I learned enough Hebrew to get through my Bar Mitzvah… and then, when that was done, much of it left my brain. The prayers stayed in there, but the meaning and understanding began to fade. I keep wanting to get back into it… actually go much deeper than I had before, but life keeps distracting me. I need to get rid of the excuses and just do it.In order to fully understand the prayers and Torah, Hebrew is essential. There is a subtlety and nuance that does not always come across, especially in translation… even in seemingly great translations like the ArtScroll Siddur. Here is a case in point:
When I went to my friend Howard’s Pirkei Avos class a few weeks back, Howard was not there, but he had sent Michael in his place to continue with the lesson. In Pirkei Avos 6:6 we learn that the Torah is acquired by means of 48 qualities. We delved into several parts of these, but focused on the following: “limited business activity, limited sexual activity, limited pleasure, limited sleep, limited conversation and limited laughter.”
Hmmm… Okay… moderation makes sense… everything in its proper place and time. We don’t want to be working all the time… Sex needs to limited… But limiting sleep and laughter? Ideally we need eight hours of sleep to stay healthy… and laughter is healing and empowering and joyous, so why would we want to limit it? I mean, sure, we need to work, and take care of ourselves and our family, so we can’t be laughing 24/7, but the word “limited” seemed odd to me.
The word in question, which confused me, is טועמבּ. ArtScroll translates it to “limited,” but Michael said the more accurate translation is “with a little.”
Ah ha!!! That one change turned a light bulb on… That one change made a HUGE difference… The right translation or at least understanding made all the difference.
Yes, I got frustrated and asked why ArtScroll did not have this particular and specific translation. It just makes so much more sense. I got frustrated that my lack of truly understanding Hebrew did not allow me to get there on my own, or quickly, but this change made so much sense to me…
In order to acquire Torah we need a little work, a little sex, a little pleasure, a little sleep, a little conversation and a little laughter. Instead of “limiting” those things, or even eliminating them, and making them seem wrong and taboo, this translation made this a list of things we NEED TO DO in order to understand and appreciate Torah.
Life is all about balance. We need to not go to the extremes in any one thing or area, so the idea of limited does make sense in that regard… but we also need to make sure we include certain things and keep them in the mix. A little of this… a little of that… It sounds like a great recipe for life and living… and for accessing Torah.
The more accurate translation and an appreciation and understanding of the nuances of Hebrew words and their true meanings gave me great insight and clarity. I can see it opening up the Torah, and other lessons and teachings in a much more insightful and powerful way, and certainly opening up the world to me… And isn’t that what it is all about? Judaism should OPEN our world.Torah is a blueprint for living. It teaches us right from wrong and how to make the most of the life and the world we are given. It teaches us how to live. And yet in order to get TO Torah, we need to make sure we are already living life fully. We need to bring all of that to our study and dedication.
Hashem wants us to have pleasures and joys, laughter and intimacy, and in turn, this is what Torah will also provide us. It is all right there, literally in a word… a Hebrew word.