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Hebrew Word of the Day

YHWH EloheinuWe’ll cover two today, since we’re coming into Shabbat and do not make posts on Shabbat.

The first is the Covenant Name of Hashem (YHWH), which is traditionally not pronounced.  Hundreds of years ago, the Masoretes gave us “ketiv qere” indicators to tell us what words to substitute for the Covenant Name (aka “tetragrammaton“).  “Ketiv qere” means “written (differently than) read.”

When the niqqudot (vowel points) from the title “Adonai” (L-RD) are placed under the Name, it is traditionally read Adonai instead of attempting to pronounce YHWH and guessing at what vowels go there; and when the niqqudot from the title “Elohim” (G-D) are present, we substitute Elohim for the tetragrammaton.  We do this out of reverence for the Holy One, blessed be He, and in obedience to the 3rd Commandment of the Decalogue: “You are not to take up the name of YHWH your God for emptiness, for YHWH will not clear him that takes up His name for emptiness” (Shemot/Exodus 20:7 TSB*).  For another nuance to this discussion, see Prof. Brian Tice’s article on the historical use of nominae sacrae.

In many of our prayers, we here the juxtaposition of two titles of Hashem: “Adonai Eloheinu” (L-RD our G-D).  It has been observed that in their contextual usage, the tetragrammaton appears in Scripture when the 13 attributes of mercy are being emphasized (grace, mercy, compassion, etc.), and the title Elohim (the lexical form from which Eloheinu comes) is used when the attributes of Judge and Creator are in view.  When both are used in conjunction, both sets of attributes are in view.**

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*TSB = Everett Fox, The Schocken Bible: The Five Books of Moses (New York: Schocken Books, 1995; used with permission).  This translation was chosen for its diligence in preserving not only the literal meaning of the Hebrew text, but also the original rhythm of the text.  It is a masterful translation, and highly recommended.

**http://annomundi.com/bible/justice_and_mercy.htm

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Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (heart)

In the Ancient Near Eastern mind, the “heart” was not the seat of emotion (as the English idiom would suggest), but rather was considered the seat of rational thought and “conscious resolve” (Jewish Encylcopedia, 1906, p. 296). When the Bible says “heart,” we need to translate that in our minds as referring to the mind, because in Classical Hebrew the seat of emotions is the mass of “stuff” below the mid-point of the torso, e.g. the intestines, the stomach, the bladder, the bowels, the kidneys, the liver, the spleen, etc.

Elkins and Treu observe the following (p. 221, italics theirs):

“In the Tanakh, the seats of intellect and emotion are a level lower physiologically than in modern times. The heart, not the brain, is the seat of the intellect. The kidneys, not the heart, are the seat of the emotions. Thus, to love G-d with all one’s heart means to do so with one’s mind. The rabbis noticed that the Hebrew word used for heart [in the Shema] is “levav,” instead of the more common “lev.” The double use of the Hebrew letter bet is the source of their idea that one should love God with both human instincts (i.e., both parts of our heart), our positive as well as our negative inclinations, our Yetzer HaTov and our Yetzer HaRa (Talmud, Berakhot 54a).”

What does this mean for how we understand Scripture and its message?

Consider the “b’rit chadasha” and the debate over whether it is to be translated “new covenant” or “renewed covenant.” With this understanding of “heart,” we can look at Jeremiah 31 and understand that having the Torah written on our hearts (rational thoughts) is another way of stating the exact same thing Joshua 1:8 states: that we are to “meditate on Torah day and night.” Torah is the “vow” section of the one everlasting covenant meted out progressively through Avraham, Moshe, David, Phineas, and Jeremiah (echoed by the author of Hebrews).

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Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (qadosh)The basic meaning of קָדוֹשׁ is “set apart for Divine service.”  It’s opposite (antonym) would be חֹל (common, ordinary, profane), indicating things which are used for common purposes rather than sacred purposes.  To be holy (commanded in both “testaments”; see 1 Peter 1:13-16; 2 Peter 3:11; etc.), and it means to be set apart FROM the common, ordinary, worldly, and profane and to be set apart TO Hashem.