“Nuance,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
August 19, 2022 | 22 Av 5782
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.
Every translation is a paraphrase.
Anyone who has ever tried to translate from one language into another appreciates there are nuances of understanding. The Yiddish word, mensch, may translate as man, but we know it connotes humaneness, integrity, kindness, and goodness.
When, as part of the Editorial team, we worked on translating the prayers for Mishkan T’filah, our weekly prayer book, as well on Mishkan HaNefesh, our High Holy Day machzor we did not rely on literal translations. Often, they don’t make much sense and sound like a foreign language in English. Instead, we sought what we called a faithful translation, which we viewed to be truer to the essence and gradations of the inherent meaning.
It is also important to recognize translation variations when we read Torah. Our portion this week reminds us about our regard for the stranger.
[The Eternal] upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:13)
Two particular words catch my attention: befriend and stranger. If every translation is a paraphrase, what is the Hebrew and English conveying?
A stranger can connote fear or represent otherness. This is a person, as the English clearly declares who is strange to us. The Hebrew word, ger, means sojourner, temporary dweller, and newcomer. Abraham is called a ger when he journeys from Haran to Canaan. (Genesis 23:4) Moses named his son Gershom with the explanation that he has been a ger in a foreign land. (Exodus 18:20) Others outside of the ancient Israelites received the description of ger as well. Our Torah portion speaks of them and their treatment. They aren’t regarded as strange at all, but rather with the expectation to be befriended.
It is a curious choice for the translation because the Hebrew word is actually love. The Torah instructs us to love God, love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and love the stranger as we love ourselves. “Befriend” as its translation is more accessible. It offers a nuance of reaching out, of actively pursuing in a loving way. It does not bind us in an either/or mentality but one of openness.
Translations are paraphrases but they offer lessons as well. From centuries ago to these very days, we live among and with those who sojourn or dwell or newly arrive among us and with us. Our tradition demands from us that we provide for them and regard them in the same loving way as we do our neighbors, ourselves, and the Divine. To befriend the stranger is a sacred way of living for each one of us as citizens and residents of our communities and our country.
(originally shared August 11, 2017)
I truly value hearing your thoughts and reflections. Connect with me here.
- If you are in town, come celebrate Shabbat together and join us for Qabbalat Shabbat outside in the garden with plenty of singing, learning, praying, thinking, and some treats to eat and drink. If you’re unable to join onsite, please join us on Zoom, or Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
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- Gather online for Havdalah at 8:00 p.m. Our weekly Havdalah ritual is a lay-led experience. Stop by, say hello, catch up from the week, and say goodbye to Shabbat together. Join on Zoom.
Rabbi Elaine Zecher