Monday, March 20, 2017

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Va’yak'hel and Fkudey Sh’mot (Exodus) 35 – 40:38 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The two Parashot* that are before us seal off the book of Sh'mot. Both of them recapitulate the instructions for constructing the Mishkan, its utensils, the priests' garments, and reiterate the calling of the two artisans who were to be in charge of the work. However, because the instructions in our text describe (or report) the actual implementation of the work, they are animated with a sense of activity. The act of contribution, for example, is fraught with enthusiasm and vitality, while everyone appears to be doing his utmost within his (or her) means and capabilities.

Just before examining these accounts, let us pause to look at yet another injunction regarding the Shabbat. In this instance it appears to be a prelude to the construction of the holy edifice, with an emphasis on keeping the Shabbat set apart by not doing any manner of work (including kindling of fire): "… everyone doing work in it shall be put to death" (ref. Ex. 35:2,3).  In all likelihood, this was to serve as a reminder to the Israelites that even the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the Shabbat rest.

Va’yak’hel: “And he [Moses] gathered…” is rooted in k.h.l (kof, hey, lamed) - “to gather untofor the purpose of executing the plan. And as we shall see shortly, a plan is definitely being set up here. In 35:10 an invitation is issued for "every wise-hearted one among you, let them come and make all which YHVH has commanded" (emphasis added). Such an open summons had not been announced previously. The People of Yisrael respond with gusto. They are both contributing to and participating in the work itself. The camp is bustling with activity. The skilled and the unskilled, the rich and the poor, the rank and file together with the leaders – all are doing their part.

Let us now simply follow the text, taking note of the activity, the mass inclusion of the entire community, and the spirit of eager willingness and generosity that pervaded the camp. "And all the congregation of the sons of Israel went out from Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart was lifted up, and everyone whose spirit made him willing. They brought the offering of YHVH for the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. And the men came in together with the women, everyone willing of heart. They brought in bracelets, and nose rings, and rings, and ornaments, every gold article, and everyone who waved a wave offering of gold to YHVH. And everyone with whom blue was found, and purple, and crimson, and bleached linen, and goats' hair, and rams' skins dyed red, and dugong skins, they brought. Everyone rising up with an offering of silver and bronze, they brought the offering of YHVH; and everyone with whom was found acacia wood for any work of the service, they brought. And every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands; and they brought spun yarn, blue, and purple, and crimson and bleached linen. And all the women whose hearts were lifted up in wisdom spun the goats' hair. And the leaders brought the onyx stones and stones for the setting, for the ephod and for the breast pocket, and the spice, and the oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the incense of the perfumes. And every man and woman whose hearts made them willing to bring for all the work which YHVH commanded to be done by the hand of Moses; the sons of Israel brought a willing offering to YHVH… “(35:20-29, emphases added).

As mentioned, this action-packed passage is characterized by the willingness and eager participation of everyone involved. A similar atmosphere is also echoed in chapter 36, where Betzal'el and Ohali'av (Aholiab) and all the ones endowed with Elohim-given wisdom and a desire to do the work, take the contributions from the people: "And they took every offering before Moses which the sons of Israel had brought for the work of the service in the holy place, to do it. And they brought to him still more willing offerings morning by morning. And all the wise men came, those doing every kind of work for the sanctuary, each one from his work they were doing” (36:3, 4 emphases added). Here we see the co-operation between the lay people and the experts, all of whom were providing abundance of such magnitude, to the extent that Moshe was told: “The people are bringing more than enough for the service of the work that YHVH commanded to do" (v. 5). Moshe therefore "commanded, and they caused it to be voiced in the camp, saying, 'Let neither man nor woman make any more offering for the sanctuary’; and the people were held back from bringing" (v. 6).

The wisdom, skill, and expertise with which the work was carried out clearly did not originate with the expert artisans themselves. In 35:31, 32, 34 we read: “And He has filled him [i.e. Betzal’el] with the spirit of Elohim [can also be read, “the Spirit of Elohim filled him”] in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge… to devise designs. And He has put in his heart that he may teach” (emphases added). Betzal’el’s protégé, whom he was teaching, was Ohali’av from the tribe of Dan. Having been endowed from above with the skillfulness and ability to carry out the work, Betzal’el, true to his name, appears to be residing “in the shadow of the Almighty.” As we noted latst week, the assistant’s name expresses a similar concept, since Ohali’av means, “my tent is the Father.” Thus, the artist engaged in crafting the Mishkan (Tabernacle), declares, by his very name, Who is the real Abode!

But let us return to the earthly Mishkan… The specifications for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and the Lampstand are listed in 37:1-24. In Hebrew these three articles are “a’ron, shulchan, and menorah” – rendered literally as, “cabinet/closet/chest (e.g. 2nd Kings 12:9,10), table, and lamp” (e.g. 2nd Kings 4:10); a comfortable abode, under any circumstances, especially in the desert! But what about a washbasin for a quick freshening up and maybe a mirror to make sure every hair is in place? The account in 38:8 does not fail to point out the basin, and the mirrors out of which it was constructed. In addition, although not mentioned in the Parasha’s text specifically, there is another term used elsewhere for the Ark of the Covenant. It is a “ki’seh” – a “chair,” which is also the Hebrew word for “throne.” The “Ark of the Covenant” is YHVH’s seat of glory, and was so described in Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1, in reference to Shlomo’s (Solomon’s) Temple, and also in Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 43:7, regarding the future Temple.

The making of the bronze basin (or laver) and its base captivates our attention, as they were made from "the mirrors of the [women] who congregated at the opening of the Tent of Meeting" (38:8). Much has been said about the symbolism of the mirrors plating this basin, where the priests were to wash their feet and hands (that is, to consecrate themselves) before approaching the Altar, as an allusion to one of the steps on the progressive path of faith taken by the Believer. However, in the scene at hand we encounter women who have assembled, “tzov'ot,” by the entrance of the Mishkan. The verb and root tz.v.a (tzadi, bet, alef) is also used for “army” and “hosts,” such as in "YHVH Tzva'ot." In Shmuel Alef (1st Samuel) 2:22 we find once again this "army of women" by "the opening of the Tent of Meeing."  In T’hilim (Psalms) 68:11-12 we read: "YHVH gave the word; great was the company - "tza'va" - of those who proclaimed [female gender] it; Kings of armies ("tzva'ot") flee, they flee, and she who remains at home divides the spoil."  Last week we saw the People of Yisrael in their frenzy to make the golden calf, using gold earrings worn by their "wives, sons and daughters" (Ex. 32:2). This week, many of the same people are contributing to the Mishkan, and some of the donations are of the very same materials that were used for the abominable image. The women who had contributed the mirrors, thereby giving up their vanity, are seen here drawn to the house of YHVH forming a company, literally an "army," which proclaims His Word and is therefore far mightier than even that of "kings of armies" (ref. again to Ps. 68:12). Hence, according to the Psalm, their reward (or "spoil") is also far greater. Were these women motivated by a desire to repent and atone for the recent terrible sin committed so callously by the People of Yisrael?

When all was said and done, the work was considered a genuine collective endeavor of national scope. Not many years prior to this event, these same people had over them taskmasters who "worked them relentlessly" (Ex. 1:13). Now, the Nation as a whole is engaged in a totally different “work,” the “avoda” of the Mishkan, the avoda – worship and service - of YHVH. Did they ever reflect back to those dark days, considering in awe their currently changed circumstances and status?

Whether or not they did, the transformation that had taken place was quite amazing! In Egypt they were treated as a faceless mass, having suffered loss of individual identity to the point that they were referred to in single person (e.g. Ex. 1:10-13, Parashat Shmot, literal translation). By comparison, in 36:8 – 37:7, the work performed in the Mishkan is also described in single person. However, against the backdrop of the preceding descriptions, the picture set before us here is entirely different. If the oft repeated “and he made” are in reference to Betzal’el, we are left in no doubt that he had the full and active support, and participation of the People as a whole. But, if the reference is to more than one person - it would signify unison. Once again, just as we observed in Parashat Trumah (in 26:6-11), the Mishkan itself was to be made of a great variety of components, yet was to be “one” (36:13, 18). This was also the case with the People of Yisrael, who was (and is) to portray the eternal principle of ‘unity within diversity,’ so well illustrated by our text.

After the description of the Nation’s willing participation in the preparations of the Mishkan, Parashat Fkudey, the last in the book of Sh’mot, continues to elaborate on the inventory of materials for the sacred edifice and the priests’ official garments. “Fkudey” means, “that which was taken into account/visited,” or “these are the accounts.” But it is not only the Mishkan’s inventory that is counted or listed; the term is also applied here to the congregation itself (38:25, “pkudey ha’eda” – “those of the congregation who were taken into account/visited”). The meaning of the root p.k.d. aside from counting, visiting, and commanding, originates with “invest with purpose or responsibility.”1 Thus, while in Parashat Va’yak’hel emphasis was placed on the congregation as a “kahal,” a crowd, a mass, host, whose parts (namely the individuals who make it up) have no significance in and of themselves, the term “fkudey” stresses the fact that the congregation has no existence apart from the individuals who make it up. Hence, each and every one has been “visited” and “taken into account” in order to make the half shekel payment (ref. 38:25,26).2

In 39:32, we read the following: "And all the work of the tabernacle of the congregation was finished (“vate’chal”), and the sons of Israel did according to all which YHVH commanded Moses; so they did” (emphasis added). In B’resheet (Genesis) 2:1-2 it says: “And the heavens and the earth were finished (va’ya’chulu), and all the host of them. And Elohim finished (va’y’chal) His work which He had made…” (emphases added). Another parallel to the Creation process is found in 39:43: “And Moses saw (“va’yar”) all the work, and behold they had done it…. and Moses blessed them.” This may be compared to the oft-repeated “and Elohim saw…“ (in B’resheet 1) and also to B’resheet 1:28, where in reference to the creation of man and woman it says, “and He blessed them” (emphasis added). In 40:33 it says, “And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished (va’yechal) the work (m’lacha)” (emphasis added). Compare this to B’resheet (Genesis) 2:2: “And on the seventh day Elohim ended (va’yechal) His work (m’lacha) which He had done…”

The term “tabernacle of the testimony” meets us in 38:21 and is echoed in 40:3 by the “ark of the testimony,” whereas in Parashat Ki Tissa we encountered the “tablets of the testimony” (Ex. 34:29). “Testimony” is “edut” - “a witness” or “evidence.” The reason, therefore, for the existence of the Mishkan, the ark and that which it contained (that is the “tablets”) appears to be in order to validate YHVH’s covenant with His people. “Ed,” witness, and “edut,” testimony, witness or evidence, originate with the root ayin, vav, dalet (a.o/u.d), whose primal meaning is to “endure, continue, repeat,” and by implication “to establish facts.”3 “Od” is therefore “more and continually” and “ad” is “perpetuity,” while “edot” are YHVH’s “decrees.”  The witnesses (whether human, inanimate objects, decrees, or even Time itself) are incorporated into the perpetual and firm arrangement to which they are testifying, in this case being YHVH’s everlasting Covenant.

Earlier, in Parashat Trumah, we examined the association of the shape of the Menorah (Ex. 25:31-39) to the flora of the Land of Yisrael. A similar relationship is thought to exist here too. ”And he gave the table into the tabernacle of the congregation, on the side of the tabernacle, northward outside the veil; And he put the lampstand in the tabernacle of the congregation, opposite the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward…” (40:22, 24, emphases added). The placing of these articles in the directions specified above was not coincidental.

The fifty day period between Pesach and Shavu'ot is when the flowers of the olive open and the kernels of wheat and barley fill with starch. Thus, the productive fate of these crops is determined during that season which [in the land of Israel] is characterized by multiple changes and climatic contrasts. Scorching southern winds, which bring with them extreme dryness and heat, alternate with cold winds from the north and west which generate tempestuous storms containing thunder, lightning and rain. The northern wind is most beneficial to the wheat, if it blows during the wheat's early stages of ripening; yet the same wind can wreak havoc on the olive crop if the buds have already opened into flowers. Olive blossoms need successive days of dry heat. Both of these crops then require just the proper balance of the heat waves and cold northern winds, making the fifty day season (the ‘Omer counting’) a very important and yet precarious season. The Talmudic sages explained that this phenomenon is symbolized by placing "the table in the north and the Menorah in the south." The showbread, which represents the wheat and barley, faced the direction of the north wind. The Menorah, lit with olive oil, faced the direction of the southern wind. Placed together in the Holy Place, they symbolize the plea to the One Creator that each wind would come at the right time.4

Obviously it is only YHVH Who is able to hold all the elements of His Creation in the perfect balance required. Thus, He is seen using (more than once) the Land of Yisrael and the variety of its natural conditions as an instrument for building and maintaining the relationship with His People, as well as for instructing and chastising them. And, as we have already observed, this concept is implemented well before the Israelites even enter the Land of Promise!

The two Parashot, Va’yakhel and Fkudey complement one another. Whereas, Va’ya’kehl informs us about the making of the vessels of the Mishkan, Parashat Fkudey “pours” content and meaning into them: The tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the bread is laid on the Table of Showbread, the wicks are lit in the Menorah, and the incense is burned5. We are also informed, of course, in detail about the making of the vestments of those who were to officiate in YHVH’s abode, i.e. the priests. Interestingly, the materials used for these garments -“gold, blue, purple, and scarlet and the fine woven linen” - were also used in the making of the Mishkan itself. 

Among the various parts of the high priest’s regalia was “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” and on it “an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YHVH” (39:30).  In 39:6 we read, similarly, about the two onyx stones that were placed on the high priest’s shoulders, with the names of the tribes etched on them.  In this way the high priest would approach YHVH on behalf of His people.  “An engraving (or “etching”) of a signet” is rendered “pituchey chotam”- literally “the engravings of a seal.”  Digging a little deeper, we discover that whereas “chotam” is a seal, “pituchey” (engravings of…) originates from the root (peh, tav, chet) meaning “to open” or “opening.”  So, how is it that a “seal” and an “opening” signify the onyx stones as well as the engraving upon the high priest’s crown?  Do these two seemingly opposing terms allude to something beyond that which meets the eye? In Revelation Chapter 5 Yeshua is seen worthy of opening a special “book” and breaking its seals.  What was it that enabled Yeshua to carry out this most important task, which no one else could execute? Having given up His life, He redeemed for His Father those who are to be kings and priests who will reign on earth. Our High Priest stood before the Father with the proverbial onyx stones on His shoulders and the golden band with “Holiness unto YHVH” on His forehead. Qualified to open the sealed book of redemption, He was displaying His ultimate task of presenting to His Father those whom He had purchased by His blood, opening the way by enabling them to be “the sealed servants of Elohim” (Revelation  7:3 italics added).

* Parashot – plural for “Parasha” – “Parashat…” Parasha of… (e.g. Va’yak’hel)
1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebew, based on the commentaties of Samsom Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New York, 1999.
3 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew
4 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage, Nogah Hareuveni, trans. Helen Frenkley, Neot Kdumim Ltd. Lod, Israel, 1996.
Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The hectic work that has been described above will inspire us to state that,
“every man and woman worked” - Kol eesh ve’eesha avd. In the assembling of the women we have the verb which forms the noun “army” – tzava, with more of the furniture of the Mishkan being in use: shulchan – table and “shulchanot” – tables, and likewise “kis’eh” – chair, and “kis’ot” – chairs. We will learn how to use these nouns in everyday life. We also looked at “edut” – testimony – which is rooted in “ed” – witness (“edim” plural), and at Moshe’s “seeing” the “work” – “m’la’cha” (not “avoda” this time, which is another term for “work”). In “engraving of a signet”, we learned, was ‘hidden’ the verb “open” and hence “opening”, and that will seal our lesson at this time.

The army has tables
La’tza’va yesh shulchanot

The army had no chairs
La’tzava lo hayu kis’ot (lit. to the army there were no chairs)

He sees the witness
Hu ro’eh et ha’ed

He saw the witnesses
Hu ra’ah et h’e’dim

There was much work
Hayta m’lacha raba (literally, there was work much)

Yeshua opened the opening to the Mishkan

Yeshua patach et ha’petach la’Mishkan

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?

Above we paused to look at the term “zimrat ha’aretz” translated “best produce”. Below is a link to a Biblical park in central Israel with pictures of the trees whose fruit is thought to be the fruit that Ya’acov referred to.

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