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To the amida prayer from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kipur, we add a brief prayer that starts:

זָכְרֵנוּ לְחַיִּים מֶלֶךְ חָפֵץ בַּחַיִּים

ArtScroll translates that as:

Remember us for life, O King Who desires life

But there's another way one might translate it:

Remember us for life, O King Who desires the living

We see the kal verb חפץ in Tanach many times, sometimes with a direct object and other times with a ב־ object. Most often (always?), when the object is a person, there's a ב־. And we do see חיים=life as a direct (no ב־) object in Psalms 34:13. On the other hand, we also see מות=death as a ב־ object in Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11. And, indeed, most objects of חפץ generally use ב־. Plus, maybe the usage (transitivity) of חפץ changed between Tanach and when this prayer was written.

So my question is whether ArtScroll is right. Specifically: Is there any good source/argument for one or the other (or some other) possible translation of בַּחַיִּים in this prayer?

  • Is the question really about whether ArtScroll is correct or whether you are correct? Because I think it's more the latter. – ezra Dec 11 '17 at 1:38
  • @ezra, I can't be right, since I didn't claim any particular translation is correct. – msh210 Dec 11 '17 at 4:35
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    You've focused on an interesting nuance. However, in terms of G-d's "desires" as it relates to this expression, what would be the meaning of "life" if it didn't focus on humans who are alive? It seems like the same thing regardless of how we were to translate it. – DanF Dec 11 '17 at 16:34
  • I'm inclined to say that Art Scroll's translation is correct. I think the definition is meant to be consistent and, in a sense, "poetic". All the other uses of the word חַיִּים, used here mean "life" not "living". E.g. זָכְרֵנוּ לְחַיִּים means "Remember us for life", not "for the living". Same with all the other usages. I can't see a reason as to why there would be an interruption of definitions, here. – DanF Dec 11 '17 at 16:39
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    @DanF, I'm not sure "בספר החיים" is life, not the living… but that's for another question.. – msh210 Dec 11 '17 at 18:15
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The ר"י בן יקר in his commentary to that line writes:

בבני אדם שהם חיים

People who are alive

seemingly siding decisively with your non-Artscroll option.

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