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September 10, 2007

What's with you?

Each year, I read Torah at shul on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The reading is Genesis chapter 21, the story of the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael.

And each year, when I read verse 17 in preparation for my reading, it cracks me up. Here's the first part of verse 17 in English (my rough translation): "And God heard the voice of the boy, and an angel of God called out to Hagar from the heavens, and he said to her, 'What's with you, Hagar?'" The verse then continues.

What amuses me is the Hebrew. The word for angel is "mal'ach"; the word for what's with you is "ma-lach." It's an obvious play on words.

By the way, I'm way less than fluent in Biblical Hebrew, but I've picked up a fair amount from reading the Torah. This past shabbat, I had an unusual experience. I was reading the translation in English to myself, and, I'm embarrassed to admit, I didn't know the English word "imprecation." I looked at the Hebrew, saw the word "alah," and realized that imprecation meant curse. I can't remember ever before figuring out the English from the Hebrew.