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Hooked on Hebrew (Part 1)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 9:09
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News From Jerusalem

By Lilly Cohen

Hebrew Alphabet

Hebrew Alphabet

It wasn’t love at first sight for me and Jerusalem. Oh no. I fell in love with my beautiful city long before laying eyes on her for the first time. I knew full well that her golden beauty would enchant me, that I would leave my heart in her tiny cobbled alleyways. Of course it was different from what I’d imagined. Isn’t it always? But all in all, I loved Jerusalem as much as I thought I would. And on some days, I loved her even more.

But my love-affair with the Hebrew language started off slightly different. Probably because I had no expectations. And no clue, for that matter. My vocabulary extended to a tentative “mazal tov” and the lyrics of “Shalom aliechem” (which, in hindsight, I had all wrong). Hebrew and I didn’t fall in love at first sight – or first sound if you want to get all technical about it. It was a slower courtship. At first the signs were subtle. I’d catch myself swooning over the hypnotic guttural rhythms. Over the rise and fall of staccato sounds punctuated by passionate hand gestures. But above all, my heart skipped a beat at the soft purring “r” that rolled from the tongue like a contented cat. Oh I fell in love with Hebrew slowly, cautiously. But once I fell, I fell hard. There was no use denying it: I’d become hooked on Hebrew.

But it wasn’t simply a passing fascination with the strange sounds that had become so familiar to me. Probably because Hebrew isn’t just another language. See, I started noticing the fingerprints, or rather, the whisper of God, in the ancient sounds, in the words and phrases of Modern Hebrew.

My first introduction came wrapped in one of God’s names. I’m your typical girly girl. Romantic heart. Enamoured by epic love stories. Especially the kind where the brave hero defeats the forces of evil to rescue his heroine. Which is why my heart sighs every time I hear God calling Himself the Lord of Hosts. Because a host is an army. And the heavenly hosts? Well, that would be the army of heaven, of angels then. And if God calls Himself the Lord of Hosts, then that makes Him the Supreme Commander of the Armies of Heaven. A Supreme Commander, no less, Who battled the forces of evil to rescue us, His beloved.

All well and good, but what does that have to do with Hebrew? A lot actually. Because way back in Biblical times, God wouldn’t have introduced Himself in English. He’d have used Hebrew, the language spoken since the beginning of time. So as the Supreme Commander of the Armies of Heaven, God would have introduced Himself as Adonai Tseva’ot.

Which brings me back to Modern Hebrew. And the fingerprints and whispers of God still so evident in the everyday words and phrases. Because today, the Hebrew equivalent for Israel Defence Force (IDF) is Tzava Hagana leIsrael. If tzava is Hebrew for army. And hagana means defence. Then the direct translation is much as you’d expect: the army of defence to Israel. But back to the first word: tzava or army. Because the plural of tzava is tseva’ot. Which means armies or hosts. Which is exactly the same word used when God introduces Himself as Adonai Tseva’ot, the Lord of Hosts.

Am I trying to draw an analogy, to show a parallel between the two concepts? Absolutely not. See, the point I’m making is much less intellectual. It borders on the ordinary, the routine, the blink-and-you-miss it. Because woven into the everyday words and phrases of Modern Hebrew I see the fingerprints and the whisper of God. In the hypnotic guttural rhythms, in the rise and fall of the staccato sounds and in the soft purring “r” like a contented cat I am reminded. That God was there. He was. That God is still here. And that true to His Word, He will always continue to be there.

Which is why I’m hooked on Hebrew. Well, it’s one of the reasons anyway. And the other? Ah, now that one is all about prophecy, all about how God remains faithful and true to His word. Because Modern Hebrew is the fulfilment of a promise. It’s another piece in a grand and majestic puzzle. And it’s another piece of evidence. That if God said it, He will also do it. To be continued…

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