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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

The World’s First Murder: A Closer Look at Cain and Abel — What kind of ‘with’?

By Rabbi David Fohrman


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To sophisticated moderns, the Bible can sometimes seem like a collection of fairy tales. No longer.

Combining a careful reading of the text with ancient rabbinic analysis, the author takes us behind the scenes in Scripture, revealing a startling tapestry of meaning in stories that many have written-off as fiction.

As before, he has designed the series to be interactive. You are encouraged to pose questions and offer comments. Try to stump the rabbi — he'll respond!

The sixth in a series

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | So Cain derives his name from his mother's declaration that she has "acquired" a man with G-d. As we mentioned last week, Eve's use of the word "acquire" is a bit odd. She could have used lots of other phrases to express her idea that she created this little being in partnership with the Almighty. (1)But she doesn't. Why does she say "acquire" when she seems to mean "create"?


Truth to tell, though, this is not the only oddity in Eve's declaration. Something else is a bit strange as well. It has to do with the way Eve says that she has partnered "with" G-d. If you were a Hebrew speaker and you wanted to say that you had done something "with" someone else, how would you say it? Which Hebrew word would you choose for "with"?


The word you would immediately, instinctively reach for would be "im". You can grab your dictionary and look it up. The word "im" appears everywhere in the Bible, and it is the most basic and plain way to say "with".


But this is not the word Eve uses. She uses the word "et".


"Et", too, is a common word in the Bible. And "et" can mean "with" — at least occasionally. Nine times out of ten, though, "et" means something else entirely. It performs a particular grammatical function that would be entirely out of place in Eve's sentence. We'll talk more about what "et" usually means later, but for now, suffice it to say that Eve avoids the far more common word for "with", ['im'], and uses the much more jarring, seemingly-out-of-place "et" instead. Why would she do that?

FROM CREATOR TO OWNER

Well, first things first. Eve talks about "acquiring" rather than "creating". Is there a relationship between the two words — that is, the word we would have expected her to use ["create"] and the word she actually uses ["acquire"]?


Clearly, the words are related. "Acquiring" conjures up notions of "having" or "owning", and indeed, a creator could be said to "have" or "own" the things he creates. He might be said to "acquire" them through the act of creating them. So creation, we might say, leads to ownership.


Right?


Well, sort of; but not necessarily. Creation can lead to ownership — but it doesn't have to. Let's stop and define our terms here. When I say that I own something, this means that I am asserting my right to control the thing and to keep you from using it. Now, after I make something, I can decide to assert this right if I want to, but I don't have to. I could alternatively decide that what I've made is open to the world and people can use it freely or alter it at will. If I make a software program, I can file a patent and assert my exclusive rights over it, or I can put it up on my website and declare it "freeware". It is up to me.


The act of creation, then, sets up a choice. The choice concerns my relationship to that which I've created. Will I choose to assert my control over it? Will I choose to own it?


Eve, at least in her own mind, seems to have made this journey from "creator" to "acquirer" — she, along with G-d, have "acquired" this little man. Which leads us to ask: Why, exactly, would a creator choose to make this journey?

WHEN IT'S NOT ABOUT MONEY ANYMORE

The most obvious motivation for a creator to assert his rights of ownership, I suppose, would be economic. If I own something, I can sell it or trade it for other things of value. But there are certain things which are "ours" that we don't own in an economic kind of way — children come to mind — and unless Eve was intending to put Cain up for sale on the slave market, it's doubtful that it is financial gain she has in mind when she calls Cain "hers". Indeed, the lure of cash does not by any means exhaust the list of reasons I might want to "own" that which I create. Stephen King has a lot of money already, maybe more than he can use, but he still fills out the copyright forms for his books. Why?


A deeper reason a creator wishes to exert ownership, I think, is a sense of pride in that which he's made. By this, I don't mean pride in a bad sense; I mean it in a natural sense. What I've made is an expression of who I am. It is precious to me. I poured resources, energy and ingenuity into its making, and I want to make sure the thing maintains its integrity once it is released into the world at large.


To clarify the point: Calling myself the owner of that which I've made is not necessarily a selfish act. I may well be ready to part with what I've made, to bestow it as a gift to others or to the world — but still, I want to make sure the world gets what I intended to give it. I don't want my precious creation to be adulterated or corrupted by other well-meaning but foolish hands. Sometimes, I assert that what I've made is mine merely in order to protect what I think is its core identity.

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Speaking personally, I can certainly relate to the impulse of a "creator" to see himself as an "owner". A number of years ago, I was asked by a local organization to develop a series of classes on "the Meaning of Life" according to Judaism. It seemed like a hopelessly vague and probably fruitless assignment. But after many days and weeks of work, I had finally put together something that, well, I really liked. I was truly proud of this thing. And all of a sudden, I felt terribly reluctant to do what I had said I would do. I was supposed to teach the course to a number of teachers, who would then go out and teach it to students. But I didn't want to do that anymore. I feared that the organization that commissioned the project didn't really understand what I had put together, and I worried that the delicate tapestry I had constructed would become corrupted in the hands of others who didn't care about it as much as I did. I can't say I'm proud of feeling this way, but, for better or for worse, I just wasn't prepared to give up control over what I had made. It was too dear to me.


In using the word "acquire" rather than "create", perhaps Eve was making some sort of journey from creator to owner. Not an "owner" in a base, economic sense, but in a fuller, even spiritual sense. What she created with G-d was not something trivial or incidental, but something which imbued her life with new sanctity and meaning. Indeed, Eve's very name speaks to this life-goal: Eve, or in Hebrew Chava, is short for em kol chai, "Mother of All Life". The fruits of her partnership with the Almighty are not incidental to who she is; they help define who she is. Her child would be hers and G-d's, come what may. Cain mattered to her, in the deepest possible way .

FROM "IM" TO "ET"

But to truly understand Eve, we must now turn to the next ambiguous phrase in her declaration, her use of the unusual "et" instead of "im".


As I mentioned above, "et" can be used to mean "with" (as Eve seems to use it here), but that is not the usual, dominant meaning of the word. What, in fact, does "et" usually mean?


Before I answer that, let me take a minute to make my case as to why it's even important for us to know this. Why should we be so concerned with the other meaning of "et" if that's not the meaning that Eve intends?


The answer is this: When it comes to Hebrew, synonyms [like, for example, "et" and "im", both of which can mean "with"] are a tricky business. You always have to ask why there are two words for an idea when one would have done just fine. More often than not, the two synonymous words don't mean exactly the same thing; they are instead slightly different flavors of the same ice cream. We saw an example of this a while back when we were talking about the words eiphoh and ayeh in connection with Adam and Eve in Eden [in my earlier, Serpents of Desire series of articles]. These two words, which each ostensibly means "where", actually signify two very different questions: "where" vs. "where have you gone". Likewise, when it comes to "with", if there are two Hebrew words for this idea, it may well be that the idea itself comes in two different flavors.


How do you discern the taste of each flavor, the precise meaning of each term? One way to do it is to look for alternative meanings of each word. If "et" has a primary meaning and a secondary meaning, it may well be that the secondary meaning derives from the primary one. The kind of "with" that "et" expresses may be influenced by whatever else this word "et" really means.


GETTING AT "ET"

So now, back to our question: What does "et" usually mean, when it doesn't mean "with"?


Well, I'm glad you asked. The question, though, isn't so easy to answer, for the primary meaning of the word "et" has no English counterpart. It is a grammatical utility tool unique to the Hebrew language. It provides a bridge, a link, between a verb and a direct object. In English, we don't have a need for any special words to perform this task. We just put the verb and direct object right next to each other and call it a day. In Hebrew, though, "et" would be inserted between the two to complete the link.


Here's a quick example. In English, if you struck a little round thing, you would say "I hit the ball" and it would be clear to all what you mean. In Hebrew, though, you wouldn't say it that way. You would use the word "et" to create the link between verb and object. You would say hikeiti "et" hakadur — or, "I hit "et' the ball".


So let me be the first to congratulate you — you are now an expert in Hebrew grammar, and, there there, it wasn't even so painful, was it? But the real prize is that you are now in a better position to understand the Bible. For now that you know what "et" usually means, you can now see what it might have meant when Eve used it to mean "with".

CO-SUBJECT OR TOOL?

In English, as in Hebrew, the word "with" admits of two meanings. I can say that I wrote this article with a co-author (I didn't). Or I can say I wrote it with a word-processor (I did). In each case, I am using the same word "with" — but I mean vastly different things.


  • One kind of "with" denotes full companionship; the other denotes subservience.

  • One kind of "with" indicates an equal partnership; the other, an unequal partnership.


One kind of "with", I would argue, is denoted by "im". The other kind, I think, is denoted by "et".


The "im" kind of "with" points to a co-subject — another author, for example, who along with me, plans, plots and writes the article. The "et" kind of "with", though, doesn't point to another subject at all. It points to an object — a tool that I make use of to achieve my goal.


Table I: "Im" vs. "Et"

I, with Sam, my fictional friend, Subject Clause I
wrote Verb Wrote
this article Object Clause this article with my word processor
"Im" kind of "with"   "Et" kind of "with"


In a curious kind of way, perhaps the two meanings of "et" really are the same. "Et", when used as a grammatical linker, points to an object in a sentence. And "et", when used to mean "with", points to an object, too. It indicates that which a subject uses to get something done.


So now, one more time — when Eve said "I acquired a man with G-d", what was she really saying?


The two halves of Eve's marvelously concise statement mesh to form a fascinating whole. Eve perceives herself a partner with the Almighty in the sacred and miraculous act of creation. The fruit of this partnership matters to her, means everything to her; she has acquired, not merely, created, and the product of this creativity expresses the essence of who she is. And yet this is not a partnership of equals. One partner is subject; the other is object. One is innovator, the other a tool.


There is something inherently unsettled about this arrangement, and something inherently ambiguous about what Eve is saying. But, having already used up my two thousand word allotment for this article (and then some), I'm going to stop here for fear of turning into a pumpkin.


Think about all this, and we'll talk more about Eve's dilemma — as well as its ramifications for understanding Cain — when we return next week.


(1) Indeed, the very word "matter' may well derive from the Latin word for mother, "mater".


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"Serpents of Desire", Rabbi Fohrman's previous series of articles on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, has now been re-edited by the rabbi and has just been released as an e-book. You can get your copy from jewishexplorations.com

Rabbi David Fohrman teaches Biblical Themes at the Johns Hopkins University, and directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies. His intriguing talks on a wide array of Biblical themes are available on tape and CD at jewishexplorations.com


Previously:

Living the dream of Eve
Blood on the ground
Echoes of Eden
The enigmatic genius of Cain
A Closer Look at Cain and Abel
Sure, the Bible is holy, but does it really mean anything?


© 2005, Rabbi David Fohrman