Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Beauty of Hebrew

I was inspired to write this after reading a post on Our Shiputzim which muses about the English equivalent of a common Hebrew phrase of sympathy.

“אני משתתף/משתתפת בצערך” - “Ani mishtatef/mishtatefet b’tza’archa/b’tza’areich” - “I share in your troubles/misfortune/sorrow”

There isn't an accepted English way of saying the same thing.

The Hebrew expression is in the reflexive voice.

"Your pain is my pain" is close but not said, and it doesn't grip the kishkes the way the Hebrew does.   Verbalizing it as a verb, rather than noun is more physical intimate.

I like to describe Hebrew verb grammar as a two-sided tower. One side active verbs and the other side passive verbs. It's crowned with the reflexive.  (I can't find an illustration that's similar to the picture in my mind.)

active reflexive passive
פעל paʻál simple
פיעל piʻél intensive
הפעיל hifʻíl causative
התפעל hitpaʻél reflexive
הופעל hufʻál causative
פועל puʻál intensive
נפעל nifʻál simple

In English one generally gives sympathy, stands by, but the words don't emote a melding of spirit and feeling like the Hebrew.  There's a separation. 

I don't like the English expression, to "stand by" someone who's having problems.  I'll never forget former United States President Bill Clinton using it when he said that he (or was it the U.S.) would "stand by Israel."  He said it at a time when Israel was suffering from Arab terror attacks, and it got me very angry.  I did not find it comforting that he would just stand there and watch us suffer.  OK, so maybe he meant it as an idiom, not the exact meaning of the words.  I may be hyper-sensitive about these things. 

I'm a terror victim.  I was injured in an attack when an Arab rammed his car into a couple of dozen of us innocent Israeli citizens.  So I don't feel very secure when people are just standing by us. 

Nu, can you help? 
Nu, are you willing to do something to destroy terrorism or do you just want to ogle?
And so, feeling sympathy is like standing by, and there are times that just isn't enough.


Mrs. S. said...

And so, feeling sympathy is like standing by, and there are times that just isn't enough.

Very well said, and thanks for the link!

Lady-Light said...

Kol haKavod, Batya. If I weren't feeling so rotten I'd write more, but I can't right now...
One who "stand by" but does nothing is akin to the perpetrator himself.

Batya said...

Mrs. S, loved your post!

LL, refuah shleimah!! So nice of you to visit.