, where He was depicted as the Father and the “buyer”?) Does He not sell that which belongs to Him? And in verse 31, in the references to “their rock” and to “our rock,” is there not a distinction made between Yisrael and the other nations?  Verses 37 and 38 present a similar dilemma. Again, is it Yisrael or is it the nations that are the subject of this brief portion? Having just read that YHVH will have compassion on His people, this could possibly refer to the enemies, whose rock and god (the rock being the "god" and not a mere metaphor for strength, unlike the Elohim of Yisrael who is symbolized by the rock, but is not the rock itself) is unable to help them. Conversely, this could also be talking to Yisrael, who had been leaning on false gods whom they trusted to no avail. What do you think?

“And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel. And he said to them, ‘Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your sons to observe and to do, all the words of this law; For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. And by this word you shall prolong your days in the land where you go over Jordan, there to possess it’” (vs. 45-47 italics added). Thus Moshe seals these most solemn words of the testimonial poem. The words, “for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life” are rendered in Hebrew, “for it is not an empty word for you, because…” and here it is possible to read, “He is your life”…  “I am the way, the truth and the Life,” were Yeshua’s words in John 14:6. And just as Shirat Ha’azinu was to bear a testimony, so did the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14) who bore a testimony in His very being, “so that all may believe…” (John 1:7).

[1] New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
[2] Ibid
[3] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[4] Ibid.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Without a doubt the first word we want to examine and learn this week is the word for “ear” – “ozen”. That takes us to the obscure term we examined above - af’ey’em, which may (or may not) be in reference to “af” (“anger” – literally the “snorting of the nose” - in Biblical Hebrew), and hence to “nose” (both in Biblical and Modern Hebrew).  Recently we learned to use “mocher”, being to “sell” and a “vendor”. Here too this verb appears, but also the verb for “buying” (and noun “buyer”) – “koneh”. Like the term referred to above, there is another ambiguous term in this Parasha, which is “vay’vone’nehu”, with the root of bet, noon, hey. As we noted above, it may take us in several directions. Out of the several possibilities mentioned, we will pick the verb “to build”, “livnot” – and “boneh” – “builds”, as well as the noun “builder”.
With this said, let’s go for it…

Everyone has two ears and one nose
Le’chol echad yesh sh’tey oznayim ve’af echad
(lit. to every one there are two ears and nose one)

One ear, two noses
Ozen achat, sh’ney apim

I buy in the market/I am buying in the market (masculine)
Ani koneh ba’shuk
I buy in the market/I am buying in the market (feminine)
Ani konah ba’shuk

The builder is building a building
Ha’ba’nay boneh bin’yan

The builder built a building
Ha’ba’nay banah bin’yan

The builders are building
Ha’bana’eem bonim

The buyer bought a building
Ha’koneh kanah bin’yan


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Parashat Va’yelech – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) – Chapter 31 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

While Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter the land with you.”

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”).*  “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH, is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weak, let go, be negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”) is azav (ayin, zayin, bet/vet), and means, “leave, abandon or forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In last week’s Parashat Nitzavim (Det. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root that we encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim.”  In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony, to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In 31:10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "read, recite, call.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).

·             “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This time we will make use of several useful verbs which may be derived from our short Parasha. “Going” (or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used in the Parasha in the same way. From the verb “to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is “to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”. 

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisra’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)
Recording: http: