November 13, 2018

Hebrew Word of the Week: hinneh

Very typical and a favorite biblical interjection. It alternates with hen, as in Genesis 3:22 (God speaking): hen ha-adam … “Now that the man has become like one of us … ” Common in other Semitic languages, as Aramaic hen “yes, yea.” It seems to me a natural sound one makes in a variety of situations, as to draw attention before speaking, or hesitations, clearing one’s throat, etc.; compare English hmm, hum, eh, hello (in a loud voice, meaning: “May I have your attention!”).

Examples of nuances: hen, lu yehi ki-dvarekha “OK, let it be as you say” (Genesis 30:34); hinneh ishtekha “Here is your wife” (Genesis 12:19); in lively narratives, as ba-Halomi ve-hinneh … “In my dream, suddenly I saw a vine (Genesis 40:9); hinneh barekhu et adonay “Come, bless the Lord!” (Psalms 134:1).

Responding to a call: hinneni “Here I am!” (Abraham to God, Genesis 22:1); said even by God: “I promised and am now at hand (hinneni)” (Isaiah 52:6); and the name of several modern organizations, as in the ones by the late Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis (Hineni) and Rabbi Jill Zimmerman (“Hineni: The Mindful Heart Community”).

* Originally an imperative form of look.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of  Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.