We have before us not simply a phrase, a link of words, but a creation of a new concept
“You have affirmed on this day that Hashem is your God, to walk in His ways, to observe His laws… And Hashem has affirmed on this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments.” (Devarim 26:17-18)
“The key verb in both these pesukim is l’haamir. The English translation used above is “to affirm,” based on the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh. Any translation, however, works at a deficit to capture the authenticity of the actual Hebrew word. This word l’haamir shares the root of one the most common of all biblical verbs, lomar — “to say.” Yet the specific form used here — hiphil, the causative form — is unique and doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible. Why here? (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Covenant & Conversation)
It should have been a summer like any other. Our bein hazmanim plans lent no premonitions or warning that my life was about to be altered, the timeless patter of all my years about to be disrupted.
It was a 2 a.m. call that set it in motion. And less than 24 hours later, after jumping on a late-night plane and driving four hours from JFK, I stood outside the ICU of Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, my brain not fully registering the events that led me here.
Part of my senses were so heightened. I registered the hushed crepe-soled footsteps of the nurses, the whoosh of automatic doors. Yet part of my senses had shut down, mercifully, so I couldn’t comprehend why I was standing outside the room that was hosting my father’s last moments.
The use of language in the Torah isn’t vague or accidental. The way something is said is connected to what is being said. Here, we have before us not simply a phrase, a link of words, but a creation of a new concept — the creation of a covenant between G-d and His nation, through this word le-ha’amir — to affirm.
I was so grateful that I had made it in time. But the enormity of the minutes ticking by set up a clamber in my head, a pounding that deafened any further emotion.
And then my older brother nodded, and time stopped. It was my turn to stand there, to tear kri’ah to say a brachah I’d never before said with sheim Hashem.
My brain was frozen, my fingers inert. There was an electrifying tension coursing through me, a soundless scream that NO! I could not! Would not! Say the words that made this a reality!
We discover a similar concept in the very beginning of the Torah. G-d spoke and the world came into being. G-d’s speech created the world.
Yet what about us humans? Can our speech create an entity not previously there? When a groom says to his bride under the chuppah, “Behold you are betrothed to me…” he isn’t stating a fact, but creating a fact. He’s using the most basic type of performative utterance by making a promise, using language to actually create an obligation.
So too in this parshah we use language to create an obligation, a promise to create a covenant, that G-d and Bnei Yisrael pledge themselves to one another by this covenant, this relationship brought into existence by words.
Eyes closed, I reached into some deep place within myself. Some stronger grounded space that needed all my concentration to arrive there. Then I knew. I knew I would say the words. And I knew too, that while I said them, these would be the hardest words I’d ever say. But I knew too, that this was the most elevated moment of my life until now.
I was in pain, I was broken, I was screaming in fear. The world couldn’t go on without my father in it. But my mouth opened and the brachah emerged. Because my knowledge went deeper. I was a daughter in loss, but I still had a Father. And He wanted my brachah, He wanted this affirmation of my connection to Him.
I said the words, confirming that no matter what happens in my life, I am still a Jew who blesses Hashem. The hardest moment, the most elevated. I spoke those words and I meant them.
Liluy nishmas avi mori Rav Yaakov Shlomo ben Rav Efraim. This piece was the hardest column I’ve ever written, but I wanted to immortalize the experience on one more level — with the written word.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 810)
Oops! We could not locate your form.