Bridge over troubled waters - Crisis and Birth

Is there a bridge, a connection between such a beautiful, life filled moment and something that causes us worry, fear, and stress?

Breaking, fracture, crushing, breach, crash – all of these are related to the root ש-ב-ר (sh-v-r) in Hebrew. Among these words we find also the word מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber) – translated today as crisis, and it is used in exactly the same way as in English. The Covid-19 מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber) – crisis, the crisis in relations between people, and even between countries, the crisis due to a lack of a resource – i.e. a fuel crisis are all examples. And on a personal level, this word might remind us of difficult times and experiences in our own lives.

The crisis aspect of the word מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber) comes directly from Greek, the same as English: κρίσις – krisis which is rooted similarly to the Hebrew ש-ב-ר in an action of separation: cutting. We find the transliteration of this word in the Haskalah literature from the end of the 18th century into the 20th century.

“Our settlement is going through a great crisis (krisis) right now” — this is what you will hear every farmer from Petaḥ Tikva saying, that you meet on the street. This was written in HaPoel Hatsaʼir on March 15th 1910 regarding the troubles of the farmers with their large investment in citrus crops that didn’t produce a yield.

However, this is not it’s original meaning. During the same period of time we also find the word מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber):

“Who knows what will happen to mankind if Earth returns to the moment of labor again, giving birth to fire and flames, in which mountains will crumble and the shell of the earth will shatter into pieces?”

This dramatic question was posed in a scientific article that was published in HaTsfira on July 24th, 1862. Even if the event described is troublesome , מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber) here refers to something completely different – birth. But how?

Well, in Haskalah literature the writers preferred turning to the bible for inspiration in their attempt to describe the world of their time. Mendele Mocher Sforim did so when he wrote his memoir in 1917:

“ובעת צרה זו באה ביתי עד משבר וילדה”

“And during this troubled time my daughter came to the moment of birth and delivered a child.”

Does this sound familiar? It should, it’s almost a direct quote from one of only 2 places this word appears in the bible, one in 2nd kings 19:3, which turns out to be exactly the same as the 2nd, Isaiah 33:7:

בָאוּ בָנִים עַד מַשְׁבֵּר וְכֹחַ אַיִן לְלֵדָה.

“.Children arrive at the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them”

In the bible these are the only places we find this word (we can find a similar form in Hosea 13:13). As such, there are many interpretations to the word מַשְׁבֵּר (mashber). One being the opening of the womb at the time of birth or the moment the baby appears. Another interpretation is that the birthing chair is being referred to. But in every case we know it has everything to do with the moment of birth, and nothing to do with the crises we go through today. Or does it?

In the end, one meaning of the word we get from Biblical Hebrew – the moment of birth, and now, in our time, a new meaning has been given to the word inspired by Greek – crisis. And it is fine, we don’t judge, languages keep changing. Perhaps, by remembering the original meaning and the new one, we can find some encouragement. The moment of birth is a difficult and painful moment, but it is also the incredible moment a new life begins. In the same way every crisis we go through can be changed by God’s hand into the beginning of something beautiful and new.

“Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.”
Psalm 30

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top