If it could be said that I am considered a ”writer,” then I must address what many have as a pet-peeve and what I have as a tool to help my fellow Jews. (I do grant you that “writer,” according to Webster’s Dictionary, carries with it quite a liberal definition, namely: “Someone who has written something.” Applying this definition to our weekly columns holds an unfortunate truism which may be painful for you, the reader, to face, and me, the writer, even more so: By Webster’s definition, my 5-year-old and I are in the same class known as “writers” as she too has written something.)
There are many phrases in the English language which have evolved and then have been hijacked, maimed and eventually put back into circuit, in its newly crippled form. Those with a sensitive ear may blanch at the resultant usage of the new phrase, while the speaker never thinks twice about it. Take for example, the oft used phrase: For all intensive purposes. Ever heard someone use this phrase? I hate to be a stickler here but the phrase is actually: For all intents and purposes. This, correct version of the phrase, means: For all practical purposes, whereas the alternative intensive means for all “really passionate” purposes. Another example: It’s a mute point. What’s really meant to be said is: It’s a moot point. Where moot means irrelevant and mute means unable to speak. I’ll throw in one more, though there are dozens of these: I got off Scotch-free. It’s actually Scot-free. And many, who enjoy an occasional glass of the sauce, would not want to be “scotch free” anyhow.
Well, in Judaism we also have many phrases which have become part of the shprach (that means jargon in a Yiddish sorta way–yes, I know sorta is wrong, it was meant as an ironic joke (I feel comfortable using the word joke as liberally as Webster’s uses the word writer). Similar to the English language, some Yiddish phrases have been butchered worse than a cow being sold on East Broadway! Phrases like Kenohara (heard from many a-grandmother), which is really kein ayin hara meant as an expression to ward off the evil eye, meertz-Hashem, really: Im yirtzeh Hashem(meaning if G-d wills it so) and other such phrases which have somehow devolved into “messy” phrases or words that many accept as correct. One of the more common ones is a phrase often used after one gets an aliyah to the Torah. Shkoyach! I would like to share with you the origin, usage and misusage of this term.
Who was the first to have said the phrase Shkoyach? “Hold on,” you say, what does this phrase actually mean? Fair question: Let me explain based on some context. In this week’s portion, Moses (Moshe) is given the tablets (luchot). No, not THESE tablets, but the ones with the Ten Commandments etched on them. (Though I suppose Apple may offer that in coming generations of the iPad Air.) Moshe comes down the mountain to witness the debacle of the century, the Golden Calf. Big mistake on the part of our Jewish brothers (the sisters would have no part in it!) After contemplating the situation Moshe reacts: He throws the tablets down, effectively putting them in a category of “recyclables” for companies like MPC to haul away.
How does G-d respond? After all, G-d was the One who authored the tablets? Says G-d, “Yasher Kochacha that you broke the luchot,” Yasher Kochacha literally meaning, “Your strength has been straight.” Proverbially patting Moshe on the back, G-d tells Moshe, you’ve used your strength for good things, good job breaking the luchot.
So here we have the first usage of the phrase Yasher Kochacha.
Now, if you’ll go to many Traditional synagogues around the world, you will witness the following interaction. After the person who received the aliyah steps off of the bimah there will be many hands proffered with an accompanying, “Shkoyach,” to which the one who received the aliyah will then respond, “Baruch Tihyeh” (Blessed you should be). Now, how did Yasher Kochacha turn to Shkoyach and can we or should we re-institute the original phrase?
As you can probably intuit, Yasher Kochacha became a bit shortened by lopping off the last “cha” at the end of the word (“cha” in Hebrew means ‘you’). So instead of saying “Your strength has been straight,” we look at the person and say, “Yasher Koach” implying to you (the person I’m talking to) Good job!
However, apparently our need for expedience pushed this phrase to another level of brevity and “Shkoyach” has now replaced the wordy, “Yasher Koach.” Namely, we’ve taken the “Ya” off the word Yasher and literally combined the two words for one: Shkoyach.
As we close for the week, however, let us not simply remember the phrase (or misphrases if you will—another irony, or a poor editing job?), but the lesson behind the well wishes that Jews world-over share with one another. When we hear the inevitable shkoyach after being called to the Torah, allow the notion of what lay behind the phrase to seep in. As Jews we arise to the challenge of any and all situations whether pleasant or not. As we follow in Moshe’s footsteps, we often need to stand strong against the corruption in our midst, despite being the unpopular and often underappreciated choice. With that we close with 2 lessons: Speak up—and speak right!