Taking Initiative: Hebrew Style

When Moses gave his speech to Israel before they entered the Promised Land the Bible tells us the following:

“Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, the LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” (Deuteronomy 1:5-7)

In the original Hebrew we can find TWO very interesting verbs that create a new meaning in Hebrew and the two verbs are: ‘Hoeil’ (הואיל) and ‘Be’er’ (באר) which were translated to English as ‘undertook’ and ‘explain’ (respectively).

The Hebrew verb ‘Hoeil’ (translated as ‘undertook’) is actually an auxiliary verb that suggests an ‘initiative and a ‘pioneering move’ as can be found in other cases in the Bible. Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:

The story of Abraham and Sodom:

“He said, “Behold, I have UNDERTAKEN to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:31)

The story from the Book of Joshua when Israel was defeated at Ai:

“And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that WE HAD BEEN CONTENT to dwell beyond the Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7)

When Joshua said, ‘Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!’ he actually used the Hebrew verb ‘Hoalnu’ (הואלנו) – which is the first person plural past form of the exact same verb from Deuteronomy.

The case of David and Saul, just before David fought Goliath:

“And David strapped his sword over his armor. And he TRIED in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off.”

There the English translation used the verb ‘tried’ (or ‘attempted’ in other English versions) because of the context, but in fact it appears as ‘Va-Yoel’ (ויואל) – the exact SAME verb as in the case of Moses – in the original Hebrew.

In other words, the English translation (as well as the other translations) uses different active English verbs according to the biblical context in order to describe the meaning of this unique Hebrew verb because there is no equivalent for that specific meaning in English.

In all of these cases there is an element of taking initiative and that is why the Hebrew Bible uses this specific verb.

But how does it relate to the other unique Hebrew verb we have mentioned above – ‘Be’er’ (‘explain’)?

The answer is in tomorrow’s post…