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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
September 6, 2007
© Rabbi Jack Moline

We have studied most of the words in the first line of the second paragraph of the Amidah: atah gibbor l'olam adonai, m'chayei meitim atah rav l'hoshi'a. In fact, it is the littlest word that is the only unfamiliar word in this sequence.

You know this word in a couple of different forms and contexts. Of course, "rav" is the Hebrew title for the English version, "rabbi." And when you thank someone in Hebrew, you say "todah rabba," or, as they say in Spanish, "muchos gracias."

Rav actually has five meanings. The first is "great, many, numerous." Most familiar is the one connected to "thank you," that is, "rabbah." In its forms rav, rabbah, rabbim and rabbot, this word indicates a plentitude or dominance.

Interestingly, rav can also mean "enough." You are familiar with this meaning from the words of the Shabbat hymn "L'kha Dodi," when we sing "rav lakh sheivet b'eimek habakha (enough of you sitting in the valley of tears)." When the rebellious Korach challenges Moses, he calls out "Rav lakhem b'nei leivi!" That means "Enough of you, sons of Levi." (Perhaps it means "You Levites get the Rabbi.")

Rabbi, or master, is the third meaning of rav. While the notion of teacher is implied in the context of the rabbinical usage, the title is also used to indicate high rank or expertise.

The fourth and somewhat archaic meaning is "archer," one who has mastery over the most sophisticated weapon of ancient times. In this context, the rav is the one who can hit the mark.

And the fifth meaning of rav, when it is used as a prefix, is multi- or poly-, as in "rav-panim," meaning "multi-faceted."

When we say that God gives life to the dead "rav l'hoshi'a," we use that word in relation to salvation (l'hoshi'a means "to save") in all its meanings. God offers salvation in abundance. God offers just enough opportunity to be saved to allow us the exercise of our free will. God is the master of salvation. God hits the mark when offering salvation at the right time and place. And perhaps most importantly, God offers a multitude of ways to be saved.

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