The next word on our list is כל [KOL]. It means ‘all’ or ‘everything’. It is a common word because it is used in a lot of different phrases and idioms. For example, to say ‘very’ we say כל-כך [KOL KACH] as in היא כל כך יפה – she is so very beautiful – which is the title of a well-known Kaveret song.
Or to say ‘this is definitely right’ we would say כל שכן – literally ‘every yes’ . A shop is a כל בו [KOL BO] meaning ‘everything is in it’. At the Seder we invite all the needy with the phrase כל דכפין and on Yom Kippur we start our prayers with כל נדרי – all our vows. Indeed, the word כל is so frequent that it can be found everywhere – or בכל מקום (every place)!
When I was younger I was impressed by the wonderful blessing that comes at the end of the Grace after Meals. There are lots of requests at the end of this prayer – and the most bountiful is the request that we should be blessed by God בכל מכל כל – meaning with ‘all of every everything’. You can’t get much better than that!
But actually, the phrase doesn’t mean that at all. The KOL’s here are references to specific blessings found in the Torah. In the book of Genesis, each of our forefathers was given a blessing using the word כל. Concerning Abraham we read: The Lord blessed Abraham in all. [Gen. 24:1] Concerning Isaac it is written And I ate of all, [Gen 27:33] and concerning Jacob it is written For I have all [Gen. 33:11]. We are not asking for lots of everything – but rather, to be blessed the way that our forefathers were.
One last note on the word כל. There is only one vowel in this word – a Kamatz, which looks like a small letter ‘T’. In the Ashkenazi tradition this vowel is pronounced ‘oh’. In the Sefardi tradition, and in modern Israeli Hebrew, it is usually pronounced ’ah’ . But not always. Sometimes a Kametz is pronounced ‘oh’ even in modern Hebrew. When this happens it is a Kamatz Katan – or a small Kamatz. Pronounced ‘ah’ it is a big Kamatz or a Kamatz Gadol . It can be very confusing because these 2 vowels are usually written the same way. KOL is one of those words where the Kamatz is a small Kamatz. It is always pronounced as ‘oh’ – hence KOL and not KAL.
But there is one exception. There is a strong Masoretic tradition that in Psalm 35, in the verse כל עצמותי תאמרנה – All my bones shall say, Lord who is like you – KOL should be pronounced KAL. I haven’t found any reason for this tradition.
This teaches us to be careful when we use the word KOL. Saying ‘all’ is very dangerous, because very few things in this world are consistent. When you say all, you will usually be proved wrong. There is almost always an exception to ‘all’. Or, as I like to say, always isn’t always always – sometimes it is sometimes.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
My Hebrew Word thanks the World Zionist Organisation and Masorti Olami for their support of this Project.