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Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Understanding in Hebrew

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For Dan and “The Understanding Group” 🙂

What follows is a flow of thoughts about “understanding” in the Hebrew language … my knowledge of language (both Hebrew and English) is more intuitive than formal … so some of this stuff may not be “exactly true”!

Hebrew is built upon root words which typically have three letters. For example the root for the variants of “understanding” is:

ב י נ

The root then takes on different shapes and forms:

  • Understand (as in “I/you understand” masculine): מבין (mevin)
  • Understand (as in “I/you understand” feminine): מבינה (mevina)
  • Understanding (as in “an understanding”): הבנה (havana)
  • Wisdom: תבונה (tvuna)
  • Insight: תובנה (tovana)
  • Intelligence: בינה (bina)
  • In a positive (understanding) spirit: בהבנה (behavana = in understanding)
  • Intuition: בינת הלב (binat halev = an understanding of/in the heart)
  • Introspection: התבוננות (hitbonenut)

The hebrew alphabet assigns numerical values to letters. This means that a word can be given a numerical value by adding up the value of its letters:

  • ב = 2
  • 10 = י
  • ×  = 50

A total value of 62. Sometimes, by changing the order of the letters of the root word you arrive at new roots new roots (which lead to new words). For example:

ב נ י

Is the root that morphs into words related to “building” (as in construction) … and it has the same numerical value … a shared root value!

So, another re-arrangement of the same three letters gives:

נ י ב

… which means “to bring forth” or “yield” … and has the same numerical root value … and suggests that there is something shared at the root of words such as: understand, build, yield.

I find it curious that in English the word “understanding” in the context of “the understanding group” seems (to me) to occupy some construct (maybe if I had a more academic grasp of language I could name it) … it seems to imply some kind of continuous state of reality … a kind of “state of understanding” … the essence of this is outside the set of other meanings – eg:

  • A group that has an insight
  • A group that creates meaning
  • A group that is open and compassionate

All of these I can translate to Hebrew. I cannot translate “The Understanding Group” … there is something evasive about it … as if the Hebrew language is whispering to me that “there is no such thing as a state of understanding”.

On a similar note (and this may be just conjecture on my part), a literal reading of the root of understanding:

ב י נ

… directly read and means “between.” I read that as “that which is between” … Hebrew seems to be implying that understanding is a dynamic relationship.

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