Words of Life II
A few years after the Holocaust, Primo Levi, a former Auschwitz inmate met with representatives of the German Bayer company to discuss a new product to be sold in his native Italy. The German scientists went out of their way to be sensitive to Mr. Levi’s past, and he wanted to express his gratitude by ending the meeting with some of the little German he knew: “Sie sehen in der Hölle.” The German’s were horrified, “Did we insult you in any manner?” Levi was confused, “Why would you think such a thing?” They answered, “From the way you said goodbye. You just said, ‘See you in hell!’ Where did you learn your German?”
Levi smiled ruefully and answered, “In Auschwitz. That’s the way we said goodbye to each other.”
Our words are the “words of life.” They reflect our experiences. (See Words of Life) There is a literary term for relationship between language and experience: “Sprachgefúhl,” A feeling for language or a sensitivity for what is correct language.
My German dictionary got me denture paste rather than toothpaste in a supermarket in Hannover, and almost got me listed for a hysterectomy rather than back surgery. (Languages) I had an excellent dictionary, but no sprachgefúhl. It’s similar to attempting to relate a yiddish joke in English; it doesn’t work quite right.
That is why “Na’aseh, we will do,” precedes “V’Nishma,” and “we will hear.” What we do and how we do it will shape the way we hear. Our Na’aseh forms our Sprachgefúhl for the messages of Torah and Mitzvot.
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