Girsa d’yankuta

Strange words. Not Hebrew. Not Chinese. Not any spoken language today. But it once was the completely spoken language of the Jewish people. A language spoken daily in Assyria, Babylon and even often in Persia. It is the language in which the Talmud was written. It is called Aramaic.

The two words refer to things learned in childhood and remembered. How many of us in our older age recall things or events that occurred when we were 5, 6 or even 10 years old?

I remember very clearly when at the age of 4 my father would lift me up in his arms just before my bedtime, place my fingers on the mezuzah at the top of my bedroom door, and recite the bedtime prayer… one that I still recite every night before going to bed.

My father always prayed with his tallit and tefillin every morning (except not on Shabbat). I used to ask him why and what it means. And he would tell me that it was in order that one should always keep God’s words close to one’s heart and on the forehead, close to one’s brain.

And he fulfilled the commandment of “V’shinantem l’vanecha”, and thou shalt teach thy children.

When it came to the recitation of Psalm 145, my father would emphasize in particular the verse which stated “karov Hashem l’kol kora-ov, l’kol asher yikrau-HU b’EMET” God is near to all who call upon Him… (emphasizing) “to all who call upon Him in TRUTH”.

When he recited the blessing of God’s name he would say “baruch Shmai and baruch malchusay l’oilam vo-ed (in the old Ashkenazi Litvak pronunciation.

But when I would recite those words in my classroom, my teacher, Aharon Rashish, brother of Pinchas Rashish, mayor of Petach Tikvah, he would tell me, “you are not in galut anymore. It is not Shmai. It is Shmo. “ And he would continue to correct my malchusay, my oilam and my vo-ed, using the Israeli Sephardic pronunciation.

For centuries there has been a dispute over the two pronunciations, some suggesting that the Ashkenazi version was the older of the two. I find it hard to believe and I prefer the Sephardi, the Hebrew language of Modern Israel, thanks to the linguist Eliezer Pearlman Ben-Yehuda.

When I was 4 or 5 years old my zaideh (not “saba”) would hold me on his lap and sing a lullaby in Yiddish. I remember the words to this day and I sang them in Yiddish to my own children more than 50 years ago.

Girsa D’Yankuta… the things embedded in our memory since childhood… are precious memories of long-ago things. It keeps me alive and vibrant, recalling the happy days of my childhood.

One such memory has always troubled me. My father used to remind me of the ancient Hebrew commandment “v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha”… love thy friend (or neighbor) as thou love thyself.

I always personally found it (and still do) almost impossible to fulfill. I cannot love someone whom I dislike for specific reasons. I cannot love the enemies of my people who seek our destruction.

So, in order for me to fulfill the commandment I distance myself very far from those whom I cannot love. For example, although I am opposed to the tactics of an ego-maniac prime minister, I do not hate him but I also do not love him. Nevertheless I will respect him. Whereas for his foul-mouthed son whom I have thankfully never met and never will, I despise him for the poison he spouts from an evil mouth which hurts others.

Girsa d’Yankuta locks in for me the wise teachings of our greatest prophets, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Their teachings are as vital, vibrant and meaningful today as they were when preached in ancient Judea and Israel. They are engraved upon my heart.

I treasure the Girsa d’Yankuta of my childhood. The memories keep my heart warm and my brain functioning even now in my old age.

What memories of a girsa d’yankuta will my children and grandchildren remember? Unfortunately I will not be around to know !!!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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