Dreading Hebrew

Greek and Hebrew were both required languages when I was a seminary student. I was happy enough to take Greek–I had started learning it in college. But Hebrew I dreaded. Such a funny looking language, and I thought of no good use for it. Hebrew was the language of the Old Testament, and I was more of a New Testament kind of guy.

Every semester I kept putting it off, as in denial. But the requirement was not going away, although I was acting as if it might. I put off Hebrew until there were no semesters left except my last one. So I registered, then went to class with the enthusiasm of a person in line to renew a driver’s license.

Hebrew text of Genesis 1_1-10The picture to the left shows the text of Genesis 1:1-10 in the original Hebrew. This is what I starred at on my first day of Hebrew class. I had to learn to read this stuff?

There are two directions this story could take. Either my prejudice was confirmed and I hated Hebrew class, or it was overturned and I learned to love it.

The latter is what took place. It turned out that my teacher was personable, smart, funny, engaging, and self-depricating. He seemed to know that students with my attitude were sitting in the rows before him. He loved Hebrew, and soon I loved him. And so I began to love Hebrew also. I ended up with an A in this class, got an A+ on a major paper, and ended up wishing I had done this sooner so I could take advanced courses.

As cautious, self-protective human beings, we all tend to pre-judge our situations. If a stranger approaches, we put ourselves on guard. And if the stranger is strange, we do so even more so. If we’re given an assignment, we form an opinion about the outcome. We gauge whether we will like it or not, and whether it will turn out well or not. And these assessments tend to stick. They are difficult to reverse later on. If we decide initially that we do or don’t like a person or situation, a momentum is established. Had you been betting on my experience with Hebrew, the safest bet is that I hated it, just like I expected to.

A funny thing happend just now. I interrupted these thoughts for a quick trip to the Safeway. There I glanced at a man who made a negative impression. I can’t explain why, but I didn’t like his looks. This took all of about two seconds. Then on the way home I stopped for gas. As I was folding and filing the receipt in my billfold, a car behind me blew its horn. There were plenty of open pumps, but for some reason they wanted mine. I noticed the driver was a young Black woman, and I made certain assumptions that were not flattering. Then I came home to continue these thoughts about prejudice.

All this suggests that we need a certain humility about our assumptions and prejudices. We will always make assumptions, even two second ones, but we must realize these may be totally wrong and keep from stubbornly persisting in them. It will help to remember how many times the things we dreaded worked out for good. 

I don’t use my Hebrew much these days, but I know I would enjoy it if I did.

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