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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.

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Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (mopheth)The Hebrew word מוֹפֵת (mophet) occurs in Scripture 36 times.  It is one of several words meaning “wonder, sign, miracle.”  The assumed root isאפת  (defined in TWOT* as “wonder, miracle, sign, portent”).  We say this is the assumed root because “no verb or other noun uses the same root letters… however, the meaning of môpēt is not questioned” (ibid.).

TWOT also observes, “The first occurrences of môpēt in the OT are in Ex 4:21; 7:3; 11:9-10.  In these verses it refers to Moses’ rod changing into a snake (7:9), as well as to the ten major plagues on the Egyptians.

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*TWOT is the abbreviation for standard Bible reference work Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (2 vols.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1981).

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Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (mishpat)The Hebrew word מִשְׁפָּט comes from the shoresh (root) שָׁפַט (to judge), so the most logical and common translation is “judgment” or “ruling”.  It can also convey the nuance of “justice” and is so used in:

  • לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא  (Genesis 18:19)
  • לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃ (Genesis 18:25)
  • … and often.

Another nuance is the idea of “regulation” or “ordinance,” as seen in:

  • ל֛וֹ חֹ֥ק וּמִשְׁפָּ֖ט וְשָׁ֥ם נִסָּֽהוּ׃ (Exodus 15:25)
  • וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים (Exodus 21:1)
  • … and often.

Looking at the specific construction of the word classes it among other words of the same mem-hiriq (מִ) + shoresh pattern, where the mem-hiriq prefix often means “point or place of,” e.g.:

  • מִקְדָּשׁ (sanctuary; lit. “point or place of holiness”) results from the מִ prefix attached to קֹ֫דֶשׁ (holy, set apart).
  • מִזְבֵּ֫חַ (altar; lit. “point or place of sacrifice”) comes from attaching the מִ prefix to זָבַח (to sacrifice).
  • מִדְבָּר (wilderness; lit. “point or place of the Word”) is derived from the מִ prefix attached to דָּבָר (word or speech) to describe the place where Hashem took Israel to “school” her for 40 years, i.e. to refocus her on His Word, before allowing entry into the Holy Land.

… so, perhaps the plainest meaning is that a מִשְׁפָּט (judgment) is where a person can find justice after being victimized by a Torah-breaker… an ordinance or ruling that serves as a “place or point (or means) of justice.”

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Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (besorah)A recent video interview features a rabbi claiming that the root of בְּשׂוֹרָה is בְּשַׂר (flesh).  The standard Hebrew reference volumes do not connect it this way (suggesting a separate root with the same consonantal spelling — בָּשַׂר: to bear tidings)… but it is an interesting premise.  Consider this possible connection in light of Yeshua’s statement, “This is my body [בְּשַׂר in Hebrew or בָּשָׂר in Aramaic; flesh]; take and eat [proclaim the בְּשׂוֹרָה?] in remembrance of Me.”