02 October 2007

לב & נפש: Their Translations

(Another posting that's been percolating....)
One of the pieces about which I spoke a few weeks ago was on the verse " וּמָל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת-לְבָבְךָ, וְאֶת-לְבַב זַרְעֶךָ: לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ--לְמַעַן חַיֶּיךָ" (Deut. 30.6) - I mentioned an idea that was raw to me and undeveloped, saying that נפש (nefesh) meant body (as opposed to the contemporary understanding of this term to be "soul") and לב/לבב (lev/levav) meant the seat of the intellect (as opposed to the contemporary understanding of this term to be "heart", seat of the emotions). After thinking about it some more, I realize the latter should be the seat of all thought: whether emotional or intellectual, or otherwise. (BTW, one of the neat things about Deuteronomy 6.5 (וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ) ("And you shall love the Lord, your God with all of your mind(s) and with all of your body and with all of your me'od") is that it has this progression from abstract (mind) to physical (body) to material (מאד - not sure precisely how to translate this yet, perhaps we'll leave this for a future posting).
However, I cannot claim to a novellum in this realm, for Maimonides has already written about these terms in his Guide of the Perplexed (in I:39 & I:41).
Also writing about לב is Ethan Dor-Shav in his Hebrew-Wisdom Dictionary in a four-part series ((1) "The Core of a Unified Self", (2) "Mind Your Idioms!", (3) "The PURE MIND of Revelation", (4) "When the Mind Loves"). Part of his introduction (in "The Core of a Unified Self") is stating that there are
...well over 800 cases where lev is figurative: the "seat" of mental capacities. But which kind? Emotions? Sure. Lev feels sadness (Genesis 6:6), dread (Genesis 42:28), joy (Exodus 4:14), hate (Leviticus 19:17), agitation (Deuteronomy 28:65), courage (2-Samuel 17:10), and more. These are, however, a small minority. As any lexicon would state, for the most part lev is the seat of rational "intellect," and other cognitive smarts such as memory and creativity. The lev thinks! Indeed, in dozens of verses it is explicitly the seat of Wisdom....
He goes on to define לב as
the discerning mind: "a mind to know"; a "brilliant mind" to conceive; a "breadth of mind" to grasp the universe (nothing to do with a "heart expanding" in emotional delight...). Figuratively, then, as well as physically, lev means "core" - the mental center of our being. It is the inner screen upon which our cognition plays.
And then he warns against mistranslating our term:
Detrimental is an understatement for translating lev as the figurative "heart," a concept that has an innate emotional connotation, almost anti-rational; the effective opposite of "mind."
In his concluding posting ("When the Mind Loves"), he once again strongly urges the reader care in the translation of לב by saying that "mistranslating lev as “heart” strips its characters of their innate rationality" and that "there is zero “literal” merit to translating lev as “heart”, anywhere, anytime".
Furthermore in his last posting, he sums up the translation of לב:
  • (a) the non-figurative "lev" never meant the anatomical heart;

  • (b) the figurative use of lev is, first and foremost, as the seat of rational thought, awareness, intent and reflection; and

  • (c) by correcting the mistranslation of lev (replacing the excitable “heart” with the perceptive “mind”) the bible’s fundamental teaching about the soul, prophecy and transformation emerges dazzlingly from the text.
What has been fascinating to me to approaching this topic is thinking about when this shift occurred when considering the term לב/לבב and when this shift might've occurred. If I had to make a wild guess, I would suggest sometime several centuries ago, but I'll leave the research for someone else to do.
In a future posting, I hope to do some translations of rabbinic terms involving לב now that I have a better understanding of the term.

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