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Parshas Metzora (5771)

Of Acronyms, Bacronyms and Toracronyms

Coined from two Greek roots that literally mean “high word”, acronyms are new words formed from the initial letters of a name, such as SCUBA for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words, such as radar for radio detection and ranging.

Around the year 1983, someone invented the bacronym - a blend of backward and acronym - defined as a "reverse acronym". A bacronym is constructed by taking an existing word or name already in common usage, and creating a new phrase using the letters in the word as the initial letters of the words in the phrase. For example, the United States Department of Justice assigned to their “Amber Alert” program the meaning "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response," although the term originally referred to Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Texas in 1996.

Oddly enough, the word acronym itself can be expressed as a bacronym: Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning.

Bacronyms are most often created as jokes, expressing frustration with a particular person, product, organization or ideology. Here are some humorous examples I found while searching the web:

ACLU - Allow Criminals Loose Unpunished
WINDOWS - Will Install Needless Data On Whole System
FACEBOOK - Forget About Chores, Escape Boredom, Online Over Kill
OBAMA - Overly Boastful About Minor Accomplishments
NASCAR - Non Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks
ARMY - Ain't a Real Marine Yet
IBM - I Blame Microsoft
CD-ROM - Consumer Device, Rendered Obsolete in Months
BING - But It's Not Google
DEMOCRATS - Daft Environmentalists Moving Our Country Relentlessly Askew Toward Socialism
REPUBLICANS - Racist, Elitist People Under Bush Launching Invasions, Crying About National Security

And here are a few witty bacronyms about some popular (or not so popular) automobiles:

BMW - Big Money Wasted
FORD - Fix Or Repair Daily
HONDA - Had One, Never Did Again
JAGUAR - Just A Guess, U Are Rich
VOLVO - Very Odd Looking Vehicular Object
FIAT – Funny Italian Attempt at Technology
SAAB - Swedish Automobile - Always Broken

Of course, these bacronyms are all completely contrived, as the one who created the original word or name almost certainly did not have in mind the humorous acronym that was later created from it.

Then there’s what I like to call the Toracronym – a blend of Torah and acronym - and in a league all its own. You see, the English language was made up by human beings, and consequently, their choice of the particular letters that comprise each word is totally arbitrary. So that if it works out that a word or name lends itself to being turned into a witty acronym, it is no more than a coincidence.

Not so with Lashon HaKodesh (lit. the ‘Holy Tongue”), the Hebrew language that G-d Himself made up and with which He wrote the Torah and created everything in the universe. In this holy language we can find many a Toracronym – i.e. a Hebrew word that expresses a particular idea, and whose letters were initially chosen by G-d with the intention that they form an acronym for a phrase that reflects and sheds light on some deeper aspect of that idea. Here are just a few examples (taken from the Talmud and elsewhere):

ADAM (the Hebrew word for ‘human being’; derived from the word adamah, ground, from which man was created; spelled alef, daled, mem) – The Talmud in Sotah 5a, when discussing various ways how a person can deal with his arrogance, quotes the following: Rabbi Yochanan said, “The word Adam is an acronym for Eifer [ash/dust], Dam [blood], Marah [bile]." When Adam, created from the lowly ground, realizes that his physical body, which is often the source of his haughtiness and pride, is really just a combination of dust, blood and bile, it greatly humbles him.

ELUL (the Hebrew name of the month before Tishrei and the High Holidays; derived from the Aramaic word meaning "to search"; spelled alef, lamed, vuv, lamed) – This month, coming as it does right before Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Judgment, is the spiritual time for us to ‘search’ our hearts for evil, and to repair our relationship with our loving Father in Heaven, from Whom we might have distanced ourselves during the year through our various sins and indiscretions. Appropriately, the name of the month, Elul, is also an acronym for the words “Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" - "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3), which describes the beautiful relationship that we have with G-d.

SHADDA-I (one of the Hebrew names of G-d; spelled shin, daled, yud) – This name of G-d, which represents His great power and strength, is the name that is written on the outside of every Mezuzah scroll that a Jew hangs for protection on the doors of his home. This three-letter name, Shadda-i, is also an acronym for the Hebrew phrase, “Shomer Dalsos Yisrael – He Who protects the doors of the Jewish people”.

YISRAEL (the Hebrew name for Israel, the Jewish people; derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to prevail over the Divine”; spelled yud, shin, reish, alef, lamed) – This name comes from the story in Genesis 32:25-29, where our forefather Jacob was given the additional name Yisrael (Israel) after wrestling with an angel. Jacob demands a blessing from the angel which he eventually receives, hence "prevailing over the Divine." It is from the patriarch Israel/Yisrael that we, the Children of Israel, derive our strength and our ability to overcome all obstacles as we struggle to bring G-dliness into this world through the Torah that G-d gave us. The Megaleh Amukos teaches (based on Zohar Chadash on Song of Songs 74d) that there are 600,000 “root souls” that comprise the nation of Israel, and that each one is needed to complete a unique rectification as part of the Jewish people’s collective mission to fix this world. Just as with a Sefer Torah, a Torah scroll, which has 600,000 letters, and where if even one letter is missing, the Torah is unfit for use, so, too, with the Jewish people - if even one of those root souls is not doing its part, the collective mission of the Jewish people cannot be accomplished. We, the Children of Israel, are thus aptly called Yisrael, the letters of which form the acronym “Yeish Shishim Reebo Osiyos LaTorah – There are 600,000 letters in the Torah”.

MELECH (the Hebrew name for a “king”; spelled mem, lamed, chuf) – The Sages teach us that in addition to the Melech, or Jewish monarch, that the Jewish people once had (and will once again have with the coming of King Moshiach), each and every Jew is supposed to be a melech over himself, in full control of his desires, passions and emotions at all times. There are three primary drives in a person, represented by the three main organs in the body – the moach (brain), the seat of the intellect; the leiv (heart), the seat of the emotions; and the kaveid (liver), the largest physical organ in the body and the seat of physical desires. A person needs to be a melech – the letters of which form an acronym for these three drives, moach, leiv, kaveid, in that order – so that his intellect “rules” over his emotions which “rule” over his physical desires. If the intellect in his moach is in the driver’s seat, he will not be swayed by every emotion in his leiv, nor will he succumb to every passion in his kaveid – and he will truly be a ‘king” over himself.

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