A few years ago, as I stood in a Sukkah listening to a Rabbi teach children how to say the blessing and shake the lulav, I was struck by the similarity in pronunciation of the Hebrew verb for “taking” the lulav and the Hebrew verb that I knew in the blessing for “washing” the hands. But life as the mother of two young boys was busy, and the question about the spellings of those two verbs slipped out of my mind.
This year, as I prepared to teach religious school children about Sukkot, I pulled out the blessings specific to the holiday and reviewed:
Olitzky & Isaacs (1993). How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.
When I read that blessing in Hebrew, the old question came back to me, so I turned to the blessing for washing hands:
Olitzky & Isaacs (1993) How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.
Much to my surprise, there is no difference in the spelling of the Hebrew verb for “taking the lulav” and “washing the hands”!! Both are spelled:
And one need not be fluent in Hebrew to discern that a single spelling of a word is unlikely to mean both “take” and “wash”!!
So, what does “netilat” actually mean???
According to that new dictionary I got at Rosh Hashanah 🤗 the Hebrew is actually an Aramaic conjugation, and it means “elevate.”
We elevate the lulav.
We elevate our hands.
When we elevate the lulav, we take it so that we may shake it in six directions.
To remind us that Gd is everywhere.
When we elevate our hands, we wash them.
To remind us that our hands can have a Holy purpose, can repair this world that we all share.
What if — each time we washed our hands, or when we wash before meals, or even just once each morning — we acknowledged that Gd commanded us to elevate our hands and repair this world?
How might it change how we see:
– our hands?
– life’s meaning?
I invite you all to try saying a blessing —in any language and at any time that feels comfortable to you— as you wash your hands. Let’s find out whether this simple act might prompt us to engage in more tikkun olam and bring more meaning into our lives!!
shavua tov, a good week to all, jen