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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
May 22, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Removing the prefix and returning the dagesh (the "dot") to the first letter gives us the word in question: "boker."

"Boker" means "morning," and even the most modest of Hebrew vocabularies generally includes the cheerful phrase, "boker tov," "good morning." Boker is after dawn and before noon, when the workday has begun and is still full of promise.

The root of boker is the root of two other words that are very familiar as well. "Bakar" means cattle or beef. And "l'vakeir" can mean either to examine or to visit, depending on context. These three sets of meanings seem to be related only in the identical letters of their roots.

My impulse is to tie them together: to examine something, especially critically, is to subject it to the light of day. To visit someone is to have the door opened to the outside, just as the arrival of new sun opens the darkness. The cow lows to be milked each morning, and the young bull is the morning sacrifice. It's all very nice, but I am pretty sure I made it up.

But what is not made up is that boker is often used in the Bible to mean salvation. It is clearly a metaphorical usage there is something about the clarity of morning light that rescues us from the disorientation and uncertainty of nighttime. The old Christian hymn (made popular by now-Muslim performer Cat Stevens) celebrates the renewing power of morning light that is as fresh and promising as the first morning of creation.

In the sequence that appears in our prayer book, "boker" comes as the curative to "erev," the clarifying agent that unmixes the ambivalence of evening. God's presence guides us through uncertainty in the evening, and is the source of lucidity in the morning brightness.

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