Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bit at a time Hebrew -- Genesis 1:1 c

The end of Genesis 1:1.

א בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:

Transliteration: B’reshit bara elohim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-arets.
Translation:     At the beginning Gd created the heaven and the earth
Letters in this lesson: בּ, ר, א, שׁ, י, ת, ל, וֹ, ה, ם, שּׁ, מ, ץ

Vocabulary in this lesson:

on, in, at, by (swear by), with (by means of), against
at the beginning
direct object particle
הַ, הָ
and, or, continuation particle
earth, land, world

Now notice that the bet of the first two words has dagesh both times.  The first bet comes at the start of a sentence with nothing in front of it.  The second bet comes after a tav.  The first word of the Torah ends in what is called a “closed” sound, so the following bet has to take dagesh.

You’ll see these things over and over and get used to them. 

Verbs.  Semitic languages have a common feature about their verbs.  Verb roots have mostly three letters, although a few have two letters and some have four.

Verbs change for tense (past, aorist, present, future); for person (1st, 2nd, 3rd), for number (singular and plural), for gender (masculine and feminine), and also for something called binyan.  This word comes from a root meaning “build”.  You build verbs from roots by adding: prefixes; suffixes (usually person, number, and gender); and infixes.  “Infix” means, there is a binyan which adds letters in the middle of the root.

The binyan often controls shades of meaning based on the root but this isn’t always true.  Sometimes a verb will look like a particular binyan of a root but the real meaning is not a shade on the root, not even close.

Today’s verb, bara, has the root bet resh alef .  It is the past tense of the simplest binyan, the paal or, as it is sometimes called, the qal which means “simple”.  I know it is past tense because of the vowels.  This past tense can be used like a simple past tense, “created,” but it can also be used like a past perfect, “had created.”  Later – like about 31 lessons from now – I will show you in what sense this verse can be taken as past perfect.

A famous aggadah (story) about this verse is that before the world was created, all the letters came to Gd (that’s a Jewish way of spelling His Name) and wanted to be THE letter that Torah started with.  They all had pluses and minuses, but when it got to bet, the thing Gd focused on was that this was the first letter of barukh, “blessed be,” which is how all blessings start, and b’rakhah, blessing, and Gd meant the world to be for a blessing, as well as there being a custom of saying barukh-whatever all the time.  You say a blessing when you see the sun rise, you say one when it goes down, you say one for lightning, you say one when you hear bad news, and they all start with barukh.  During a performance of Fiddler on the Roof I embarrassed my sister by laughing much too loudly when Motl and Tzeitel asked the rabbi to bless their new sewing machine.  He said Barukh p’ri ha-sewing machine, Blessed be the fruit of the sewing machine.

No, no, one more thing.  I haven’t taught you about the vowels.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment