Hebrew: The Language

Hebrew is a slippery language.

Its slippery in more ways than one and the internet provides a wonderful metaphor for its slipperiness. Just try copying and pasting a piece of Hebrew text from say Wikipedia into a word document and see what happens. The moment you hit paste, and the text appears, it changes into something else, moving words and letters. You can trick it by copying the English text around it, pasting the whole thing into your document, and then, very carefully sneak up on the Hebrew, deleting the English. Sometimes it will hold and you can go on merrily writing things, even saving from time to time. Close the document, come back tomorrow, and you may find, that over night, somewhere in the bowels of your hard drive, the Hebrew words had a party, ate matzah balls, drank kosher wine, and forgot where they belong and just lined themselves up in what appears to be a new, random order.Their sentence now says something completely different.

Now, I realize that all this running around of words has more to do with word processors, left and right margins, and the direction of text, mechanical things, but, I think it says something about Hebrew as well in a metaphorical way. Hebrew scholars talk about four different ways of interpreting Hebrew text:

  • Peshat (Hebrew: פשט‎ lit. “simple”): the direct interpretations of meaning.
  • Remez (Hebrew: רמז‎ lit. “hint[s]”): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
  • Derash (Hebrew: דרש‎ from Heb. darash: “inquire” or “seek”): midrashic (Rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
  • Sod (Hebrew: סוד‎ lit. “secret” or “mystery”): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

So while the text is running all over my page, making new meaning as it goes, there are already at least four ways that is could be considered even before it started moving.

I suppose that other languages could be treated in the same way, looked at from four different aspects. Hebrew scholars would likely agree, but, they would also likely argue that Hebrew is the only language designed to be handled in this way, designed to lend itself to different levels of meaning, particularly when it is found in the sacred texts.

I just think its cool.

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