Dearly Beloved in Yeshua,
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
The original settlers of America, the Pilgrims, cherished their King James Bibles, which they brought with them on the Mayflower. They deeply identified with the faith and sufferings of the faithful believers of Hebrews Chapter 11. Governor William Bradford, their leader, commenting on the suffering endured by the early colonists, said: “But they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”
Who exactly were the Pilgrims? They were Separatists, a group of believers who felt that the Church of England was so corrupt that the only way they could appropriately worship the Lord was to separate themselves from the established church. The other people that sailed with the Separatists on the Mayflower in 1620 were called “Strangers.” The Separatists saw their journey to the New World as a reenactment of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. King George of England was Pharaoh. The Atlantic Ocean was the Sea of Reeds. America was the Promised Land, and Massachusetts was “the New Zion.”
William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, was fanatical about the Hebrew language. He taught himself Hebrew because he wanted to read the Scriptures in their original language. He believed that after his death, he would speak Hebrew with God and the angels. Bradford was also in favor of Hebrew being the language of their new country. This would be another way to separate from all things “English.” They would speak the language of the Bible. A vote was taken on the Mayflower to determine which language the settlers would speak in the New World. According to an article by Tsivya Fox in Breaking Israel News, “How Hebrew Almost Became the Official Language of America,” Hebrew lost by only one vote. Imagine: if Hebrew had won, we would all be speaking the Holy Tongue today!
During the time of the American Revolution, the topic resurfaced, since a linguistic separation was deemed appropriate to follow a political separation. In 1780, Hebrew was once again proposed as the official American language. Marquis de Chastellux, a companion of George Washington, wrote that, “certain members of Congress proposed that the use of English be formally prohibited in the United States, and Hebrew substituted for it.”
Hebrew was taught in many of the major American universities in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Many of the Founding Fathers attended Columbia, Brown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, William and Mary, and Yale. Hebrew words or phrases were included in official university emblems or seals. For example, Yale’s seal, dating from 1722, includes the phrase “urim v’tumim,” the oracular will of God, a part of the breastplate of the High Priest. A course in Hebrew was originally a freshman requirement at Yale.
Most words in the Hebrew language have a three-letter root. The root of Ivrit עבר (eev-REET) is, avar (ah-VAHR), which means to cross over, to pass through, by, or over. The main idea of the word is one of movement, of crossing over from one specific place or state of being to another. A Hebrew, like Abram the Hebrew, is literally “one who crosses over.” Abram crossed over rivers and deserts from Ur of the Chaldees, at the call of God, to go to the Land of Canaan. He spiritually “crossed over” from polytheism to monotheism, following the One True God.
It is interesting to note that Abram, the first Hebrew recorded in the Bible, is one of those “pilgrims” mentioned in Hebrews 11: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going…for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8, 10). Bill Bjoraker, in his Hebrew Nuggets, makes a beautiful comment on Abraham that reminds me so much of my dearly departed husband, Neil, whose middle name was Abraham: “A true Hebrew will, like Abraham, live as a sojourner in his life (1 Peter 2:11-12). He/she will not put his/her tent pegs down too deeply in the soil of this world system, because he/she is yearning for that Kingdom of God. A true Hebrew, however, will not seek to escape from the world. He/she is a sojourner in that he/she is separated morally and spiritually from worldliness, but not socially or geographically from unbelieving people. Because of the spiritual separation (holiness), a modern son or daughter of Abraham goes into the world with a mission and a message.”
May we follow Abraham’s and Neil Abraham’s examples of living as true Hebrews, sojourners, in this life, crossing barriers to advance the Kingdom of God.
Hebrew: The Holy Tongue
The Hebrew Bible does not use the term “Hebrew” in reference to the language of the Hebrew people. It is called “the Jews’ language” (2 Kin. 18:28), “the language of Judah” (Neh. 13:24), “not unfamiliar nor hard” (Eze. 3:5), a “pure language” (Zep. 3:9), and “the language of Canaan” (Isa. 19:18). Hebrew is usually referred to by Jewish people as Lashon HaKodesh (Lah-SHONE Ha-KO-desh), the Holy Tongue or Holy Language.
Hebrew is mentioned in the Brit Hadasha in various places. For example, the inscription written over the Messiah on the cross was in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (Luke 23:38). Places had Hebrew names (John 5:2, Revelation 16:16). Yeshua spoke to Saul of Tarsus in Hebrew on the Damascus Road: “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?‘” (Acts 26:14).
Hebrew is a fascinating language. It is the language of Moses, David, the prophets of Israel, the Bible, and of the Messiah Himself. (Yes, he also spoke Aramaic, the political and cultural language of the day.) Hebrew can guide us to a greater knowledge of Scripture. Each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alef-bet has a numerical value. The first 10 letters (consonants actually) have the values 1-10. Alef=1, bet=2, etc. The next nine letters are valued 20, 30…100. The remainder are valued 200, 300, and 400. The numerical value of a word is determined by adding up the values of each letter. I found an interesting fact in my files while researching Hebrew. The modern Hebrew alphabet does not have a “w.” Hebrew speaking people use the vav, or “v,” in place of our “w.” The symbol for the Internet, World Wide Web or “www,” would be rendered in Hebrew as vav, vav, vav. The number for vav is six. So, the expression “www” in Hebrew is 666. Selah.
The earliest form of Hebrew, used at the time of Moses and King David, was pictographic. It was a language that had pictures to describe words. For example, the word picture for father (Av, אב) is the strength or the leader of the house.
א Alef stands for strength, leader, or first
ב Bet stands for household, tent, or family
Therefore, אב) from right to left) would be Av, or Father.
What would Yeshua have been saying in Revelation 1:8 if we consider the Hebrew word picture meanings? “‘I am the Alpha (Alef) and the Omega (Tav), the Beginning and the End” says the Lord, ‘who is and who was who is to come, the Almighty.‘” Since He is the Word of God, through Whom the world was made, the Messiah is the first letter of the Alef-bet, the last letter, and every letter in between. As ALEF, Yeshua is part of a three-part letter, yet One with the Father. He is Leader of all: El Gibbor, Powerful God. Alef is related to Aluf, Hebrew for “Master.” Alef is often connected with Adam, the first man. Yeshua is called the Last or Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). He is not only the First letter, “He is the head of the body, His community. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead—so that He might come to have first place in all things” (Colossians 1:18, TLV Version).
Yeshua is also the Tav, the “End.” Tav in Hebrew means a SIGN. The ancient word picture for Tav is an † or a cross. Most people have no idea that the cross † is not originally a Gentile symbol, but a Jewish symbol that means “the sign.” Was Yeshua’s death on a cross a sign? Was He Himself a sign? When the Messiah uttered, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He was saying that as the Tav (the End), He had completed the work of redemption for the sins of the world.
Tav also stands for truth. It is the final letter in the Hebrew word for truth, emet (eh-MET, אמת). Yeshua, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Hebrew letters in the word for truth encompass the entire world of Alef-Bet, beginning, middle, and end, just as Yeshua, the Living Torah, is TRUTH from beginning to end.
Hebrew: A Resurrected Language
The Hebrew verb for overcoming something, lehitgaber (l’HEAT-ga-BEAR), is commonly used when describing a successful feat against a challenging situation. The root of the verb is gimel-betresh, which is also the root of the word gibor, or “hero.” Mighty. Powerful. Persevering. Like Abraham, like the Pilgrims, like a man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
Eliezer was born in Lithuania in 1858. His name at that time was Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman. He studied Hebrew and Bible from the age of three and was eventually sent to Yeshiva to study to become a rabbi. At that time Hebrew was the language of the synagogue and of prayers. It had ceased to be an everyday spoken language between 200-400 A.D., although it is estimated that about 50% of male Jews of the 19th century could read the Torah and rabbinical books in Hebrew. Many Jews had assimilated in Europe, believing it would end all persecution. They spoke the language of the country they were living in, or Yiddish, a Jewish language derived from medieval German using the Hebrew alphabet.
Ben-Yehuda had a calling and a God-given mission: to revive a dead language, Hebrew. As an ardent Zionist, he believed that Hebrew and Zionism were one and the same. Ben-Yehuda wrote, “The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland.” Ben-Yehuda saw Hebrew as a way to unite all Jews worldwide. He dedicated his life to the restoration of Hebrew in the Land of Israel.
In 1881, Eliezer emigrated to Israel (then ruled by the Ottoman Empire). He set out to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday communication between Jews making aliyah from all over the world. He struggled against sickness, poverty, and ridicule from those who said a dead language could not be revived. He was severely criticized by those who said he was sacrilegious to use the sacred tongue for doing business or going into the market.
But Ben-Yehuda had a vision, and he raised his son, Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda, entirely in Hebrew. He did not allow his son to be exposed to other languages during childhood! Ben-Zion became the first native speaker of modern Hebrew as a mother tongue. Eliezer persevered and built up the Hebrew vocabulary from that of the Old Testament’s 7,704 words to almost 100,000 words. He was the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary and is now known as the Father of the Modern Hebrew Language. He fought tuberculosis for 45 years, stood up to 18 hours a day working on his dictionary, and invented Hebrew words for newspaper, mail, printer, diaper, and dictionary (none of these words, plus thousands more, were in the Holy Scriptures). Eliezer also searched for ancient Hebrew words that had been lost. He sought to find the origin of words and examples of their usage so that there would be words in Hebrew to express things common to modern daily life.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was a true hero. The Hebrew name that he took, “Ben-Yehuda,” can be found on street signs all over the land of Israel today. Those of you who have been to Jerusalem have walked on Ben Yehuda Street. This “Son of Judah” looked to fulfill his vision until the day of his death in 1922. He never saw the 17-volume Hebrew dictionary begun by him and finished by his widow and his son, but he did see the beginnings of the Va’ad ha-Lashon, the Hebrew Academy that became the great Academy of the Hebrew Language.
Hebrew and Thanksgiving
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving (b’todah, בתורה), and into His courts with praise. Be thankful (hodu, הודו) to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). Psalm 100 was one of the thanksgiving psalms recited as part of the liturgy during the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Todah (toe-DAH) is “thank you” in modern Hebrew. Todah rabbah (toe-DAH rah-BAH) is “thank you very much.” Hodu (hoe-DO) is also “Give thanks” as in Psalm 118:1. Hodu L’Adonai ki-Tov. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! (Lehodot, l’hoe-DOTE) is “to thank.” Zebach todah (zeh-BACH toe-DAH) is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, which some of you, in difficult situations, may need to offer this month. “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Zebach todah, תודה זבח), and I will call upon the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:17).
The root of Todah is Yadah, which conveys the image of an open hand, as if to offer a sacrifice. This has also been seen as a symbol of humility, admitting that everything we have comes from God. We can never repay Him for all His goodness and mercy.
More Hebrew Words for November
Zakhar (zah-KHAR) is Hebrew for “remember.” As Lois Tverberg says in Listening to the Language of the Bible, Zakhar includes both remembering and the actions that result from remembering. It may mean that a person did a favor for someone, helped them, or was faithful to a promise. I have personally been the recipient of this “remembering” as the six-month anniversary of my beloved’s death coincided with the Feasts of the Lord (November 25, 2019, will be eight months). Friends remembered by calling, sending cards, even offering me a ride to Temple. I still have every card that our Jewish Jewels partners sent to comfort me when Neil went to heaven. You remembered me by the action of sending the card.
Jewish people remember the death (and life) of a loved one by lighting a candle on the anniversary of their passing. It is called a yahrzeit candle. Planting a tree in Israel to honor a departed loved one or friend is an example of the Hebrew meaning of “remember.” As Neil always said, “God is a God of action and relationship.” To remember is to act.
Amen, אמן, alef-mem-noon, is not translated into English in our Bibles, but in its original Hebrew form. Amen can be found in more languages than any other word. The Hebrew root of amen means to confirm or support. Saying “Amen” affirms that what has just been said is true and reliable. Amen comes from the same root as emunah (eh-moo-NAH), faith, and ne’eman (neh-eh-MAHN), faithful. May the Lord find us all to be ne’eman, faithful, this month. May your words be worthy of an “Amen.”
Chazak (kha-ZAHK) is our final word. It means “Take heart. Be strong. Be strengthened. Behave with courage.” This is what Yeshua was saying in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world, you will have trouble, but take heart (chazak)! I have overcome the world.”
Thanking God for each one of you! Love in Yeshua,