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The Root of the Meaning

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“Our sacred literature does not use obscure language, but describes most things in words clearly indicating their meaning. Therefore it is necessary at all times to delve into the literal meaning of words to achieve complete understanding of what is actually meant.”
–Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch made many important and interesting contributions to Jewish life and learning (for a Jewish Treats biography, click here ). In addition to being a pillar of strength during a time of great change in German Jewry and the primary force in the integration of Torah and modern life, Rabbi Hirsch is known for his popular Biblical commentary. One of the most unique aspects of Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary is its intense analysis of the words of the Torah. Rabbi Hirsch took the understanding of the interconnectedness of Hebrew roots to a new level. Almost all Hebrew words are built on a root of 3 letters. With the addition of other letters, the meaning of the word changes. For instance, bet/vet – nun – hey is the root of the word livnote, to build. But l’hee’banote means to be built.

Rabbi Hirsch noticed that certain letters were related and, when used similarly within a root, created words that were related in meaning. For instance: “Bara means bringing something into reality that heretofore had existed only in the mind. The cognate roots barach, bara, para, parach, all have the meaning of striving to get out, or getting out of a state of being constrained or bound” (Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew: Based on the Commentaries of Samson Raphael Hirsch).

With this understanding of how words were connected, and therefore how different Biblical verses are also related, Hirsch discovered hundreds of new insights into the Torah.

–Please note that Rabbi Hirsch’s etymological conclusions are often not accepted by mainstream Biblical grammarians.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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