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Semantic Satiation in Judaism

Scientists have yet to explain the phenomenon known as 'Semantic satiation'. Oxford dictionary defines this as 'a peculiar sense of loss of meaning that occurs when a word is recited slowly 15 or 20 times in succession'.

In Parshat Nasso, the Torah extensively describes the offerings brought by the Nesi'im, the leaders of the tribes, during the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Each Nasi presented an identical offering, yet the Torah goes on to individually depict the offering of each Nasi in nearly identical verses. With the 100,000's of the 1.86 million+ words in the Talmud dedicated to the extrapolation of each and every word and letter in the Torah, one might wonder isn't this repetitiveness entirely redundant? Why the Torah didn't simply mention the offerings once and state that the other Nesi'im brought the same offerings?

A parable is told of a man who diligently prepared for his first speech on a speaking tour. The speech was captivating and well-received—a great success. The following night, he was scheduled to speak in a different town, intending to deliver the same talk. However, he realized that some of the audience members had already heard his lecture the previous night. Unable to present the same speech, he hastily combined a few ideas and created a new one, which unfortunately paled in comparison. Afterward, he approached those who had attended both nights and apologized for not providing them with a well-prepared speech. To his surprise, they expressed disappointment, explaining that they had returned specifically to hear the exact same speech, as they had thoroughly enjoyed it.

In a similar vein, the Torah teaches us that although each Nasi's sacrifice was identical to the previous one, in Hashem's eyes, it was as if He was receiving it for the first time. Each Nasi's offering held a unique significance to Him.

Just as the phenomenon of Semantic satiation occurs with words, Hashem has designed us in a manner that makes repetitive actions lose their impact on us over time. Just think of a doctor performing his 1000th open heart surgery or a coroner seeing their 10,000th corpse. Indeed, in our Judaism too, we often become stuck in a cycle of repetitiveness, such as the prayers we recite daily or the mitzvot we perform. However, we must recognize this reality and reinvigorate ourselves by remembering that every time we fulfill our responsibilities, Hashem derives pleasure from them as though it is the very first time we perform that Mitzvah!

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