Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

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
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * 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. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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