Last Night of Hanukkah: “These Candles”

December 8, 2010

Finally, a translation of “hallalu”!

It means “these.”

In traditional Jewish practice HaNeirot Hallalu is recited immediately after lighting the Hanukkah candles.  The first two words of this paragraph-long prayer — which occur twice there in the exact same form — are usually translated as “these candles.”

That second word, hallalu, is tantalizingly similar to Hebrew words meaning things like “shine brightly” and “sing praises.”  However, as we discussed in my Advanced-Intermediate Hebrew class last night, the word doesn’t fit grammatically with these meanings, or with any Hebrew verb or adjective.

According to Klein: halah = m. & f. pronoun THAT. [Formed from the definite article ha… plus the deictic element …l. Compare with hallalu.] So “hallalu” is the plural pronoun, translated THESE.

Question: Why doesn’t the prayer use the more common plural demonstrative for “these,” i.e., “ha-eileh”?
Answer: I don’t know.

Still, it was extremely satisfying to find the correct translation.  It was fun looking up the English word “deictic,” too.

After lighting the candles and reciting the blessings, and also after reciting HaNeirot Hallalu, it is traditional to sing songs such as Ma’oz Tzur, Mi Yimaleil, S’vivon, etc.

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The Moon and the Month

October 18, 2010
The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. So...

Look upward and see the almost-full moon.   When the moon becomes completely full, you’ll know it’s the 15th of the current Jewish month.   Right now we’re in the month of Heshvan.

Or, just remember that in the Jewish calendar the new moon is always the new month.  In fact the Hebrew noun for “month” is HOdesh, and the Hebrew adjective for “new” is haDASH. Their shared linguistic root is perfectly obvious.

The new moon/month is always occasion for a Jewish holiday.  It’s called Rosh Hodesh in Hebrew, literally “head of the month.”   (Recall that Rosh haShanah means “head of the year.”)

Paradoxically, the English word “month” comes from the English word “moon,” and yet they are not (any longer) tied together.   Can you look up at the sky and be able to tell that it’s October 18?

Tishrei 30: Everything You Do Matters

October 8, 2010

Have you ever stopped to think that everything you do matters?

Today is the last of our 60-day spiritual journey.  Today’s theme for contemplating, journal writing, and awareness, is “Everything You Do Matters.”  Quoting from Rabbi Jacobson:

“In Jewish mystical thought, space, time, and matter are understood to be forces of Divine energy — sparks that fell to earth at the time of Creation, which became embedded in all aspects of existence; these sparks must be elevated in holiness for the world to achieve perfection as per the Divine plan.

This is why the little things you do in life are sometimes more important than the big things — the journey is sometimes as or more important than the final destination: going to work, people you meet on the way there, the cup of coffee you drink while waiting for the bus, the piece of paper you throw in the trash can — all are changed by your actions.”

I wish I could remember this wisdom more constantly.   It’s not that I don’t believe it — it seems powerfully true.  But sometimes when things are hard, or I have to make difficult choices, I forget that everything I do matters.  When I’m fortunate enough to remember (or read about it!), life feels better.  More complicated, perhaps, but in a good way.  It really does require stopping to think about.  I hope it matters that I’m posting this today.

It’s a new moon.   Tishrei is over.  Heshvan is beginning.*  Time to move on, and try to remember: every little thing matters.

Hebrew vocabulary:

*Heshvan = a month of the Jewish calendar

mar = bitter

This new month is sometimes called Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan,” because it has no holidays in it.

(or Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan, because it has no holiday

Recommended Text Book for Biblical Hebrew

October 6, 2010

The First Hebrew Primer, Third Edition: The Adult Beginner’s Path to Biblical Hebrew, by Simon, Resnikoff, and Motzkin.  EKS Publishing.

This is the text book I’ve used most for teaching Biblical Hebrew to adults over the past thirteen years.  It’s useful to students ranging from rank beginners to advanced, whether you’re studying on your own, working one-on-one with a tutor, or participating in a group class.  NOTE: This is not a hard-core serious grammar such as one might study in a university context; rather, this text is aimed at adults studying Hebrew part-time, who have only a few hours per week to devote to it.

This book starts at the very beginning, with the Hebrew alphabet.  Eventually, over the course of 30 chapters, it provides the advanced student with instruction regarding five of the seven binyanim (Hebrew verb structures), all two and a half tenses of Hebrew verb conjugation, guided readings through the Book of Ruth, and lists of the most-used vocabulary in Biblical  Hebrew.

It’s not perfect, but then no Biblical-Hebrew text book is.  My students keep asking me to write one myself, based on the way I teach; maybe I’ll do that soon.  In the meantime, this is the existing text book I recommend most.

Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

Tishrei 27: Four Days Left in the Journey

October 4, 2010

Finished-off sukkah after post-holiday storm.

The setting of this evening’s sun ushered in the 27th day of Tishrei, which means there are four days left of our 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei, including the Jewish High Holidays.  Perhaps your sukkah was vulnerable enough to be destroyed by a post-holiday storm.  The mahzorim (High-Holiday prayer books) have been packed away, the Torah rewound back to the beginning.  Winter’s coming, it’s time to get back to work.

But don’t let go of your spiritual travels of the past two months!  It’s not too late to reflect on the Eternal Moments you may have experienced, even record them in writing.  The task before us now is to draw in all that Divine energy we felt during the holidays, let it fill us, and turn our inspiration into action.  There are blessings to be said, people to be loved, Hebrew to be learned, a broken world in need of our help.

Judaism teaches us not to abandon the material world or separate ourselves from it, but rather to transform every “mundane” thing into a holy one.

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…

Ongoing Torah Study in Concord, MA

September 28, 2010

Ongoing Torah Study: Hebrew Roots
Delve deeper into Hebrew texts by examining the Divine, mystical three-letter “DNA” roots of Hebrew words.

When: Tuesday morning, October 5, 2010, 10:15 AM-12:15 PM

Where: Kerem Shalom
659 Elm St.
Concord, MA  01742

Tuition:
October 5: Free

Possible class on Tuesday mornings in 2011, 10:15 AM-12:15 PM
January 11, 18, 25
February 1, 8, 15
March 1, 8
Tuition ~ $150
Information:
Natasha Shabat –  learnhebrew@natashashabat.com
Registration:
Rosalie Gerut –  rosaliege@comcast.net
Kerem Shalom:
www.keremshalom.org

Hebrew Comes Alive in Concord, MA

September 28, 2010

You’re familiar with Barukh atah… but what happens after v’tzivanu? Join master Hebrew teacher Natasha Shabat in exploring a variety of familiar and not-so-familiar Hebrew blessings as a jumping-off point for expanding your knowledge and understanding of Hebrew.  We’ll study blessings for Shabbat and holidays, for different types of food, for greeting the morning, greeting an old friend, and more!  The level of Hebrew instruction will depend on the level of interested students.

Sheheheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higi’anu…

When: Eight Monday evenings,  7:00-8:30 PM
October 18, 25
November 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
December 6

Where: Kerem Shalom
659 Elm St.
Concord, MA  01742

Tuition:
Members of Kerem Shalom: $10/class
Non-members: $15/class
If class size is very small, tuition will be higher.

Information: Natasha Shabat –  learnhebrew@natashashabat.com

Registration: Rosalie Gerut –  rosaliege@comcast.net

Kerem Shalom: www.keremshalom.org