Skip to main content

With help from the heavens

Life in Israel is pretty much similar to life anywhere on the planet. People die and get born, go to school and university and we celebrate birthdays and weddings. We are also confronted daily by numerous billboards trying to sell us anything from cars to sunglasses.

But there is a small detail that I have noticed only here in Israel. (Though it is apparently also found in religious Jewish countries around the world.) In the upper right corner of death notices, birth or wedding invitations and on some billboards (usually aimed at the religious population) you will find the words bs”d. (Not to be confused with BDS!)

I heard that religious Jews also write these three letters at the top of their notes, letters and other correspondence.

But what does it mean? Is it a secret code?

Bs’d is an acronym for the ancient Aramaic phrase,  “be’saida de’samaima”. It means with the help of the heavens.

The word “heavens” refers to God, as in with the help of God we are hosting this wedding. Or with the help of God the restaurant advertised on this billboard will serve these delicious smelling coffee and cakes ...

The word heavens instead of God is used because the sender is worried that the invitation or notebook or advertisement will eventually be thrown out and go to a landfill.

Old Bibles and religious writings or any piece of paper referring to God are carefully disposed in a genizah. A genizah is sort of like disposal place for religious Jewish texts such as old Bibles and papers with religious content.

An ancient language that is still used today

One of the intriguing things for me about the words “be’saida de’samaima” is that it is in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Middle East years and years ago. Sort of like English today.

The Talmud and other ancient religious writings were written in Aramaic. Anyone serious about studying Judaism will definitely also learn some of this ancient language too. Luckily there are many similarities to Hebrew, so if you know your Hebrew well, you can more or less figure out the Aramaic.

WHO could make such a silly spelling mistake?

Some Aramaic words became part of the modern Hebrew spoken today in Israel. I will never forget how I learnt that the word “safta” ,which means grandmother, is actually an Aramaic word.
Female words such as grandmother usually ends in a “h” in Hebrew, so I presumed that it is written in Hebrew as סבתה and not סבתא when my daughters ( they were still.small and needed my help) and I wrote their Hebrew-speaking granny a birthday card.

For some reason my sister-in-law looked at the card and asked WHO wrote safta with an h! BIG spelling mistake! It was then that I learnt that the contemporary words for grandmother and grandfather in Hebrew are actually Aramaic words.

Aramaic for everyone

Speaking or Aramaic words, there is an Aramaic phrase that nearly everyone knows but do not know that it is Aramaic.

It is abra kedabara! And I have no idea why it has become this phrase said by magicians but it is quite fitting.

Abra kedabara means “I will create with my words”. As a writer I thought that this is such a cool battle-cry for wordsmiths because we DO create with our words. How cool will it be to add these words at the top of my notebooks and blog posts!

But abra kedabara actually refers to spoken words. It is rather “I will create with the words that I say” and is much.more suitable for magicians than writers. 

So now I have to figure out an Aramaic battle-cry for people like me who create with written words. Sadly Google translate does not have an Aramaic translation option and I only know a few phrases and words myself. Basically all the words that I have mentioned up to now.

I will create

In the end I decided to let the blank page be my muse, my battle-cry and my plea for help. 

Religious Jewish people already have bs”d to write at the top of their pages, Steven Pressfield says a prayer to the muses and others literary put on their writing hats. That is, a hat that they only wear when they write. 

My personal style is to just jump right in and start writing. I usually have the words and thoughts already milling about in my head and it is a bit of a relief to finally start writing them down and start to make sense of them. 

But some help from the heavens will always be appreciated!
If you'd like to receive my occasional "Letter from Israel" in your email box, how about signing up at the box in the top-right corner. I am a fierce hater of spam myself and I promise that I only send out these emails VERY occasionally - though I really should be a bit less lazy.


Popular posts from this blog

The wild mustard flowers of Israel

The wild mustard is growing yellow and everywhere in Israel at the moment. But not the kind of mustard that you eat with ketchup on your hotdog! Wild mustard as in wild mustard plants! :) I am talking about  Sinapsis Arvensis , a tiny yellow flower that grows in masses in fields, along road sides and abandoned building sites. Up close the wild mustard flower does not look like much - a bit on the puny side actually. But just come across a field filled with mustard flowers and you will be enchanted - just as I am every spring.

The Judas Tree of Israel

A Purple Judas tree A month or so after the almond blossoms are gone, the beautiful flowers of the Judas tree show up in loud purple glory in Israel.

Khubeza - Israel's wild ‘spinach'

  During the winter months in Israel, as soon we had a bit of rain, the fields are covered in  green khubeza plants. The word fields are actually not 100% correct. Khubeza will grow anywhere. Empty lots, forgotten plant containers, refuse heaps or in any patch of upturned earth. They grow close to the earth and turn the dry Israeli landscape into an unexpected emerald green. Their willingness to grow to easily and luxuriously make them seem nearly weed-like. Khubeza is however the opposite of a weed. It is one of the most well-known edible plants here in Israel. Every self-respecting forager definitely has khubeza on their top-ten list. Sounds like bread (in Arabic) Is it mostly known by its Arabic name here in Israel. Khubeza comes from the word "hubz"  which means bread in Arabic. Apparently the plant has edible fruit that looks like a small loaf of bread.  Just like young children are taught that you can suck the sap from honeysuckle flowers and look for pine nuts under p