June 25, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 25, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

With the festival of Sukkot mere hours away, I cannot help but feel that the age-old, hallowed practice of na’anuim (shaking of the four species) has become mechanical in nature. While providing moralistic teachings about waving the etrog, the palm branch, the willow, and the myrtle in six different directions is not within the purview of the article, I take it upon myself to teach about na’anuim from a different perspective. Perhaps the time has come to introduce the following Yiddish vocabulary, which is part and parcel of na’anuim.

Rechts (to the right). It took 10 generations after the creation of Adam for any mention to be made in the Torah regarding heading in one direction and not the other. And even then, it was a conciliatory effort on the part of our patriarch Abram to avoid strife between himself and his nephew Lot, as well as between his herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. Abram presents Lot with a choice: If Lot and his herdsmen prefer to head to the left, then Abram and his herdsmen will head rechts.

Links (to the left). Close to a century ago, Yaakov Fichman and Davis Zahavi teamed up and produced a song popular among the pioneers in pre-state Israel. Titled “Orchah Bamidbar, or Desert Caravan,” it describes an unyielding, inhospitable desert. Had the words to that song been composed in Yiddish, the opening words would have been rechts oon links, alluding to the omnipresent sand that turned desert travel into arduous travail. Appearing in different form, the term linkeh referred to those of our people with socialist leanings.

Oiben (above). When describing those sitting up on the dais or those accorded seats of honor, one typically remarks “zee iz gezessen foon oiben on” (she was sitting up above). I could be wrong, but it seems to me that many a Yiddish speaker yielded to Lithuanian regional Yiddish pronunciation when referring to Hashem. Rather than employ the appellative Dehr Oibershtehr (the One Above), many seem to be most comfortable to speak of our Heavenly Father as Dehr Aybershtehr.

Oonten (below). There is a fascinating conversation in the midrash between Rabbi Yossi ben Halafta and a Roman matron concerning Hashem’s activities since creating the world. “How does your Creator remain occupied?” asked the Roman matron. “By serving as a heavenly matchmaker,” answered the rabbi. The explanation given by Rabbi Yossi ben Halafta lives on in the world of Yiddish aphorisms. “Gott zeetzt foon oiben oon porret foon oonten” (God sits up above and pairs off down below).

Aheen oon tzooreek (there and back). Typically, aheen joins with ahehr and is presented in the negative as in “nisht aheen oon nisht ahehr.” That’s precisely what the cashier remarked when he had to decide what to charge me for my hodgepodge lunch at a cafeteria in Petach Tikvah. On Sukkot, however, aheen joins with tzooreek to present the Yiddish equivalent of “to and fro.” The four species are extended and retracted “aheen oon tzooreek” three times in each direction as the practice of na’anuim is fulfilled.

Reechtoong (direction). Several years ago, my wife and I were at a shopping mall in Budapest. We were supposed to meet the rest of our group at a kosher restaurant for dinner. Rather than take a cab, we decided to walk. I approached a security guard and tried English and French as a common language. It was of no avail. The security guard did however speak German. Thereupon, I showed him the location of the restaurant on the map and inquired “diese richtung?” (This direction)?

As we take up the lulav and etrog this Sunday morning for the first time, let us not have to look for direction. The first letters of rechts and links ought to indicate right and left. The “b” of oiben and the “n” of oonten should serve to remind us of above and under (below). The final letter “k” in aheen oon tzoorik prompts us to think of the final letter in the word “back” as in “there and back” (to and fro). Various traditional explanations have been provided for na’anuim. With the High Holy Days behind us, perhaps it is incumbent upon us to focus on the proper reechtoong that we need to take for the year.


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles