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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
January 28, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Good things often come in small packages. The word "va'ed" has three letters in Hebrew, and the first is a prefix meaning "and." Our concern is, then, what the short word spelled ayin-daled means.

"Ad" (for grammatical reasons, pronounced "ed" after "va") is the equivalent of the mathematical sign that means "less than." That symbol looks like a letter V that has fallen to the right. Whatever is on left side of the symbol (the pointy part) is smaller than whatever is on the right side of the symbol (the open part).

In a slightly different usage, "od" means "more" (as in "od pa'am," "one more time") or "still/yet" (as in "od avinu chai," "our father still/yet lives"). In another form, "ad" means "until" (as in "ad matai," "until when," that is "how long"). In our usage, "ad" might best be translated as "beyond." Va'ed means "and beyond."

"Ad" never appears by itself. Perhaps it is technically a preposition. But by common usage it has been paired with the word that precedes it in the idiom we have discussed, "olam." "L'olam va'ed" can be reduced to the single word "forever," but the poetry of the construct is better captured by the slogan of cartoon character Buzz Lightyear: to infinity and beyond!

Reflecting on the two meanings of "olam" gives this little word that much more power. In the earlier sense, "l'olam va'ed" holds open the notion that there is a dimension beyond time. That statement may give rise to certain kinds of scientific conversation, but existentially it reassures us each and all that time itself goes on even after any one or any collection of us no longer perceives it. There is an indefinite future – really, an eternity – on which we have a brief but lasting influence.

In the later sense, "l'olam va'ed" holds open the possibility of worlds beyond our world. Once again, string theorists and science fiction writers may elaborate on the implications, but we ordinary human beings are inspired to consider the limitless experiences awaiting us that depend upon, but are not limited by, the physical world in which we find ourselves on this particular day.

I would love to replace a translation of "va'ed" with the aforementioned math symbol. Not only do I like the less-verbal concept, it always reminds me of open arms, ready to embrace whatever comes next.

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