Q. Why is isolation called "Biddud" in Hebrew?
A. The word "badad" – meaning alone – comes a number of times in the Bible.
The concept of isolation derives from the law of the leper: "He shall dwell alone: outside the camp shall his habitation be" (Lev. 13:46). To isolate the leper was a protection for the community, a precaution to reduce the risk of contagion.
But there are types of isolation which have no connection with public health.
Abraham isolated himself from a corrupting environment.
Moses isolated himself on Mount Sinai to commune with God.
Bilam went off to be alone when he had a big decision to make.
Elijah isolated himself to get away from Ahab and to find serenity of spirit.
As community-minded people we believe in being with others and not to segregate ourselves like monks.
But apart from the health issues that have affected us for months there are times to be alone for the sake of our spirit.
The righteous going hungry
Q. I have always been puzzled by the verse that we say at the end of Bensching, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen a righteous person forsaken or his descendants begging for bread". How can this be squared with the facts?
A. You are right of course. Righteous people are not exempt from being or feeling forsaken, nor are their descendants immune from hunger.
The verse – from Psalm 37:25 – cannot be correct unless we read more into it than appears on the surface.
Here are some possible explanations:
• If you are righteous you do not feel the privations. You rise above them.
• Suffering does not last forever. Eventually the righteous person is vindicated.
• God does not abandon the righteous. He sends them help.
• If the righteous are hungry they trust in God and do not lower themselves to beg.
• The verse is David’s personal observation. Other people see things differently.
Upon my heart
Q. Why does the Shema tell us to place God’s words "on", not "in" our hearts?
A. The Kotzker Rebbe said that people’s hearts are not always open to inspiration, but if the Divine words are on top of our heart they will be ready to enter it the moment it becomes receptive.
The Rebbe of Kalisch said that the Hebrew "al" need not mean "upon" but can denote "above". If one’s heart desires inappropriate things the Divine words should be above them and exercise firm control.
Names of the months
Q. Certain months appear in the Torah, e.g. Aviv, the month of spring. Others are identified by numbers, e.g. "The 7th month" (=Tishri). What about the current names?
A. Some come in the later books of Scripture; most are post-exilic and are from other languages.
- Nisan is linked with the Babylonian first month, Nisanu; some derive it from the Hebrew "n-s-a", to start. In the Torah it is Aviv, spring.
- Iyyar may be associated with the Hebrew "or", light. In Tanach it is Ziv, brightness.
- Sivan is possibly linked with Assyrian Samu/Asamu, to mark or appoint, like "sim" in Hebrew.
- Tammuz may be from "Dumuzi", a semitic deity.
- Av is an Assyrian name not mentioned in the Bible. A fuller version, M’nachem Av, "Av the Comforter", recalls the belief that the Messiah will be born in this month.
- Ellul is Babylonian (Neh. 6:15).
- Tishri is from "sherai/shera", to begin.
- Cheshvan or Mar-Cheshvan (I Kings 6:38) may be from the Assyrian Arahsammus, eighth month.
- Kislev is Assyrian (Zech. 1:1, 7:1).
- Tevet (Esther 2:16), linked with the Assyrian/Babylonian Tebetum, may be from a Hebrew root "taba", to dip or sink (there is much rainfall this month).
- Sh’vat (Zech. 1:7) could be from a root "sh-t", beating or shrinking.
- Adar (Esther 3:7) is possibly from "Adromelech", a son of the king (Sennacherib).