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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
April 19, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

The prefix "v" means "and," so the word in question is "konei." It is a very common word, one used all the time in modern Hebrew especially. Simply, "konei" means "buy" or "purchase" or "acquire."

Because we live in commercial society, that word is immediately recognizable. To buy something is to exchange gold or silver (or the equivalent) for possession of a particular object or service. But the fact is that we consider those transactions to be, on some level, demeaning or even dirty. Especially when we speak of God, and most especially when we speak in prayer of our historical relationship with God, where would purchase apply – and to what or to whom?

If you can push away the monetary associations you make with konei, some other uses of the word in earlier Hebrew might illustrate a different way to think of its meaning. When we speak of marriage, we use the same word to mean a man taking a wife. True, marriage was not a particularly egalitarian arrangement in Talmudic times, but at no time in our history was there a sense that a woman became the purchase or possession of her husband. In fact, if you have known the blessings of marriage, you know that the intimacy of the relationship is achieved by both partners opening up the private domain, the personal space each one maintains to let the other in. In a marriage, the boundaries between one person and another are redrawn to include the other.

In a different context is the rabbinic dictum "asei l'kha rav uk'nei l'kha chaver," meaning, "make someone your teacher/mentor and [so] acquire a friend." But you know that you cannot acquire a friend like you acquire a watch or a car or a pair of socks. Money has nothing to do with it. Instead, opening yourself to another to include him or her as a part of yourself makes that individual in some way an extension of yourself.

Beneath the sullied intimations of a financial transaction, the word "konei" carries the notion of opening up to another and inviting that other to be a part of one's personal space, domain or even self.

How God is "konei" – and with what and/or whom – is another discussion.

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