Most of us have seen this word relating to God’s name. It is frowned upon religious Jews and others to read God’s name as one would read any other word (including the vowels) because it is considered too sacred for Man to utter it.
In my many years of teaching Biblical and Modern Hebrew I had to deal with many questions my students dared to ask. And boy! They did dare because I encouraged them to do so. 🙂
One day, after being asked well-seated questions, I looked again at the spelling of God’s name and experienced a moment of epiphany.
In this article I’m not going to deal with the religious aspect and the question such as: what is God? Is there a God? Who is God? Where is God? etc. I would leave this sensitive subject to your own personal belief, knowingness and understanding.
But I will give you my explanation to the meaning of His name (well, at least one of the explanations):
Let’s take a look at the word/name:
In this name you will see three tenses of the verb ‘BE’.
The root of the verb ‘BE’ is: ה.י.ה
הָיָה – He was
יִהְיֶה – He will be
הֹוֶה – He is *
Hence: God’s name means: He was; He is; He will be = He is Present, He is Past and He is Future at the same time = He is Eternal; Everlasting; Immortal; Timeless; Infinite.
*The word for Present Tense in Hebrew is: זְמָן הֹוֶה. The word הֹוֶה means: ‘is’ but it is not used as a verb except from (at least to my knowledge) in the song relating to God.
Being a Hebrew teacher for over 4 decades I ran across repeated questions about my beloved language. In this article, I will be giving you the basics of the basics.
- Hebrew does not have: ‘a’, an; ‘am’, ‘are’, ‘is’ or ‘it’.
- Sounds such as: ‘ch’ as in Charlie; ‘g’ – as in George; ‘g’ – as in corsage; ‘th’ as in Theo, do NOT exist in Hebrew. Yet we do have the sound ‘kh’ (ch) as in the composer’s name: Bach. And we do have the sound: ‘tz’ or ‘ts’ as in the word: pizza.
- The accent of the words is usually at the last or second to last syllable.
- Nothing is neuter in Hebrew, i.e., a word is either male or female.
- Nouns, adjectives, and verbs have gender
- There are 4 main tenses. Present, Past, Future, Imperative. I wrote I’ve written, I was writing, I had written = one tense in Hebrew which is the Past Tense. I am writing, I write = One tense in Hebrew which is Present Tense. I will write, I will be writing = one tense in Hebrew which is Future Tense. Write! = Imperative Tense (Command).
- Subjunctive tense does exist in Hebrew (but is not considered a main tense): expressing an action in the mind but not a fact. Expressing wishes, doubts, possibilities; etc. examples: I would buy it if I had the money. If I had a job like this I would have been happier. Had I known I would not have sent her the letter. I doubt he would make that mistake twice. The subjunctive tense is usually taught to more advanced students but you should know that there IS such a tense of expressing one’s thought, wishes, hopes, doubts, possibilities and there are special rules as to how to construct them in Hebrew. Here is an example of how one sentence is expressed differently: a) I doubt he would make that mistake twice (subjunctive) b) He won’t (will not) make that mistake twice (future) c) Do not make that mistake twice (imperative/command). He made that mistake twice (past).
- A sentence will never end with a preposition: Do you know where he’s going to? ?אתה יודע לאן הוא הולך
- Adjectives go AFTER the noun. Good morning = morning good = בֹּקֶר טוֹב
- Prepositions are combined with Pronouns in one word: To you; at him; after me = לְךָ, בּוֹ, אֲחַרַי etc.
- When asking a question, in English you switch the location of the verb i.e., You are hungry – Are you hungry? She will be here soon – Will she be here soon? The way you ask questions in Hebrew is the same way you construct a statement. The only difference is that when you ask a question you have to go up in pitch when saying the last word. Yes, there IS a question word in Hebrew that you can put in the beginning of any question asked but it is quite formal – הֲאִם.
- These rules apply to ANY language. Remember that one word can have more than just one definition. And one word in your language can have several in another language. Examples: One word in Hebrew = two words in English – לְהַזְמִין = to order AND to invite. Another example: The word ‘here’ in English has three different words in Hebrew: פֹּה; הִנֵּה; הֵנָה.
I hope this article was beneficial to you. If you have any question, feel free to write back.
Stay tuned for an upcoming book: Hebrew, When to Say What
I would like to tell you a funny and true story with a good message at the end.
Way back, in Israel, when I was in fifth grade I had just begun to learn English. Of course, growing up I heard English songs on the radio and had many opportunities to hear it spoken. I could even sing parts of quite a few English songs but I haven’t seen the written language. In short, I picked up what I heard on the “street”.
Hebrew has a gender for anything. Nouns are either masculine or feminine. There are no neuter nouns. Living things such as people and animals are named according to their sex.
In English we have similar differentiation; male ‘dog’ but female ‘bitch’; כֶּלֶב – כַּלְבָּה a ‘lion’ as opposed to a ‘lioness’ אָרְיֶה – לְבִיאָה; a ‘horse’ as opposed to a ‘mare’; סוּס – סוּסָה.
In Hebrew, when it is difficult to determine the sex of an
animal we find that we only assign it ONE gender.
It is difficult to determine the sex of birds, bees, snakes, fish, etc. That is why we only have the word: צִפּוֹר – tzee-pohr but never: צִיפּוֹרָה tzee-poh-rah.
Tzee-pohr has the form of a male noun (per the rules) but it is actually a female word. We say צִיפּוֹר קְטָנָה tzee-pohr k’tah-nah = a little bird. ( קְטָנָה is a feminine adjective).
The plural form of the word ‘bird’ is צִפּוֹרִים – tzee-poh-reem. צִפּוֹרִים is the form of plural male but it is still a feminine word. We say: צִפּוֹרִים קְטָנוֹת. Notice that the adjective IS feminine. We do not care what the form of the plural form is. As long as we know that the word is feminine, then we know that the adjective must be a feminine word.
You ALWAYS determine the gender of a word by its adjective (if it has one).
Bees – דְבוֹרִים – דְּבוֹרָה= only feminine noun.
Snake: נָחָשׁ – נְחָשִׁים = only masculine noun.
Fish: דָּג – דָּגִים = only masculine noun.
SAYING OF THE WEEK:
Speak of the devil:
מְדַבְּרִים עַל הַחָמוֹר
Literally: speaking of the donkey.
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Ruti Yudovich is the author of Speak Hebrew For Real; Learn How to Read Hebrew For Real, Hebrew Binyanim the Easy Way and I Hate to Say Goodbye. She is a native Israeli that has tutored Modern and Biblical Hebrew for four decades.
For more detail about me and my books – see my author Page Here