Rabbi Yair Kobernick
Even those who don't know much or any Hebrew should aim towards trying to
say some of the basic prayers and blessings in Hebrew. For example,
reciting the Sh'ma - it's short and basically anyone, even a beginner, can
learn to say and read it in Hebrew. There is something unique about our
language. Using Hebrew has advantages that can't be attained in other
languages. This is not to say that we cannot pray in our native tongue,
it's just that the Hebrew adds an extra dimension that we wouldn't get
For sure the best thing is to recite the prayers in Hebrew and understand
the words at the same time. True, Prayer is allowed in any language.
However this is not a blanket permission, nor does it suggest that other
languages are equal to Hebrew, the Holy Tongue. Interestingly, if one prays
in any other language he does not fulfill his obligation unless he
understands what is being said. Not so in Hebrew. In Hebrew he fulfills his
obligation even if he doesn't understand. This is because Hebrew has
special virtues that other languages just don't have.
The story is told of an illiterate boy in the time of the Baal Shem Tov,
founder of the Chassidic movement. The boy knew nothing but the letters of
the Aleph Bet. While everyone else in the synagogue was praying fervently,
he repeated the Aleph Bet over and over again. Then he said to God: "I
don't know the words of the prayers. All I know is the Aleph Bet. You take
the letters and form them into the proper words." The Baal Shem Tov said
this boy's prayers broke through all the barriers and lifted up the prayers
of all the others in the synagogue. So, say what you can in Hebrew and
leave the rest up to God.
(The following was sent to me - I think it fits right in here to show the
contrast between Hebrew and English)
Let's face it -- English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant
nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France.
Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.
We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that
quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is
neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't
groce, and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't
the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese?
One index, two indices?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you
comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch
of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why not preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats
vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps
you bote your tongue?
Copyright © 2000 by Yair Kobernick and Project Genesis, Inc.