Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Lech Lecha – B’resheet (Genesis) 12 – 17 wth Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Avram, whom we met at the end of last week's Parasha, is singled out now from the rest of his kin and community. He is commanded to go forth and leave behind him his native country, heritage, culture, and above all his relatives (12:1, cf. Ruth 2:11). The expression "lech [“go”] lecha" (“for yourself") can best be rendered in English as the emphatic: "go forth" or even better, the colloquial "get yourself going!” The alliteration makes it especially forceful and commanding as those two words, in spite of a vowel difference, are spelt identically. The would be patriarch will hear another “lech lecha” when, in the future, YHVH will charge him to “Take now your son, your only one,  Isaac, whom you love, and lech lecha to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (22:2). His obedient response to the first “lech lecha,” with its ensuing results, will enable Avraham (as he will be named) to respond similarly when the familiar voice will call him again.  At the time when “the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell,” it is then that the Bridegroom says to the Bride: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and lechi – feminine for “lech” - lach – feminine for lecha – ‘go forth for yourself’” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13, 10). Total and implicit faith and trust, as well as obedient abandonment appear to be the path leading to?the?season?of?fruitfulness?and?serenity?(although?not?without?tests),?as?described?in?Shir?HaShirim?(Song?of?Songs?Songs/Solomon). 

Avram is promised many descendants and a great blessing that will also be extended to those who will bless his progeny. In fact, his seed is destined to be a blessing to "all the families of the earth" (12:3). “Family” is “mishpacha,” of the root (shin, pey/fey, chet), which is also the root for a word found in 16:1 of our Parasha, “shifcha” – “handmaiden” (in reference to Hagar). The root means to “join a family,” implying that one’s servants (in this case the female servant) were to be treated and looked upon as an extension of one’s kin. 

Blessing,” which is "bracha," appears five times in 12:2, 3 in several forms. The consonants (bet, resh, kaf) also make up the root for “knee” ("berech"). Bowing the knee is always associated with humility ("to Me every knee shall bow…" Is. 45:23). Thus, experiencing a blessing humbles its recipient, stirring him to bend or bow the knee in gracious thankfulness. However, he who “curses you, I will curse.” The first “curse” is “m’kalelecha,” k.l.l. pertaining to “weightless, light,” and hence of ‘light esteem’ (as we noted last week in Parashat Noach). The second reference to “curse” (v. 3 above) – a’or – of the root a.r.r (alef, resh, resh) first appeared in Beresheet 3:14 and 17, in reference to the curse upon the serpent who was to crawl on its belly and eat the soil, and then to the curse upon the ground, whose fruitfulness was to be obtained with great toil. Could these earlier pronouncements (in the Garden) portray?the?conditions?which?will?apply/to?those?who?would?lightly?esteem?the?nation/people?(“goy”)?that?was?to?come?out>of>Avram’s>loins?

After these promises of blessings and of a nation, in
12:7, the promise of land is given. Upon hearing this word, Avram builds an altar and moves on, only to erect another one in the next location. In the following two verses (8,9) mention is made of three of the four directions of the wind: “east, west, and south.” In Biblical Hebrew there are several words for each of these, with the ones used here being "kedem," "yam," and "negev," while in 13:14 mention is made of all of those with the addition?of?“north,”?which?is?"tzafon."

The root for east - “kedem” - is k.d.m (kof, dalet, mem), with its primal meaning being "before" or "in front of." Thus, its derivatives are to “greet” or “meet" (Deut. 23:4; Mic. 6:6), "early” and "first." Words such as "old" and "ancient" also stem from "kedem," as we see in Micah 5:2 in reference to Messiah’s origins (another example being the “everlasting hills” promised to Yoseph, in Deut. 33:15, as well as the term "kadmoni" – “ancient” - in 1st Sam. 24:13). The root k.d.m therefore reveals an interesting approach to the dimensions of time and space. That which is "in front" is also that which is "early," from “antiquity” and of the “past.” Thus, “kedem - the “eastern” - denotes what is “ahead” and at the same time that which was. Kohelet (Ecclesiastics) 1:9 says: “That which has been is that which shall be,” a fact that is certainly true of our Elohim, “who is, and who was, and who is coming” (Rev. 11:17), “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [kedem] things that are not yet done (Isaiah 46:10).  "Kadim" is the east wind which many times spells blight and dryness (e.g. Job 27:21; Ps. 48:7), while the prophet Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) saw the glory of the Elohim of Yisrael coming from the same direction ("kadim," i.e. the “east,” in 43:1,2). One of the best known usages of "kedem" is found in B'resheet (Genesis) 3:24, referring to the place where Elohim expelled our renegade ancestors: "east of Eden."

West” here is "yam." Yam means “sea,” and since the "Great Sea" (the Mediterranean) shore runs the entire length of Israel's western side, it has become?synonymous?with/that?direction.

Negev” is the word here for “south,” and is used to denote wilderness and dryness, yet in Y’chezkel 20:47 reference is made to the “forest land of the negev." It is in the very same prophecy that the fires that were to consume every tree there (as indeed they have), are mentioned, fires (of judgment) that brought about that region’s dryness, bareness, and desolation.

The last direction is "north" - “tzafon” - the root of which is tz.f.n (tzadi, pe/fe, noon), and means to “conceal or hide." The same word is used when Moshe (Moses) was put out of sight for the first three months of his life (Ex. 2:2). In T’hilim/Psalms 27:5 we read about being hidden by YHVH in His succah (booth), and in 83:3 about YHVH’s “hidden ones.” The north also conceals evil, and it is from there that "evil will break forth," according to Y’rmiyahu’s (Jeremiah) prophecy (1: 4). The proud king of Babylon declares his position to be "on the mount of the assembly in the far north" (Is. 14:13), words that are countered by the Elohim of Yisrael in T’hilim 48:1,2, proclaiming that His holy mountain, Mount Tziyon (Zion), is in the far north.

After receiving the promise of a land extending in every direction, and a seed so numerous (rendering it) too great to count (13:14-16), Avram builds another altar, this time in Alonei Mamreh, which is Chevron (Hebron). It is from that location that he set forth to rescue his nephew Lot. It is here (14:13) that we first encounter the term "Hebrew," "ivri," attached to Avram's name, after his ancestor Ever whom we mentioned last week. Indeed, Avram is now entitled to this ‘label’ as he ‘crossed over,’ both physically and spiritually! When he returns, after having accomplished his mission successfully, he is greeted by the king of S’dom (Sodom) in the Valley of Shaveh (14:17). “Shaveh” is “equality, agreement, or resemblance,” and in this case probably an “even plain.” “I have set YHVH always before me” (Ps. 16:8), reads in Hebrew: “I have envisioned [or imagined] – shiviti -YHVH before me… "  "Shiviti" indicates seeing Him at one’s own eye level (as He is near to those who call upon Him). The valley of “shaveh” is also called here the “King’s Valley” (singular) and is apparently the place where Avram meets another king. His encounter with the king of S’dom, in this 'valley or plain of evenness,' is being interrupted by the appearance (at ‘eye level’) of another monarch

The root of “shalem” (sh.l.m - shin, lamed, mem), is “perfection, wholeness, completeness, and requital.” This king, whose name means "king of righteousness," is also a priest of the Most High Elohim (“El Elyon”). Thus, in his persona are met the two offices of king and priest (ref. Zec. 6:13). In his blessing to Avram, whom he serves with bread and wine, Malchitzedek invokes “El Elyon” (“Most High God”), calling Him "possessor of heaven and earth" (14:19). "Possessor" here is "koneh," meaning "buyer" or “purchaser,” thus connoting redeemer (of heaven and earth). (Remember Chava exclaiming: "I have purchased/acquired a man from YHVH," which we examined in Parashat B’resheet?). Malchitzedek gives thanks once again to "El Elyon," who has "delivered Avram's enemies into his hand" (ref. 14:20), using “migen” for "delivered," which stems from the root  g.n.n. (gimmel, noon, noon) meaning "shield or protection," and also used for

Avram gives his newly-met acquaintance "a tenth (‘ma'aser’) of all," an act which concludes this encounter (14:20). At this point, the text recaptures Avram's tryst with the king of S’dom, but the language of the next few verses seems to be colored by what had just taken place in the encounter with the king of Shalem. Upon being offered the spoils of the war, Avram answers the king of S’dom by mentioning the name of YHVH, repeating the expression "El Elyon - Most High God - the purchaser of heaven and earth" (v. 22). He then refuses the king’s offer, on the grounds that it should not be said that he had been made rich by the latter (ref. v. 23). The word for "rich" is "ashir," of the same root as "eser"- "ten" (the consonant for "sh" and "s" being one and the same, differentiated by a slight vowel change when used as an “s” or a “sh”), from which we get the “tenth part” or the “tithe

As this scene with the king of S’dom fades, another one comes into view – the description of a vision in which YHVH speaks to Avram: "Fear not Avram, I am your shield…" (15:1). The word used here for "shield" is "mah’gen," a variation of which we saw in Malchizedek's blessing of Avram a?few?verses?above.?Thus,?the?echo?of?that?dramatic?meeting?continues>to>accompany>the?events>that?follow?it.

When Avram wonders what it is that “Adonai YHVH,” who promised him a great reward, will give him "seeing that [he is] childless…" (15:2), he is granted a promise of a son. Once again he is told that his progeny will be numerous. It says, literally, that Avram "believed in YHVH" (v. 6). The root for "believe" is "a.m.n" (alfe, mem, noon) from which we get the term "amen." It is also the root word for “trust, steady, faithful,” and nurse” (Num. 11:12), “guardian” (2 Kings 10:1), and for “bringing up and training” (Esther 2:7). Proverbs/Mishley 8 cites the call of Wisdom-personified. In verses 29-30 Wisdom says, "When He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was the craftsman at His side…" The word here for "craftsman" is "amon," once again, stemming from the root a.m.n. Faith, therefore, is the act of believing which involves 1) training, and 2) action - in other words, practice. Putting convictions into practice is guaranteed many a time by a covenant. Thus, in N’chem’ya (Nehemiah) 9:38 we see the people making “a sure covenant,” which in that particular text depicts the root a.m.n again and is therefore termed “amana.” Based on this understanding, the Apostle Ya'acov (James) writes: "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by?action,?is?dead"?(1:22;?2:17). 

Avram experiences an awe-inspiring vision (see 15:12-17), in which the covenant is confirmed. In Hebrew the experience and the covenant are called “habrit ben habtarim” - "the covenant between the cut up pieces.” The infinitive of “cut up” - "ba'ter" - also means to “dissect or “dismember” (15:10). In 15:17 those pieces are called "gzarim," from the verb “gazor," meaning, once again, "cut up." Verse 18 says, "On that day YHVH cut [literally] a covenant with Avram…" This time the word for "cut" is "ka’rot" (which is also used frequently for cutting down trees). These powerful verbs point to the irrevocability and certainty of this covenant. It is no wonder that the very sign of the covenant itself involves a cutting - a removal of the foreskin - which is recorded in 17:10-14, after Yishamel's birth and Avram's name change, augmented by the words: “The uncircumcised male whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off [stemming from “ka’rot”] from his people…” (17:14 italics added).

Yishmael’s birth came as a result of Sarah resorting to a common practive of surrogate parenthood (such as was also done by Rachel and Leah who gave their maids to their husband in Gen. 30:3-5,9-13, and Joseph, who had his grandson’s wife give birth “on his knees,” as it were. See Gen. 50:23, for the purpose of taking his great grand-children as his own). This is how Sarah approached her husband“’See now, YHVH has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai” (16:2). The literal rendition of obtain children by her” is “I will be builte’ba’neh’ – by/through her.”  Above we examined the word “mishpacha” – family. “Family” may be likened to a building, which grows tier by tier, floor by floor. No wonder the apostles referred to the body of believers as to a building, and used the imagery of stones to describe it (see 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5). Sarai too had the same idea in mind when she said, “I will be built by her [Hagar the maid].” In the root word  b.n.a (bet, noon, hey), “build,” is hidden, not surprisingly, the word “ben” – son.  Thus, when Sarah was expecting the maid to help her out, she was thinking of “being built up by having a son.” However, the matriarch soon discovered that Hagar was not about to merely “lend” her womb. She had other notions. When Sarai discerned Hagar’s ambitions, she was?forced?to?send?her?away?(see?21:9ff).

In 17:4,5 Elohim declares that He is changing Av’ram’s name from “exalted father”  to Avra'ham, because he is to become “a father to multitudes” of nations. Technically, this name change involves adding only the letter - "hey" - (comparable to "h"), which stands for the word "hamon," meaning “a multitude.” Hamon is of the root verb "hama," which is “boisterous, noisy, or roaring.” Thus the promised multitude was to become a teeming one, and rather loud at that! This "hamon" was to be made up of nations or peoples (“goyim”). The addition of the letter “hey” could also be in reference to its two appearances in YHVH’s name, or in its shortened form “Yah.”

Interestingly, all the lofty promises to Avraham, along with the institution of circumcision, are couched in very brief but concise terms. Our text, therefore, provides a good example of the compactness and conciseness that?are?so?characteristic?of?Biblical?Hebrew.

Sarai's destiny also changes with a single letter (17:15). The last letter of her name, being "yod" (comparable to “y”), is exchanged for a "hey," making her Sarah, "a princess," who will not only mother a son, but “nations and kings of nations” are also

In the course of the names change of the would-be parents, YHVH does not forget the offspring. Since Avraham laughs at the prospect of having a child, seeing that he and is wife are so old (ref. 17:14), he is told to name this future son Yitzchak, meaning, "he will laugh." No doubt, in the end, the One who will have the last laugh in this story will be the One responsible for giving this name, the One who also “sits in the heavens and

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

“Lech lecha” (masculine) and “lechi lach” (feminine), as noted above is still in use for farewell. “Shalem” (whole, complete), which we saw above, is rooted in “shalom” (peace, general greeting for “hello” and “good bye” in Modern Hebrew). Together “lech” (go) and “shalom” make “lech (m) or lechi (f) le’shalom” which means “go in peace”.  Adding “shalom” to “bracha”, blessing, gives us another idiom. The root sh.l.m also forms the verb for paying, “le’shalem”, whereas “shaveh” (that we saw above) is now used as “worth”.

Go in peace
Lech/lechi le’shalom

Peace and blessing, my friend
Shalom uvracha yedidi (peace and blessing my friend).

Are you (m/f) paying?
Ata mesha’lem?
At meshalemet?
How much is it worth?
Kama ze shaveh?


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Noach (Noah): Genesis 6:9 – 11:32 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our Parasha spans the Flood, its causes and aftermath, leading to events related to the Tower of Babel and to the consequent dispersion of humanity. Here, as is the case in many of the other Parashot*, we find certain key words (words stemming from the same three letter root) which are repeated within a given passage, or strewn throughout the text.

In Parashat* B’resheet (in Gen. 5:29), Noach’s name was explained: “Now he called his name Noach, saying, this one will comfort us“. The root of “comfort,” in this instance, is (nun, chet, mem), pronounced nachem. Noach’s name, however, does not contain the consonant “m” (the letter “mem” in Hebrew). And whereas in his evil generation he was a comfort to Elohim, his name actually means “rest” (, noon, vav, chet). At the end of Parashat B’resheet (6:6), there is another reference to the root We read there, “And YHVH repented [or “regretted” that is, “was sorry”] that He had made man on the earth.” In this case “regretted” is “(va)yinachem.” But how is “comfort” related to “regret” or to “being sorry”? The root’s primary meaning is to be “sorry,” which indicates that only deep empathy with another’s sorrow can be a source of genuine comfort at a time of grief.

At the end of our Parasha, an explanation is given for the name Ba’vel (Babel). According to 11:9, “Ba’vel” was so named because “there Elohim confused the language” of the builders of the tower. However, the verb “confuse” used here is “balal,” and even though similar in sound, Ba'vel does not originate from this root and actually means (in the Sumerian and Acadian languages) “Gate of El.” The names Noach and Ba’vel are two examples of how the Tanach (O.T.) employs puns (for another such case refer to Yehoshua-Joshua 5:9). One more example of this in our Parasha is found in 11:7, where a
similar sounding verb – navla – is used in what is translated as “let us confuse [their language].” According to Samson Raphael Hirsch the literal meaning of this verb is “to cause to decay,” [1] being a very appropriate usage in reference to the said society, which was indeed “rotten to the core” and suffered from great confusion.

Now back to “rest.” Ironically, Noach lived at a time of great unrest, a fact that led to the natural disaster that befell his contemporaries. Yet in the midst of it all, calm could be had in the 'eye of the storm' represented by the one who was found righteous at that time (ref. 6:9; 7:1), and by the place of refuge that he was constructing. In 8:4 we find the ark “resting upon the mountains of Ararat” (italics added). Following the raven, a dove was sent out “to see if the water had abated… and [she] found no resting place for the sole of her foot… “(8:8, 9 italics added). Rest is depicted here, and even highlighted, against the backdrop of the grave catastrophe. When Noach, his family, and the animals emerged out of the ark, Noach built an altar. In 8:21 we read, “And YHVH smelled the soothing aroma.” The word for “soothing” is “nicho’ach,” which once again originates with the root “rest.”

The dove was sent “to see if the water had receded” (8:8). “Receded,” in this case is “kalu,” spelt with the letter “kof,” rather than with the expected “kaf” (which would have meant, “finished, done, complete”).  The word “kalu” as it appears here means “having become light, or of little substance” from which stems “k’lala”- "curse" (and literally, to “make something of light esteem”).  In 8:21 YHVH says: “I will never again curse [a’ka’lel] the ground.” Is the unusual form of “recede,” as used here, inferring that the cause?for?the?great?deluge?was?YHVH’s?curse?

Last week we dealt with the root of “erev” (“evening”), which means a “pledge” and a “mixture” (being but two of its several meanings)… This time it is the “raven” (“orev”) which shares this root. The association between “raven” and “evening” is found in the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) 5:11, where the beloved’s dark curls are compared to the dark raven. The black fowl, therefore, borrows its name from the evening’s fading light (i.e. darkness).

Mankind’s corruption is highlighted in 6:11. The word used there is “tisha’chet,” of the root (shin, chet, tav), which primarily means to “destroy or destruction.” In verses 12, 13 and 17 derivatives of this root appear four times, both as “corruption,” and also as the verb for the “destruction” which YHVH was about to bring upon the entire earth and its inhabitants (v. 13). Inherent in the verb “sha’chot,” therefore, is corruption's self-destructiveness. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 11:9 (and 65:25) we read the following: “They shall not hurt nor destroy – yash’chitu - in all My holy mountain.” Interestingly, this condition of ‘no destruction’ is characterized by water (“… for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHVH as the waters cover the sea”), which in our narrative is the agent of annihilation. Additionally, the impact of the verb “sha’chot” (with the letter “tav” at the end) receives an extra emphasis, as it evokes a similar sounding verb ending with a different “t” consonant (“tet”), which is to “slaughter” (e.g. Exodus 29:11,16, 20).

The other noun repeated in chapter 6 is “chamas” (ch.m.s., chet, mem, samech), translated “violence”: “…And the earth was filled with violence” (vs. 11, 13). As a rule the noun/verb “chamas” is connected to sinful acts of violence and injustice. “Chamas” rhymes with another verb - “chamad” - which means to “delight” but  also to “desire or covet” (as was the case with the fruit of the tree in Gen. 3:6, which seemed “desirable – nechmad - to make one wise”). Quite often similar sounding words, like “chamas” and “chamad” are also connected in meaning. Thus, the violent actions
of “chamas” are motivated by covetousness, or unbridled desire. (Is it a lingual coincidence that Chamas is also the name of the notorious terror organization, bearing in mind the similarities between Arabic?and?Hebrew?)

Planted right in the midst of these descriptions of corruption, violence and pending destruction, is the only (potential) solution: the ark - "tey'va." More than a millennium will pass, when another would-be savior will be protected by a "tey'va" (though translated "basket" in English), which will also float on water. This will be Moshe. In the process of building this ark, our attention is first drawn to the act of propitiation and atonement: “kippur.” “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood… and… cover it inside and out with pitch" (6:14 italics added). The verb and noun for the action (of “covering”) and the material itself (“pitch”) are of the root k.f.r (kaf, pey/fey* resh) – which makes up “kippur.” Thus, this ark was to become a shelter, offering a protective covering from the disasters resulting from the sins of the age. The rabbis believe that anyone among those who had watched it being built, through the many years of its construction, could have also found refuge in it. Instead, the spectators chose to scoff and ridicule its builder. In most other cases, the verb and the noun stemming from the root k.f.r are used directly in connection with ‘atonement’ (e.g. Daniel 9:24), or as “payment of a price, or ransom” (e.g. Num. 35:31).

The very principles of atonement, and the reasons for its requirement, also find expression in our Parasha. Thus, we read in chapter 9:4-6: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning … From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed…”  Indeed, for atonement to be effective blood is imperative.

The importance of covering is brought out one more time in 0u Parasha, in the story of Noach’s three sons’ respective responses to their father's drunken stupor. Cham (Ham), the son who looked upon his father’s nakedness, was condemned to slavery by a curse which was pronounced upon his son, Cna’an (Canaan) (9:25), whose name
?stems?from?the?root?to?“subdue”?or be?subdued”?(k.n.a,?
kaf, noon,?ayin). The other two siblings, on the other hand, are said to have covered their father’s naked body.

"And it happened in the six hundred and first year, at the beginning, on the first of the month that the waters were dried up from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked. And, behold, the face of the earth was dried!” (8:13). “Dried” in both instances in the above verse is “cha’rvu.” In 7:22 we read, “All that was in the dry land, died.” Once again, “dry land” is “charava.” Both the verb, as well as the noun, are of the root ch.r.v (chet, resh, bet/vet) which is also the root for “waste, desolate, attack, sword, plunder, wage war, fight” and more. In Hebrew thought “dryness,” denoting lack of water and rain (and hence drought), is commensurate with terms associated with lifelessness and destruction, which points to the shortage of water characterizing the

When they emerged out of the ark, Noach and his family were given the same ‘marching orders’ as did Adam, their predecessor. Humanity’s survivors were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1). The injunction to be fruitful is “pru.” In the 10th generation, one of Noach’s descendants, Avram (Abram) will be informed, this time by the bestowal of a blessing, that he will become “fruitful” (Gen. 17:6), while four generations after that event, Avraham’s grandson will be named, in faith, “multiple fruitfulness

Among the many names found in our Parasha, there are three in particular that call for our attention. All three persons are second cousins: the first is Yefet’s (Japheth) grandson, the son of Yavan (Javan) - Dodanim (or Rodanim, as he is called in 1 Ch. 1:7), the second is Cham’s (Ham) grandson, the son of Cush – Nimrod, and the?third?is?Shem’s?grandson?by?his?son?Arpachshad,?who?was?

Yavan is the Hebrew word for Greece. Down the road of history Greece will become a major power of unprecedented influence over the entire world in a number of areas, one of which will be government (democracy). Yavan’s son’s two names, Dodanim and Rodanim mean, respectively, “cousins and rulers” (“rdu”, connected to Rodanim, is the verb YHVH used when He told Adam and Chava to subdue the earth in Gen. 1:28). His cousin, Cham’s grandson, Nimrod, is the one who built Ba’vel; a place which will become synonymous with the world’s hierarchal systems, especially as pertaining to religious matters. Nimrod means, “we will rebel,” and rebelling he does by setting up his own kingdom, as a direct counterfeit

The third cousin, Shem’s grandson Ever, is of the firstborn lineage. It is his name which is given to the entire race - the Hebrews (“Ivrim”) who are to represent Elohim’s Kingdom on earth. The name Ever is derived from the verb to “pass or cross over,” a fact that this race will be demonstrating throughout biblical history, beginning with Avram. We will observe the Hebrews passing over from one place, or condition, to another, whether in a physical sense or otherwise, in order to earn the name of their forbearer.
The generation of the “cousins” (is it a coincidence that one of them, as mentioned, is actually named “Dodanim” - “cousins”?) was a

We read above that Noach and his sons were to “fill the land/earth.” It is quite likely that this “filling” was not meant only in a physical sense. Nimrod and the other inhabitants of the land of Shinar rebelled against Elohim and busied themselves by erecting a tower, which, by their own admittance was designed to prevent their scattering on earth (ref. 11:4). Earlier, in 9:19, it says about the sons of Noach that, “the whole earth was populated by them,” with the verb “populated” being literally “scattered” (the same one as used in 11:8). The “scattering” was YHVH-initiated   because, “indeed, the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they will begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (11:6). “Propose to do” is “yazmu,” which in Modern Hebrew refers to “initiatives” and “entrepreneurship,” but in Biblical Hebrew the root y.z.m. means  “unrestrained activity,” and not surprisingly is analogous to the verbs

At the very end of the Parasha (11:26ff), we are introduced to the “exalted father” - Av’ram, whose goings forth, preceded by the command “lech lecha” (“go!”), will be reported next, in the Parasha

*Parashot - plural of Parasha (feminine gender)

*Parashat – “Parasha of…”

* The p and f sounds are designated by the same letter and may be pronounced as “p” in one form of the word, and as an “f” in another. The same is also true about the “b” and “v” sounds.

[1] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, edt. Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem-New York

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Nimord and Kayin both built cities. They were the founders of the trend from “country” to “city”. Many of us desire to do the opposite, to be restored back to the “countryside” and to more natural environs, and from there to the “Garden…” back to the way things were in the beginning.
The root for “kippur”, k.f.r. is also the root for the modern word “kfar” (village, countryside, a place which gives one covering or protection). E.v.r – the root for “crossing over”, or “changing location” in Modern Hebrew, is another one with which we have become familiar. “Light”, or of “little substance” – kal – is also used currently as “easy”. Thus we may ask: is it easy to move to the countryside?

I am moving to the countryside
Ani over la’kfar (masculine)
Ani overet la’kfar (feminine)

Is it easy to move to the countryside?
Ha’eem kal la’avor la’kfar

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