Saturday, January 26, 2008

A potpourri.

Just a few things.

+ I forgot to mention Rashi died. That is, my fish Rashi. He didn't even live a month. It would appear that my amazing pet rearing skills have passed. He left the earth as we know it on Tuesday night. I think I am now over the idea of the importance of having something "living" in my apartment. I kills plants, and evidently, fish, too.

+ This past week (as in, yesterday's Shabbat) was probably one of the most important, being as it carried with it the Torah portion "Yitro." It was Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, telling him he can't do it all alone, as well as the giving of the decalogue (the commandments) and the gathering of Israel at Sinai. It was a defining moment in our peoplehood and would set the stage for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, among others. The revelation at Sinai is a most beautiful piece to read in the Torah, and I wrote extensively on my study last year. Perhaps the most interesting thing about my study this year -- beyond that my stress and exhaustion kept me from truly pouring myself into it -- was a simple piece of the text that sticks with me and seems to rub me in a peculiar way.

When Jethro is speaking to Moses about the Israelites escaping Egypt, he says that it is a great thing that the Israelites escaped from under the "hand" of the Egyptians. I was struck by the usage here. The thing is, the typical phrasing is the hand of G-d and in the case of tyrants, the "fist" of tyrants. Even in the translation this distinction is typically made. I checked the Hebrew and lo and behold, there was "yad," a yod and a dalet, the Hebrew word for hand. I find it peculiar that such a gentle word was used for what the Egyptians had the Israelites under. It struck me as uncomfortable and out of place. So here I sit with my Hebrew dictionary and there is an entry for "fist." Of course, I'm pretty poor with my Hebrew without the vowels, but my best guess is that it's something like "agrop" or "agroph." Though it could also start with an "i" though that's pretty unlikely.

So I go to the internet to a Hebrew-English dictionary and it gives me a variety of answers for "fist" in the Babylon English-Hebrew, including: (ש"ע) אגרוף; יד (סלנג); כתב-יד (סלנג). I'm perplexed at the variety of things in parenthesis, but I'm guessing that the third choice (the one furthest to the left, that is) which appears to be "catav yad" is probably the most accurate, as it symbolizes an action, which, the fist is. You make a fist, it isn't simply a fist. A hand, however, is simply a hand. Now, כתב typically has something (in its various forms) to do with writing or composing, suggesting an "active hand. But then my dictionary leads to perhaps the point. "Katut" or "Kathut" means pounded, crushed. This is more what we would expect from the Egyptians, nu?

But back to the point. It seems peculiar that simply "yad" would be preferred to any other of a variety of terms. Although, perhaps such an expression was not viable in Biblical Hebrew? I haven't looked at what Rashi says (if anything) or searched the Torah for instances of "fist." And this will all likely come tomorrow or this week when I can spend some more time with it. I just think it's fascinating how such a small morsel of such a large, important parshah can stick with me.

+ Finally, today, January 27 is a pretty important day. Most don't know about it or think about it, probably because most know that there is a specific day for honoring the Holocaust, and it most assuredly is not January 27. Yom Hashoah as we know it is in April. This was declared by the Knesset in Israel. However, as I learned from my handy dandy A Little Joy, A Little Oy calendar, today, January 27, is the day declared by the United Nations as Holocaust Remembrance Day. From the blog (the blog of the Israeli Consulate in New York City, from last year at this time):

Rejecting any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, the General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution (A/RES/60/7) condemning “without reserve” all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur…

It decided that the United Nations would designate 27 January -– the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust, and urged Member States to develop educational programmes to instil the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again, and requested the United Nations Secretary-General to establish an outreach programme on the “Holocaust and the United Nations”, as well as measures to mobilize civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help prevent future acts of genocide.

The Holocaust was a turning point in history, which prompted the world to say “never again”. The significance of resolution A/RES/60/7 is that it calls for a remembrance of past crimes with an eye towards preventing them in the future.

Be well, friends. And thank you for the thoughts and comments.