Cola are poetic units, with the text divided into lines like free verse.
Sometimes seeing the structure helps us understand the meaning of the text. Cantillation marks (trop) are an ancient example of lines being broken up in a certain way to show inner rhythm and structure. They are used to read or chant the Torah aloud in the synagogue. Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig believed that the text should be read aloud even in their German translation and so divided it up into breath units or cola to make it easier to do so. I continue this tradition in my English translation, in the hope that printing the text in this way will make it easier to see—and hear—what hat is happening in the text.
EXAMPLE (Genesis l:3-5):
In this text, early in the Creation story, the name of God is repeated four times, followed by a verb. Thus God’s first acts of creation are portrayed in a highly ordered fashion. Compare the two translations below.
New English Bible: God said,” Let there be light,” and there was light; and God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness night.
Five Books of Moses :
God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
God saw the light; that it was good.
God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light: Day! and the darkness he called: Night!
The principle of order is paramount in this chapter, and informs the structure of the entire text. We move from the “Confusion and Chaos” of the opening lines to the tight structure of the whole chapter, where each “day” of Creation ends with the phrase, “There was setting, there was dawning…” Adding to this structure are the chapter’s other refrains: “God said,” “It was so,” and “God saw that it was good.”