Word of the Day / Lo Dubim V’lo Ya’ar: There Ain’t No Such Animal

It’s a good thing for Goldilocks that the bears she ran into weren’t as hungry as the ones summoned by Elisha the prophet.

In 2004 the CEO of a designer kitchen supplies company denied a report of talks with potential buyer. To untrained ears, the flat denial, as reported in Globes, sounded a bit like Goldilocks’ parents must have sounded when admonishing her the day after she returned from her little adventure: “Lo dubim v’lo ya’ar,” meaning “No bears and no forest.”

The CEO, of course, wasn’t issuing an instruction to stay away from the owners of the porridge, as Goldilocks’ parents must surely have intended. He was saying “There is no such thing,” a term that comes from the Talmud and is equivalent to the slightly less colorful talmudic saying Lo haya v’lo nivra, meaning “It never existed and was never created.”

The saying about the "bears and forest" comes from a discussion in Tractate Sota about a somewhat bizarre episode described in 2 Kings, in which two bears devour 42 children who are cursed by Elisha the prophet for making fun of him about his hair (or lack thereof):

“And he went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him: ‘Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead.’ And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty and two children of them” (2:23-24).

The rabbis of the Talmud discuss this episode in an attempt to decide how great a miracle it was. One rabbi argues that there was already a forest next to the city, so the miracle was just that the bears came out of it and defended Elisha’s honor. But another rabbi says the incident was “a miracle within a miracle – there was no forest and there were no bears” (Sota 47a).

Just don’t tell that to Goldilocks.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.