<i>Vayigash</I>: Speaking the Language of Israel

One of the greatest challenges for many olim is the transition from their mother tongue to lashon hakodeh, the "holy language." Yet, despite all the struggle, the resulting change in language orientation may, in fact, be a blessing that brings us closer to the ultimate redemption and allows us to communicate more intimately with God.

Aloh Naaleh,

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Arutz 7
One of the greatest challenges for many olim is the transition from their mother tongue to lashon hakodeh, the "holy language." Yet, despite all the struggle, the resulting change in language orientation may, in fact, be a blessing that brings us closer to the ultimate redemption and allows us to communicate more intimately with God.

Rabbi Yonatan Eibshutz (1690-1764), in his classic work Yaarot Devash, lamented the disuse of lashon hakodesh, saying: "Israel, holy nation! We must be embarrassed and ashamed that we have forgotten our holy and precious language that hastens the redemption and our salvation."

The power of lashon hakodesh is highlighted in this week's portion of Vayigash. When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers and attempts to prove his true identity he says: "Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Binyamin, that it is my mouth that is speaking to you." (Bereishit 45:12) Rashi comments that the proof from his speech was that he was speaking lashon hakodesh.

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1793-1876) asks the obvious question: How can Yosef prove his identity through language? There were others in Egypt, like the interpreter, who spoke it, as well.

Rabbi Halberstam answers that when a person speaks in a foreign language, his voice is less recognizable - the pitch, tone and even the rhythm are all changed. When Yosef first interacted with his brothers in Egypt, he did not use the language of his father's home. When they heard him speak lashon hakodesh, they were finally hearing his true voice and could accept that he was, indeed, their lost brother.

Perhaps our own efforts to use and master the Hebrew language, brought about by our Aliyah, can be viewed as part of a process of using our voices to reestablish our true identities as B'nei Yisrael in God's eyes, and will, in fact, hasten the redemption.
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Rabbi Steven Ettinger lives with his family in Hashmonaim. He is the author of two recent books, Torah 24/7 and Connecting the Dates (Devorah Publishing). He made Aliyah from Detroit in December 2003. Prior to arriving, he was an Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Tax Program at the Thomas Cooley Law School. Currently, he is counsel in international tax matters for PWC in Israel and an adjunct in the law school of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.



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