Mayim Hayim – Bereshit 5767

The Torah, which we began reading in Bateh Knessioth again this week, is written in Hebrew, a language unlike any other, that demonstrates a genius that no person could claim. Let us look at some examples from the very beginning of the Torah, in the portion of Bereshith.
At the end of each day’s creation narrative, the Torah says “…va’yhi ‘erev va’yhi voqer…” – “…and it was evening and it was morning (of the day just described)”.
Aramaic is a language that developed from and is very closely related to Hebrew. The word for voqertzfar. Tzfar has the same root letters as the Hebrew word tzippor, which means “bird”. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the connection between “morning” and “bird”. We begin to notice aviary presence in the morning, when the birds start chirping; birds are the airborne heralds of morning.
(morning) in Aramaic is
(See Isaac Mozeson’s The Word, where he describes how he first became impressed with the genius of the Hebrew language by noticing the connection between the English “CHiRP” and the Hebrew “TZiPPoR” . Remember the opening words of the beautiful 70’s song “Morning has broken”? Morning has broken, like the first morning; blackbird is singing, like the first bird. – N.H.)
We even say a blessing when we hear the rooster crow, acknowledging his divine ability “to distinguish between day and night”. Since most of us nowadays don’t hear the rooster’s wake up call, The accepted practice has developed to recite this blessing in recognition of our own mental ability to distinguish between dissimilar things like day and night. This is justified on the basis of the linguistic connection between the word for rooster (“sehvi”) and the word for mind (“sechel”). (It may be more correct however, based on a clearer understanding of Hazal (our sages of blessed memory) to say this blessing only if one actually hears a rooster.)
The Ehven ‘Ezra beautifully and succinctly explains the meaning and connection between ‘erev and boqer in his commentary to Bereshith 1:5 :
“(Evening) is called ‘EReV because (the distinction between) forms is mixed up, confused, blurred (nith’ARVu). Boker (VoQeR here) is the opposite of ‘erev – (it is the time when) a person is able to recognize, to distinguish (l’VaQeR) between forms.”
“West” is called ma’arav because that is where night and day begin to mix with each other, to switch from one to the other. ‘Erev is evening, not night; it is the beginning of night’s approach, when light gives way to darkness. When we are told that Minhah (the afternoon sacrificial/prayer offering) can be done ‘ad ha’erev – until evening – it means until shqi’a (sunset), when lightness begins to darken in the West. (This is an example of a non-inclusive “until”, meaning until the beginning of the evening, not until evening’s end – N.H).
In chapter 1 verse 26, we find the creation of crawling creatures, collectively called remes. The Aramaic is riHSHa, related to the Hebrew HoSHech, darkness, because as soon as the sun sets, creepy crawling things generally come out. I have seen this myself – scorpions that start to emerge as darkness falls. (Perhaps this is why things that we describe as “creepy” usually happen in the dark! – N.H.).
All languages derive ultimately from some form of proto-Hebrew, the world’s language before the great dispersion brought upon by the Tower of Babel incident (see Mayim Hayim for Parashath Noah).
(Bavel is obviously related to the English “babble”; after the dispersion, people could no longer understand each other – they sounded as if they were babbling at each other. The Talmud Bavli, the Babylonian (Exilic) Talmud, is generally more unresolved than the Talmud Yerushalmi, the Jerusalem (Israel) Talmud. Why the Talmud Bavli became the primary halachic source vis a vis the Yerushalmi, and whether it should continue to be, will be discussed elsewhere – N.H.).
Aramaic, like all languages, is therefore a spinoff of proto-Hebrew. But it is much closer than, for example, Japanese. Still, hints of Hebrew origins can be found even in such apparently unrelated languages as Japanese (again, see Mozeson for more on this). “Water” is mayim in Hebrew; in Japanese it is called “mizu”, likely related to the Hebrew word for pouring, mizug. The Japanese stock market is called the ginzu, obviously related to Hebrew genizah – “stored away”. But why? Because the ginzu is in the location of the Emperor’s treasure house, where he stored away his most valuable treasures!
Another obvious example: “to fall” in German is fallen; the three-letter Hebrew root is NaFaL. The initial “N” often falls away, leaving the main root to be FaL.
Even in Hawaiian, the priest was called Kahuna, like the Jewish Kohen! Kohen is not necessarily a priest, though; Jews as Mamlecheth Kohanim are people of importance. The root KHN can also indicate infamy, as for example, Ghengis KaHN.
English lexicologists have always had a problem tracing the root of the word “shack”. All they have to do is simply take a look at the Hebrew SuCCah for a permanent solution!
Modern linguistics has always been reluctant to admit that Hebrew is the apparent source of many English words, because the early professors wanted to eliminate any connection or debt to anything Jewish.
May we open our eyes to see the beauty and wisdom in the Hebrew language, and likewise open our ears by exposing ourselves to the proper pronunciation of Hebrew. And may we have the courage and ability to take the first small steps to show Hashem that we want to participate in bringing the ultimate Geulah.