Why is this word capitalized in the Bible?

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 2 comments

In Psalms 42:7… “in this land of Jordan and Hermon, in Mount Mizar, where deep calls to deep in the roar of Your cataracts”…..  “Your” is capitalized.

Are the scriptures simply referring to waterfalls that belong to Hashem… or is there a deeper truth?

Gilbert M.

Dear Gilbert,

We agree with you that the editors of the English translation you are reading capitalized the word ‘Your’ to emphasize that the pronoun refers to God. We also agree that there is deeper meaning in every word in Scripture. However, there is no deeper meaning in the capitalization of ‘Your’ or any other word in Scripture because the original Hebrew text, from Genesis to Chronicles has no capitals!

The Hebrew language possesses no capital letters. Each letter looks the same whether it starts the first word in a sentence or a paragraph or whether it starts the name of a person or of an object. (There are five special letters that take a different form when they appear at the end of a word, but that is another and much longer story.)

To make things even more complex, a Torah scroll, consisting of the five books of Moses, in all its nearly 80,000 words, contains no periods, commas, exclamation marks or question marks either. There aren’t even any vowels.  There are however paragraphs.

Each word, column and page is written following a precise formula passed down in ancient Jewish wisdom. Learning to read from a Torah scroll is the work of many hours and much effort. Not only does an English translation lose much of the treasure in the scroll, but even a printed copy of the text in Hebrew misses out on many important messages.

Today, we can understand this more easily if we compare it to computer coding. When we see words on a page, thousands of lines of code are unseen and beneath the surface. The “code” in the Bible is the Oral Transmission, what we call ancient Jewish wisdom. Not only does this make Torah study the work of a lifetime, it will always be an unfinished work for any one human being. There is always another layer to uncover.  Many of these layers only reveal themselves according to the depth of understanding and level of wisdom of the reader.  Our books, audio CDs and DVDs are our attempt to give, at least, a glimpse into the richness of Scripture.

We hope this explains somewhat why translators and editors have reasons for what they write and how they format.  We need to be both aware of the limitations of translations and wary of their occasional agendas.

Perpetual students,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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2 comments

Brian F. Tucker says:

77 and still learning. You have filled many gaps in my understanding, and corrected many of my misconceptions concerning God’s will purpose.
God bless and happy Chanukah.

Brian

Joyce R. says:

Couldn’t agree more. I have more translations of the Scriptures than most people would consider reasonable because I don’t read either Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, or koine Greek to read them in the original languages (though I have been trying to learn Biblical Hebrew for years).

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