Talmud of Traffic

Opinion

By Philologos

Published November 17, 2010, issue of November 26, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘Sa l’shalom,” said the policeman who had been about to give me a ticket for a traffic violation. (In the end he didn’t, because he discovered that he and my eldest daughter had been in the same class in elementary school, but that’s another story.) Translated freely, this meant, “You can go.”

It’s at such moments that, in the surface flow of everyday, demotic Israeli speech, whose lack of regard for the language’s traditional forms can set the teeth of any Hebrew lover on edge, something ripples up from the depths that can cause any Hebrew lover delight. Here’s the Talmudic tractate of Berachot, composed nearly 1,500 years ago:

“Rabbi Avin Halevi said: He who parts from a friend should not say lech b’shalom,’” — literally: go in peace — “but rather lech l’shalom” — go to peace — “since when Jethro told Moses [in the Book of Exodus] lech l’shalom, Moses went his way and succeeded, whereas when David said to Absalom [in the Book of Samuel] lech b’shalom, Absalom went his way and was hung… He who parts from a man who has died should not say lech l’shalom but rather lech b’shalom, since it is written [in the Book of Genesis]: ‘And you shall go to your fathers [i.e., die] in peace [b’shalom].”

The policeman’s sa l’shalom — literally, “Travel to peace” — was just a modern version of the Bible’s lech l’shalom. You don’t have to risk a traffic ticket to hear it, because it’s an expression used in Israel all the time, but it would have made getting a ticket far more pleasant had this Hebrew lover gotten one.

Philologos is a columnist for the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.