Sunday, September 23, 2007

marek and marak

This year for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I bought new machzorim, after using the same ones for the previous 15 years. One of the main reasons for the change was my desire for a machzor that marked shva na and shva nach. But I also just wanted to shake things up a bit. By using a new text, I was forced to pay more attention to what I was saying, which improved my prayer experience overall. I don't know if I can afford a new machzor every year, but once every 15 sounds reasonable...

One interesting change I noticed was in the end of the personal vidui. In my Rinat Yisrael machzor I had always read:

ומה שחטאתי לפניך מחק ברחמיך הרבים

"And what I have sinned before You, may you erase (mechok) with your abundant mercy"

But in my new machzor (Keter Melucha) it had:

מרק ברחמיך הרבים

"May you cleanse (marek) with your abundant mercy"

After perusing a number of machzorim, I found that some (Koren, Machzor Rabba) had mechok and some had marek (Artscroll, Ezor Eliyahu). So I went to the source of the prayer in the gemara, and Berachot 17a has marek. An alternate version appears in Yoma 87b - מרוק merok. But nowhere did mechok appear. (The Rambam actually has מחה.) I'm guessing that maybe it was originally a printing error - the resh and vav together were assumed to be a chet. But if anyone has any more information, I'd be interested in seeing it.

What does the root מרק mean? It means "to scour, to polish, to cleanse". Derivatives include the biblical tamruk תמרוק - "ointment, cosmetics", and in modern Hebrew merek מרק - "putty".

Now this got me thinking - and maybe it was just my hunger on the fast - was there any connection between marek and marak - "soup"?

Most of the sources I consulted did not connect them. The word marak appears only a few times in the Tanach - Shoftim 6:19-20 and Yeshayahu 65:4 (although some say the correct reading there should be פרק.) The meaning seems to be more gravy than soup (but it is easy to mistake the two.)

Based on this definition, the Radak (on Shoftim, as well as Sefer HaShorashim) does connect the terms. He says that the verb מרק means "to rinse, wash with water", and marak is "the water that the meat was cooked in, because that is where the rinsing (merika) of the meat takes place."

Ben Yehuda points out that the word marak as soup / gravy was not in use in Talmudic times. They preferred the synonym zom זום - which derives from the Greek zomos - also meaning broth (and the root of the word osmazome - "obsolete name given to meat extract regarded as the ‘pure essence of meat’" and originally deriving from Greek osma - "smelling" and zomos - "broth".)

It isn't clear from Ben Yehuda's dictionary whether he was the one who reintroduced marak as the word for soup, or if this happened earlier. In any case, the connection between marak and marek should lead to a nice siman for next year's Rosh Hashana for a creative reader ...

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