Monday, February 1, 2010

A painful interlude

I dare you to say the following sentence in a voice that’s NOT dripping with sarcasm:

“I feel your pain.”

It can’t be done, right?

I mean, no matter how you say it or which words you emphasize, you still come off sounding insincere.

Interestingly, however, the Hebrew equivalent is a beautiful example of Israeli concern, solidarity, and compassion.

You see,

“אני משתתף/משתתפת בצערך” - “Ani mishtatef/mishtatefet b’tza’archa/b’tza’areich” - “I share in your troubles/misfortune/sorrow”

is used as a meaningful way to offer condolences on someone’s loss.

Yet, as I noted above, if you don’t speak Hebrew but nevertheless wish to use this expression in a non-ironic fashion, you’re pretty much out of luck.

But let me take this opportunity to assure you that I certainly, um, feel your pain…



  1. In English, you say "you have my sympathy." It's a little different, but expresses the same concept.

  2. Leah it's not the same. "Lehishtatef" is reflexive. Having sympathy is from the outside. To participate in the pain is joining from the inside. It's more intimate than "feeling" someone's pain.

    Your pain is my pain.

  3. This is why I heard someone say that even though there are fewer words in Hebrew than in English (anyone familiar with the concept of eleph milim?) Hebrew is a richer language and has concepts that cannot actually be translated (the example the person gave was "rachel Bitcha Haktana)

  4. LeahGG - True, but it doesn't make for good blog fodder...

    Batya - Good point. Also, lehishtatef is more active than just "feeling" someone's pain. And besides, it's impossible to really and truly "feel" someone else's pain!

    Keren - I agree. One reason is that Hebrew has so many Talmudic and Biblical references (like the classic example you cited) which lose something in the translation.

  5. A lot is lost in translation, whatever the original language.
    You have taught me something new; once again.
    I am wondering how much Hebrew you knew before making alyah.

  6. Ilana-Davita - Good question. I was fortunate that my Hebrew was actually much better than most new olim. After all, not only had I attended a so-called Ivrit B'Ivrit day school (literally, "Hebrew in Hebrew" - i.e. Hebrew was the official language of instruction in the Judaic studies classes) in the States, but my family was privileged to have spent two years living in Israel when I was a child. Also, I spent some time here after high school studying in an Israeli institution.


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