Monday, May 15, 2017

Hearing the Words through the Generations

היום ארבעה ושלשים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה ימים, בעמר
Today is thirty-four days, which is four weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבהוד
A day of foundation in a week of humility

I've heard it said that all translation is commentary. That is certainly true when it comes to Tanakh and other Jewish texts. Hebrew is the language of those texts, the language of our liturgy. As one who studies those texts and translates that liturgy, I am keenly aware how much can change with different connotations of words and phrases.

For instance, what is often translated as "obey God" is usually, in the literal translation from Hebrew, a variation of "hear the voice of God." To me, those bring up two different reactions, giving me two different ways to look at the relationship between God and the Israelites in the Torah.

It was pointed out to me by a biblical historian that in the culture of ancient times, "hearing the voice of..." was a phrase that meant "obey." To that I say, fine, but that is not what reads to me. And that is the magic of sacred scripture--that it is how it is able to speak to each generation in its time using the same language.

The Torah is a foundation of my life, and I am humbled by ancients who created it, keeping its messages and stories accessible from culture to culture––from language to language––לדור ודור l'dor v'dor from generation to generation.

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