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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
P101–TAMMU
June 18, 2009
© Rabbi Jack Moline

When Hebrew literature from the Bible to modern times wants to emphasize an idea, it will often repeat it in different words. The words are not always synonymous, but they help to define each other, while adding some intensity to the thought. For example, in Psalm 97 we recite or zaru'a latzaddik u'l'yishrei lev simcha; light is planted for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart. "Light" and "joy" are not the same, but their meaning together makes it easier to understand what the Psalmist meant.

That's the situation with the word "tammu." It is parallel to the word in the preceding phrase (the word we discussed some weeks ago), "khalu," from the word "kol," meaning "all."

Tammu comes from the root "tamam," which carries two meanings that seem related. One meaning is finished or complete. The other meaning is honest. It is easy to see how the two meanings relate the truth is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But used in prayer, tamam almost always means finished or complete. And so it does in this context in which it appears as "tammu." But it is preceded by the word "lo," which (as you know from last time) means "no." It is important to make this distinction because of the context: we declare that God is "the Good One whose compassion is never exhausted and the Compassionate One whose selfless acts of devotion are never finished." Obviously, we would never say that God's selfless acts are never honest, kiv'yakhol, as if that were possible.

It is also important to make a distinction with another word that sounds exactly the same. "Tam," familiar to us from the Passover seder, means "simple." It comes from a completely different source.

When a book is completed, particularly a sacred one, a Hebrew author does not write the impersonal and abrupt "the end." The author writes "tam v'nishlam," which carries with it the idea that the purpose of the work has been achieved in its fullness. And that's how I end this column!

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