Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Lashon HaKodesh and Targum -- Reality, Appearance, Explanation

While still living in Dallas, so early in my career as an Orthodox Jew, I had the merit to attend a lecture by R' Berol Wein.  The rosh kollel, who had arranged the lecture, come over the me very excitedly and said, "R' Wein is here already and you are early, so take the opportunity to speak with him personally!"  "Great!", I thought... then I realized that I had nothing to say.  Since then, I've tried to always have a mental list of questions I have that still need resolution.  Some are big, some are small.  It is not unusual for one of those "small" questions to turn into big principles.

I have wondered for decades what the difference is between "adon", as in "adon olam", and "ribon", as in "ribono shel olam".  The siddur translates both as adon and ribon as "lord"; so what's the difference?  The simple answer is quite a let down: ribon is the aramaic translation of adon.  See, for example, parashas va'yeira (b'reishis 18:2), where Avraham had been sitting and at the entrance to his tent on the third day after his bris mila, when he sees passers-by and runs to ask them to stay, greeting them as "adonai", which onkelos translates as "ribonai", and ArtScroll translates as "my lords"; all following Rashi's first p'shat.

That would be a pretty boring answer... except that Chazal have established at least one bracha -- elokai neshama -- that uses both terms: ribon kol ma'asim (Lord of all the doings), adon kol ha'neshamos (Lord of all souls).  Certainly one could ask why use an aramaic term when there is a perfectly word in lashon ha'kodesh; even more, though, why mix things like that?  Obviously there is more going on than the simple translation answer belies.

Consider the end of the shir al ha'yam quoted at the end of p'sukei d'zimra.  We conclude with "HaShem yimloch l'olam va'ed" in lashon hakodesh and then add in targum, "HaShem malchusei ka'eim l'alam u'l'almei al'maya".  The phrase in lashon ha'kodesh could be translated as, "HaShem will rule forever" (future tense), or "HaShem's rule is always and forever" (imperfect; ie, never ending tense).  The targum reveals two things about the lashon hakodesh original: (1) it is to be understood as an imperfect/never-ending tense and not future tense.  (2) "forever" means in all stages of creation: atzilus (l'alam), b'ri'ah and y'tzirah (u'l'almei; note: plural), asiyah (al'maya).

Pretty cool, eh?  How about this: when Yaakov has been told to dress as his brother to get the brachos from Yitzchak, Yaakov is nervous that maybe he'll be cursed instead.  His mother answers that he shouldn't worry, she'll take the curse.  The targum explains that she knows by n'vu'ah (prophecy) that the bracha will not become a curse.

Lashon hakodesh always tells us what appears to us, targum always explains how to understand what is behind that appearance.  That's why Torah Sh'Bichtav is in lashon hakodesh and Torah Sh'B'Al Peh is in aramaic.  We can now understand the wording of elokai neshama: adon kol ha'neshamos -- of course HaShem is the Lord to all the neshamos.  More than that, though, ribon kol ma'asim -- all the doings in this world are an expression of and in service of all those neshamos.

It was worth the wait.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…