Angels, Actions and Achievements

Gender is a smoking hot topic right now.  Depending on your world-view, you’ll either be offended or relieved to hear that for the purposes of this Thought Tool, there is no gender confusion.  The defining axiom is found as early as the 27th verse of the Bible—“…male and female He created them.” 

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the implications of this verse go way beyond the creation of Adam and Eve.  Not only does biological reproduction of humans, animals and vegetables depend upon the collaboration of male and female, but all creativity springs from the engagement of those two complementary opposites.  In trying to understand how the world REALLY works, this sexual insight is so foundational that God even gave every noun in His language a gender.

The chief difference between a feminine noun and a masculine one is that typically the feminine noun describes something capable of ‘giving birth’.  For instance, the word for a minor argument, RIV,  is masculine while the word for an ongoing feud in which every disagreement gives birth to yet another, MeRiVaH, is, not surprisingly, a feminine word. 

The Hebrew words for a cup, KoS, or ball, KaDuR, are both masculine because neither gives birth to anything else, however the Hebrew word for a thought, MaCHSHaVaH is feminine since every thought can give birth to another thought.  Similarly, the Hebrew word for an investment, HaSHKaaH, is feminine for the same reason.

The general Hebrew word for woman is ISHaH, obviously a feminine noun.  Typically, a feminine noun can be converted into its masculine equivalent by lopping off the feminine suffix—aH.  Thus, our generic word for a man is ISH.

You might think that since a father is AV, a mother should be AVaH. It is actually an entirely different word, EM, because a mother is not merely a feminine version of a father,  but rather a unique creation.

Now that you have a basic working knowledge of Hebrew noun gender, you should be able to predict the gender of almost any Hebrew noun on the basis of whether it ‘gives birth’. 

Try the Hebrew word for a game.  Since we often say, ‘oh it was just a game’ we correctly signify that there are seldom any meaningful outcomes of a game.  Not surprisingly the Hebrew word for game, MiSCHaK, is masculine.  I am sure you got it right.

How about work?  Is work a male or female concept?  Since work almost always produces some outcome, we’re not surprised that both main words for work, AVoDaH and MeLACHaH are feminine nouns.

What is the difference between these two words that appear to mean the same thing?  We derive a hint from how they are used in the Bible:

And they (the Egyptians) embittered their (the Israelites) lives with hard work,
with mortar and bricks, and with all
work in the field;
all their
work at which they worked them was with harshness.
(Exodus 1:14)

All four instances of work in that verse are the Hebrew AVoDaH providing us with the sense that AVoDaH is grueling and arduous.  It is seldom rewarding at the time but of course eventually yields its benefits.

The other word for work, MeLACHaH is the more satisfying and creative component of work though it is seldom attainable without the AVoDaH also having been accomplished.

We find both words for work combined in the Fourth Commandment, instructing us to remember the Sabbath day. 

Six days shall you work(AVoDaH) and do all your work (MeLACHaH)…
Exodus 20:9

Why do we need both words? God is giving us a significant message.  MeLACHaH is the creative work that transforms our world and uplifts our lives, while AVoDaH is work that lacks that exciting element. Yet we do not usually get to enjoy our MeLACHaH if we don’t first do our AVoDaH.

Life in Egypt was tough precisely because slaves have only AVoDaH with no possibility of MeLACHaH. But don’t dream that you can enjoy MeLACHaH without AVoDaH.  Integrating the two types of work makes everything possible.

Seeing one’s toddler blossom into a responsible teenager and then a thriving adult with whom you share a close relationship is incredibly exciting.  But this requires many hours of consistent and sometimes AVoDaH-like parenting. 

Closing a big transaction is thrilling. But many hours of AVoDaH in the form of hard work, disappointment and dedication precede the excitement.  Sometimes it is years of AVoDaH-like perseverance that lead to that MeLACHaH moment. 

Understanding how the world really works means knowing that we must tackle the AVoDaH of life with zest, enthusiasm and gratitude for being alive. Only this way can we reach the sheer magic of MeLACHaH, that part of our work which is so thrilling and so energizing that it becomes almost self-sustaining.

If MeLACHaH had a masculine form, what might it look like?  You know the rule—lop of the feminine aH suffix.

        מלאכ      מלאכה

       MeLACHaH         MaLACH
work                   angel

By shining the spotlight on the masculine core of creative work, MeLACHaH,  we find ourselves with the word MaLACH—an angel.  Once we have performed the tough preparatory work of AVoDaH and then throw ourselves into the MeLACHaH moment, we often feel a surge of strength and confidence we didn’t know we possessed.  In some almost mystical way, we have conjured up an angel through our creativity. Sometimes we can feel the angel alongside of us assisting us while whispering irresistible words of encouragement.  That is why the creativity of MeLACHaH often causes amazing doors to open, partners to materialize, and unseen collaborators to push our projects forward.

23 thoughts on “Angels, Actions and Achievements”

  1. Rabbi,

    Wow what insight!

    I understand now that my preparation and practice in a simulator which is my AVoDaH, as I’ve always known was very necessary IF I want to achieve my MeLACHaH. Then I feel so great after I made a good trade it feels as I have an MeLACH beside me embracing me in my victory.

    I sit down to market replay every night and weekends and re-trade my market in higher speeds allowing losses and winners to happen, I learn more from my losers then my winners. As I set up for the AVoDaH I do tend to do other things before getting to it.

    I’m reading aloud to myself now 2nd day today. I’m rusty reading out loud I noticed.

  2. Ravi,
    I NEVER regret the time i invest in listening to you. I learn and I’m inspired to take some time to quiet myself and everything around me while thinking on whatever you’ve taught. While in that stillness, more understanding comes to mind. I feel as if G-D, The Chief Rabbi, is adding to whatever I’ve learned by listening to you. תודה רבה (“Thank you, MUCH”)

    I Pray for your health and safety…for you, your household, and staff.

  3. Thank you so Much Rabbi and Susan for all your podcasts and other resources. Whenever I listen to or read them, I get a whole new view of life over and over again! It’s exhilarating! From Nigeria, Thank you once again!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Moses,
      We have many readers now in Nigeria and greatly enjoy hearing from you.

  4. Thank you Rabbi and Susan! This post is evidence why I need a rabbi. I have been studying Biblical Hebrew for a couple of years, but I never could grasp on my own why nouns are gendered such as they are—with the exception of the obvious cases where the noun is itself a mascualine or feminine being.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks so much, Jeremy,
      Your letter is truly encouraging to us.
      Good luck with your HEbrew studies.

  5. Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    Love your Thought Tools!

    What would be the significance or connection with this topic and the changing of Abram’s and Sarai’s name to include “ah” to Abraham and Sarah?

    Said differently, how did a male get the “ah” in his name and how/is this this related to this current Thought Tool?


  6. How timely. As I was reviewing this last week’s parsha, I kept wondering why there were two words translated as “work,” but hadn’t gotten around to figuring it out. Thank you for the details, and for giving us the beautiful reasoning for the feminine suffix of Hebrew words.

    I think a previous poster may be thinking of a verse in the Christian book of Revelation that mentions two women with wings like storks which have erroneously been taken to be angels. I believe that misunderstanding is the foundation for all of the pretty, feminine angels that people envision/portray when they discuss angels. I guess they (and the people who think cherubs are pudgy little things) don’t grasp the fact that every angelic appearance (in Tanakh AND in the Christian Bible) begins with the angel telling the person to not be afraid. Obviously, there is something intimidating in the appearance of a malach!


  7. My Rabbi,
    When i read CK’s comment above, I kind-of knew that you would bring up your past electronic accomplishments. You didn’t disappoint me.
    I often wonder about how much is lost when the English Bibles were translated from the Greek and Latin which were then translated from Hebrew.
    My best friend and I were discussing a recent prophecy that was saying something about female Angels, neither of us cough think of anywhere in the Bible where an Angel was described as being female. Thank you for MaLACH.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      And I was thinking of you, Mark,
      Do I just attract technically competent men? I like to think so.
      Sadly but inevitably, almost everything is lost in those translations.
      Sorry but there are no female angels. For the same reason that there are no female fireMEN. When the chips are down and the flames are scorching your back and you see a tiny ladder far down there extending up towards you, you really do pray for a big male fireMAN with enough upper body strength to hoist you out of the window. When you are being threatened by ruthless hooligans in a dark alley late at night and a car you recognize pulls up, you really do pray that it contains, not your wife’s petite friend, Helen, but her huge husband Buddy. Are there a few exceptional women more than capable of taking a swing at a brutal thug and are there a few women capable of carrying you down from a burning building? Sure, but you’d be a fool to bet on it. Better pray for a man. The odds will be in your favor.

      1. Mathmatically speaking, man ≠ woman; of course, translated to English this statement says ‘man is not equal to woman.’ I like math (and chemistry) because it (they) also represents our Creator’s mind. However, the details contained in Hebrew help to explain many of the nuances between the math lines, offering to us an interesting glimpse into the unseen elements from the seen ones.

        On a side note: I once watched a four-part, Korean mini-series with my middle, adult daughter about a fireman alleged to be a murderer. It was a story with themes of mistaken identities, repentance and forgiveness.

        I’d pray for the man to help rescue me from a dark alley with ruthless hooligans because of those positive odds you mentioned! 🙂

  8. I cannot express how delighted I am to hear the differences between the feminine and masculine meanings. Especially the grueling work Avodah and the creative fulfilling work Melacha. Now I know what I’m doing. LOL.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Edie
      I cannot express how delighted we are to hear of your delight with our teachings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Basil
      Your kind words warm my heart because they assure me that these teachings are useful to God’s other children

  9. This may interest you: a few decades back–before the internet–I liked to work on my antique radios late at night. They were practical as well as esthetic, since these old sets could tune into foreign broadcasts and distant stations. I usually listened to another old radio set while I worked. I found that I could study schematics (technical wiring diagrams) and use instruments and repair chassis just fine while listening to music, or programs, or even radio dramas. Left brain did its bit, right brain did the other. It worked remarkably well for me.
    But when I tried the listening while doing some personal writing, I found I got no where. I couldn’t use the same resources for two competing tasks.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear CK–
      It’s worth bearing right brain/left brain differences in mind. When writing, I always plan out first then write rather than trying to do them both simultaneously for the same reason you discovered. By the way, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to tell your rabbi what a wiring schematic is! Just yesterday, I drew up a schematic for a binary to decimal converter for my g’son using a few multi-pole double throw switches. I used to build radios, amplifiers and transmitters back in tubes days and remember cutting mounting holes in my aluminum chassis for components. Good hearing from you.

  10. Joan Gloss Snyder

    Please keep teaching us Rabbi! Thank you for your continued school with Susan that brings thought and opens our minds to the true meanings.

  11. Very interesting to learn about the masculine and feminine gender of these words. Enjoy seeing you on TCT.

      1. For me, Rabbi’s writings are always so thought-provoking. Either I live a very alienated lifestyle or he has been birth for this very purpose, teaching Ancient Jewish Wisdom. For me,
        it’s probably both. Thank you for living your purpose.

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