The Beauty of the Hebrew Language: The Connection Between Food and Fighting!

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…

The Beauty of the Hebrew Language: עברית-ערב-ערבוביה-להתערב

Hebrew, עברית, is a remarkable language in which the interrelationship between words can be vividly demonstrated.

Take, the word עברית itself. This derives from the route עבר, which means the other side. עברית was the language of Avraham the Hebrew (אברהם העברי), who came from the other side (עבר) of the Jordan River. He was also a descendant of עבר who preceded the Tower of Babel. This may also reflect an ideological difference, a sense of estrangement/otherworldliness with Avraham vis-à-vis the rest of the world (cf. – “Rabbi Yehudah says: the entire world is on one side and he is on the other side” – Bereshit Rabba 42:8).

Consonant with this motif, לעבור means to sin or transgress (literally, to pass over or across), the idea being that a transgression implies crossing over the line that divides normal action from prohibited action. And, in a borrowed or transferred sense (= העברה), an עברה can also mean a foul or penalty in a sports match!

It doesn’t take too big a stretch of imagination to see the connection with the interrelated word ערב. This means the point at which the two sides meet.ערב means evening, the time that day ends and night begins, the mingling of the day and night, the twilight. Hence, the name of the evening prayer – מעריב.

(In this vein, I once heard from the Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, that the complexity of human existence is indicated at the beginning of the Biblical Creation story. While the Creation begins in black and white (“And God separates between the light and the darkness”), human time begins with ערב (“And it was evening and it was morning – one day”). Life is presented in its rich complexity and sophistication; in the real world, issues are not usually black and white, but as intermingled shades of grey – בערבוביה. Indeed, Biblical characters are portrayed in their full complexity, each embodying a mixture of both redeeming features and fatal flaws.)

And, of course, the ערבים are Arabs, collections of many peoples who existed in the Middle East and who became intermingled through battles and natural migration. Hence the word עירבוב , which means a mixture of two or more diverse items.

To bet, which means that each person puts his money into a pot and the winner takes all is להתערב; while a co-signer, who accepts the obligations of a borrower is called an ערב, since he mixes in with the borrower and assumes his responsibilities.

I think you’ve got the point now, but just in case there are still doubters…

A ferryboat or shuttle is a מעבורת, while traffic is תעבורה; להתעבר means to become pregnant, with עובר, a fetus; and, of course, a leap year is a שנה מעוברת.

Over and out…

Tip 10 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: Signing one’s Will before a Notary – What are the Advantages?חתימה על צוואה בפני נוטריון

Do I need to sign my Will before a Notary?

By Israeli law, your Will is valid if signed in the presence of two or more ordinary witnesses over the age of 18 who are present and witness the Will at the same time as you sign. Both you and the two witnesses must be of sound mind, and none of you should be related.

Are there any advantages to signing a Will before a Notary?

As mentioned above, by Israeli law, a last will and testament is valid if signed by its maker (known also as the ‘testator’/’testatrix’) in the presence of two ordinary witnesses. At times, however, a person making a will may choose to sign it before an Israeli Notary. The Notary confirms that the will has been read to the testator and that the testator declared of his own volition that it was his last will. The advantage of signing a will before a Notary is two-fold:

  • the testator may state his will orally or in writing in the Notary’s presence, without the need for any additional witnesses;
  • a notarial will has stronger weight than other types of wills under Israeli law (it is akin to a will signed before a judge), thus eliminating the potential for any future claims of fraudulent signature by the testator, such as on the basis of undue influence or duress, which might result in the will’s disqualification.

Notarized Wills can thus be kept totally secret – no-one need know of their existence; and the presumption will be that the testator was of sound mind and memory and free from any influence or duress whatsoever, when signing his Will.

For further advice and assistance in making an Israeli or UK Will, feel free to contact Simon: 0737-40-60-40 / 0545-742-374 /

Between “Vayikra” and Bamidbar” בין “ויקרא” ל-“במדבר”

Between “Vayikra” and Bamidbar”

The book of “Vayikra” is characterized by permanence, holiness (the Temple, the Cohanim, the People, the Land), of static encampment around the Temple, and the world it represents of eternal and timeless values, ideals and goals.

By contrast, the book of “Bamidbar” is permeated by dynamism, change and fluctuation (both of the camp and of the People in their moods), the present and being constantly “on the move,” roving through the barren wilderness.

In the Ramban’s words on the verse in our parsha, Be-ha’alotecha: “If the cloud would linger upon the Tabernacle for a number of days” (Bamidbar 9:20): “This means around two or three days, and even if the People were very weary and weak [so that they would have preferred to encamp longer in their present location to rest longer], nevertheless they would do the will of God to walk after the cloud, as the verse concludes: “according to the word of Hashem they would encamp and according to the word of Hashem they would journey.”

Which is more important: the fixed ideals or the transient reality?

The late Rabbi Dr. Yosef Burg, one of the founders of the Israeli National Religious Party, was once asked by an Israeli journalist: which to him was the more important – “Religion” or “Zionism”?

His immediate response was – “the hyphen”!

Both are important, both contribute to the greater whole; or, to paraphrase Albert Einstein: Zionism without Religion is Lame, Religion without Zionism is blind.

Of course, we can never lose sight of the Sefer Vayikra idealism. “Our nation is a nation only through its Torah” in the words of 10th century sage and philosopher, Sa’adia Gaon (Emunot V’De’ot 3:7). Yet, we dare not see the proverbial cup only as being half empty.

There is a time to censure and criticize. Yet there is also a time to give thanks and celebrate. Whether we choose to go as far as one leading Religious-Zionist Rabbi, who, when asked whether he believed we had yet reached the “beginning of the flourishing of our redemption,” quipped: “No, we are in the middle of the flourishing of our redemption”; or another, who when criticized as to how he could take God’s Name in vain by reciting the b’racha of She’cheyanu on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, responded: “If on a new tie, an individual blesses She’cheyanu, shouldn’t this follow automatically for a new State for the Jewish people?!” – is a matter for each person to decide.

But, we cannot ignore the need to have a healthy sense of historical perspective. As my late Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital z”l, would often say: When we see, after two thousand years, children playing in the streets of Israel, in the squares of Jerusalem – this cannot be a natural phenomenon! This is the fulfillment of the simple, pastoral description of normalcy prophesied: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall yet again dwell in the streets of Jerusalem… and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: If it will be wondrous in the eyes of the remnant of this nation in those days, it will also be wondrous in my eyes, says the Lord of hosts” (Zecharia 8:4-6).

“We have prevailed in worse times and we shall prevail now,” Rav Amital would stress. “But we have to know that without a strong sense of history we shall not be able to understand what is happening here. If we fail to take our past into account, we will not understand the future, and even our appreciation of the present will be perverted.”

And, yet, to see only the present, without a sense of historical perspective, is equally damaging. This was the sin of the Spies in next week’s parsha. In a revealing piece of psychology in the Spies’ demoralizing account, they state: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and [therefore] this is how we were perceived by them [the giant descendants of Anak]” (Bamidbar 13:33).

Let us not forget: the Children of Israel were on the verge of entering the Promised Land – just 11 days’ journey from Mount Sinai where they received the Torah (see Devarim 1:2)! Their clarion-call should have been in unison with Calev’s restatement of the Divine promise: “Let us go up at once, and take possession of it; for we are well able to overcome it” (13:30). Yet these leaders lost confidence in their own abilities, became enslaved by their hearts and their eyes, and do despaired of God’s assurance of victory.

“There is no such thing as ‘I can’t’, only ‘I don’t want’ runs one popular Israeli military idiom. A country cannot be won, a state cannot be realized, the ideals of holiness and purity cannot stand firm, without first being ready and willing to drain the swamps, to reclaim the land, to sweat and toil. The Spies failed to realize this, thus sealing the fate of an entire generation to roam as nomads through the wilderness in which they would eventually die, without reaching the land of their destination.

And, sadly, when the people did wake up to their sense of Divine mission, later on in next week’s parsha, and tried to make amends, with the belated sounds of “Let us go and ascend to the place which God promised – for we have sinned” (14:40), the Amalekites drove them back (14:45). They had missed the golden opportunity, which sometimes presents itself only once in a lifetime.

May we merit to integrate the ideals of Sefer Vayikra into the fluctuating world of Sefer Bamibdar.

Shabbat shalom!

Tip 9 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: Signing of Wills and the procedure for changing Wills once signed

What is the procedure for signing my Will?

Once you have approved the wording of your Will, you should:

  • Print out two copies of the Will (three copies if you are a couple), one for each of you and one for the executor, if one has been nominated in the Will.
  • Sign and date the final page of the Will, in the presence of two independent, adult witnesses (who should be of sound mind and not related to each other or to you).
  • Append your initials at the bottom of the other pages of the Will.
  • After you have signed and dated the Will, the witnesses should sign their names where indicated on the final page of both copies of the Will. They should then add their full names, I.D. numbers and addresses beneath their signatures.
  • Finally, the witnesses should also append their initials at the bottom of the other pages of the Will.
  • One of the signed Wills should be kept by you in a safe place, while the other should be delivered to your executor (if one has been nominated under the Will).
What is the procedure for changing my Will once it has been signed?

Your Will can be changed whenever you wish, either by means of a codicil (nispach, in Hebrew) or simply by drafting a new Will (which is usually the cleanest and best option, assuming the original Will has been saved on the computer).

It is advisable to review one’s Will for any important changes at regular intervals (for example, once every five years).

That said, ideally one’s original Will should be drafted in such a way, as to obviate the need for any simple changes – for example, by avoiding naming one’s children who Will inherit in equal shares, when further children might be born in the years ahead (or, alternatively, stating: “My children now living are…”).

For further advice and assistance in making an Israeli or UK Will, feel free to contact Simon: 0737-40-60-40 / 0545-742-374 /

Tip 8 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: How does a trustee differ from an executor, and when ought one be appointed in my Will?

Tip 8 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: What is a trustee and when ought one be appointed in my Will?

What is the difference between an executor and a trustee?

The executors distribute and administer the testator’s estate after his death. The trustees Will take over and manage any trust to be created under the Will once the estate administration has been completed.

When ought a trustee be appointed?

Trustees may not always be required. In the case of a simple Will, there is usually no need to create a trust. In other more complex situations the testator may need to create a trust, such as where a minor beneficiary has an interest in the estate and the property cannot be distributed to that minor as he cannot give a good receipt, or where the testator does not wish the minor to inherit his interest in the estate until he reaches a certain age (often 21 in Israel, after the conclusion of IDF service).

For further advice and assistance in making an Israeli or UK Will, feel free to contact Simon: 0737-40-60-40 / 0545-742-374 /

The Value of the Individual and the Value of Community (Parshat Naso)

We’re All Individuals

Knowing as we do how careful and sparing the Torah is in its use of words, it is particularly surprising to read, in the second half of this week’s long parsha, how the Torah records each leader’s identical celebratory offering in honor of the Tabernacle. The uniformity of the twelve sets of gifts is absolute, each price seemingly being totally conformist to his predecessor.

The great Spanish commentator, Ramban, cites the Midrash, which explains, inter alia, that the idea occurred to each one of the leaders independently to bring a dedication offering for the Altar, and that it should be of the particular size detailed in the verses. However, Nachshon, the prince of the tribe of Judah, intended with this amount one reason (reflecting the succession of monarchy), and independently of him each of the other leaders intended this same amount for a separate reason (Netanel of the tribe of Yisachar offered his donation as a symbol of the Torah, while the leader of Zevulun offered his donation in correspondence to the fact that his tribe would engage in maritime commerce, and from its earnings sustain Yisachar and take an equal reward with him in the Torah study engendered; etc.)

In the words of Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb: “Although the gifts all shared common explicit language, the thoughts and emotions behind each gift differed from prince to prince. Each lent a different kavanah, a distinct unspoken meaning, to his gifts. And that meaning was based upon the unique nature of each prince and the tribe he represented. The gifts were all the same; the underlying intentions were as different as one can imagine. The lyrics were identical; the melody, different.”

Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (RaLbaG), a French commentator and philosopher living around the same time as the Ramban, suggests a very different answer. Ralbag notes the ethical lesson that the Torah is impressing upon us: “It is not appropriate for a person (X) to deviate from his fellows’ behavior, when they have agreed to carry out a certain beneficial, public act, to enable him to lord it above them or to shame them, when people will say: X acted in this manner, while Y and Z only did this. Therefore, the Torah went out of its way to relate the praise of the princes, who were equal; none of them deviated from his fellows’ behavior, and for this reason their intentions approximated those of God Himself.”

Our parsha indicates that the Torah sanctions individualistic behavior (consider the examples of the convert, the Cohen, the Nazirite etc.), and the need, at times, to go against the trend. However, one should not be different purely for the sake of being different. Where there is no good reason to the contrary, one can assume that the majority is right and worthy of emulation.

Shabbat shalom!

Tip 7 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: Should family members be appointed as one’s executor? Should an alternate executor be appointed?

Tip 7 of 10 of “Tips and Tricks on Making a Will in Israel”: Should family members be appointed as one’s executor? Should an alternate executor be appointed?

You can choose either a person or a trust company to act as your executor. If you choose a person to be your executor he or she must be 18 years or older. Most people choose a relative or close friend as executor. If your estate is large or complicated you may wish to appoint a professional person to act as your executor, such as your lawyer or accountant, or even both.

Family members will usually agree to administer the estate without taking a fee. If you wish to name a family member in your Will, you should always discuss the role with the person in advance so that the person you choose knows what is involved with the job. Remember, also, that the person you name in your Will as executor has the right to refuse to act as your executor. Being a financial or legal expert is not necessary, as long as your executors have access to competent advisors to advise and assist them in the administration of the estate. However, executors cannot leave important decisions to others, such as whether to sell an asset or whether to invest in shares or bonds.

By contrast, if your estate is large or complicated, or you prefer not to have friends or family act as your executor, or you feel that family members of friends do not have the necessary time or experience, you should consider appointing a professional executor, despite the fact that such a person Will expect to be paid for their professional services rendered when winding up an estate. Professionals may offer the familiarity with tax law, investment management, real estate or business administration which is required to administer your estate.

Should I choose an alternate executor?
Yes, you should appoint an alternate to replace your executor in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to act as executor at your death. Even if you have chosen your spouse to be your executor it is a good idea to choose an alternate. If your executor is unable to act and you have not named an alternate in your Will, the Probate Court will have to appoint one, assuming an executor is required.

For further advice and assistance in making an Israeli or UK Will, feel free to contact Simon: 0737-40-60-40 / 0545-742-374 /

Parshat Bechukotai - Berlin is Jerusalem?!

There is a very famous “Meshech Chochma” on this week’s second parsha, Bechukotai. On the Tochecha in Vayikra (26:44), R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926) adds the following philosophical gloss:

“If the Jew thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem … then a raging storm wind will uproot him by his trunk and subject him before a faraway gentile nation… a tempest will arise and spread its roaring waves, and swallow, and destroy, and flood forth without pity. Therefore, you will not be calm, nor shall there be a resting place for the sole of your foot is a blessing, for as long as the Jewish People are uncomfortable in exile, they will yearn to return to their homeland.”

Twenty-five years before the Shoah, Rabbi Meir Simcha was a strong supporter of the settlement of Eretz Yisrael and greeted the Balfour Declaration with enthusiasm. He also believed that in order for a Rabbi to be a true leader of his community, he must be fluent in the language of the land. In this famous near-prophetic passage written before 1926, he presents a brilliant theory of Jewish history in the Diaspora and asserts that those who forget their origins, thinking “Berlin is Jerusalem,” are doomed to destruction.

The big question, however, is whether the Meshech Chochma intended “Berlin” in a geographical sense, or in an ideological sense? Perhaps, his diatribe is against the liberalized Berlin-philosophy – whether this was in Germany or, indeed, in (modern-day) Eretz Yisrael?

Any thoughts?