And you thought
Hamlet had a problem. In Israel, youths preparing to join a kibbutz ultimately
have to ask themselves: ?
(le-hagshim o lo le-hagshim?), literally, "To concretize or not
to concretize?" In other words, "Shall I indeed put the ideology I
imbibed in the youth movement into practice and make a commitment to become
a kibbutz member or not?"
These youngsters are using the meaning of the Hebrew root (gimel,
shin, mem) that has to do with substance, matter, the concrete. Materialism,
(gashmi'ut), may be the polar opposite of spirituality,(ruhni'ut),
but, in some circumstances, it represents a higher value. Just ask the members
of Young Judea, the American Zionist Youth Movement, whose senior group, destined
for aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, is called (ha-magshimim),
There is another meaning to the root
(gimel, shin, mem) or is it another root
entirely? that gives us the word
(geshem), rain. While some scholars are dubious about a linguistic connection
between the two meanings of (geshem),
others believe that a convincing case might nevertheless be made. First of all,
in the Prayer for Rain,
(tefillat ha-geshem), which we recite every year during the holiday of
Shemini Atzeret, we say
(mashiv ha-ru'ah u-morid ha-gashem), "Who causes the wind to blow
and the rain to fall." Is it possible that wind is the opposite of rain
in the same way that spirituality is the opposite of physicality?
in the "historical" stanzas of the Prayer for Rain, which allude
to the role of water in the lives of the forefathers,
(geshem) does not appear even once. There are many words for rain
in Hebrew, including (yoreh),
(malkosh), late rain, and plain old
(matar), rain, from which we get the modern Hebrew word for umbrella,
(mitriyah). It is a matter of no small consequence, perhaps, that
appears in Scripture, it is usually associated with a heavy rain. The
materializes twice in the story of Noah's flood. In addition, we have
nedavot), "bounteous rain," in Psalms, (geshem
gadol), "a big rain," and (hamon
ha-geshem), "abundant rain," in the Book of Kings, and
(geshem shotef), "torrential rain," three times in the
Book of Ezekiel.
is also tied to literary heroes, both classical and modern. The Talmud
tells a charming tale of Honi the Circle Maker,
whose prayer for rain is on a deeper level a demand that God do justice
for his people. In more modern times, when the Education Department of
the World Zionist Organization inaugurated its Gesher series of books
in "easy Hebrew," the very first title it chose to publish was
Aharon Megged's short story, (geshem
nedavot), "Bounteous Rain." In that story, Bubbeleh, an
ideological materialist, is transformed by a dangerous rainstorm into
an idealistic hero of the Jewish people.
the most convincing argument for a linguistic affiliation between rain
and concreteness comes from an Arabic word for "solid substance,"
jism. Curiously, in several dictionaries of American slang, the
word "jism" is reported as a synonym for sperm, that is, a thick
liquid. Are we not to conjecture that rain is called
(geshem), a Hebrew cognate of Arabic jism, when it, too,
appears to be thick, substantial?
There are some who will contend that this piece has not hewn to a Hamlet-like
train of thought but, to stay with Shakespeare, has been Much Ado About
Nothing. They will nevertheless have to contend with the expression
in the Book of Proverbs for "much ado about nothing,"
(nesi'im ve-ruah ve-geshem ayin), "clouds and wind but no
rain." This idiom argues that only when we have rain do we have something
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