Monday, June 26, 2017

Aleph-Bet of Family

Your four ALPHA relatives to whom you are closest in your primary/formative years all start with ALEPH א:


Of course, just as primary is G-d, א-ל, Who also starts with ALEPH. (Tehllim 22:11 “מבטן אמי א-לי אתה”)
Of course, your Alpha sense of self, your אני, is heavily influenced by your relationship with these five alphas.

Then there are your BETA relatives (who start with BET ב)


They are secondary. Like the בי"ת of בראשית ברא, you “created” them.

Then there are נו"ן descendants who perpetuate your scion. (ינון שמו)


(נו"ן often reflects perpetuation, as per a recent comment made by David Kolinsky. And נון in Aramaic means fish, which often symbolize propagation. וידגו לרוב בקרב הארץ)

To break it down beyond the Aleph & Bet:

Father, אב, is the progenitor. אב is fertility, greenness, fruitfulness. Your conception was thanks to his desire (אבה) to plant his seed. (אב from אבה -- David Kolinsky)

Mother, אם, is the source of life, like מים. The מקור from which you emerged. אם means ever present (as אם with אל"ף חרוקה means “if” the condition is present, and עם means to be “with,” ever present. מים is ubiquitous liquid – David Kolinsky) and a mother is ever present with her child.

בי"ת and מ"ם are both אותיות בומ"פ, from the lips, שפתיים. Lips are the opening of the mouth, the very first organs of speech (from the outside looking in). אד-ני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתיך. The lips of the gift of speech come from your mother & father. In your earliest infancy, you carefully studied their lips when they spoke. You nursed from your Mom with your lips. It is appropriate that their prominent names are pronounced from your lips.

In particular, בי"ת (as in בא, & also metathesis of אב) means to enter into, while מ"ם means to be from her. Your אבא comes and goes in your life, but your אמא is a constant. She’s where you’re from.  You waited for your Dad to come home, but your Mom was always with (עם) you (or you were always with her).

To elaborate a bit on the lip-letter idea above:

The maternal אם has nasal bilabial מ"ם, even more natural and organic than the non-nasal בי"ת of אב. That’s because your relationship with your אמא is natural and inherent. You are part of her from your earliest sentient state, plus she was your sole source of nourishment even after you left her womb. The sound “mmm” in English reflects something instinctively delicious or nourishing. As you sucked with your lips, your nose remained open for you to breathe. So bilabial nasal מ"ם reflects the unique mom/nursling symbiotic relationship. And even after you were weaned, מים with two mems remain your source of life, and the source of everything yummy & nourishing. (“מים מצמיחים כל מיני תענוג”, Tanya ch 1).

Your אבא, on the other hand, was a bit detached from you. He was not your food or your lifeline. He was very much an outsider while your mom carried & later nursed you. So he gets a nasal-obstructed בי"ת. He is certainly responsible for your entry (בא) into this world, even if in a detached way. Furthermore, you heard his voice regularly as you developed inside your Mom’s womb for nine months. Even afterwards, as you grew, you hopefully learned how important it is to listen to his voice (and mom’s voice too). So he at least gets a voiced bilabial בי"ת, and not a voiceless bilabial פ"א.

One last thought on the maternal מ"ם and paternal בי"ת: “Mm” is the sound you make when your mouth is still shut, as long as your nostrils are open, and can be synchronized with your exhaling, while “Bb” is a sound you can make only once you open your mouth. Perhaps this is symbolic to the notion that your quintessential soul (נשמה שנפחת בי) identifies with your iMMa. ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים.[1] Your aBBa does not pertain to your nostrils or your breathing, your innermost נשמה, but only the “outer” aspects of your identity symbolized by your open mouth.

Brother is אח because the single-letter root חי"ת means settled and at ease, like נחת (– Rabbi Jeremy Steinberg). The biliteral אח also reflects a sense of unity of two disparate individuals who share common ancestry and fraternity. לאחות means to evenly mend a torn fabric. You hopefully feel more at ease with your brother and sister than anyone else.

The בי"ת of your בן and בת reflect the בי"ת of your own fatherhood, the product of your own becoming an אב. The fruit of your desire.

In particular, בן is a builder (בנה), building your progeny and patrilineal dynasty. Boys are future builders, as the זכר “builds” and cultivates ("בעל") the נקבה, who in turn becomes built (pregnant) and houses (בית) the fetus.

That’s why בת is a בית of sorts, and the daughter will someday make a house of her own (ויעש להן בתים) by bearing children.

The נו"ן of בן indicates perpetuation (ינון שמו), to perpetuate one’s patrilineal name and “build” an edifice of future progeny. The תי"ו of בת is a demarcation and a chamber (תא) that creates space for a home and hosts its dweller.

On the other hand, the תי"ו indicates a demarcation of the limits & end of property. Your בת may have borne your name and tribal/familial affiliation, but her offspring did not (at least not in ancient times, and not according to contemporary halacha either). So she represented an end of sorts.

But that is not a bad thing! In fact, her being a בת makes her uniquely capable of creating a בית, a home, what happens when the בת houses the inner יו"ד, the Divine, the symbol of the ever-present and the future. (יו"ד conjugates future-tense verbs and also הווה תמיד, as in ככה יעשה איוב כל הימים).

In a previous post, we theorized that biliteral בת (and בט) might mean nullification and cessation, or negation of self (בטול). Can בת, the name of female offspring of humanity, be symbolic of a woman’s sacrifice and selflessness in making her home? Her entire identity becomes one with her child, and her own body becomes his earliest life source. Indeed, she is his cradle and incubator, nutrition, hydration and jacuzzi, all in one. She is her fetus’ entire world.

She becomes a walking house for her young, a new life. This awesome role becomes her entire existence.

In that sense, perhaps your בת captures the essence of who you are, a human being created to house the Divine, the Source of all Life. Your non-essential aspects, like your patrilineal family name or tribal affiliation, are not passed on through the בת, but the essence of your humanity is. It is this essence that is expressed only in your own home, where you feel comfortable just to be you, where no one cares about your surname or station in life. וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ כְּתַבְנִית אִישׁ כְּתִפְאֶרֶת אָדָם לָשֶׁבֶת בָּיִת (Isaiah 44:13), translated in Targum Yonasan: “וְעָבֵיד לֵיהּ כִּדְמוּת גְבַר כְּתוּשְׁבְּחַת אִתְּתָא לְמֵיתַּב בְּבֵיתָא”. Fascinating how “איש” is interpreted to mean man, and “אדם” (the quintessential name of humankind – see Malbim) is interpreted to mean woman.

So in a sense, the בן might be a builder, but he is just a means to an end. The בת is the בית herself, the ends for which the world was created: to house the Divine. The בית domicile is a domain exclusive to the בת, the place where the בת was always dominant, in ancient civilization perhaps in a more practical sense, and nowadays in a spiritual sense. "ביתו זו אשתו". Also, דביתא means “wife” in Aramaic,  which seems to translate to “of the house.”

The נו"ן of perpetuation in בן is reflected in the first letters of נכד and נין (just as the בי"ת of אב is reflected in the first letters of בן and בת), but perhaps the תי"ו of בת reflects an end and sense of ultimate purpose, (as opposed to a נו"ן which serves as line from one point to the next, from above to below or from former to latter).

This might be why our Sages taught that the Torah was offered/given first to women. כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגד לבני ישראל. The “house of Jacob” (בית יעקב) is interpreted to mean women, while the “sons of Israel” (בני ישראל) means men. The בַּיִת is the end product, the purpose, and hence it prioritized before the builders בֹּנִים.

Just as בת might be etymologically related to בט of בטול, negation or transparency, perhaps the word בית is as well. A בית relates to בטול as well, since a home is completely בטל to, or in total consonance with, and transparent to, the dweller. Its entire existence enables the dweller to be “himself” and genuinely consistent with his innermost identity. As such, the “home” doesn’t conceal the dweller, but allows him to be fully revealed within its sacred space.

Our sages taught that G-d created the Cosmos because He desired a “home,” as it were.  Tanya states: מודעת זאת מאמר רז"ל, שתכלית בריאת עולם הזה הוא שנתאוה הקב"ה להיות לו דירה בתחתונים.[3] The ultimate purpose of Creation, is because the Holy One blessed be He desired a home for Himself in this lowest realm.

Perhaps the idea of the world being a “home” to house the Divine is hinted to in the biliteral root בת in the word בית, as though its entire existence is to feel like naught or בטל , totally transparent, in the presence of its Divine Dweller Who will someday become fully revealed in His “house.” כתפארת אדם לשבת בית. As the Prophets state concerning the Era of Moshiach, וראו כל בשר יחדיו כי פי ה' דיבר, and [4]"כי עין בעין יראו וגו'", לא יהיה לך עוד השמש לאור יומם וגו' כי ה' יהיה לך לאור עולם וגו"[5]

Perhaps the בי"ת of בית is reflected in the בי"ת of your בן and your בת. Indeed, although your Alpha relatives are primary in your formative years, and your interactions with them at that developmental time was most influential to who you are today, you eventually move away from these relatives to create a home of your own. על כן יעזב איש את אביו ואת אמו, ודבק באשתו והיו לבשר אחד. Note that בשר is with a בי"ת, indicating that your spouse is indeed “other”, separate and distinct from you, and yet together you create one organism, בשר אחד, one child, בן or בת. Indeed, it is in how you treat your “others”, your Beta offspring, that reflects your purpose in this world, the extent of the affect you have on the World of otherness. And it is from this בי"ת (duality or otherness) that one finally feels at home. And effectively, your Creator then feels at home.

There is an Aramaic word בת that’s used just once in TaNaCh, in Daniel 6:19: “אֱדַיִן אֲזַל מַלְכָּא לְהֵיכְלֵהּ וּבָת טְוָת”. “Then the king went to his palace and retired while fasting.” The word "ובת" means he “spent the night”, like לן in Hebrew.[6] It’s also used throughout the Talmud with a similar meaning. In Daniel, it specifically means he spent the night in his own palace. It means “retiring for the night” in one’s own home in numerous places in the Talmud as well[7] (as opposed to certain exceptions in Gemara where it means to “lodge” anywhere, even in an open field[8], or as in “מיא דביתו”, Aramaic for “מים שלנו”.[9]) Perhaps the idea of בת lodging (especially in one’s own home) overnight relates to making somewhere your home בית, at least for this night.[10]

And now perhaps we have yet another hint in the word שבת, Shabbat, since in Mishnaic Hebrew, שבת can also mean spending the Sabbath somewhere, which necessitates settling (שב as a biliteral) down and spending the night too.[11] On Shabbat, we are required to “feel at home” exactly where we are.[12] Perhaps when the Torah says that “G-d rested,” “וישבות אלקים ביום השביעי”, it connotes that He “felt at home” in His world, and therefore ceased His creative labors.

Perhaps Shabbat is a dual-function. The world finally feels at home with G-d because it embraces its core, its inherent “non-existence” (בטול – see previous post) and total transparency before its infinite Creator, “כולא קמי' כלא חשיב”. Consequently, the Creator “feels at home” (כביכול) in His world, thus fulfilling the purpose of Creation, “that the Holy One blessed be He, desired a dwelling place in this lowest realm.”[13]

For the past few generations, we have heard about the so-called “generation gap,” the impassible and ever-widening divide between parents and their children in modern times. Of course, this is indicated in the בי"ת, the “other” and secondary nature of בנים ובנות, children, your Beta relatives. It is no wonder that their choices often feel foreign or “other” to you, especially after they’ve left the nest.

You may recall the words of the famous Shabbos hymn, “השומר שבת הבן עם בת לא-ל ירצו כמנחה על מחבת” – “One who observes the Shabbat, (with) the son with the daughter, to G-d it will be pleasing like a peace-offering.” Perhaps the message is, if you observe Shabbat with your family, if G-d feels at home (בית) in your home, your relationship with your son and your daughter (הבן עם הבת) will indeed be pleasing, to all of you and to G-d, like a מנחה offering (which implies being at ease, מנוחה).

שבת also contains “שב”, returning. By keeping Shabbat, we keep “retuning” to feeling at home, no matter how diverse or splintered our work weeks had been.

To conclude today’s discussion of Biblical Hebrew names for close family members, the biggest take-home message is: keep Shabbos! And remember that more than you can ever keep Shabbat, Shabbat will keep you, and will keep your home intact!

Indeed, observance of Shabbat is a vital and integral way to make your home בית a safe-haven where you, your spouse (דביתהו) and your children (בן & בת) all truly feel at home, at home with themselves and at home with HaShem.

In the merit of strengthening our Shabbat observance, may HaShem send us Elijah the Prophet, who “will return the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.”
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם[14]
May it be speedily in our days!

[1] It should be pointed out that אף nostril is also א primary and פ bilabial. Perhaps that’s a nod to the life-force that comes from HaShem, embodied and symbolized by your breathing, ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים, as פ"א רפויה can sound like the sound of exhaling (or inhaling). Hence all three partners in your existence are hinted to as a bilabial consonant following the primary אל"ף: 1) your אב, 2) your אם, 3) your Creator, felt every time you breathe through your nostrils, אף.
[2] Always appears with possessive pronoun, like דביתהו, “his wife,” which would presumably translate as “of his house.”
[3] Tanya chapter 36, quoting from Tanchuma Naso 16.
[4] ישעיהו נב ח
[5] ישעיהו ס יט
[6] פרש"י ומצו"צ שם
[7] פסחים קז,א, תענית כד,ב, ועוד
[8] ברכות ס,ב
[9] “Water that was kept in a vessel overnight. Pesachim 42a. Also “מבית לי' למת” postponing a burial and keeping corpse overnight, Sanhedrin 47a, as well as בת דינא in Sanhedrin 95a, “the verdict was procrastinated” or kept overnight.
[10] It means being at ease, retiring, but not sleeping per se. Note that in Daniel, the verse clearly mentions that וְשִׁנְתֵּהּ נַדַּת עֲלוֹהִי, sleep eluded him.
[11] See ילקוט שמעוני רמז רטז. See also פאה ח:ז
[12] As it says, “ועשית כל מלאכתך”, and Rashi comments: “כאילו כל מלאכתך עשויה
[13] Note that “lowest” or “bottom-most” is בטי in Aramaic, and “last” is בתר. See previous post.
[14] Malachi 3:24