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On the Hebrew Root S-D-R

On the Hebrew Root S-D-R


A HEBREW LESSON ON THE ROOT-WORD S-D-R

How is the festival meal of Passover different from the meal eaten at other holiday celebrations? For one thing, the Passover repast is consumed in the context of a scripted dramatic arrangement, a (seder), from the Hebrew verb (le-sadder), "to arrange."

There are, to be sure, similar arrangements in Jewish ritual and textual life. The daily prayer book, which contains a sort of script for the performance of devotional texts, is called a (siddur). One of the names of the weekly Torah portion read in synagogue is the (sidrah), from the Aramaic cognate of the root. The Mishnah is divided into six (sedarim); the one containing the laws of Passover is called (seder mo'ed), the "Order of the Festivals."

The root (samekh, dalet, resh) is founded in many more or less organized situations. If you volunteer to work on a kibbutz in Israel, the most important person to know is the not the kibbutz (mazkir), "secretary," but the (sadran ha-avodah). The word (sadran) is also used in Israeli theaters for an "usher," an essential and effective figure who helps prevent absolute and utter (i-seder) as everyone rushes to find a good seat.

An (adam mesudar) is an "orderly person," and, by extension into colloquial Hebrew, someone who is well-off financially. Of a person who always lands on his feet, one says (hu yode'a le-histader). For many years one of the most important institutions in Israeli social and communal life was the (histadrut), the Federation of Labor. In America, an important organization - with a glorious history - for the promotion of the Hebrew language is the (histadrut ivrit), whose meetings are always governed by a (seder ha-yom), an "agenda."

The expressiveness of a Hebrew root can often be found in its colloquial use. A woman crossing the street against the light in Tel-Aviv recently received this mild rebuke from a driver who had to brake suddenly: (geveret, at be-emet lo be-seder), "Lady, you are really out of order." When you wish to share with a friend how effective you were in responding to an insult, you say (ani sidarti otam), "I really let them have it." And when you want to assure your friends that "everything's all right," you say (ha-kol be-seder).

At the Passover seder this year, as we celebrate the Festival of Freedom, let us pray on behalf of people throughout the world, that all will be (be-seder), all right and in order.

Dr. Joseph Lowin is Executive Director of the National Center for the Hebrew Language (NY).