Saturday, January 19, 2013

Athenian Form and Matter

We have got a dispute on our hands as to how properly (or best) to analyze reality, the world. Plato has the theory of Forms, Aristotle the theory of form and matter. What motivates their respective positions? Here is what I suggest. They were both familiar with the fact of human consciousness. For Plato the big question was: what to make of it. There are two items: sensory experience and thought. The question is: to which to accord primacy? Which furnishes knowledge? He reasoned that it can’t be the deliverances of sensory experience. They’re unstable. Their yield doesn’t deserve to be crowned knowledge. So it can only be thought, pure and unadulterated. Mathematical forms are, after all, quite stable. Now, as a process of human consciousness, thought is independent of sensory experience. (So Plato argued.) So the object of thought could be known in abstraction from the object of sensory experience. Thus the separation of Forms from terrestrial tangibles. Aristotle came along and kind of changed the subject. Human consciousness was taken as a given. It was the starting point. Hence, there was no compulsion to speculate about it. (It wasn’t worth speculating about, he held.) What was left to do was inquire as to its deliverances. What is found in consciousness are things, ones that are perceived through the senses. They are found to be analyzable as dually composed of form and matter. As goes the realm of tangibles, form is inseparable from matter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Eternal Kingship

Hamelech bichvodo tamid yimloch aleinu le-olam va-ed ve-al kohl ma-asav. Why not: yimloch aleinu ve-al kohl ma-asav le-olan va-ed? It is so much more natural and reads so much better! Moreover, ostensibly le-olam va-ed ought to apply to kohl ma-asav as well as to aleinu! On the other hand, though, what does [might] yimloch al kohl ma-asav mean? Are creations, creatures, or inanimate objects ruled over by a king, One Who is their Creator? The suggestion is, therefore, that it does not apply to these others.
In regard to the first question, perhaps there is this to say: Only aleinu is He (will He be) molich le-olam va-ed; but al kohl ma-asav not. If so, why so? And again, what does melucha over sub-humans come to? But if it does apply to things inanimate and sub-human, then why does the verse express itself in the seemingly unnatural way of placing ve-al kohl ma-asav after le-olam va-ed?

Another thing: Do we have a seeming redundancy on our hands: tamid and le-olam va-ed? Evidently, tamid applies to kohl ma-asav too. But if so, why shouldn’t le-olam va-ed be able to do so as well.

Here’s what it occurred to me. Creations (of all kinds) have spiritual entities associated with them (on a one-to-one basis). Tamid, in regard to His melucha, applies both to them and to us. But le-olam va-ed only relates melucha to us. Tamid connotes uninterruptedness (continuousness); olam va-ed, everlastingness.    

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What is Special About Refu-a

In refa-einu we say: Refa-einu Hashem veneirafei hoshi-einu venivashe-a ki sehilaseinu otoh. Ostensibly, why is the phrase ki-sehilaseinu otoh inserted here? It doesn’t appear in any of the other bakashos! And what does it mean; what is its impact?

But actually, there seems to be a prior question. Why do we say veneirafei and venivashe-a? Why not simply refa-einu and hoshi-einu? (It strikes one as tautologous.) I think that refa-einu...veneirafei means that G-d should heal us (our afflictions); and when He does, we will actually be healed. There are two things: experiencing a cure and emerging cured. Some instances of administering medication (therapy) have (or may have) an initial beneficial impact, yet don’t endure, or don’t fully restore the patient to his erstwhile health. To have this latter happen is to transcend the curative phase itself. It is to have the cure be established/instated, such that the patient is not (is no longer) subject to relapse or is not in imminent danger. A vital transformation of the condition has occurred. When we say refa-einu Hashem veneirafei, we ask that He heal us and we thereupon proclaim that the cure that He will have effected in us will be confirmed as a lasting and state-changing (veneirafei) event. It won’t remain an effectless cause (in a manner of speaking). It will be a consummate restoration. And because it will, we have cause to praise Him – ki sehilaseinu otoh. (Or perhaps we should put in the reverse: We have cause to praise Him; therefore, it will last.)

Let’s reflect for a moment on asking for refu-a. A contrast with the other bakashos is discernable. In chaneinu we ask the receive a hashpo-a, an influence, of da-as. In hashiveinu, we ask to have our repentance accepted (see preceding post). In other words, we ask that acceptance be forthcoming. In selach lanu, we ask to receive forgiveness. And in re-ei ve-anyeinu we seek an effusion, or an infusion, of protection and redemption. But what do we seek in refa-einu? Seemingly something different. Removal. Removal of symptoms. Removal of damage, injury, trauma, decay, or the causes of symptoms. Removal isn’t an influential phenomenon. It is not a positive force. On the contrary, it implies reversal and undoing of something already obtaining: an existing condition. Suppose it occurs. What is the impact? It might be momentary, fleeting, ephemeral, and local in its reach. Insofar forth, its impact is severely limited. Its incidence alone does not guarantee lasting restoration. Therein lies the praiseworthiness of Hashem’s salvation. Let Him administer the cure, and it proves transforming. It doesn’t merely treat a disturbance; it is nurturing and life-extending. It isn’t superficial; it is root-apprehending. It doesn’t stop at the surface; it is all-pervasive and deeply penetrating. It is, indeed, life-infusing.

So we ask: Heal us O L-rd. When You have done this, we will have been cured – not superficially but systemically. You will have gone beyond treating the symptom to restoring our health: reverting us to our pre-afflictive condition. This can only be, because You are the One to Whom we owe praise. For You continually bestow kindness upon us.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Acceptance of Teshuva

Hashiveinu avinu lesorasechavehachazireinu bishuva sheleima lefanecha, baruch ataHarotze bishuva. Ostensibly, the chasima does not correspond to the bakasha. In the bakasha we ask that He return us to His Torah and service. But in the chasima, we thank Him for being One Who accepts repentance. We say nothing of His being One Who returns us. The situation requires explanation. I suggest this: In asking that we be made to return/repent, are we (really) asking to be given the impetus – the desire – to do so? Question: What would be the point of our “returning” because we have been made to do so? What would be the good of it? Would that be a genuine, authentic act of repentance? Ostensibly, it would be far removed from such an act. It would be coercion, plain and simple! So no. We’re not asking to be given the impetus. We know that the impetus needs to originate with us. But once we have begun, once we have developed the urge, it needs to be transmuted into something that can carry us to Him, as it were (kvych”l), so that He will receive and accept it. It is this that we ask for: that He deliver, as it were, the effusion of desire that we have initiated so that it reaches Him, so that He will accept it. It takes form through our will. And to reach the desired climax, it must ultimately be willed by Him. He must accept it. Hence: harotze bishuva. It is because He accepts teshuva that our desire to return can have efficacy.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shabbos and Yom Tov: Kedusha and Classification

On shabbos we say mekadesh hashabbos.

On yom tov we say mekadesh yisrael vehazemanim.

In other words, we don’t classify shabbos with yom tov. We classify them separately.

Similarly for rosh hashana and for yom kippur. On the former we say mekadesh yisrael veyom hazikaron. On the latter we say mekadesh yisrael veyom hakippurim. Each one is separately classified. They are not classified together with the yamim tovim.

On the other hand, pesach, shavuos, sukos, and shemini atzeres all fall under the rubric of zemanim. We don’t have one mekadesh beracha for pesach and another for shavu-os.

Finally, we have a separate classification for rashei chadashim, where we say mekadesh yisrael verashei chadashim.

This suggests to me that each classification has its own kedusha. The kedusha of yom tov is unlike that of shabbos, and so on. Even when we say mekadesh hashabbos veyisrael vehazemanim, in one bracha, we designate shabbos and zemanim individually, which shows that each has its distinctive nature, its own kind of kedusha. The respective yamim tovim (zemanim), on the other hand, share a common kind of kedusha. This is reflected in the fact that they come under one head in the beracha formulation.

Now let’s view these same barachos from another perspective. On shabbos we say mekadesh hashabbos, in the singular. We don’t say mekadesh shabbasim – this, despite the fact that many shabbasim occur throughout the year. Yet, when it comes to yom tov, we say mekadesh yisrael vehazemanim, in the plural. Presumably this is because there are several yamim tovim in the course of the year. What, then, is the difference?

Ostensibly, the difference is that, although shabbos occurs repeatedly and there are many instances of shabbos in a span of time (e.g., a year), it is the same type of event that repeats itself (as it were). The shabbos of bereishis is of the same genre as the shabbos of no-ach, and so on. By contrast, the yamim tovim that occur through the course of a year are of disparate types: pesach is one event-type, sukos quite another. This, then, is why only one kind of shabbos is mentioned as receiving kedusha (via mekadesh hashabbos, in the singular), while several different kinds of yamim tovim are included in the beracha for the conferral of kedusha on yom tov (via mekadesh hazemanim, in the plural). This reflects the fact that each yom tov is of another type (as a recipient of a general kind of (a zemanimdika) kedusha).

Significantly, though they are themselves of distinctive types, they share in the type of kedusha conferred upon them. That this so is evident from the fact that the beracha, which separates them by using the plural form, also collects them together and heads them under the common epithet zemanim. The intimation being: qua entities, they are indeed individual and separate (several); but as far as their status as bearers of kedusha is concerned they are quite unified and alike. Shabbos, rosh hashana, and yom kippur, on the other hand, are individuated from one another – disparate – both as entities and as bearers of kedusha. This is why they are designated separately – under separate names – in their respective berachos.

But to repeat: shabbos is separate, as an entity and as a recipient of a distinctive kind of kedusha, only in relation to these other events (event-heads). However, individual shabbasim are all alike, both in terms of kedusha and even as entities (thus the singular formulation).

The kedusha of rosh chodesh is of a different kind than that of the yamim tovim or that of shabbos, for example. In its beracha formulation, it is not subsumed any of these others. But unlike the situation with shabbos, its individual occurrences – this month, the next month, the month after, etc – are demarcated separately as types, or event classifications. This is reflected in the use of the plural in the beracha formulation (roshei chadashim). It is not the same entity, receiving repeated instantiations. In this respect, the situation differs from shabbos, whose individual occurrences are deemed of a single type, as reflected in the singular formulation (hashabbos) in the beracha. What makes the individual months separate as entities is an interesting question, but the fact seems undeniable, given the thrust of the foregoing analysis.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Episode Two

The Manhig Ruchani had been facing Chaim as he spoke. It was therefore Chaim on whom the onus fell to reply to his query.

“It is all very simple.” “Yossie,” – Chaim was now pointing to his friend – “was telling me about the Chumash lesson he had had today. He claimed that the whole lesson was focused on this one short Rashi.” For my part, I had failed to see how an entire three-hour lesson could possibly confine itself to so short a span of words.”

At this point, Yossie chimed in.

“Yes, it’s true,” he said. “My rebbi dwelt on this single Rashi endlessly. He tried and tried again to plumb the true essence of its meaning. His discussion was way too intricate for me; and I lost track of his train of thought rather toward the beginning. I was left sitting all throughout in a thoroughly befuddled state.” “You must understand,” Yossie pleaded, “it was a totally discomfiting experience for me”

Much to Yossie’s relief, the Manhig Ruchani let loose a noticeable smile. Suddenly, he glanced at his watch. Realizing the time, he abruptly told the boys that the conversation would have to be temporarily interrupted. Mincha was about to begin. He asked the boys if they’d care to join the minyan, in response to which they indicated that they had already davened. The Manhig Ruchani asked them then if they could wait till the conclusion of the davening and resume the discussion they had begun. But the boys explained that they were expected at their respective homes and had therefore to depart the premises presently. Nodding his understanding, the Manhig Ruchani mentioned that they were free to return the next day for a resumption of the discussion. He intimated that he was particularly eager to make a significant contribution to the topic at hand. Perhaps they could prearrange with their families for them to arrive home just a little later than usual. The boys, in turn, offered their interest.

Off Yossie and Chaim went. As they strode through the winding walkways leading to their houses, they were overcome by a recognition of the immense interest that the Manhig Ruchani had taken in their conversation. It seemed to them as if the Rashi in question had possessed a far deeper gravity than they could possibly have fathomed.

The next day, the two of them met during their lunch break. Each confirmed to the other that permission to arrive home later than usual had been secured. After school, they would meet again and head straight for the beis medrash, they decided. They wondered in anticipation what the Manhig Ruchani would have to say.

The school day had come and gone. Meeting at their usual after-school spot, the boys set right out for the beis medrash. Walking briskly, they muttered barely a thought. It seemed to them as though a major development was going to extricate them from their irrepressible curiosity – so absorbed by it had they been. Hardly able to suppress their excitement, their gait steadily picked up speed. And in the event, they didn’t have long to wait. Even as they approached from the distance, they could catch a glimpse of the the Manhig Ruchani, as he stood adjacent to the opening of the edifice's surrounding gate. He may have been expecting them, they thought out loud. As they approached, he rang out “How good to see you. I was expecting you.” Looking at each other, the two were amused that he had confirmed their momentary ruminations. Ushering them into his private office, he motioned for them to take a seat.

On the Manhig Ruchani’s desk lay a sefer that bore the title, prominently displayed in Hebrew, Shem Hagedolim. Lifting it, the Manhig Ruchani looked right in the direction of the boys.

“This is a sefer by the Chida,” he exclaimed. “It provides biographical information about the great sages of our people’s past.”

Clueless as to the identity of the Chida, the boys sat there speechless. Sensing their puzzlement, the Manhig Ruchani immediately proceeded to assuage it. He said that the Chida lived some two-hundred years ago in Yerushalayim of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did he live in Yerushalayim, he lived in Chevron as well. And not only in Eretz Yisrael but also in Egypt and in Italy. He elaborated that he, the Chida, was recognized as a prodigious Torah scholar and especially noted for his erudition in Kabala. A beloved community leader, he wrote many sefarim and traveled far and wide in pursuit of untold worthy causes. The Manhig Ruchani also let on that the Chida’s imposing reputation was such as to open many an otherwise closed door especially to him.

Chaim and Yossi gave voice to their impressedness. But they remained utterly bewildered as to the reason for the Manhig Ruchani’s bringing up the whole matter of the Chida and his sefer. Finally, Chaim mustered the courage to get up from his seat and ask forthrightly: “Ok, but what has this got to go with the discussion we were having the other day about the Rashi in Chumash, the one that had occupied so much class-time?”

The Manhig Ruchani could contain his silence no longer. He opened the sefer to a certain page and pointed to a passage where this very statement of Rashi was the subject of discussion. The Manhig Ruchani then went on to provide some background.

“You see,” he said, “the Shem Hagedolim’s approach is to proceed in an encyclopedic fashion. It contains individual entries, one for each personage that comes under the scope of its coverage. Rashi, of course, is one such personage. Accordingly, an individual entry is devoted to information just about him. What is so striking is that the Chida sees fit to embellish the entry on Rashi with information pertaining to the upheaval caused by the very statement of Rashi that has been occupying the two of you. And not only has it occupied you, it has, evidently, occupied a very considerable amount of Yossie’s class time. And if that’s the case, then Yossie’s rebbi must have thought this Rashi very worthy of concentrated, elongated attention. The question is why? And I am proposing that the answer, in whole or in part, is contained within this very entry of the Chida’s Shem Hagedolim.”

Yossie and Chaim now sat spellbound. They were almost in a state of trance. They felt as if they were being let in on one of the true mysteries of the world. All they could do was to urge, in the gentlest but yet in the strongest of terms, the Manhig Ruchani to somehow convey to them exactly what the Chida’s entry on Rashi revealed. It was Yossie, this time, who dared to speak up.

“You have given us all this information. But you have gotten us to the point where we pain for further enlightenment. Please be so good as to give satisfaction to our quest.”

With this, the Manhig Ruchani gestured his approval. He bid Yossie and Chaim come closer to where he was sitting, so that may follow in text of the passage as the Manhig Ruchani was to read it. The three of them clustered together in a linear arrangement, the Manhig Ruchan's reading began.    

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Episode One

Yossi and Chaim were walking home from school. Yossi was bemoaning the hard lesson he had been subjected to during the day. He told Chaim, he hadn’t understood a word of it.

Chaim laughed.

“Not a word?” he asked.

Yossi reassured him that he had spoken sincerely and meant it quite literally. Chaim could contain his curiosity not a moment longer.

“Tell me,” he told Yossi, “What was the lesson about?”

Initially, Yossi responded that he hadn’t even been able to make out the topic of the lesson...that’s how hard it was. But after a little chiding from Chaim, he relented and said:

“Ok, I can tell you a little about what it was about.” “But,” he quickly added, “not much more than a little.”

Satisfied, Chaim said he’d be willing to settle for whatever he could get.

Yossi thereupon began. He told him that the lesson was about a Rashi on Chumash. The Parsha was Vayeshev; and the Rashi was on the pasuk in the narrative that dealt with the errand that Yosef was running for his father. Yaakov had sent him to visit his brothers and report back to him on their welfare. Yosef journeyed to Shechem, expecting to find them there. But when he arrived he discovered that they had gone elsewhere. Confounded, and confronted by a stranger who took Yosef for lost, Yosef inquired with this person as to the whereabouts of his brothers. The stranger related that he had indeed run into them and had overheard a conversation they were having, which was to the effect that they would head for Doson. Whereupon Yosef went looking for his brothers in Doson.

Arriving there, he was spotted by his brothers. Immediately, they took a negative attitude toward his impending presence. Talking amongst themselves, they recalled the favoritism with which he was treated by their father and, as well, the dreams he had had, portending his future dominance over them. They recalled his telling them of his dreams, in quite minute detail, and the resentment they bore toward him as a result. His joining them was not at all something that they were going to accept with equanimity.

As he approached, they decided amongst themselves to do away with him once and for all, that is, to kill him.

Yossi mentioned that the Chumash expressed this episode with the words, vayiskaklu oso lehamiso. That, he said, was what the Rashi was about, repeating also that the topic of the lesson was this particular Rashi.

Hearing this, Chaim was bewildered. “You mean to tell me, the entire lesson revolved around this one Rashi?” he queried. “Was it one of those rare, long Rashi’s, like the ones that cover the better part of a whole page?” he further asked.

To his immense surprise, Yossi answered him in the negative, explaining that the Rashi in question was not long at all: on the contrary, it was all of four words long!

Chaim was incredulous. “An entire lesson spent on a Rashi four words long!” he exclaimed.

Yossi assured him that he had heard correctly. Chaim summarily told him that this was a Rashi he just had to see.

As they continued on their trek home, their path took them past a beis medrash. It was Mincha time, and they could see that people were entering the edifice – presumably to daven with the minyan. They having already davened in yeshiva, they hadn’t thought to enter the beis medrash themselves. But Chaim, deeply caught up in fathoming Yossi’s claim that his three-hour lesson concentrated on a four-worded Rashi, nudged Yossi to step in to the beis medrash with him and take out a Chumash so that he could show him exactly what Rashi this Rashi was. Not being the difficult type, Yossi agreed and into the beis medrash they went.

Once in, a Chumash wasn’t hard to find. Yossi took it in his hands and flipped through the early pages, arriving finally at a page ensconced somewhere in the middle of Sefer Bereishis and toward the beginning of Parshas Vayeshev. Before they knew it, Chaim and Yossi were together looking at a pasuk in chapter 37 that read: “And they saw him from a distance; and before he drew close to them, they contrived to kill him.” The actual Hebrew for “they contrived to kill him” was vayisnaklu oso lehamiso. Having absorbed these words, their gaze gradually turned to the Rashi.

Thumbing through the page, Yossi’s finger landed squarely on a Rashi that was prefaced by the word oso, taken from the pasuk. “This,” he emphatically proclaimed, "is the Rashi we had spent all that time on.”

Chaim couldn’t believe his eyes. Nothing particularly unusual about this Rashi initially met the eye. It did indeed consist of a mere four words: not four long words, mind you, or even four middle-sized words. It consisted of just four rather short words. The whole Rashi appeared so very curt. “How complicated could this Rashi already be?” wondered Chaim out loud – within earshot of none other than the beis medrash’s Manhig Ruchani.

A few minutes were left, before the Mincha davening was to begin. Chaim and Yossi stood there, pondering the sight of the Rashi. All of a sudden, as if from nowhere, they found themselves being approached from the side by a distinguished looking man. He was dark bearded, sported a pure black tie set against an equally pure white shirt, and bore all the markings of someone very much steeped in learning. Chaim, who was holding the Chumash, felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Turning reflexively, he instantly realized that the tapper was the Manhig Ruchani himself. Eyes wide open, the two boys listened as their joiner began to speak apologetically.         

“Pardon me,” he said, “for intruding. But I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I wasn’t eavesdropping, mind you. But the tenor of your discussion impressed me starkly.”

Chaim and Yossi were nothing short of dumbfounded.

The Manhig Ruchani proceeded to explain that he had caught wind of the fact that the two boys were engrossed in a look at the Rashi in Vayeshev that focused on the Torah’s use of the word oso in expressing the thought that the brothers were engaged in a conspiratorial act affecting Yosef. He simply marveled at the fact that boys of such a young age could pick such a seemingly abstruse item to think about and discuss together.

“What,” he solemnly inquired, “made you pick this Rashi as a topic of interest?”    

(To be continued.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Concerning a Jewish Slave

Here is the Chinuch’s gloss on the mitzva concerning a Jewish slave.

What is the mitzva concerning a Jewish slave? Locating the source of this mitzva in the verse beginning in the words “ki sikne eved ivri,” the Chinuch defines this mitzva as the obligation to treat the Jewish slave in precisely the manner delineated in this parsha (or passage of the Torah). The parsha has things to say, first and foremost, about the various ways in which a (Jewish) slave is freed from bondage. There are various events that trigger his release, whereupon he ceases to be subjugated to his master. They include, in particular, the completion of six years of servitude and, also, the arrival of the year of yovel. They also include the performance of a monetary redemption. The master is paid a sum corresponding to the amount of time left on the slave’s  six-year-delimited obligation. (This sum constitutes a diminution of the original payment made in procurement of the slave.) Yet another trigger is the death of the master. Provided he dies sonless and, therefore, without a qualified heir, his death occasions the slave’s release. (For only a son inherits a Jewish slave.) The parsha also has things to say about how a nirtza is treated. A nirtza is a slave who has voluntarily opted to forego the opportunity to be released on the basis of the six year trigger. He undergoes a procedure involving having his ear bored and is thus made a permanent slave, meaning that he serves until the yovel year. This requirement too is part and parcel of the obligation concerning a Jewish slave; and fulfillment of the mitzva entails abiding by its provisions as well. Chazal delineated the various specifications in their Talmudic discussion; and a Jew fulfills the command by abiding by all of those specifications.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Es" and Naming

A transitive verb takes a direct object. In Hebrew, this object is preceded by the word es. But there is a caveat to be entered. Transitive verbs come in two kinds. Crudely speaking, a transitive verb represents an action taken in regard to an object. Now, sometimes, quite often actually, this object (its existence) antedates the action taken, as represented by the verb. However, in other instances, the object is brought into being by this action; it did not exist previously. Now, if we look around, we find that it is not in all instances that the direct object of a transitive verb is, in the Torah, preceded by es. Often it is; but sometimes it isn’t. What accounts for this? Without yet explaining it, I want to suggest that the situation bifurcates itself with whether the object of the verb in question is being brought into existence by the the action represented by the verb or it is not being brought into being but, already existing, is merely acted upon. In the letter case, there occurs an es; in the former one, not. It is as if the es implied that there was something there for the designated action to operate upon.

To this it will immediately be objected that the verse uses es with bereishi bara elokim. And here, the heavens and earth are represented as being first brought into being! This, to be sure, is a seemingly powerful rebuttal. But in amelioration, I want to suggest that the situation there is distinctive, in that not only did the object of the verb not yet exist, the materials from which it was to be composed were not in existence either. In other words, the heavens and earth were to be created ex nihilo. Indeed, the object in question was matter itself (see the Ramban). Now, I want to further suggest, that the reason that es is not used in conjunction with an object that does not already exist is that there is a lack of definitiveness; and an indefinite object does not command an es prefix. This indefiniteness arises from a state of affairs in which an object needs to be formed by means of a certain composition of preexisting matter; and the manner of composition is (as yet) unknown. It is indeterminate. However, where it is to be created ex nihilo, there is no unknown quantity, matter, to speak of. The object is thus independent of any unknown source. Consequently, it is not wanting in definitiveness. So it is suitable for taking an es prefix.

Good. But now another, seemingly more formidable problem comes to the fore. In countless places in the Torah we find es omitted in conjunction with an object that already exists. Furthermore (to make matters worse), we find one and the same object sometimes prefixed by es, sometimes not. A case in point (actually a series of them) is the use of es in this week’s parsha (Vayeitzei), where the word for a name - sheim - occurs several times in the position of a direct object, fully complemented by an es prefix. Thus we read: (Bereishis: 30,11) vatikra es shemo gad. And a few verses ahead we find vatikra es shemo asheir. There are similar other such instances. Yet, remaining ensconced in this very same context, we also find vatikra shemo re-uvein, vatikra shemo shimon, and other comparable instances in which the leading es is omitted. How are such disparities to be accounted for (on my theory)? Is giving a name creating something new or not?

Let us try to reason it through. Should shemo re-uvein be prefixed by an es or shout it not? On the principle that es is used to prefix an existing object but not to prefix a non-existent one, it might appear that it should not. After all, the name re-uvein had not pre-existed; it was first being formulated by Leah and applied, for the first time, to the newborn (unnamed) child. This logic would, then, account for all those instances in which sheim was not prefixed by es. But what about those instances in which it was? Perhaps we can conjure an entirely different logic. Perhaps, true though it be the the infant was newborn and being named for the very first time; nevertheless, the name that he was given was not per se new. The name had a semantical, connotative origin, delineated in the verse itself as an explanation of Leah’s decision to name him thus. Moreover, it was being applied to the infant who had already been born and, therefore, very much in existence. (Vatikra shemo... can thus be parsed something along the lines of vatikra es hayeled

This thinking, then, accounts for the instances in which es is used. But seemingly, it has got to be one way or the other, not both ways! Why, then, do we find vacillation among the verses in this regard – seeming inconsistency?

Here, then, is what it occurs to me to say. There are, indeed, two ways in which to refer to something (designated by the direct object of a transitive verb). One is as a fully specified independently existing thing. It needs merely to be identified, that is, picked out. Its description (or, at least, one of them) is presumed already known. The other is as something not so definite and not so objective. Its identity is not presumed already known but is furnished in place through description, provided in the very context in which mention of it is made. In the latter case, there is no occurrence of es; only in the former.

One and the same type of thing can be referenced in either way: as something needing merely to be identified or as something with whose essence acquaintance has first to be made. So it is with, for example, a newborn’s name. The name can be thought of as preexisting, taking the shape of an idea previously encountered, familiar from other contexts. It is merely being here re-applied. It can, on the other hand, also be thought of as conjuring up something novel: a newly configured aspect under which something is to fall, one whose contours have yet to receive definitive concretization. In the latter case only is a process of dynamic creativity at work. For this reason, it makes do without an accompanying es.

In the one case, the act of naming is conceived as merely specifying. The child is conceived of as inherently having a name; the mother (in this instance) does something to it, by specifying its identity. It is as if the name per se had preexisted. All that was needed was for it to be called something or other. It could be called any of a number of things. Whatever it is called, it remains the child’s name, something (a name) which the child had all along. It is as if an as yet unnamed child already had a name (which awaits being called something)! Perhaps the idea is that the name a child is ultimately given is one it had had all along – existing initially in an inchoate or undisclosed state. The act of naming merely crystallizes it or reveals it. In any event, in the other case, though, a name is thought of as something brought into existence through the act of naming.

It would be interesting to see if this theory is borne out. If it is, it will then turn out that es is withheld not only in connection with objects that reference things first being brought into being but, as well, with objects representing preexistent things whose contours have not, however, been (adequately) fully defined – and whose definitions therefore await elaboration from the very contexts in which these objects appear. 

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In philosophical anthropology we hear it said that language creates things, or that it at least creates properties of things. What properties a thing is seen as having is, it is maintained, a function of human interest. Man conceptualizes to suit his needs; consequently, untold (latent) aspects of things go unnoticed. They are unnoticed, because man has not (as yet) found any use for the thing in question under the aspect in question, a use that draws attention to it and gives it the status of an (identifiable, recognizable) aspect. This being so, the need to have a word corresponding to such an “aspect” does not arise. Thus it is that language creates features. In keeping with this, it is further said that different cultures employ different languages, having differing powers of conceptualization. Some languages make room for this-and-that aspect; others do not. What you see is therefore a function of the language you speak – the culture to which you belong. This is familiar philosophy.

Perhaps this is the idea behind the absence versus the presence of es of which I have been speaking.