Thursday, July 6, 2017

21st Century Bible Hebrew -- et

Genesis 1:4
ד וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאוֹר כִּי־טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ:
Translation:     Gd must have manifested the light for it was good, for Gd separated the light and the darkness.
And now for a little word that you’ve seen in this verse for the third time, et. It has driven grammarians and translators crazy for years and I only developed my explanation of it in the last 12 months or so. Here goes.
Et is the transliteration for two different pronunciations of a particle used in Biblical Hebrew only with the direct object of a transitive verb.  However, it is not always used when a direct object is expressed nor are there any specific words that always use it.
One pronunciation of this word is with a short “e” marked as segol, the triangle of dots standing on its point. This version is always written with NO tonal markings or trop, and it is ALWAYS followed by a dash and then the word it goes with.
I will show from now on that this version marks a distinction from something else being discussed.  In some places, it has the nuance of falling short of a standard. We’ll come across one later. When used with kal, it means “every, each one of.”
So in this verse, Gd manifested et the light. What’s the distinction? We’re distinguishing the light from the dark.  Remember, the dark was all that was perceptible before (if there had been people to perceive it), but now Gd has made light perceptible.
By contrast, verse 1 uses a form of et with the two horizontal dots under it, tseire, which is a sort of “ey” sound. This version of et is collective in many cases and we will come to some “soon”. When used with kal, it means “all, the entire group of.”
R. Shimon bar Yochai (100s CE) said that creation of heaven and earth was like creating a pot with a lid. One ball of clay was formed and then the lid was marked off distinct from the base. This image of Gd as being like a potter runs throughout Yom Kippur liturgy and it will become important in a few verses. Whether R. Shimon considered et as the basis, we can’t tell because that metadata was not recorded.  But the point is each was an entire entity.
There is another connotation to using this form of et which I'll discuss if there is a new example. If not, I’ll do a lesson where I give some examples. The connotation is that there’s a reciprocal relationship between what happened and its result. The action would not have been taken if it weren’t for the sake of producing the direct object. So when you think about Gd’s omnipotence, you realize He could have created people as beings that didn’t need heaven and earth to survive. There’s something Gd had in mind when He created heaven and earth. He has never explained to us what that was and we may never figure it out for ourselves, because it’s possible the only way to figure it out is to be omniscient, another of Gd’s characteristics.
Why use et at all if it’s not used all the time?
I was looking something up for my book, Narrating the Torah, and a Chabad web page came up with answers to a question about sacrifices. The word et (I forget which version) was used, and the Chabad answer said that this had to do with the importance of what was going on.
Well, how important is light?  Seems like a dumb question, doesn’t it? Same for heaven and earth, what is so important about them that et should be used?
Well, as I always say, it’s the context and this will come out more clearly when we get to verse 2:4.  This is the first mention of heaven and earth, and they are mentioned because they are being created. They are the whole point of the first verse. 
So now, the importance of light is, it’s the only existing contrast with darkness.  I mean, we had the contrast of tohu va-vohu to tell us that the earth just created wasn’t like it is now. What else wasn’t like it is now? Well, darkness; there is no longer any unrelieved darkness in the world (remember, these people had never been down the Marianas Trench). As for the heavens, we’ll get around to them but for now, what just happened is that Gd made the world perceptible through light.
When I’m done with the verses I intend to discuss sequentially, I will not have covered all the examples of how et works so I’ll have a later lesson that goes over them.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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