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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Foundations of Faith

Chapter 43

43. Hebrew's Preeminence - Continued

The Holy People has a Holy Tongue which possesses intrinsic value. It is a lofty language which God Himself employed when creating the world and giving His Law to Israel. It is a clean and pure language that befits the spiritual content it expresses.
Dedicated to the memory of
Asher Ben Haim
Click to dedicate this lesson
In this lesson, we shall continue discussing the merits of the Hebrew language, the Holy Tongue.
Foundations of Faith (50)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
42 - 42. The Preeminence of the Holy Tongue
43 - 43. Hebrew's Preeminence - Continued
44 - 44. The Servant of God
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In our previous discussion, we noted the fact that Hebrew must necessarily be a superlative language, for it is a Divine Tongue in which God Himself spoke when addressing His Prophets. Furthermore, God used the Hebrew language in creating the universe, and the Divine names of God derive from Hebrew. Hebrew is marked by cantillative punctuation (te'amim) and special vowels (nikud), and these two elements transform the dry written word into a living, speech-like tongue.

Rambam, in his "Guide to the Perplexed," writes that Hebrew is called the Holy Tongue because it is a clean language which does not possess names of body organs that call for modesty. Indeed, it is only natural that a language which gives expression to sacred concepts - the words of the living God - should be elevated, pure, and unsullied, and that it should not contain names of organs and actions which necessitate modesty.

However, the principle uniqueness of the Hebrew language, the Holy Tongue, lies in the fact that it is not just a vehicle for the expression of ideas and opinions. Hebrew words are not just symbols, as is the case with other languages. In other languages, the entire purpose of words and word combinations is to reveal the intention of the speaker. In and of themselves, such languages have no intrinsic value.

This is not the case when it comes to the Holy Tongue. Hebrew possesses an intrinsic inner worth, it possesses sanctity, and it contains significance beyond the plain and revealed meanings of its words. Hebrew words can be approached on a number of levels: they can be understood plainly (pshat), figuratively (drash), allusively (remez), and esoterically (sod). The language supports each of these. In addition to all of this, Hebrew letters have numerical value, and the numerical value of a letter or word gives it added meaning. This is unique to the Hebrew language.

As a rule, if a book cannot be understood, it lacks value. It does not matter how great its message is. This, however, is not true of the Torah. Even if a person does not understand what is written in it, reading it has value - the words themselves contain sanctity.

Even the shapes of the Hebrew letters have unique significance, and therefore each letter must be written with precision; every line, corner, and crown of these letters carries deep spiritual meaning.

When a person reads sacred Hebrew words, even if he does not understand them at all, they have an effect. This may be likened to a person operating a large machine with the press of a button even though he does not understand how pressing the button does what it does. Technically, he may not understand how the machine works or the nature of its design, but he is nonetheless able to run it.

Similarly, when a person reads the Torah in the Holy Tongue, his speech has intrinsic value and it awakens exalted spiritual forces. This is not the case with any other language. If a person reads some other language and does not understand what he is saying, his reading is worthless. Its words possess no intrinsic value and in themselves have no effect. Their entire value lies in the fact that they are symbols which aid in conveying a message.

In sum, the Holy People, the nation of Israel, has a Holy Tongue which possesses intrinsic value. It is a lofty language which God Himself employed when creating the world and conveying his Law to Israel. It is a clean and pure language that befits the spiritual content which it expresses.

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