Hitbonenut, Clear Focused Kavanah

‘ומפני מה התחיל התורה בב
Sefer HaBahir, verse 3 excerpt

Traditional translation: “Why does the Torah begin with the letter beit?”

Liorah’s translation: “Particularly focusing, ‘more than’ my attention (with clarity), which develops power and ability in its appointed time, to explore (ideas), arrange (the ideas) and cover a focused point (topic) …”

The hebrew word ומפני is traditionally translated here as part of the “why does”? From the word’s 2-gate פנ, is derived 2 roots פנה and פנן. Both of these roots can be considered equal roots from which the word ומפני itself is derived. פנה means “turn to and focus attention”, “readying for a purpose”, “leader”, “face”, “hostility”, “expression”, “interior” and “inside”. פנן means “clarify”. The prefix ו can mean “particularly”. The מ prefix can mean “more than”.

מה is also part of the “why does?” in the traditional translation. One of its actual meanings is “which” and “from her” (the Bahir was written by a man, remember).

The hebrew word התחיל is traditionally translated here as “begin”. The word’s root, חיל, means “enable”, “concentrate power and resources”, “developing power and abilities”, “host”, “soldier” and “accumulating possessions”.

התורה HaTorah. Torah is from the root תור meaning to “search for separate items”, “exploring”, “purposeful searching”, “arranging”, “planning” and “appointed time”.

בב is from the root בבה meaning to “cover a focused point”.

Taken together, this phrase in verse 3 is describing ‘more than focused attention’; that is, focused kavanah [1], hitbonenut התבוננות, a meditative method of contemplation which, in its appointed time, will develop intellectual power and ability to cover a point completely.


[1] Meditation and the Bible, R’ Aryeh Kaplan


Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, R’ Matityahu Clark
The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet, R’ Michael Munk


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