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Shannah – v. 1. to repeat, to do again 2. to study, learn 3. to change, alter, be different; n. year (Alkalay Dictionary)
The Hebrew words “repeat” and “change”, being of one and the same root (shin nun hey), points to the phenomenon occurring constantly around us: the mere quantitative repetition of an action brings about, after a while, a significant qualitative change.
Rabbi Akiva, when still an illiterate shepherd at the age of forty, was impressed by that fact upon seeing how soft, gentle water, having flown for many years over hard stones, made them completely smooth. It gave him the courage to start studying the alpha bet, then going on to become one of our greatest Mishna scholars.
Indeed, studying (SHANNAH) is based on that phenomenon to a great extent. We repeat (SHANNAH) a certain piece of information enough times and it becomes part of our knowledge, changing (SHINNAH) us in various ways in the process.
And of course the years (SHANNAH) repeat themselves, the seasons occur again and again, while we grow and age, and while trees sprout, grow, bloom, bear fruit, then gradually decay and return to the earth. Thus it makes a lot of sense that the word “year” in Hebrew is of the same root as the word “repeat” and “change”.
The importance of Change in life is perhaps hinted to in the fact that God’s name in Hebrew is made of the three tenses of the word “to be”. Maimonides would probably not like this reading, but YHVH contains the Hebrew words “was”, “is”, and “will be”. Thus, God’s name is not a static fact but a process: Eheyeh asher eheyeh, I will be that which I will be, as God tells Moses in Sinai (Exodus 3,14). These words, “was”, “is”, “will be”, and “I will be that which I will be”, are written in blue underneath the quotes about change written in black around the tree. These are:
“Everything flows; nothing remains. One cannot step twice into the same river. Change alone is unchanging.” - Herakleitos, 5th century BCE, trans. by Guy Davenport
“…change, while it imports dissolution, involves at the same time the rise of a new life – […] while death is the issue of life, life is also the issue of death.” - Hegel, Philosophy of History, Introduction (p. 187)
“Merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.” - Hegel, Logic (quoted by F. Engels, quoting Marx, in Anti-Duhring)
“For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away.” - F. Engels, The End of Classical German Philosophy
The “words” on the horizontal and vertical lines at the center of the tree are years of the Hebrew calendar, starting in the year 5757, the year I made this painting, growing bigger with each round of the spiral of time. As a new year (shannah) repeats itself (shannah), the tree grows and changes (shinnah), adding leaves or flowers according to the respective season.