Shoftim: A Slippery Article – The Wonders of the Holy Tongue



The Torah describes the matter of the unintentional slayer, whose sentence is to flee to a City of Refuge: “…And when he comes with his friend to the forest to chop wood, and his hand was pushed (ונדחה) on the axe [while attempting] to cut the tree, and the iron skidded off from the wood and reaches his friend and he dies—he [the murderer] shall flee to one of these cities and live” (Deut. 19:5).

  1. Dach דח – According to Menachem Ibn Saruk, the word ונדחה is derived from the root דח (a root which appears in the Pentateuch only in the Book of Deuteronomy). He groups into one category the following verses, in which the rootדח appears in the context of pushing and passing over:

Ps. 118:13 – “You have surely pushed (דחה דחיתני) me to fall.”

Ps. 62:3 – “Until when will you plan against a man? You shall all be murdered like a leaning wall, a pushed-over (הדחויה) fence.”

Isa. 27:13 – “It will be on that day, a great shofar will be blown, and those lost in the Land of Assyria and those pushed away (והנדחים) in the Land of Egypt will come…”

Isa. 16:4 – “Those who I pushed (נדחי) away shall live among you.”

II Sam. 14:14 – “…And think thoughts, so that no[thing] to push away will be pushed away (ידח ממנו נדח).”

II Sam. 14:13 – “…So that the king will no return [he whom] he pushed away (נדחו).”

Isa. 4:4 – “If Hashem will wash away the excrement of the Daughters of Zion, and the blood of Jerusalem He will rinse (ידיח) from her midst…”

I think that we can equate this root to other roots which use the letters דח, i.e. 1. דחף (push), 2. דחק (force) 3. דחס (trample) 4. קדח (drill) 5. דחן (millet). It appears that the common denominator for all of them is that they are all related to the concepts of pressure, pushing, ejecting/dropping. We will examine each of these words individually:

  1. Dahaf דחף (pushing) – The Talmud (Makkot 7b) expounds: “If suddenly” (Num. 35:22) excludes [somebody who bumped into another at] a corner, “without enmity” excludes somebody who hates, “he pushed him” (הדפו) means he physically pushed him with his body (שדחפו בגופו). The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah §24:6) says “And Gehazi approached to push her (להדפהּ)” (II Kings. 4:27) Rabbi Jose b. Chaninah says: he pushed her at the glory of her beauty. Similarly, The Aruch mentions that the Targum Yerushalmi translates להדוף as למדחף and Targum Onkelos (to Num. 35:22) similarly renders הדדפו as דחהי.
  2. Dahak דחק (forcing/pressing) – The word pressure (לחץ) is translated by Targum as דחק in Exodus 3:9. The word for social pressure (אוץ) is also translated asדחק by Targum Onkelos (Gen. 19:15, Ex. 5:13).
  3. Dahas דחס (trampling) – The word דחס denotes leaning and pushing (two different types of applying pressure). The Talmud (Yevamot 102a) relates: R. Yehuda says in the name of Rav: the permit of a sister-in-law [whose husband died without children] to the marketplace [i.e. to marry somebody other than her deceased husband’s brother] depends on slipping [the shoe] from most of the heel… because the entire pressure of the foot is borne (דחיס) by it [the heel] and Rashi explains that דחיס means that he presses his foot. Furthermore, the Talmud (there 103a) cites Amimar who says that one who performs the commandment of Chalitzah must press his foot (Rashi: into the ground). Similarly, the Talmud mentions the word דחסה (pressing) in the context of a man’s prohibition to marry a woman impregnated by somebody else because during marital relations the man might push (in Rashi’s terminology מעיכה) against the fetus and squash the unborn child.
  4. Kadah קדח – In Scriptural Hebrew, the word קדח refers to inner heat, such as “A fire is burning (קדחה) in My nose” (Deut. 32:22) which denotes G-d’s inner wrath and “…the swelling lesions and the burning fever (הקדחת)” (Deut. 26:16) which the Torah warns will befall sinners. However, in rabbinic vernacular, the word קדח refers to puncturing and/or to the instrument used for puncturing. For example, the Mishnah (Shabbat 12:1) says: He who punctures (הקודח) any amount [on Shabbat], is obligated [to bring a sin-offering]. R. Ovadia Bartenuro explains that הקודח means הנוקב  (he who makes a hole). Similarly, the Mishnah (Keilim 13:4), when listing vessels that are susceptible to ritual impurity, mentions the מקדח, which Bartnenuro explains is an instrument used to make holes (i.e. a drill in Modern Hebrew). The thematic connection between the Bible’s usage and rabbinic usage of the root קדח is that inner heat creates a pressure which presses outwards and sometimes may pierce the body, like we find the malady called קדח in rabbinic patois. The Mishnah (Negaim 6:8) also writes that the type of burn called a קדח cannot become a mark of tzaraat and Maimonides explains that קדח is a spot which comes from a burning acidic liquid in the body which can pierce one’s skin.
  5. Dahan דחן (millet) – Millet is a type of legume mentioned by Ezekiel (4:9). However, Rabbeinu Yonah (to Brachot 26a) points out that the hallmark of this legume is that it is not commonly eaten unless it is smashed and ground (which creates halachic ramifications concerning the proper benediction to recite over this food). Smashing is the result of applying pressure so the two concepts are certainly related.


We conclude with a prayer that G-d redeem and gather the Jewish people from all corners of the world, in fulfillment of the prophecy: “[Even] if your נדחך dispersal [reaches to] the edge of the heavens, from there HASHEM your G-d will gather you and from there he will take you” (Deut. 30:4). Amen!


Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg