After the drama of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon is commanded not to get drunk:
I want to focus on a minor point, the wording of להבדיל בין הקדש ובין החל. The Avudraham says this is the basis of our wording in havdalah:
But note that the wording in our havdalah is not exactly the same as the pasuk. The Shulchan Aruch uses the wording of the pasuk, while the Rema uses the Avudraham’s wording:
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky explains why the wording isn’t exactly the same. We say בין קודש לחול where the pasuk says בין הקודש ובין החול. He says this is due to the difference between the language of תנ״ך and the language of חז״ל:
Rabbi Kaminetsky goes on to point out other places where the שולחן ערוך uses biblical language in ברכות where the רמ״א uses Mishnaic Hebrew, and hypothesizes that the מחבר would use the language of תנ״ך for ברכות on מציוות דאורייתא. I’m not going to go into that now. But I find interesting this idea that language, even לשון הקדש, changes with time.
This comes up in the Gemara:
And even the meanings of words change:
All languages change with time, but Hebrew specifically, as the language of the Jews, has been through drastic disruptions that it had to be virtually re-invented after the return to Israel:
(This is similar to the re-invention of Hebrew by Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda about a century ago. It’s why I can read Ramban but not HaAretz. לשון תורה לעצמה לשון מדינת ישראל לעצמה.)
And language changes even over relatively short periods of time. Compare במדבר to יהושוע (written about 2 decades later):
The problem is that the Jews left Egypt ממחרת הפסח, after the night of the Paschal sacrifice and the first seder, on the 15th of Nisan. They started eating the produce of the land after the Omer offering, on the 16th. How could this be called ממחרת הפסח? Tosaphot explains that the word פסח changed: in the Torah it referred to the holiday of the 14th, when the sacrifice was offered. The next seven days were חג המצות. Later, the focus was on the yom tov, so the 14th was ערב פסח and חג הפסח started on the 15th.
So Hebrew has undergone huge changes over the centuries.
This is all interesting if you are a linguist, but for those of us who attempt to obey ה׳'s word, it produces an epistemological crisis: How can we do מצוות if we don’t know what they mean?
Look at the end of this week’s parasha:
We don’t know any of these birds. There are lots of commentaries, but they amount to little more than guesses.
The answer within the halachic system is מסורה.
This is more than the idea that, if we have a continuous chain of transmission of a word, then its current meaning must be the same as its ancient one. This is clearly not true; language changes even without the disruptions that characterize Jewish history. מסורה, the transmission of תורה שבעל פה, is an epistemological statement. It defines how we know what words mean. That is an inherent part of the belief in תורה שבעל פה.
With regard to out nonkosher bird list, the מסורה has not preserved their meaning. All we have is a מסורה of which birds are not on the list.
(The meal described was in 2002. They have since made several more; see the Jerusalem Post article from 2010.)
The מסורה is not, at its core, a way to tell us what the Torah meant 3500 years ago. It tells us what the Torah means today and connects us to מעמד הר סיני 3500 years ago.