Shabbat Shalom! Shmini

This week’s Torah portion‘s name is a great example of how the transliteration of Hebrew is an inexact science. You may see it listed as “Shemini,” “Shmini,” or as “Sh’mini” – all are more or less correct, none of them are quite right. This portion is properly spelled שמיני and it means “eighth,” from the first line of the parashah: “And so it happened on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons.”

The first word of the portion is Vayehi ( וַיְהִי) which translators render in many ways, most of them awkward: “And it came to pass” or “And so it happened,” “Thus it came to pass” – you get the idea. Probably the most literal translation is more like “And it was [on the eighth day]” which is also quite awkward.

What’s that about? Biblical Hebrew has some subtle tricks that we don’t have in modern English. The “and” here is a way of saying that this passage is connected to the passage before it. It also takes the future form of the verb “to be” and turns it into something that works like a past form. This gets even fussier when you realize that in Biblical Hebrew, there really isn’t a past or a future, just a finished or an unfinished action. There is no way in English to say succinctly that this passage is connected to the action before it, and that it denotes events that happened once but still have significance. That’s why the translations sound stilted – or, as one of my students pointed out, “like the Bible.”

For some drashot on the passage that aren’t entranced with fine points of spelling and grammar, try these:

Are You Really Eating Kosher? by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Why Parah Adumah (Red Cow) Now? by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Savor Every Joy For We Never Know When It May Suddenly End by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

More than Just a Nosh by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Refining Our Souls by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater

Back to Basics by Rabbi Ruth Adar

The Kosher Animal Song by g-dcast (VIDEO)



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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

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