I once read that in the Inuit language there are well over 50 different words that describe snow. Following are just a few examples: tlapa for powder snow, tlacringit for now that is crusted on the surface, kayi for drifting snow, tlapat for snow that’s still, tlamo for snow that falls in large wet flakes, tlatim for snow that falls in small flakes, tlaslo for snow that falls slowly, tlapinti for snow that falls quickly, kripya for snow that has melted and refrozen, tliyel for snow that has been marked by wolves, tliyelin for snow that has been marked by Eskimos, blotla for blowing snow, pactla for snow that has been packed down and hiryla for snow in beards!
To us the only thing that matters about snow is whether it will impact driving conditions, close school and if it will be good for snowball fights. But when snow is your life, every different variation is important and matters individually, and so needs to be described accordingly.
The number of words that a language has to describe something is very telling about its people. In Italy there are 10s of different words that describe different varieties of pasta. Following are just a few examples: Bavette, Bavettine, Ciriole, Capellini, Cavatappi, Conchiglie, Ditalini, Farfalloni, Fettuccine, Fusilli, Grattoni, Lasagne (Gravagna), Linguine, Maccheroni alla molinara, Mafaldine, Manicotti, Mostaccioli, Pappardelle, Penne, Pizzoccheri, Quadrettini, Ricciolini, Rigatoni, Rotini, Sagnarelli, Spaghetti alla chitarra, Stringozzi, Tagliatelle, Tortiglioni, Tripolini, Vermicelli, Ziti. Some of these are long, some thin, some coiled, and some folded – all in different shapes, and sizes. The Italians take their pasta very seriously!
So, what do we take seriously? What concept does lashon hakodesh have many different variations for, which other languages may be able to describe in just a few basic words?
The answer is tefillah! In Yishtabach alone we utilize 15 expressions of praise for Hashem. We take prayer very seriously and spend a great deal of time and effort to understand the significance and potency that our prayers have.
Yitzchok Avinu uttered the legendary words: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov; the hands are the hands of Eisav.” We believe that talk is anything but cheap. Perhaps speech is easy, but it isn’t cheap. In fact, when Eisav declared to Yaakov, “Behold, I am going to die, so what use to me is the birthright?”, he didn’t only mean that since life is temporal he doesn’t want to be busy with the birthright. He also meant to say that he was going to die because of the birthright. He felt he could not observe all the restrictions and laws involved in serving God and he would end up dying on account of violating the laws. But more specifically than speech generally, we believe that prayers have an effect on the entire world.
In parshas Bereishis, the Torah states that after the world was created, “Hashem had not yet sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the ground” (Bereishis 2:5). Rashi explains that it did not rain because there was no man to appreciate the gift of rain. When Adam was created and understood the vital need for rain, he prayed for it and then it fell. It was the prayers of Adam that brought the rain.
The Italians enjoy their pasta, the Eskimos live in the snow, and we thrive with prayer!
At present, all of Klal Yisroel is mobilized in the war against Hamas in Gaza. Our soldiers are on the front lines. The rest of us are in the prayer brigade, accruing merits and protection for them. From the many stories and video clips that have emerged from the front in recent weeks, we know well that our prayers are literally guiding our soldiers in battle.
May Hashem protect every one of our soldiers and bring them home safely.