On Root / To Create Is to Be Human

Human beings have always been driven to produce; the question is whether it's for good or bad.

This is the second of a three-part series on words from the world of consumption, money and economics.

Last week we focused on tzricha, "consumption," and the tzarchan, the "consumer." On the flip side are "production," yitzur, and the "producer," yatzran, who makes all the things we consume. These words are from a particularly rich root, y-tz-r, which can mean "produce," "form" or "devise."

The first yetzira was the human being, according to Genesis 2:7. Before that, God created things, but the verb used was bara, usually glossed as "creating from nothing" – a uniquely divine form of production. Yatzar, on the other hand, means "forming from raw materials," like an artist making art or God fashioning Adam from the dust of the earth.

Ever since we were created, humans have been constantly forming, fashioning and producing things. We can talk about this work in Hebrew by making small, but important, vowel changes to a single root.

Making do

Yatzar, as noted, means "fashion" or "produce." Yotzer means "crafts person," and yetzirah, means "artistic creation."

One economic and cultural dilemma that arises around artistic creation is: Does a strict enforcement of zechuyot yotzrim, "copyrights," stifle or encourage yetziratiyut, "human creativity"?

When the verb is in the "pi'el" form – where the vowels are i and e, rather than a and a, as in yatzar – its meaning is more intensive. So yitzer means "produce" in the sense of manufacturing, and the noun form, yitzur, means "mass production."

Here other dilemmas arise. For instance, should the ultra-Orthodox be forced, cajoled or incentivized to work in more economically yatzrani, "productive," fields? Should we judge our economic robustness by how many motzarim, products, are bought and sold, as measured by the totzar leumi golmi – known by the acronym TaLaG – the Hebrew equivalent of "gross national product"?

Some would say that all this productivity and creativity – and human activity in general – is a product of our yetzer, our "instinct" or "inclination." Remember this word. According to tradition, we have a "good inclination," yetzer hatov, and an "evil inclination," yetzer hara'. But both can be forces for creation. As in the capitalist theory of "the invisible hand," even when we act only out of greedy self-interest, sometimes we end up giving useful things to the world.

Can't buy me love

Is there a yetzer for wealth or money? Money in Hebrew is kesef, which simply means "silver" (the metal and the color). As a precious metal and a principal medium of exchange, silver eventually came to mean "money," just like argent in French. You can keep your kesef and other valuables in a kasefet, a "safe."

In a previous column, we discussed the social protest's demand for tzedek velo tzedaka – "justice [in the distribution of wealth] not charity [the rich giving handouts from their excess]."

This type of well-being is also called revachah, the "welfare" of a person or society. A "welfare state" is medinat revachah, from the root r-v-ch, which has derivatives meaning "spacious" or "beneficial." Revach, for instance, can mean "space," as in revach kaful, "double-spaced" formatting. And a house that's meruvach is roomy.

In business, revach means "profit, "rivchi" means profitable and "rivchiyut" means profitability." Profits create room to maneuver for those who make them. But the social protests were fired, in part, by the perception that the economic elite are accumulating an abundance of economic space, leaving the masses feeling pinched. The parallel of the tzedek/tzedaka slogan is the call for revacha velo revachim, "general welfare [for all] and not [obscene] profits [for a few]."

Budget Butchers

Increasing welfare for all often means government outlays. A related root, ketzev, means "rhythm" or "pace," and a kotzev-lev is a pacemaker for your heart. In the realm of cutting, katzav means "butcher." When you cut up and apportion monetary resources, you create a taktziv, "budget." That creates a root of its own. When you "budget" something," you do tiktzuv, "budgeting," or metaktzev, "budget," the money.

Interestingly, while the tri-literal root is central in Hebrew, many of these roots are based on a two-letter core. So there are a number of words meaning "cut" or "break" that share the stem k-tz. For instance, a propos budgets and cuts, the headlines now speak of drastic kitzutzim, "cutbacks," from the root k-tz-tz. For many, especially for those living on kitzbaot, set "pensions "or "allotments," they will sting, 'oketz, like a thorn, kotz, in one's side, until they come to an end, ketz (all words with the two letter k-tz base that connotes sharpness or cutting).

After things are sliced and diced into budgetary pieces, somebody has to leshalem, "pay," from the root, sh-l-m, which means "complete" or "make whole." If a debt comes between you and a friend, it will be hard to lehashlim, "make amends" – or "make whole" the relationship – without repaying your liabilities. Worst case, you can resort to "installments," tashlumim.

From pieces to the whole, and back to peace, there is no shlemut, "wholeness" like shalom, "peace." But it's a yetzira that money just can't buy.

Next week: Can a debit (chiyuv) be positive (chiyuvi)? And much more…

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