Thursday, April 12, 2018

Awesome Israel Initials

Do you know what these Hebrew letters refer to?

In the recent two decades, ever since the onset of the sms/internet/mobile-phone-era phenomenon, acrostics like LOL and ASAP have become ubiquitous. Everyone can easily recognize their emphatic meanings.  What you may not know is that Jews have writing this way for centuries, perhaps millennia.

It was not only a means to conserve ink, paper, and time, although those were presumably the major factors. The deeper significance is to express how obvious or inherent an idea is to the readers, so obvious that it was redundant to even spell it out. The mere initials invoked powerful feeling that transcend words.

The acronym above is an excellent example. Used widely throughout Jewish literature to refer to what had been then known as Palestine,[1] it is comprised of two phrases:

The first initials (אה"ק) define the location and describe its significance, while the second (תובב"א) is a prayerful wish, concluding with an article of faith. It’s truly remarkable how a few letters can convey such a wealth of meaning.

For those who aren’t familiar with the nuances of the Hebrew original, I'll delineate them here.

It stands for: “אַרְצֵנוּ הַקְדוֹשָׁה, תִּבָּנֶה וְתִכּוֹנֵן בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן.”

It means: “Our Holy Land, may it be rebuilt and securely-reestablished speedily in our own days, Amen!”

Simply put, it refers to the land of Israel. However, although it only contains eight initials, it expresses eleven simple but powerful ideas:

1.   אַרְצֵ  – land.

We refer to a land, not a state. The state is great, as it helps the people live in the Land. However, while the state is only 70 years old, the Land is 3,330 years old. The state owes its existence (partially, at least) to the United Nations and other international sponsors. The Land owes its existence only to its Divine Creator, and to no one else. Also, the “state” doesn’t include territories outside of its official internationally-recognized state borders, especially if there are other inhabitants in these areas who wish to have a different (or mutually-exclusive) state. The Land includes the entire expanse of the land, irrespective of any modern political realities. A Jew in Hebron is living in the Land, but not necessarily within the state.

2.   נוּ  – our.

It is our land. The Land has been granted to us, the Children of Israel, as an eternal inheritance. While most lands belong exclusively to the citizens of the particular state within whose boundaries the lands are geographically located, this Land Is different. It is inherently “our land,” and as such, belongs to all of us. A Jew living in Hebron is living in his own Land, not just in the the Land. In fact, he’s living in my land too, and in yours as well. He’s living in our land. Unlike all other lands, this Land belongs to every single Jew worldwide, irrespective of citizenship or location.[2]

3.  קְדוֹשָׁה – holy.

It isn’t just any land, or a land we love simply because it’s ours. We acknowledge that it’s sacred soil irrespective of whether it’s ours. We cherish it because of Whose presence is manifest there.[3] It is not merely beloved or cherished.[4] It is hallowed.

4.  הַ)קְדוֹשָׁה) – the (holy).

It’s not just one of many sacred lands. It is “the” holy land with definite article. The one and only Holy Land. This Land is inherently different from the rest of the mundane earth.[5] It is the location of G-d’s unique “home” on earth. It’s where G-d feels at home, and consequently, so do we.

5.  תִּבָּנֶה  – may it be built. It’s not talking about big buildings, skyscrapers or stadiums. This is a common misconception. It refers to the construction of more Jewish homes, enough for all the Jews on earth to return and resettle our ancestral land. Even more essentially, it refers to the construction of G-d's home, the Holy Temple. That’s what we mean when we refer toירושלים הבנויה, “Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem." Its ultimate building needs to be built.

6.  וְתִכּוֹנֵן  – and may it be securely established.

It's not enough for Jewish homes to be built throughout our Land. They need to be securely established for all time.

7.  בְיָמֵי – in days.

We envision and anticipate an actual time, a real day in the future, when the Temple will indeed be built on its proper site, and all the exiles will indeed return and securely resettle the Land.

8.   נוּ   – our.

In our days. May this come to fruition quite literally in our lifetimes.

9.  בִּמְהֵרָה – speedily.

Not just in our days, but speedily in our days. Not just in decades, years, or even months from now. In our days, and with speed. In other words, TODAY. In fact, we can’t even mention our Holy Land by name without immediately expressing our heartfelt yearning for reconstruction of the Temple and the ingathering of the Exiles to occur speedily in our days!

10.  אָמֵן – Amen.

This means: “So be it. It's true. I truly believe this statement and mean it quite literally. It’s not just a hopeful wish, but something that I know and affirm to be true. It’s an article of faith.[6] I know that this wish will indeed become fulfilled.”

11.  !(אָמֵן– Amen at the end, with implied emphasis.

This is a final amen. Generally, one does not respond “amen” after his/her own blessing or prayer. It’s superfluous, since one is always supposed to mean what he/she says, without any need to affirm it.[7] It’s only recited after hearing someone else’s prayer or blessing, and expresses agreement, shared belief and affirmation.

However, there’s a notable exception. One recites “amen” only if it’s to signify the end, ultimate finality, that there’s nothing after it.[8] It implies "Amen. Period."

Why is this significant here? Our sages taught that the ultimate Redemption is different from all the others in that it will never be followed by an exile, “גְאוּלָה שֶׁאֵין אַחֲרֶיהָ גָלוּת” in Hebrew, unlike the exodus from Egypt or the return from Babylon, victory over the Hellenist Seleucids or Persian-era Hamanists. All those salvations were later followed by a subsequent debacle, destruction and exile. The final redemption is truly final, complete and permanent. That is why we call it “גְאוּלָה הָאֲמִיתִּית וְהַשְׁלֵמָה ," the "True and Complete Redemption."

That's why “Amen” is recited at the end of our own prayerful wish and affirmation of faith concerning the rebuilding and secure reestablishment of our Holy Land and G-d’s eternal city. We are affirming our belief that it will be built and securely-reestablished permanently, and will never again be destroyed. And that will be the wonderful final chapter of the story of man on earth, a grand finale that will last to eternity.

May it be speedily in our days. Amen!


[1] See Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh, preface to Epistle 27.
[2] No need to call it the “Promised Land” anymore, since it has already been given and eternally deeded to us. The promise has been long since kept and fulfilled millennia ago. Now, it’s simply “Our Land.”
[3] It was cherished by our Patriarchs and Matriarchs before it was granted to them, and even before it was ever promised to their descendants.
[4] As its also referred to in TaNaKh, “ארץ חמדה,” the “cherished” or “desired” land. In fact, etymologically speaking, the very word “ארץ” (land) is a cognate of “רצון”, desire.
[5] קדוש, usually translated as “holy,” actually means “separate” or “removed from,” i.e. beyond the mundane.
[6] אמונה means belief. אמת means truth. Both are cognates of אמן.
[7] Consequently, saying “amen” after one’s own blessing is considered derisive and disrespectful in most cases.
[8] For example, some recite “amen” at the last of a group of blessings to signify that it is the end. See Berachot 45b, Rashi “הא בבונה ירושלים.” Furthermore, we recite “amen” after our own blessing in “Boneh Yerushayim,” the third blessing of Grace, to indicate that it is the end of the Biblically-required blessings. See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chayim, 188:1.

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