Most native Hebrew speakers are not aware of this, but the Hebrew language and Hebrew verbs in particular, have a tendency to be particularly odd when it comes to the roots of verbs – “Shorashim”. Roots are normally 3 letters compiling the base from which we build our verbs, by conjugating them according to the tense and gender of the speaker. Unlike other languages, in Hebrew, each root can be conjugated in no less than 7 different forms, and those create different verbs which are seemingly random. But upon taking a closer look, we find very interesting combinations which reveal the true wisdom that modern Hebrew language is all about! Let me show you an example:
The root SH-L-M can be used to build the following verbs:
“SHALEM” – whole, complete;
“LEHASHLIM” – to make peace;
“LESHALEM” – to pay.
If you heard these three words in any other language, it would never occur to you that there may be a connection between them. But in Hebrew, these types of connections give us a totally different perspective, and we begin to see the philosophic point of view behind the words.
Coming to think of it, making peace is actually like coming to a completion with another person, becoming whole and therefore being in unity with one another; Paying for a service can also be considered as making peace with the giver, as by giving something in return we complete the cycle of giving and receiving and come back to a point of equilibrium. Even when greeting each other with the innocent and commonly used ‘shalom’, what we’re actually saying is ‘I am one with the world, I am complete, or I come in peace’.
These ideas are not new, but are the bases of universal concepts that help us humans build a healthy society – unity, sharing, and peace. It is no wonder than that the revival of the Hebrew language in the 19th century is very much linked with the rise of Zionism and eventually, the establishment of the Jewish state. Looking back to that time, we find a harmonious relationship between religion, poetry, and philosophy, all leading pioneers to pursue their dream and create an autonomy for their people.
Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the man who is responsible for reviving the language, was not just a linguist, but a man of vision. It was he who declared that there are no peoples without a common language to bind them together. He believed that speaking Hebrew could actually cure people from illness and pain. Pursuing his belief turned him into a man of controversy among the European Jewish society, and he too amongst others left religious life for the sake of the modern education, and became part of the Enlightenment movement.
The conclusion is that Hebrew language as it is spoken today is a secular expression of spirituality which is not dependant on traditions, but on the day to day practice of conscious communication. Keep all this in mind when learning Hebrew and you too will be drawn by the ancient magic and mystery still present in modern life today!
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