Friday, January 21, 2022

When we return the Torah to the aron (ark), we say the phrase from the end of Eicha, Lamentations: Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha vinashuva, chadesh yamenu ki’kedem: Hashem, return us, restore us, accept us, and we will return. Renew our days as they were in the past.

When we hear a tune from our youth, or a smell that we are familiar with from our childhood, it brings us right back to a simpler place and time. When we see the house or the neighborhood we grew up in, or when we see a childhood friend, we return (hopefully) to a feel-good time.

Those who breathed new life into Ivrit, Hebrew, a language that had not been spoken by the majority for generations, and made it a common vernacular, were brilliant. The likes of Eliezer Ben Yehuda and countless others looked for sources and the roots of words within our roots as a people. At the time of the rebirth of the country, and perhaps even now, there were those who saw our nation as a religion versus those who saw it as a culture. Even those who returned to the land and were secular wanted to connect to the past. They formulated words rooted in Tanach, the Torah, Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). The source for the name Yad Vashem, for example, the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, is in the haftarah read on a fast day. Isaiah 56:5: וְנָתַתִּ֨י לָהֶ֜ם בְּבֵיתִ֤י וּבְחֽוֹמֹתַי֙ יָ֣ד וָשֵׁ֔ם—I will give them in My house and in My walls a place and a name (Yad VaShem). Poskim rely on concepts established long ago and apply them to new challenges and situations never previously imagined or encountered.

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Beshalach, we recount how we left Egypt. We left in a hurry and in chaos. When it came to defending ourselves (Exodus 13:17), the pasuk states:

וַֽחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם. In its simplest form, the word chamushim means “they were armed.” If we look just a little deeper into the word, we see the word chamesh, five, within the word chamushim. How are these connected? Armaments at the time were a sword, a spear or a dagger. They were held in one’s hand with all five fingers, hence the word chamushim. Even the English term, armor, or armaments, has the word “arm” at its root. Arms, meaning weapons, were and are an extension of a soldier’s arm. Armor protects the individual from the “arms” of others. Armaments can be defensive or offensive: fortress, tanks, missiles, Iron Dome. The modern word for guns, armaments and ammunition is tachmoshet. A handgun is held with five fingers and a rifle is held in both hands. One rearms their gun using five fingers. The modern word tachmoshet takes its source from the biblical word chamushim.

Givat HaTachmoshet was a fortified Jordanian military post in the northern part of Jordanian-ruled East Jerusalem and the western slope of Mount Scopus. It was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War and it was crucial in recapturing Jerusalem. It is now a national memorial site. It is well worth a visit when you are in Jerusalem.

Whenever possible, those who formulated modern Hebrew created new words that have the same or are similar to roots of words in Tanach. What is old is new again.

Dr. Moshe Roth is a developmental optometrist. Sight, insight, foresight and hindsight are all sub-parts of vision.

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