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    Different but the same – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it true that shanah (as in Rosh HaShanah and Shanah Tovah) as a verb means both to change and to repeat?

    A. That was an idea which Samson Raphael Hirsch used very effectively, telling us that on Rosh HaShanah we needed the ability to know what to keep the same in our lives and what to change.

    We all know the phrase Mah Nishtanah, “How different!”, and the title Mishnah (or Mishneh), repetition. We probably also know that a tooth is shen, and in the Sh’ma, v’shinnantam is “teach them thoroughly” (i.e., if it comes from shen, “make their minds bite into the subject”).

    However, do these words all have the same root?

    Rashi (on Deut. 17:18) seemed to think so, but his grandson Rashbam did not. Rashbam appeared to accept the view that Hebrew roots have three letters whilst Rashi thought they had two.

    Thus Rashi believed that the basis of all these words was sh-n, which had a number of shades of meaning ranging from “sharpening” to “teaching” to “doubling”, whilst Rashbam posited several different three-letter roots that looked partly the same.

    Sh-n-h meant to double, sh-n-n meant to sharpen or teach.

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