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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
November 20, 2008
© Rabbi Jack Moline

In the same way English has a variety of words of simple actions, so does Hebrew. Not only do these different words convey nuance, they resonate with other ideas that are related to the words. And because Hebrew is the language of the Bible, Hebrew words tend to resonate in that context.

That's certainly the case with this word – "v'techezena." Unpacking its prefixes ("v'te-") and suffixes ("-na"), we get to the root which might simply be translated as either "see" or "look." But since Hebrew also has a specific word for "to see" (lir'ot) and a specific word for "to look" (l'histakeil), it is worth wondering what the closer meaning of lachazot/chet-zayin-heh really is.

Often you find this particular form of the word translated as "May they witness" or "May they behold." And certainly, both of them have connotations of a particular kind of seeing or looking. A witness validates who is seen. A beholder captures the essence of what eye perceives. But the Hebrew speaker who is sensitive to this verb in other sacred texts will hear a resonance of prophetic literature in the choice of v'techezena.

The testimony of the ancient prophets often begins with the word "chazon," which comes from this same root. We often translate chazon as "vision," though when we do, I think we understand it as that which is seen by an inner eye, not perceived as an external reality. The urgency with which the prophets spoke, however, could only have come from something not merely imagined or surmised. Neither is biblical prophecy so much prediction as it is apprehending the essential truth of a situation. The prophet's talent was in enabling the people to envision his or her insight – a combination, as both words for "seeing" imply – of the internal and the external. The prophet's gift was to enable the people to see the full potential of a situation.

So I think I would be generous with words in translating "v'techezena." We could get away with "May they witness" or "May they behold," and it would capture the economy of the Hebrew. But more accurately, I think, would be, "May they envision the full potential."

Who is "they?" Next time....

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