Learning with a 5th Grader

Last week my Middle Son was learning about resistance during the Shoa (the Holocaust). One of the ways Jews kept up their spiritual resistance to the Nazis was by reciting the “Ani Ma’amin”. Gail posted a translation of the phrase and mentioned use of this phrase in the Shoa, which gave me the idea for this post.

This is the phrase in the original Hebrew:

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח ואע"פ שיתמהמה, עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא

This is the 12th of the Rambam‘s 13 Principles of Faith. (thanks, LOZ)

So, getting back to Middle Son: he had a vocabulary test last week. I often help him study for Hebrew tests, because I really enjoy learning along with him. My husband studies with him on his Mishneh, social studies, science, and other tests. His Hebrew teacher is definitely his most challenging teacher.

One of the words on his test was: יתמהמה
Transliteration: yitmameihah
Say that ten times fast. “yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah yitmameihah ”
Hard, no?
Now what happens if the teacher gives you the following as a translation for the strange word “yitmameihah”, and you are a 5th grader with a 5th grade vocabulary:
(other translations say “linger” or “tarry”)

So my son did not know what “procrastinate” meant. So I came up with some explanation, something about delaying something happening and continued to test him, alternatively asking him the Hebrew or the English word. He had a very difficult time with this word.

So I told him:
In Hebrew, the roots of a word are often only three letters. This is an exception word, one that has a seemingly two letter root (mem being the first and heh being the second), and the root is doubled, thus “mem-heh-mem-heh”. A similar word might be wheel: galgal. The “yit” part of “yitmameihah” means that it is hitpael, or a reflexive verb, one that is done to oneself. I was hoping that by breaking down the word into its parts, he might be able to remember it.

No such luck. On Friday afternoon, after the test was over and he was home, I asked him how he did on the test. “Good,” he replied. I believe him. He usually knows.

“How do you say ‘procrastinate’ ?” I quizzed him.
I got some garbled answer that sounded sort of like a distance relative of “yitmameihah”.
Oh, well.

13 thoughts on “Learning with a 5th Grader

  • LEORA:

    it is the 12th principle. the “af al pi” part is in that ani maamin. (incidentally, the exact formulation of the ani maamins is not by the rambam, although it is based on the 13 principles he established in his hakdamah to perek helek. there he does use the יתמהמה, which is a citation from habakuk 2:3).

    btw, thanks for making this my favorite word:

  • i’ll try again.

    “af al pi” is there. but it’s the 12th, not the 13th, principle.

    (the rambam himself did not write the ani maamins, although they are based on his hakdamah to perek helek. and there he does use the יתמהמה phrase, with an alliteration to habakuk)

  • Jack, nice to hear from you again!

    LOZ, thanks for helping me learn…I changed it to 12th. Still not sure where to look up more on the 13 principles, but will try Habakuk next.

    This is an example of how one can learn mis-information on the internet (like from me, my post was already in Google with incorrect info).

  • Oy, Akismet (stops comment spam for WordPress) seemed to be swallowing up some of Lion of Zion’s comments. I deleted a few of the duplicates.

  • The etymology of התמהמה is interesting. Klein says it comes from the root מהה (or מהמה) which means “to linger, tarry”, and is related to the Arabic mahah, which means “slow walk, delay”. Kaddari mentions the same two possibilities of roots.

    Steinberg, however, in his Milon HaTanach (which preceded Klein and Kaddari by many years) disagrees with the linguists who according to him “invented” the root מהה. He says no such root exists in Hebrew. He says the root of התמהמה is מה, as in the Hebrew word “ma” – “what?”. The connection is that as a person “turns here and there, asking ‘what'” – he is delayed. He brings a number of verses as proof of this (Tehilim 119:60, Yeshayahu 29:9, Shoftim 3:26).

    I don’t know if his theory is more accurate than the others, but it probably makes it easier to remember…

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