Monday, August 13, 2012

Even the Sages Had Difficulty Pronouncing "Ch"

Although the names of the months are of Babylonian origin, there is Midrashic literature that fleshes out the deeper meanings behind these names. One such Midrash is attributed to Rebbi Pinchas the talmid of the Kalir (Tosefos mention that the Kalir is the Tanna Rebbi Eliezer the son of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai) and is referred to as "Kiddush Yerachim D'Rebbi Pinchas" ("The Sanctification of the Months by Rebbi Pinchas"). (See Torah Sheleimah Miluim Parshas Bo, 178)

Rebbi Pinchas mentions that Elul, the month we are beginning, is called Elul (אלול) because of the shofar that is blown throughout this month in preparation for Rosh Hashana. A shofar is a hollowed out instrument and can be referred to as being Chalul (חלול - meaning hollow). The root of this word חלל can be seen with a similar application when used to describe a flute, a Chalil (חליל).

Perhaps, the fact that a shofar is hollow is not just a random attribute, but personifies part of the nature of what it is displaying in this month. Elul is clearly the time when preparation for Tishrei, the next month, is happening. People repent and awaken early to say selichos in order to be meritorious in the judgment of Rosh Hashana. According to Rebbi Eliezer the world was created on 25 Elul, but Rosh Hashana is not until 1 Tishrei because that is when the days of Creation ceased and the world was ready to run appropriately with man at its helm. (See Rosh Hashana 10b) Thus, one sees directly that Elul is like a hollow tube; a mechanism that displays the concept of a conduit. Its sole purpose is to connect and prepare one for that which comes out the end of it, Tishrei.

Grammarians, please do not worry! There is precedent for the exchange of a ח for an א, so the change from חלול to אלול should not seem so scary. In Parshas VaYishlach we are taught of Yaakov Avinu's famous battle with an angel. The pasuk states, ",ויאבק איש עמו" which means, "And he wrestled with the man." (Bereishis 32:25) The word used for wrestle ויאבק (VaYeAvek) is not a common word and the Ramban mentions that this word's origins literally come from those that mean that the two became intertwined as if embracing. Continues the Ramban that the Sages had difficulty pronouncing the letter ח and often either swallowed it or expressed it as an א. (Ramban Bereishis 32:25) Apparently, this was common enough that the Torah itself recognizes this pronunciation regarding this battle and uses ויאבק instead of ויחבק (VaYeChavek) which means to embrace. Therefore, when discussing the names of the months which are Babylonian it stands to reason that these letters would be easily interchangeable.

1 comment:

Houstonian said...

For me, I like the idea that elul in Aramaic is connected to the scouting of one's self, in the same way that the 'tarim' are commanded in Parashas Shelach to scout the land of Kana'an.