Hebrew Word of the Day

emunahRabbi Daniel Lapin teaches that the root of the Hebrew word for faith (emunah) is a picture of the glue-making process: taking an animal (aleph) hide and soaking it in water (mem) to make a glue (nun = peg), so faith, like glue-making, involves a sacrifice — the sacrifice of whatever in us is pagan.

What does that look like?  In Temple-less Judaism, it is constructed on the “Three Ts” — teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedeqah (righteousness, i.e. ministry to others).  Judaism would agree with Ya’aqov (James) in his “faith without works is dead” teaching.  These three Ts are the fruit that genuine faith produces.


Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (brutish person)The Bible has nothing good to say of the person who behaves like a brute (beast).  We first encounter the word בַּעַר in Psalm 49:11 (English 49:10), but it is Psalm 73:23 (22) which unpacks its meaning — “So brutish was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before you.”

A brute is someone who would strike a cripple down or would treat a brother like a slave outside of Israel is treated.  A brute is considered a person who is human in form but a beast in behavior.

Hillel said of the brutish person: “The brute will not fear sin.  The ignoramus will not be saintly…. In the place where there are no human beings, try to be one.” (Pirqei Avoth 2:5).  Rashi defines a brute as “one bereft of any qualities,” and Maimonides echoes this, insisting that a brute is devoid of wisdom and ethical qualities.


Hebrew Word of the Day

Morning Blessing Today, let’s look at the word “neshama” (נְשָׁמָה).  R’ Aryeh Kaplan has an article on Aish.com discussing “the three parts of the soul,” identifying them as the nefesh, the neshama, and the ruach.

R’ Kaplan explains:

God’s exhaling a soul can be compared to a glassblower forming a vessel. The breath (neshama) first leaves his lips, travels as a wind (ruach) and finally comes to rest (nefesh) in the vessel. Of these three levels of the soul, neshama is therefore the highest and closes to God, while nefesh is that aspect of the soul residing in the body. Ruach stands between the two, binding man to his spiritual Source. It is for this reason that Divine Inspiration is called Ruach HaKodesh in Hebrew.  The neshama is affected only by thought, the ruach by speech, and the nefesh by action.

NASB translates neshama variously as blast (2), breath (15), breathes (1), life (1), persons alive (1), spirit (2), and who breathed (3).

See also the article on “Mi Yodeya”: http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/8921/nefesh-neshama-and-ruach-as-words-for-soul


Hermeneutics: The “Heart” of the Bible

Duvall & Hays, in their classic hermeneutics textbook Grasping God’s Word, elucidate the importance of being able to bridge the “river of difference” between two “towns” (culture, time, and worldview).

Grasping God's Word (2nd ed)The first town is the one where the author and his or her original audience lived — the generation that first received the text we are studying. The second is the town where we live — which is situated 2 or more millennia removed from that first town, and often in a very different culture (East vs. West). For some texts, that river of difference is very minor, and we can directly carry over the intended message from their town to our town without adjustment, e.g. the dietary code. We have the same anatomy they had, and we have the same G-d they had, so there is really no “river of difference” with regard to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

Other passages can be more difficult to bring across. Where the river of difference is vaster, we must extrapolate the “bridging principle” and navigate through idiomatic expressions and time-locked applications. One classic example is the command to build a fence around your roof. Is that necessarily applicable, in the p’shat reading*, to a 21st century American A-frame (peaked) roof? The command was given in a culture where roofs were flat and were used to host parties or dinners. If guests are imbibing in alcohol on that roof, not having a fence around it poses a danger of your guests falling off the roof and injuring themselves. So, the “bridging principle” here (remez reading) is that we are responsible to maintain our property in a way that eliminates risk of harm to others who might visit us. Perhaps we don’t entertain on our rooftops, but if there is a pool in our backyard, that is where we need to put the fence.

Given this background, we can now explore how the recognition of an idiom in the text might adjust our understanding. In the ancient world, the body was divided in half at the midpoint of the torso, and it was understood that anything above that midpoint was the seat of rational thought, while anything below it was the seat of emotion.

biblical heart

That means that the emotions of a person reside in and emanate from the “inmost parts” — the liver, the kidneys, the gut, or in KJV language, the bowels. The “heart” is not an emotional metaphor in “their town;” it is a metaphor for the seat of rational thought. So, when we are told that “a fools says in his heart, ‘There is no G-d'” (Psalm 14:1), we should understand that he has “reasoned” himself into atheism, not that an emotional defect needs to be overcome, but that we need to come together with this person and reason with him (Isaiah 1:18).

PaRDeS hermeneutic*In Jewish hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation), PaRDeS is not just a Persian loanword for “paradise,” it is a notarikon (acronym) for the interpretive process. P represents the p’shat (simple) reading — the plain meaning of the text. The p’shat meaning is the one least encumbered with “baggage” that comes eisogetically into the text through our theological presuppositions, and this meaning cannot be violated by any “deeper” meaning we might attach to the text (b. Shab. 63a; b. Yeb. 24a). The R of the notarikon stands for remez (hint) is the implied meaning of the text, not straightforwardly spelled out for us, but not difficult to discern from what is stated. The D (d’rash) is a little deeper, and would be akin to a commentary (midrash) on the passage, e.g. “this ancient concept is like this modern one.” Finally, the S level is the sod (hidden). In some camps, this is taken too far and used as an allowance to explore the text gnostically (kabbalistically), but the Talmudists did not have anything kabbalistic in mind (that cult did not exist until the 14th century); the sod is more the halakhic application of the text to our lives.

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