He’emir

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Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni

Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002).

In last week’s parashah, כִּי תָבוֹא ,we find — yes — another ‘hapax legomenon’. The verb הֶאֱמִיר appears only in Deut.26:17 – 18. (Strictly speaking, it is not a ‘hapax’, since it appears twice – but in close proximity, and with equal vagueness. ): “אֶת ה’ הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם… וה’ הֶאֱמִירְךָ הַיּוֹם… ”

Grammatically, the root is א-מ-ר , a very common verb, but used here in its rare causative stem of הִפְעִיל. Several explanations exist, e.g., Rashi notes that this word “has no other proving witness in the Bible”—Rashi’s own expression for ‘hapax legomenon’ — and he offers “to separate Israel (from all other nations and make it a precious people).” Ibn Ezra relates this verb form to the noun אָמִיר ,’ tree top’, and, by extension, to ‘elevate’. He also explains the causative form literally as, “to make you say that Hashem is your God.” Ramban and Sforno go along with ‘elevate’. The JPS translation reads “affirm”, with a footnote saying, “Nuance of the Hebrew uncertain.”

I propose that the source of this verb is in Arabic: The same root, a-m-r, with equivalent letters to the Hebrew, means ‘to vest power in…’. So the two verses read, “You have vested power in Hashem to be your God,…, and He vested power in you to be His precious people…”. Note: The noun ‘amir’ (or: ‘emir’), that is, ‘prince’, or ‘chief’, is derived from the same root and means ‘one in whom is vested the power to rule’.

Finally, we recall these two verses elegantly re-phrased in the Maariv service of Yom Kippur, in the prayer כִּי אָנוּ עַמֶּךָ
“… אָנוּ מַאֲמִירֶיךָ וְאַתָּה מַאֲמִירֵנוּ.”

About Shlomo Karni

10 comments

  1. Creative, but how can Israel and G-d both “he’emir” each other? Are Israel, G-d forbid, an “emir” to G-d?

  2. “empower” is more concise, but the reading is the opposite. our “investiture of power” in God introduces a series of obligations on our part, and vice versa. In context, affirmation or commitment makes much more sense.
    And Anon, what is the problem with mutual commitments.

  3. I heard Prof. Karni’s explanation in the name of the late Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Wiesenberg of London.

  4. For the piyut, I personally like: We are the ones You caused by speaking, and You are the One Who spoke us. A more personal version of “ki Hu amar vayehi”, or “Barukh she’amar vehayah ha’olam”.

  5. One of the classic commentaries relates it to the Arabic Emir, like Prof. Karni.

    The gemara (Kamtza bar kamtza) says it means an oath. And in brachos (the God’s tfillin section) (also Chagiga) a betrothal or statement of love. Both these explanations are also in numerous midrashic collections.

  6. One meaning of the English word “bespoken” seems to fit here—

    Meaning:
    Pledged to be married

    Synonyms:
    affianced; betrothed; bespoken; pledged; engaged

  7. It is interesting to note that several other Shoroshim in Hebrew with the two letters מ and ר have similar underlying meanings of elevation, in varying forms, as does א-מ-ר and as Professor Karni has pointed out here, to wit:

    מרא – to soar, take off, fly high

    ראמ, הרמ, רומ, רממ, תרמ – to raise, rise, uplift, elevate, set on high, erect as well as exalt, praise, boast, extol and glorify.

    אמר, too, means elevate, rise, soar, glorify and even raise prices and not just say or tell.

    Can I refer your readers to the following?

    http://halakhah.com/rst/shoroshim.pdf

  8. Shadal also says this.
    He also says that לא תתעמר בה at beginning of כי תצא is the same word חילוף אע

  9. NB I am always perplexed by the definition of hapax. Here you say that it is strictly not a hapax because it appears twice. Given that they are different forms, shouldn’t that make it two hapaxes?

  10. To Matthew:
    1. Exchanging א with ע is, truly, farfetched. Due respect to Shadal et a.

    2. A ‘hapax”, strictly speaking, appears only once.

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