Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Parashat Yitro: Once Upon a Time

Israeli youth have an easier time reading the Hebrew Bible and Mishnah because Modern Hebrew is often their “mother tongue” – though regularly not their mother’s tongue. (In Israel, many mothers learn the mother tongue from their children – Ephraim Kishon.) But there are differences worth noticing. Our Sages warn that even the meaning of a word in Mishnaic Hebrew doesn’t prove the connotation of the term in Biblical Hebrew.

One such discrepancy between the Biblical and Modern Holy Tongue I think I discovered the past Shabbat. It says in Exodus 20:21 that you shall slaughter an offering “‘Al” (‘Ayin Lammed) the Altar. In Modern Hebrew, ‘Al means: upon. But the Sages teach that such slaughtering must be done next to the Altar, not on it.

The obvious question should be: If it means “next to it,” why does it say “upon it”?

This Shabbat, I remembered that a similar thing is with Pharaoh standing “‘Al” the canal (the Nile – Rashi) (Genesis 41:1). The rabbis explain that the Egyptians saw the Nile as a god, but that Pharaoh was the supreme god – above the Nile. What if here too ‘Al would mean: close to?

Back to the beginning. The first time we encounter “‘Al” in the Torah is already in verse Genesis 1:2 saying that Darkness was ‘Al the surface of the deep (waters – Rashi) and the Breath of G^d was hovering ‘Al the surface of the waters. If ‘Al would just mean here above, it would give us no information, be superfluous. What other place was there for anything but above the waters? No, also here, it must mean: close to the surface. (Darkness and Light penetrate the waters – don’t stay above them.)

And then, very soon in the Bible (Genesis 1:7), we find its Hebrew for above: Mei’al. The waters that were above the firmament. Just like in Modern Hebrew: Mei’al uMei’ever – above and beyond

In my little experience, the Torah is very precise. (When it seems “off,” some deeper meaning is hinted at.) So, let’s look if this holds up.

Soon (Genesis 1:11) we learn that G^d placed trees close to the dirt – not “on the earth” because the most important part of trees (take away the trunk, the tree might recover; cut off the roots, the tree is doomed) is below the surface.

In Genesis 1:26, we learn that G^d wants us to rule over all animals including the creeping things that creep ‘Al the earth. We must assume that moles and worms are included. ‘Al here too means: close to the dirt.

In Genesis 4:14, Cain wonders to be above (Mei’al) the face of the earth. Under the ground would not a problem for him since he repented.

In Dutch we have the same. Bovenop means: smack on top of something. But when we say that he stood bovenop something, it may normally mean not literally upon but rather very very close. We may say: Hij stond er met z’n neus boven op (er pal naast), literally: He stood with his nose on top of it (directly next to it) – He stood very close by.

From now on, Jews, you don’t need to have any Commands upon your heart or bind them on your arm (that would be on your shoulder) or write them on top of your doorposts. Rather, have them close to your heart, tie them close to your arm and have them written down close to your doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:6, 8-9).

Biblical ‘Al means close to it; above in the Bible is Mei’al.

About the Author
The author is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (DES - Diethylstilbestrol), born in 1953 to two Dutch Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a vegan for 8 years now. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo and Rav Zev Leff. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science, Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Many people can't understand or like him because he has such a wide vision that he never fits any specialist's box. But that exactly what others love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. * He likes doing age-appropriate and age-inappropriate things and looks forward to getting to know his timeless mature out-of-the-box soul mate. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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