By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 14, 2009

“How charif is your charif?: you would be wise to ask this of the felafel vendor before agreeing to have some of the spicy sauce added to your pitta. Charif means hot and spicy, not for the faint-hearted. It also means intelligent and insightful. A great sage is said to possess charifut, spiciness.

In the Bible, the word charaf means to defy or affront, as in Proverbs 17:5, “He who mocks the poor, affronts [charaf] his Maker.”

Cherpah means disgrace. Upon the birth of Joseph, Rachel exclaimed, “God has taken away my cherpah.” Her infertility had caused Rachel great shame.

Choref, from the same root, refers to the winter season.

The common denominator among winter, disgrace, defiance, intellectual brilliance and spiciness is a sharpness of feeling and the ability to subdue another.

That we call acumen charifut reflects the role we assign to the intellect in our culture — it has the power to amaze others. People come to learn from a sage to have their presumptions defied, to add some spice to their perception of the world.

Last updated: 3:51pm, May 14 2009