Ari Lamm Profile picture
11 Jan, 37 tweets, 7 min read
Let's do another one: Why read the Bible in Hebrew?

Today's example is from one of history's most enduring stories: the Binding of Isaac. Let's take a look at the verb ra'ah (ראה).

A thread (for non-Hebrew readers too!) 🧵 1
We're going to tackle a *really* difficult verse today: Genesis 22:14.

It's so challenging, in fact, that even the Hebrew commentators have struggled with it for centuries.

Why should we care? Well, this verse holds the key to one of human civilization's moral turning points! 2
Let's set the stage.

God commands Abraham to sacrifice his and Sarah's only son, Isaac. Abraham obediently prepares to do so. At the last moment God prevents Abraham from going through with it, and commands him to sacrifice a ram instead. A grateful Abraham praises God. 3
How does he praise God? By giving a name, in 22:14, to the place where this all occurred. And this is where today's word "ra'ah" comes in.

Some quick background: Hebrew verbs are built by taking a root word, and then adding tense, construction, gender, number, etc. 4
Don't worry about this for now. All you need to know is that when Abraham named the mountain of the Binding, the Bible tells us that he used a verb built from the root "ra'ah", which usually means "to see".

"So Abraham called the name of that place 'the Lord 'yir'eh'" (22:14). 5
"Yir'eh" is a "ra'ah" verb. But what exactly does it mean?

Well, good news! Nearly that exactly phrase "God yir'eh" appears a few verses early, in 22:8.

Isaac asks what they'll be sacrificing. Abraham replies: "God yir'eh for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son". 6
Literally this phrase means: "God will see..." Ra'ah here seems to be something like "to identify".

As in when Saul seeks a good musician and one of his servants says, "Behold, I have seen (ra'iti) a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing" (1 Samuel 16:18). 7
The servant has "seen" Jesse's son (another ra'ah verb), in the sense of identifying certain qualities in him that Saul wasn't aware of yet. Similarly, Abraham assures Isaac that God will identify the thing to be sacrificed, though Isaac may not yet perceive it. 8
English translations like KJV and ESV get at this meaning with "God will provide for himself the lamb..."

"Provide" is a little bit of a stretch, but not really that much. The point is, Abraham's telling Isaac "we're relying on God to show us something." 9
So case closed, right? Abraham named the place of the Binding "God Will Identify" to signal his obedience to God, and recognition that God drove these series of events.


...Because, folks, that's just the *first* half of verse 22:14! The second half is the problem... 10
The verse in full: "So Abraham called the name of that place 'the Lord yir'eh', as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord yera'eh".

Did you catch that?

Abraham calls it "the Lord yir'eh". But everyone after called it..."the Lord yera'eh"—a totally different name! 11
Let's break that down: "yir'eh", as we've seen, means "he will identify". That's the word Abraham himself used. But "yera'eh" (also from the root ra'ah)—which those *after* Abraham used to refer to the spot—is totally different.

Allow me to explain why this is a problem... 12
"Yera'eh" is the passive version of yir'eh. So the verse's 2nd half should mean "on the mount the Lord shall be identified". What does that even mean?

The translators kinda gave up...

"On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided" (ESV, KJV). Huh? *What* shall be provided? 13
There's an ancient Jewish tradition that the Temple would later be built on this spot. If so then perhaps the verse means "on the mount, the Lord shall be seen", as in during the Temple era.

But how does this relate in any way to Abraham's statement? Seems like a non-sequitur 14
The Vulgate and Syriac took the easy way out: emendation. Since yir'eh and yera'eh are actually *spelled* the same way (just with different vowels), they translated as if the word was "yir'eh" both times!

So: Abraham named it "God yir'eh" and everyone else called it that too! 15
That's kinda weaksauce, of course, but what else are we supposed to do?! Seems like we're stuck, right?

Why would Abraham name the place one thing, while everyone else ended up calling it something different (*close* to Abraham's proposed name...but not exactly)? 16
The answer requires two steps—the first has to do with how this form of the root "ra'ah" is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe God. The second relates to Abraham's relationship with God (and what we can learn from it).

Okay, let's take a look at Zechariah 9:14 first. 17
The prophet uses our verb to describe how God will one day rescue all the exiled Israelites.

"Then the Lord will appear [yera'eh] over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning" (ESV)

The meaning of yera'eh here isn't that the people look up and see God somehow... 18
Remember, the context here is a demoralized people who felt helpless against the might of foreign empire. No people who'd been defeated and scattered like this had ever been revived.

The prophet thus has to reveal to his ppl something new about the God they thought they knew. 19
The day will come, he tells them, when God will re-unite you, and save you—a notion that must have seemed impossible at the time.

That's why the prophet uses "yera'eh". It doesn't mean "God will be seen", but rather "God will be revealed"—you'll learn something new about Him! 20
The Bible uses this form of the verb ra'ah to express this idea all the time!

Take Exodus 6:3. God—using this form—tells Moses that through the events of the Exodus, the Israelites will learn something new about God's greatness that not even Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew! 21
So the name "God yera'eh" doesn't mean "God shall be seen" or "God appeared." It means "God shall be revealed"—as in, we'll learn something *new* about God that we didn't know before the Binding of Isaac, and that perhaps not even Abraham himself perceived.

But what? 22
This gets to the 2nd thing we need to know: the nature of Abraham's relationship with God...and with Isaac

Because here's the thing: the place names "God yir'eh" and "God yera'eh" hold the key to Abraham's understanding of the Binding of Isaac...and our own. 23
"God yir'eh" (Abraham's own name for the place) refers to the moment when Abraham makes his priorities clear. Consider: Isaac had asked Abraham what exactly they were supposed to sacrifice (22:7)

Perhaps Isaac didn't know what Abraham intended but he knew something was up. 24
Beginning to tremble with uncertainty, Isaac turned to one of the ppl he trusted more than anyone in the world: his father. And he sought reassurance. "Is everything okay? What's going on here?"

In that moment, Abraham had one final chance to reconsider. 25
Abraham's choice: Should I obey God and continue onward? Or, should I defy God and spare my son?

Am I God's child? Or am I Isaac's father?

In that moment, human history hung in the balance. The angels themselves must have held their breath. 26
Abraham's replies in verse 22:8—"God will identify (yir'eh) for himself the lamb for a burnt offering"

God will show the way as He always has; if this is the task He has set for me, then so be it.

Abraham chose perfect service to God over fatherhood. The path of "God yir'eh" 27
Even afterwards, with Isaac safe, when Abraham could re-examine the Binding in light of God's intervention, he *still* chose to remember it as a "God yir'eh" moment—when he chose obedience to God over literally everything.

The knight of faith could see it no other way. 28
As extreme as this may seem, it's precisely Abraham's merit that we've always invoked since then when praying for God's mercy (e.g. Deut 9:27).

I would call Abraham's spiritual steadfastness “Herculean”, but in truth not even Hercules had Abraham’s resolve... 29
So for Abraham the site of the Binding was always—and would forever remain—a place where "God yir'eh"...a moment when God identified something extraordinary in Abraham, calling him to an act of unparalleled sacrifice.

But we who come after Abraham mark the Binding differently 30
The significance of the Binding of Isaac for future generations is *not* primarily in Abraham's superhuman willingness to sacrifice everything to God.

No, for us the Binding's significance is that, in the end, "God yera'eh"—something new and radical about God was revealed. 31
God made clear that He neither demands nor desires human sacrifice. He doesn't wish for us to abandon our humanity in His service. Rather, He wants us to remain fully human, with all the imperfection that entails

Of course, being imperfect means that we will inevitably sin... 32
But maybe...just maybe...the very thing that would make us fall short of Abrahamic perfection—our instinct to protect our loved ones even when faced with objectively good and true reasons not to do so—is precisely what the God revealed at the Binding of Isaac loves in us! 33
That's why the Bible (in 22:14) reminds us that those who came after Abraham remembered the Binding of Isaac differently than he did.

"God yir'eh" vs. "God yera'eh"

For Abraham, the Binding was a "God yir'eh" moment—a tribute to perfection. 34
For us, it's a God "yera'eh" moment—a concession that while we could never do what our saintly forefather did...perhaps the God that he discovered in so doing is one who will love us not *despite* our inability, but *because* of it!

And as always, P.S. Thank you so much to the Catherine Project and the inimitable, incredible Zena Hitz for giving me the space and motivation to explore matters like this!
P.P.S. Adding this short @ZoharAtkins thread here, it's fantastic and adds so much to my understanding of this text

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More from @AriLamm

10 Jan
Another excellent @ZoharAtkins thread.

Helpful in this context is Haym Soloveitchik’s distinction between “centrifugal” and “centripetal” works. 1
A centrifugal work births commentarial literature that moves away from it, applying the text to address new cases.

A centripetal work gives rise to commentators who move relentlessly back towards it—singularly focused on decoding its words. 2
In the Jewish context:

Shulchan Aruch = centrifugal

Maimonides’ Code = centripetal

Read 5 tweets
4 Jan
Time for another one: Why read the Bible in Hebrew?

Today's example is from the story of Samuel's childhood. Let's take a look at the word "na'ar" (נער).

A thread (for non-Hebrew readers too!) 🧵 1
Let's take a look at seemingly one of the weirdest verses in the Bible: 1 Samuel 1:24.

Hannah brings her only child, Samuel, to serve God in the Temple at Shiloh. When she arrives, the Bible tells us: "And the child was young" (ESV).

Okay, now buckle up... 2
First problem: why does the Bible mention this? What else would a child be?!

But more important, here's where today's word "na'ar" comes in. Because what the verse says *in Hebrew* is "And the na'ar na'ar."

Yep. You read that right. It just repeats the same word twice! 3
Read 26 tweets
27 Dec 21
Why read the Bible in Hebrew?

Today's example is from the story of Noah. Let's take a look at the word "chamas" (חמס).

A thread (for non-Hebrew readers too!) 🧵 1
Why did God bring the flood and destroy His first go at creation? Genesis 6:11 fills us in: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence" (ESV).

What does that mean? Lots of fighting, war, etc.? 2
Well, that's where today's word "chamas" (חמס) comes in, which is the word being translated as "violence".

The English translators often rendered "chamas" that way, but not always. I suspect they weren't too sure what the word meant.

So what *does* it mean? 3
Read 23 tweets
26 Dec 21
The 4 biggest external pressures on the American rabbinate:

1. History of Congregationalism (suspicion of individual religious leadership)

2. Credentialism (treating semicha like a Masters)

3. Electoral politics (above all, don't offend)

4. Agglomeration (bigger = better)

This implies, all things equal, the longer we've been in America, the more likely we'll be to seek rabbis without big personalities, with an impressive professional CV, who are as inoffensive as possible. And agglomeration means fewer open positions thus discouraging dissenters 1
So far, obvious. But here's another thing it implies: over time, Americanized Jews will end up complaining about the decline in rabbi quality *irrespective* of whether the talent pool is *actually* smaller/worse. 2
Read 4 tweets
11 Jan 21
Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer, the rabbi of the synagogue in which I grew up, just passed away.

I want to tell you a story about him that I will never forget as long as I live.
There had been a suicide bombing at a nightclub in Israel. Believe it was early 2000s. Several people were killed and many more injured. Now here’s the thing: the attack took place on a Friday night, so all the people who were killed were Jews who did not observe the Sabbath.
I think it was the following Sabbath that we were in synagogue, when Rabbi Kelemer came in and interrupted our prayers. He related that someone in our congregation had asked him if it’s right to pray for the victims. After all, they were publicly desecrating the Sabbath!
Read 6 tweets
13 Sep 20
Okay there's a larger point I've been meaning to make for a while about @themishpacha and @Ami_Magazine. Those who know me well know that I'm a fan of these publications. I'd like to explain why.

A thread:
If you're asking "Are Mishpacha/Ami good?", my reply would be "well, for what purpose? If your goal is to better enable internecine warfare among various frum Jewish communities, then no, these publications aren't for you. They're very inefficient vehicles for battle-line-drawing
Similarly, if your goal is to promote pluralism across the wider Jewish denominational spectrum, then Mishpacha/Ami are still the wrong address. They're not interested in the pluralistic inclusivity project.
Read 15 tweets

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