Much Ado About Doing
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his existentialist play No Exit, posits that what you have actually done—not what you have been—is what defines your life. In Hebrew, there is a verb for that—פָּעַל (pa’al), to do. The three letters of the root, פּ–ע–ל (peh-ayin-lamed), to make, achieve, accomplish, were chosen by medieval Hebrew grammarian Dunash Ibn Labrat as the paradigm for all פְּעָלִים (pe’alim), verbs. (That Dunash did not go with ק-ט-ל[kof–tet–lamed], to kill, which has properties that other grammarians might have preferred, tells a great deal about Jewish sensitivity to the power of words.)
In Scripture, the root is ascribed to God, of whom it says, תָּמִים פָּעֳל (tamim pa-alo), “His actions are righteous.” In the rabbinic midrash on Psalms, God is quoted as saying בְּשֵׁשֶת פָּעַלְתִּי אֶת הָעלָם (be-sheshet pa’alti et ha-olam), “In six days I made the world.” In Pirke Avot, reminding us that the day is short and the work substantial, the Sages grumble that הַפּעַלִים עַצֵלִים (ha-po’alim atselim), the workers are lazy.
Our root is not at all lazy. It is so energetic that it does the work of several English words. In the apiary, where there are no male po’alim, there are many female פּעַלת (po’alot), worker bees. A radio drama may use various פַּעֲלוּלִים (pa’alulim), sound effects, to good effect. An action that is correct be-khoah, in theory, is not necessarily so בְּפעַל (be-fo’al), in practice. If a מְנַהֵל בְּפעַל (menahel be-fo’al), acting manager, hires a פּעֵל ימִי (po’el yomi), day laborer, he must be careful not to withhold, even overnight, the worker’s פְּעוּלַת שָׂכִיר(pe’ulat sahir), wages. And אַל תִּתְפָּעֵל (al titpa’el), do not be astonished, that the players on the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team are well compensated.
If you are רַבַּת פְּעָלִים (rabbat pe’alim), very energetic, and פְּעִילָה (pe’ilah), diligent, and wish לְהצִיא לַפעֵל (le-hotsi la-fo’al), to accomplish, a certain פּעַל יצֵא (po’al yotse), end result, you don’t necessarily have to belong to the וַעַד הַפּעֵל (va’ad ha-po’el), executive committee. Of course, if you hold a winning ticket from the מִפְעַל הַפַּיִס (mif’al ha-payis), National Lottery, you can do anything you want.
Do not forget, however, that grandma’s second gift for the newborn—after the hefty Israel Bond—should be a פַּעֲלוּלן (pa’alulon), the toy gym that hangs above the stroller and encourages babies to exercise their senses of touch, sound and sight. The point here is to condition the child’s brain to realize that פְּעִילוּת (pe’ilut), doing, is the essence of being.
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