The Beauty of the Hebrew Language:
The Connection Between Food and Fighting!
(In honor of the Bar Mitzva of my nephew, Judah Jackson, Emor 5773)
Battles and wars have historically been fought over scarce resources, valued by both sides, especially food and water.
It is interesting that the Hebrew word for war (מלחמה) has, as its root, the word לחם, which means bread!
Equally intriguing are the interconnections between the Hebrew word for food (מזון) and the adjective מזוין, meaning “armed” (as in לסטים מזויין = armed robbers); טרף (prey) and מוטרף (devoured, as in טרוף, טרף יוסף = Yosef has surely been eaten up, in Bereshit 37:33); and possibly alsoמצה (as in unleavened bread) andנצה (strife, as in וכי ינצו אנשים = when two people quarrel, in Shemot 21:22).
The Hebrew word for “battle campaign” is a מערכה. The root of this word is ערך, which can bear a number of meanings:
1) Something placed in a particular order, as in: “And he (Moshe) set (ערך) the show-bread in order upon it (the Table) before God” (Shemot 40:23).
2) Value, importance, as in: “And your evaluation (ערכך) shall be of the male…fifty shekels of silver” (Vayikra 27:3); and: “Man knows not the price (ערכה) of it (wisdom)” (Iyov 28:13).
3) Compare, liken, as in: “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken (תערכו) him?” (Isaiah 40:18); and: “Neither gold nor crystal can compare (יערכנה) with it (wisdom)” (Iyov 28:17).
4) Appraisal of value, as in: “All persons are fit to evaluate or to be made the subjects of valuation” (הכל מעריכין ונערכין – Mishna, Arachin 1:1); or אני מאד מעריך (I greatly admire), in modern Hebrew.
Continuing the use of this verb in modern times:
1) שולחן עורכים, one can arrange a table, or עורכים מסמך, which means to edit a document. These are acts one does if the table or work is important enough to look neat/professional.
2) הערכות means “readiness,” while, as mentioned מערכה is a military strategic campaign or battle.
3) An עורך-דין is a lawyer, someone who “arranges” the client’s case in the best light possible!
What conclusions can be drawn from the above connections?
We fight over things that are valuable, that are important to us, things that are worth fighting over. Like the Land of Israel, in this week’s parsha, Shelach Lecha, which describes how the 10 Spies bring back a devastating report of the Land of Israel: “And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it (ארץ אוכלת יושביה)” (Bamidbar 13:32).
Yet Yehoshua and Calev strenuously disagree: “If Hashem is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Hashem. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them (literally, for they are out bread! – כי לחמנו הם). Their protection is gone, but Hashem is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Bamidbar 14:9).
Yehoshua and Calev thus urge the People not to fear that the inhabitants of the Land will devour them; to the contrary, if God desires it, we can devour them and conquer them!
This image of devouring one’s enemies is not unique to our parsha. In Sefer Devarim, for example, Moshe assures the People: “You must destroy/consume/devour (ואכלת) all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you” (Devarim 7:16).
Yet it is also possible that the root לחם connotes not antagonism, but rather connection and welding! Thus Shmuel teaches, in the Yerushalmi, Masechet Shabbat: “המלחים את התריסין חייב משום בונה” (one who solders a shield is liable for building on Shabbat). It is possible that this was the original meaning of the verb, from which derived both bread (לחם), whose dough is stuck together, in one piece, and wars (מלחמה), which were originally fought head-on, between warriors, fighting face-to-face.
Just some food for thought…