Monday, January 28, 2008

612. Much

Like half the universe I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love, and enjoying the author's exuberant love affair with the Italian language. She declares her favorite word to be attraversiamo, "cross over to the other side," which rolls seductively off the tongue (and also happens to summarize her life story). My first favorite word in Hebrew, long before I knew what it meant, was oz (strength). I heard it every week as part of the blessing at the end of the Friday night service, but didn't care what it meant--just that it buzzed and lingered when I said it, as if the joy of the evening was trying to stick inside my mouth like taffy.

My current favorite word is from the Shema: m'odekha. It's usually translated as "might," as in the original Ugaritic, a pre-Biblical language. But me'od in Hebrew means "much." So m'odekha is, literally, "your muchness," as in

V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your muchness.

I think this is a perfect word to describe a relationship with God. God is not a fellow human, so prosaic emotions like love and hate can't really apply. We need a different language, one of awe and abundance, laughter and tears mixed together until they cease to have meaning, to describe the being together of God and humankind. "Muchness" is on the scale of the ocean and desert, so vast and unexplainable that it bypasses grammar, what you might sputter out if drunk or astonished and all other words fail. It sounds like something a child would say who doesn't yet have command of language, but we understand exactly.


Regina said...

What a beautiful post today, aa... this really made me think of just how hard I find it to pray sometimes because I can't seem to find the right words!

alto artist said...

Thank you, as always... and you remind me of this midrash (which I'm copying here from
An ignorant villager, knowing that it was a mitzvah to feast well before Yom Kippur, drank himself into such a stupor that he missed Kol Nidre services. When he awoke late at night, he wanted to pray, but he didn't know any of the prayers by heart. So he began to recite the alphabet over and over again.

"Dear God!" he cried. "I am giving You all the letters. You arrange them in the right order!"

The next day he went to the Kotsker Rebbe's shul for services. As soon as the Neilah was over, the Kotsker summonned him to explain his absence at Kol Nidre the night before.

"Holy master!" he cried. "So eager was I to welcome the holy day with joy that I overdid it a bit and slept through the service. When I awoke late last night, I tried to pray, but I did not know the proper words. For, you see, all I know by heart is the aleph-bet. So I just recited the letters and asked God to make words out of them. Were my prayers acceptable?"

The Kotsker smiled. "More acceptable than mine," he said, "for you spoke them with your whole heart."

Rav Aaron Leibowitz said...

Fantastic! The classical rabbinic interpretation of the word in Shma is that you should love god with all your belongings. This incorporates our extended self into our movement towards God, as if to say my money can love, if I direct it with love.

alto artist said...

Beautiful--thank you for sharing this interpretation, which I've never heard before.

I guess the message is that there isn't any aspect of ourselves, our belongings, our world, that doesn't have part of God in it...