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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
March 12, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

In the wonderful movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the father of the bride is a proud son of Greece, who is convinced that every word in English comes from a Greek word. In the last scene, he squeezes out a dubious origin of the groom's family name as meaning "apple," then observes that his own name means "orange," and concludes "so we are all the same – we are all fruit!"

I own a book called The Word, which does the same with Hebrew. The author contends that Hebrew forms the basis of many more English words than we know. And he claims that the word "emissary" is from the same root as this word, "ha'm'surim." The root – mem-samech-resh – means to deliver or to transmit. And an emissary – with the root consonants m-s-r – is someone sent to deliver or to transmit a message. So we are all fruit!

I am more concerned with other places this root takes us in Hebrew. Jewish law condemns the "moseir," the Jew who delivers an innocent party to hostile persecutors. But all of us celebrate – even hold sacred – the "masoret," which means "tradition," that which is transmitted from previous generations to us and our descendants. Indeed, the Hebrew name for Conservative Judaism is "Masorti," which means "Traditional," or, in other words, that which is conserved and delivered.

In the case of our particular vocabulary word, the mean is meant much more literally. Ha'm'surim is the middle of a three-word phrase in the context of this prayer. What is transmitted and delivered is life itself, the cause of our gratitude to God. "Chayyeinu ha'm'surim," "our life delivered" may sound very theological, but it is not about spiritual redemption. It may sound obstetrical, but it is not about having babies. It refers to the life that God has given to us, placed in our care, individually and collectively. In that sense, it is meant to resonate with the other meanings of this particular root: a life entrusted, a life which is the vehicle of a received tradition.

The last word of the phrase is our topic for next week, and it completes both the idea and the image of what it means to be an emissary. But not of what it means to be fruit.

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