Etymology of Modern Hebrew: Israel at 76

Almost all Hebrew words are built upon root letters called a shoresh (שׁוֹרֶשׁ), and are formed in such ways that small manipulations can create many different but related meanings.

Here are some of our favorites for celebrating Israel’s 75th Yom Ha’atzmaut!


Yom Huledet (יוֹם הוּלֶּדֶת)


It’s Israel’s birthday! The word yom huledet (יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת), birthday comes from the root י-ל-ד, related to the verb laledet (לָלֶדֶת), meaning to be born. A birth itself is a leydah, and a child is known as a yeled (יֶלֶד).

Another word coming from this root is strongly connected to our sense of Israel—moledet (מוֹלֶדֶת), our homeland. The Torah itself uses words with this root all of the time, especially when talking about toldot (תּוֹלְדוֹת), generations.


Mesibah (מְסִּבָּה)


There are many reasons to celebrate Israel and the word for party (or gathering or event), mesibah (מְסִיבָּה), invites us to consider some of them. The root ס-ב-ב hints at turning round by forming a sevev (סֶבֶב), a round or a turn. L’histovev (לְהִסְתּוֹבֵב) means to turn around or to wander around. This brings new meaning to the English phrase for birthdays or “celebrating another year around the sun.”

We also have the word sibah (סִבָּה), or a reason, begging the consideration of the reasons we are celebrating in the first place. A party might be an opportunity to look around at the past year, consider where we are today, and look toward the future. How do you celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut?

Also, in the Torah, the word appears in Song of Songs 1:12. Rashi connects this word to the practice of participants at a meal reclining, a practice known as haseibah (הַסֵבָּה), thus being extended more generally to a party. The Mishnah describes the mesibah as a circling ramp that led to the rooftop of the second temple. This image of the circle or a spiral suggests unity or wholeness, something we can all wish for on Yom Ha’atzmaut.


Masoret (מָסֹרֶת)


There are so many traditions around birthdays, and Yom Ha’atzmaut is no exception. The word in Hebrew for tradition, masoret (מָסֹרֶת), is rooted in מ-ס-ר and encompasses both the message, meser (מֶסֶר), and its delivery, mesirah (מְסִירָה), epitomizing physical objects and stories that are carried from one generation to the next. What are your birthday traditions?


Tikvah (תִּקְוָה)


As we look ahead to Israel’s birthday, we retain the sense of tikvah (תִּקְוָה), hope for the future. Drawing on the root ק-ו-י, it interconnects water as the source of life, mikveh mayim (מִקְוֵה מַיִם), with a mikveh (מִקְוֵה), a Jewish ritual bath, a spiritual space for purifying the soul.

As a foundational ethos of Israel, tikvah is also incorporated in the title of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah and reflects the timeless sentiment of a vision for a meaningful and peaceful future. What is your hope for Israel’s future?


Degel (דֶּגֶל)


On Yom Haatzmaut it is common to see Israeli flags being carried by people on the streets. The Hebrew word for flag, degel (דֶּגֶל), has its origins in the Torah. In the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, the word seems to describe the military units of the Israelites, although some interpret it to refer to the banner that was displayed by the different units.

Related to this word, and the root ד-ג-ל, is the word for tower, migdal (מִגְדָּל), and also might be understood as a watch tower, or something that is seen from afar. A modern Hebrew expression using this root is, dagal b’ra’ayon (דָּגַל בְּרַעְיוֹן), used when someone supports an idea, perhaps bringing to mind the idea of displaying agreement to something as you would wave a flag. What flags do you “wave”?


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