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yesh omrim

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We say it every week, but do we know what it means?

15 November 2005

The Kiddush for Friday night contains the sentence “כי הוא יום תחילה למקראי קודש זכר ליציאת מצריים”. Artscroll translates this as “For that day is the prologue to the holy convocations, a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt”.

I hear you scratching your head and saying, “What does Shabbat have to do with the Exodus?” Fortunately, according to the Artscroll footnote, Nachmanides had the same question, and he explained that Shabbat, representing God’s creation, is “the backdrop of the Exodus”, God’s demonstration of His ability to intervene in nature.

However, the Nevarech bentscher translates the same sentence as “a day preceding even those sacred occasions commemorating the departure from Egypt”, which moots the whole question. All the translator did to reach that interpretation is to rearrange the parse tree a little bit—treating זכר ליציאת מצריים as a modifier to מקראי קודש rather than to יום. And I don’t see anything in the phrasing or the punctuation to prove that one of these parse trees is better than the other. (Lojban enthusiasts, please take note.) This is somewhat forced, since מקראי קודש is plural and זכר ליציאת מצריים is singular. Maybe the translators know a loophole in the grammar that I don’t; can you treat the מקראי as some sort of collective that takes a singular modifier?

But every other Kiddush translation I’ve seen interprets the sentence the way Artscroll does. So if the Nevarech translation is consistent with the Hebrew text and makes more sense, why don’t any other translators parse it that way?