Finding the right words

אוֹדֶה לאֵל לֵבַב חוֹקֵר בְּרָן יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֵר

I thank G!d, the Searcher of all hearts and praise G!d together with the stars of the dawn.

This remarkable prayer is collected by Rabbi Abraham Twersky in his book Living Each Day. The Rav cites it as “introduction to morning service”, but I have never seen such an introduction. The prayer is not found in my Nusakh Sfard siddurim, but there are many versions of Nusakh Sfard.

Something fascinating happened to me because of this prayer: I read it incorrectly. In copying and interpreting the prayer I transcribed b’dahn — בְּדָן — rather than b’rahn — בְּרָן — and I was thus interpreting the wrong word, something I was completely unaware of until I showed Living Each Day to my wife, who told me I had read it incorrectly.

I thought Rav Twersky interpreted “praise” for b’dahn and I was forced into an investigation of Hebrew such that I have rarely encountered before: neither my grammars nor my lexicons or dictionaries list “praise” as an interpretation of b’dahn; the interpretation “praise” is, however, sensible for b’rahn. Interpreting the wrong word forced me to learn better Hebrew!

The Hebrew ahv’dahn — אבדן — means “loss”. Praise requires a loss of ego, and thus the interpretation of praise is cogent ivrit ruchanit “spiritual Hebrew”. I stand on the shoulders of giants: Rav Hutner, ahlahv ha’shalom, was once asked why modeh — מוֹדה — meant both “grateful” and “confess”. He replied “gratitude is a confession that I couldn’t do it without you”.

Rav Hutner’s logic applies perfectly in this context. Why does b’dahn mean both “in judgement” and “praise”? Because praise is a judgement that I couldn’t do it without you.

I’m grateful to Rav Twersky for improving my ivrit ruchanit. I could not have done it without him.

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