K’zohar Ha-Ivrit: July

Summertime conjures the word 'vacation.' It is hot outside and humid and the pace of life slows down. Many kids are enjoying their summer break and some of us are allowing ourselves to spend a few hours on the beach or may be even the freedom to take a family trip. 

As we enjoy the break, let us examine the Hebrew word for 'vacation' namely cho-fesh, a word which, also means 'freedom' and 'liberty.' The Hebrew root ch.p.sh meaning 'to be free' or 'set at liberty,' is related to the ancient Ugaritic word hps where it means 'freeman' or 'soldier.'  Interestingly, this root appears only twice in the Bible as a verb in reference to a female slave who was redeemed or freed (Lev 19:20), and only once as a noun with an unclear meaning (Ezk 27:20). However, as an adjective chof-shi, meaning 'freed' or 'liberated,' the word is used 17 times in the text and usually in reference to freed slaves (Ex 21:2; Dt 15:12 and more). 

There are a few cases in which the adjective chof-shi describes people who are not enslaved yet free (Isa 58:6), as well as animals that roam freely (Job 39:5). An interesting case is the phrase chof-shi be-Israel translated 'free in Israel,' and referring to a person exempt from royal levies (I Sam 17:25). It is only later, in the time of the Second Temple, that cho-fesh was used as a noun and meant 'freedom' (Ben Sirah 7:20).  And, in the middle ages, the verb was more widely used to mean 'liberated' or 'released'.

Many phrases have been coined in Modern Hebrew where the noun chofesh or the adjective chofsi are at the center. We will mention but a few, starting with ha-chofesh ha-ga-dol, 'the big vacation,' which refers to the break from school that children enjoy during the summer. A commonly used phrase in Israel is chofesh ha-di-bur, meaning 'free speech' (the verb daber means 'speak'). Yet another is chofesh p'u-lah, meaning 'freedom to act,' 'carte blanche,'  (the verb pa-al means 'act'). As an adjective we should mention the phrase chofshi mi-de-ah-gah meaning 'free from worry', (de-a-gah means 'worry') and also ahavah chofshit meaning 'free love' (ahavah means 'love') and, last but not least, be-chi-rah chof-shit, meaning 'free choice' (ba-char means 'choose'). 

We will conclude our short survey with the well-known line from the Israeli national hymn:  Lih-yot am cho-fshi be-ar-tzey-nu, which literally expresses the hope 'to be a free people in our land'. 

I wish all our readers a lovely summer. I hope all will have the opportunity to enjoy a chofesh na-im, 'a pleasant vacation.'  May you have the chofesh, the 'liberty' to spend the time in the company of those you love and may your break be chofshi mi-de-ah-ga, 'care free.'  

Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.      

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