Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words. (Breishis 11:1)
one language: Loshon HaKodesh. The Holy Tongue – Rashi
This is quite a remarkable record! At one time the entire world spoke one language and it was Hebrew, the Holy Tongue. For many reasons it makes a lot of sense. The major support for this premise is from our holy traditions but there is a definite logic to it as well.
Firstly our sages tell us that the world was created through the letters of the ALEPH BEIS. The Zohar says that HASHEM looked into the Torah and created the world. Adam the first man gave names to the creatures and the Torah tells us that those were the names. What does that mean? He gave each creature its essential name by identifying the letters with which it was created, which defines the optimal purpose for which it was created.
For example, a cow is a PARA – PEH REISH ALEPH! Why? What is the mission of a cow? Why is PARA an appropriate name? How are some other animals useful and not so useful? A goat gives milk and meat and skin but you can’t ride a goat or use it to pull a plow or a wagon. A horse can pull a wagon and you can ride on it but it is not for milk or meat. A sheep gives wool and meat and milk but it serves no function for labor. Now a cow is good for all of these things. All PEH REISH words have to do with being fruitful and multiplying. (PERU) A PARA is the most PROductive creature because it is good for everything.
The Hebrew Language is different from all other languages. The Western Languages, like English are ideographic languages. “A” doesn’t mean anything and “B” doesn’t mean a thing. They represent sounds and when combined they produce words. When pronounced or read those words wake up pictures or the meanings implied by that combination of letters. CAT awakens a feline creature with whiskers that likes mice.
The written form of Eastern Languages is pictographic. The word for tree is an icon, a symbol, a picture of a tree. So it is with all other words. How to pronounce that word is a matter of memory based on a social agreement and a tradition about how it is spoken out loud.
These two language systems are a universe apart since the Tower of Babel was frustrated by G-d confounding their ability to communicate. It makes sense then that the original language Loshon HaKodesh, the Holy Tongue should have both ingredients of being sound oriented and picture based. The letter LAMED is not an arbitrary sound and the shape of the letter has a pictorial quality as well. The name of the letter LAMED means to learn. Observe the profile of someone who is sitting and learning. What do you see? Draw a line from the foot to the knee and then from the knee to the back and all the up the back to the head and you will have written the letter LAMED. LAMED as a prefix means, ‘to” or “for”, because when one learns, they gain both direction and purpose.
Loshon HaKodesh can be most closely compared to the language of chemistry. Water in Hebrew is MAYIM – MEM YUD MEM. Two MEM’s and a YUD. In chemical language Water is H2O. Two Hydrogen atoms and an Oxygen – HOH. That’s the true description of what’s on the inside and what it is composed of. Now, Loshon HaKodesh also describes the purpose for which it is optimally made by the creator. A table is a SHULCHAN. SHJULCHAN does not mean a flat surface on which you serve food. The Hebrew source is the word SHALACH – send How so?
A SHULCHAN is a mailbox and a launching pad. It’s an interface between heaven and earth. HASHEM sends us attractive and delicious foods in a physical format and through making blessings and singing to HASHEM and learning Torah we send back spiritual gifts. It’s a huge understatement to say it but this all gives credence to the notion that “something’s lost in the translation”.