61/929 Matchilim LeHitnatzel! Begin Apologizing!

Sometimes I wonder how much our problems begin with our language. If the Hebrew word for ice-skating didn’t translate as “slipping on the ice“, would Israelis be better at hockey? And if the word for apologizing (lehitnatzel) wasn’t a reflexive form of the word for ‘taking advantage of’ (lenatzel), implying that someone who apologizes is essentially taking advantage of himself, (thus transgressing the 1st commandment of Israeliness ‘Thou Shalt Not Be A Freyer”), perhaps “No More Apologizing” would be a less attractive slogan.

Politics aside, (wishful thinking…), although I understand the sentiment behind Bayit Yehudi’s slogan, I can’t help feeling that overall Israeli society could stand to be more open to apologizing, not less.

Perhaps that can start with taking a look at the root of the word- נ.צ.ל. It occurs twice, in chapter 3, and chapter 13, in the context of the Jews’ request of the Egyptians for a ‘parting gift’, an idea which also appears in chapter 11. Were we taking advantage of the Egyptians by making this request? Chapter 11 reinforces a different understanding when it describes the popular support that the Jewish people’s cause enjoyed amongst the Egyptians. This is a position we already began hearing from Pharaoh’s advisers, but now we hear that “Moshe was  very great” in the eyes of the people as well, who increasingly understood that their real enemy was Pharoah, willing to let them suffer rather than give in. When the Jews make their request, the Egyptians are sending them from their land in order to save themselves from a fate for which they blame Pharaoh. Their giving of gifts is related to their salvation; the word vayenatzel is from the same root as the word for saving (hitzil).

If this is so, then the root of apologizing is not a way to take advantage of ourselves, but a way to bring ourselves salvation. Election season is just about over (we pray). For so many reasons, on so many levels, it’s the time to begin apologizing.

Matchilim LeHitnatzel!


This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation

What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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