Turn It and Turn It
According to humorist Ephraim Kishon, when Israelis are asked לַעֲמד בַּתּר (la-amod ba-tor), to stand in line, there are always a “privileged few” who consider themselves exceptions to the rule. Since everybody in Israel is a somebody, observes Kishon, nobody patiently waits his turn. The root ת-ו-ר (tav, vav, resh), from which we get turn—in addition to many other seemingly unconnected derivations—is similarly exceptional among Hebrew roots.
Scripture uses our root to narrate critical moments in Jewish history, as when Moses sends 12 men לַָתוּר (la-tur), to explore, or spy out, the Land of Cana-an, or when תֺּר אֶסְתֵּר (tor ester), Esther’s turn, comes to spend a night with the king. Biblical merchants who roam the land, אַנְשֵׁי הַתָּרִים (anshei ha-tarim), pre figure today’s traveling salesmen. When God informs King David that not he but his son Solomon will build the Temple, David accepts this as a promise that his dynasty will endure forever. He sees this future—in the Anchor Bible translation—in the expression תּרַת הָאָדָם (torat ha-adam), “the generation to come.”
Numbers enjoins the Hebrews, לֹא תָּתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם (lo taturu aharei levavkhem), ’’Do not go about after your heart’s desire,’’ and Ecclesiastes con-fesses self-indulgence, saying תַּרְתִּי בְּלִבִּי (tarti be-libbi), “I followed my heart.” The lover in Song of Songs offers his beloved תּרֵי זָהָב (torei zahav), stringed necklaces of gold—not to be confused with תּר הַזָּהָב (tor ha-zahav), the Golden Age, the era of extraordinary Jewish creativity in Mus-lim Spain. In a more gloomy context, the title of Aharon Appelfeld’s 1978 novel, תּר הַפְּלָאת (tor ha-pela’ot), The Age of Wonders, can refer to the catastrophic historical “era” in which the novel is set or the perplexing adolescent “age” of its main protagonist.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda records in his modern Hebrew dictionary a belief among certain Hasidic circles that after a righteous man dies he is brought before an angel tasked לְתַּיְרוֹ (le-tairo), to guide him, into God’s presence. Today, guides can be found at Israel’s מִשׂרָד הַתַּיָּרוּת (misrad ha-tayyarut), Tourism Ministry. At the theater, applaud the actor who performs the תּוֹר (tor), role, of the play’s hero. To fill a prescription after hours, find aבֵּית מֶרְקַחַת תּוֹרָן (beit merkahat toran), on-duty pharmacy. Admire the concept of תּוֹרָנוּת (toranut), service by rotation, by visiting a kibbutz and observing תּוֹרָנוּת הַמִּטְבָּח (toranut ha-mitbah), shared KP duty.
If you call ahead לִקבֺּעַ תּוֹר(likbo’a tor), to make an appointment, you won’t have to rush to the front of the line when the clerk calls out הַבָּא בַּתּוֹר (ha-ba ba-tor), “Next!”