Word of the Day / Aharon Aharon Haviv

This phrase, which seems to mean the least favorite, actually refers to the best of the bunch, at least on a literal level.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Written in English, the widely used phrase aharon aharon haviv (akha-ROHN akha-ROHN kha-VEEV)  might look like it has something to do with the biblical Aaron (Aharon in Hebrew). But though Moses' brother's name is spelled and pronounced differently in Hebrew, this phrase does actually have a lot to do with a biblical character: Joseph, he of the technicolor dreamcoat.

Let's start with what the phrase actually means. Aharon aharon haviv is literally "last last beloved." It is roughly equivalent to "last but not least" – for instance, you might hear it when someone introduces the last of a long line of people – but is actually a few steps up.The final Israelis being introduced are not only not the least favorite (and let's face it, that's not really much of a consolation, is it?), they are actually the best of the bunch, on a literal level at least.

Which brings us to Joseph, whom Jacob favored because his mother was Rachel, the woman he had actually wanted to marry. So when Jacob met up with his brother Esau, from whom he had fled out of fear many years earlier after taking his birthright, the patriarch pragmatically arranged his brood such that Rachel and Joseph were the best-protected. Genesis 33:1-2 relates:

"And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after [aharonim, the plural of aharon], and Rachel and Joseph hindermost [aharonim]."

Hebrew linguist Avshalom Kor explains that this verse indicates that at one point, aharon did not necessarily mean "last." Rather, it referred to something that came after something else, as with Leah and her children, who are described as aharonim but were actually in the middle. Thus, Joseph and Rachel were not just aharonim but aharonim aharonim. It was Bereshit Rabbah, a compilation of midrashic exegesis on Genesis, that first used the phrase as we know it today, saying this verse demonstrates that the aharon aharon is the most beloved of all.

This caboose might be last, but it's certainly not least.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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