One of the least known tombs of the Tzadikim in the Galilee is the tomb of Rabbi Nehemiah HaAmsouni (ר’ נחמיה העמסוני) at Parod. It resides right next to another tomb – Rabbi Yishmael Baal HaBraytot (ר’ ישמעאל בעל הברייתות) and it is one of the prettiest spots on Earth, to my mind. To see its beauty in its fullest you must come at spring or earliest Summer. Then there’s a flowing little brook which somewhat surrealistically flows between the Tziounim, the two constructions built upon the tombs.
This year, alas, we were a bit too late and all was dry, but still, it’s a nice spot.
Now for some words on that Tzadik, the Tana (Mishna Sage), Rabbi Nehemiah.
Greatness of Spirit
The word את in Hebrew has no translation, because it just doesn’t exist in English. Grammatically it is used whenever we use the direct object, and we put it before the Hebrew “the”. For example, if I say “take the book” I would add “ett” before “the book”.
קח את הספר
As you see, English does very well without this small word, and indeed it seems superfluous.
Legend says that our first prime minister the late David Ben-Guryon decided to abolish that word from Hebrew, or at least from his speech, as it was in his eyes absolutely useless, and he was a very practical man… So he would say “take the book” just like in English:
Actually, that’s quite possible in Hebrew, but it is a bit lame…
But our Sages teach us otherwise. They tell us that no word in the Torah is superfluous. On the contrary, those words or phrases which seem to us as unnecessary in the text, are hints from HaShem for inner and hidden meanings which He wishes to communicate to us. These anomalies in the text serve just like computer links to information – additional to the written text.
The word את appears numerous times in the Torah, and so, it too, apparently superfluous, must have been put there in order to teach us something – in each and every location in the Torah.
Our “את expert” was Rabbi Nehemiah HaAmsouni. About him it was told that he knew how to decipher each and every את in the Torah, and tell us what that את stood for – what it was meant to add. For example:
בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ
At the beginning, G-d has created (את) the heavens and (את) the Earth.
According to the Midrash, even though we read about Creation as a gradual process, moving stage by stage, it was really created by Hashem instantaneously. It was like a kind of potential creation, and what we actually read in the verses is only how all things already created came out into visible existence.
So the את’s in that 1st verse mean that at the beginning, G-d had created not only the heavens, but also all that is in them, and that he had created not only the Earth, but also all that is in it; all of His Creation in one instant. And the את’s are there for a specific reason: to hint or link to the things created in addition that which is visible in the verse.
All of that was just an example, but Rabbi Nehemiah new what each and every את signified.
It was his life’s work.
One day, something which seemed awful had happened.
Rabbi Nehemiah came to verse in the Torah with an את he couldn’t explain.
את ה’ אלהיך תירא
Thou shalt fear (את) your G-d and sovereign.
What could that ett mean here?
For should we fear somebody else than G-d?
Whom should we fear but He?
Here Rabbi Nehemiah stopped, and admitted that he hadn’t the answer.
He who was said to be able to explain each and every את in the Torah, was at a loss with this ett.
And that meant that perhaps all his life’s work was in vain.
Because if not all etts are explained, it just may be that the whole theory was wrong. And the etts are indeed superfluous, and we could well do without them.
That’s not what he preached all his life!
But R’ Nehemiah was bound to the truth, and would not suffer digressing from it – even in the slightest.
However, his pupils came to him and said:
?!אבל רבי! תורתך מה תהא עליה
And he said:
כמו שקיבלתי שכר על הדרישה כך אקבל שכר על הפרישה
(And in Hebrew it sounds much better)
As I will be rewarded for my teachings, so will I be rewarded for my renouncing them!
He was willing to admit that he was wrong all his life, and he knew that what we are awarded in Heaven for, are our efforts, and our being truthful.
Now that’s greatness of spirit!
But that’s also sad…
Only the tale goes on, and here appears Rabbi Akiva:
:עד שבא ר’ עקיבא ודרש
את ה’ אלהיך תירא – לרבות תלמידי חכמים
Rabbi Akiva came (perhaps many years later) and revealed to us that Rabbi Nehemiah HaAmsouni was right all along. And that, for sure, was his real award:
Indeed there was something else on this Earth to fear, in addition to G-d, and these are Talmidey Chachamim, the great pupils of the wisdom of the Torah:
Our holy Sages!