What Does “Tokhehah” Mean? Originally published August 31-September 1, 2018

This week’s portion is Parashat Ki Tavo, which includes the Tokhehah (תּוֹכֵחָה), generally known as the verses of rebuke and warning, which will be chanted sotto voce, in subdued voice.

Hebrew words are always constructed around a root, usually comprising three letters, with various vowels, prefixes, and suffixes appended. 

Some call these lines the verses of “reproof,” and that is an interesting choice because the word derives from “providing proof.”  The word for “proof” is hokhahah (הוֹכָחָה).  “Reproof” is also hokhahah, and to reprove is hokhiah (הוֹכִיחַ).  In English, sometimes “reproof” comes before a deed and sometimes after:  sometimes a censure, sometimes a warning, sometimes a rebuke.  (“Rebuke” is a Germanic word coming from “to beat back.”)

In modern Hebrew, tokhehah means “chastisement” or “correction.”  Mukhah is “proven” and mokhiah (מוֹכִיחַ) is a reprover, an admonisher.  (This is all not to be confused with “kakh” (כָּח), which means “phlegm.”)

Elsewhere in the Torah, the word tokhehah is used when we are told to provide proof, such as when we are instructed to provide proof to our neighbors to clarify matters.  In other words, we are told to (know the truth and) tell the truth.  That itself is a sort of admonition.

A similar phenomenon happened from Latin to English:  the word “reproof” comes from “reprobare,” to disapprove (of), such as in our derivative “reprobate.”  (The Latin “reproba” means “worthless.”)  “Probare,” without the prefix, means “to test and find good,” and we get the derivatives “proof,” “probe,” and “probable,” among many others.  (The Latin prefix “re-” means “again” and also “back” or “backward.”)

The very notion of “proof” is apparently quite complex.  Be forewarned.