And behold! Three flocks (עֶדְרֵי)of sheep lay there beside it (Gen. 29:2).

Since many of the personalities mentioned in the Pentateuch -from Abel to Moses- engaged in shepherding as their livelihood, one might have expected to find dozens of instances of the word עֵדֶר(flock). In fact, this term only appears eleven times throughout all of the Pentateuch. Most surprisingly, all of these instances appear exclusively in relation to our forefather Jacob. This phenomenon begs an explanation.

The root עדרhas four meanings in Scripture:

1. A gathering of sheep.1

2.Dig /excavate[as in בַּמַּעְדֵּר יֵעָדֵרוּן,that are dug up with hoes(Isa. 7:25)].2

3.Arrange/array [In the verse, All of these were men of war,עֹדְרֵי מַעֲרָכָה (I Chron.12:39), Metz. Tzionrendersעֹדְרֵי מַעֲרָכָהassoldiers arranged in formation. A few verses earlier, Scripture says of these soldiers, וְלַעֲדֹר בְּלֹא לֵב וָלֵב. Most commentators interpret לַעֲדֹרsimilarly, i.e. toarrangea battle.However, Metz. Tzion also links this to the sense of a group of sheep, since the soldiers move as a body.3Rashi(in his first interpretation) explains לַעֲדֹרin the sense of to dig /plow,but he too connects it to a battle arrangement, noting that plowing the field is necessary so that the soldiers can stand on level ground as neatly-arranged military units].

4.Missing/disappearing[as in, no one among them was missing[נֶעְדַּר](I Sam.30:19).

The common thread in all four definitions appears to be matters of arrangementand ordering. This import is most evident in the gatherings of sheep and the military formations of soldiers, as success in both cases is expressly dependent on order and discipline. However, the עִידוּרused in the sense of digging/plowingalso aims to produce nicely arranged and orderly furrows. Moreover, part of plowing involves uprooting harmful weeds, causing them todisappear.4

RSRH (Ex.15:6, on the phrase נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּחַ) draws a connection between a number of roots that share the lettersדר:

נֶאְדָּרִי, from the rootאדרis related to the roots עדרandחדר(through the interchangeable guttural letters א‘,ח‘,ה‘,ע) – all of which denote gathering/aggregatingintoan enclosure /surrounding. Indeed, in addition to the roots mentioned here, it would appear that there are numerous other words containing the two-letter string דרthat likewise share similar meanings.5We will examine the links between the following words:1) גדר;2)חדר; 3) דור(דירה); 4)כדר(כדור); 5) מדר(מדורה);6)נדר; 7)עדר; 8)סדר;9)פדר;10)קדר;11)אדר– and explain them one by one:

1.Rootגדר:a clearly defined and enclosed site[Yonatan6renders the word גִּדְרֹת(Num.32:16) as stables(דִירִין).

2.Rootחדר:a private, enclosed area.7

3. Root דור(דירה):a private, enclosed area.8

4.Rootכדר(כדור):an arrangement in circular form, as in, I will encamp [כַדּוּר]against you and lay siegeagainstyou(Isa. 29: 3). Malbim explains that this means the army will encamp opposite you in circular form.

5. Root מדר(מדורה):an arrangement of logs for a supervised and orderly fire.9

6.Rootנדר: vow: While the Scriptural usage generally denotes all forms of vows, the Sages used the term נדרfirst and foremost for vows aimed at achieving separationand disassociation[as if they are fenced off], as we find in the Mishnah (Nedarim 1:1) that one who makes a declaration with any variant of נְדָרִיםis implying that “I am forbidden to you, I am separated from you, I am being distanced from you.”10

7.Rootעדר: We find several examples in which עדרis linked to סדר(order/array): a) In I Chron.12:39, the expression עֹדְרֵי מַעֲרָכָה,arranging an array,is rendered by the Targum as מסדריסדרא;b) In the verse, שִׁנַיִך כְּעֵדֶר הַקְצוּבוֹת,your teeth are like a flock well counted(Song4:2), Rashi explains that they are “thin, white and neatly arranged” [i.e., the uniqueness of the עדר(flock) is its סדר(order)].

8. Root סדר: We find instances of the word סדרin Scripturewith the סreplaced by a שׂ, and the word denoting arrangementand organization: a) The wordשְׂדֵרֹתin I Kings (6:9) is defined by Rashias “arrangements of cedarwood”11; b) In II Kings (11:8), Metz. Tzion states: The term שְּׂדֵרוֹתis equivalent to סדרות“, which is an expression of orderingand arrangement. Just as orderly armies are called a מַעֲרֶכֶת, so too are they called סְדֵרוֹת.12

9. Root פדר: In his comments to Lev.1:8, Ramban explains the meaning of the wordפֶּדֶר: “In my opinion, it is not a general name for animal fats, but rather specific to the thin fats that are spread out and separatebetween the innards. It is one of the words that has the same meaning when permuted – פדרandפרד(separate) – because [the פֶּדֶר] separates between the innards.” [See likewise in Bi’ur Mishnat Chassidim (p. 273)].

10. Root קדר: A synonym forחושך(darkness). The darkness that is known to us is defined as an absence of light,13i.e., a light is either extinguished, or hidden behind an external partition of some sort.14However, we also find in Scripture examples of darkness which are described as a partition in and of itself. On the verse, and Moses entered into theעֲרָפֶל(Ex.20:18), Rashiexplains that he “entered beyond three partitions: חֹשֶׁךְ,עָנָןandעֲרָפֶל.”15This is cryptic, because whileעָנָןandעֲרָפֶל(alternate expressions for dense vapor) aresomewhat palpable and can be described as forms of partitions, how can חֹשֶׁךְbe called a partition? If the word “darkness” merely describes an absence of light achieved by extinguishing the light or concealing it, in what way is it a partition? On the other hand, we find “darkness” of a different disposition in Egypt, where Scripture states: there shall be darkness … and the darkness shall be tangible (Ex.10:21).Indeed, our Sages stated that the darkness that befell Egypt was a substantial darkness that could be felt,16going so far as defining it (in Ex. Rabba 14:1) as having the “thickness of a dinar.” The commentators on the Midrash struggle to explain how it is possible to measure the “thickness” of darkness. Some explain that there was some sort of partition preventing the light of day from reaching them, and this partition was as thick as a dinar. This is the difference between the termקדרand the other words for darkness (שחרות” / “אפילה” / “ערפל” / “עלטה). Thus, we can understand the link between קדר, a partition-like darkness, and the Talmudic termקדרה(which is based on the root קדר), a vessel that contains foods for the purpose of cooking. Indeed, when Scripture describes darkness with the expression קדר, Targum Yonatanoften translates it as קבל,17which denotes the containing and delimiting that is preventing the light from shining. In other words, aהפרדה(separation).

11. Root אדר: the root of the word אַדֶרֶת, a cloak that surrounds and encloses the entire body. For example, Ralbaginterpretsוַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ(I Kings19:13) to mean that he covered his face with the cloak that he was wearing.Likewise, in describing the power and holiness that surrounds the glory of God’s Presence, as it were, Scripture (Ex. 15:6) states, Your right hand, O God, is נֶאְדָּרִיwith strength.18RabbeinuBachya explains that נֶאְדָּרִיmeanssurrounded and engulfed by the power of compassion,” and Ramban (Ha’Emunah v’Habitachon, Ch. 22) and Rikanati (on the verse in Exodus) state that it means “adorned and clothed in holiness.” All of them mentioning that נֶאְדָּרִיderives from the same root as אַדֶרֶת. We also find an example of אַדֶרֶתitself denoting power/strength in Ezek.(17:8), where Rashiinterpretsגֶפֶן אַדָּרֶתto mean a powerful grapevine.19

In summary, all of these words containing the two-letter string דרdenote aspects of fencing in, arranging /ordering, orseparation/disassociation.

Now let us try to answer the question we raised at the outset, that all the instances of the root עדרin the Pentateuch occur exclusively in connection with Jacob. By way of introduction, let us first recall what our Sages asked in Sifrei (Deut. 31) with respect to Jacob:


Hear, Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one(Deut. 6:4). Why does it state [Israel]? Because it states [frequently in the Pentateuch] speak to the sons of Israel20; it does not state ‘speak to the sons of Abraham’ or ‘speak to the sons of Isaac,’ but rather speak to the sons of Israel. Jacob had this merit… because our forefather Jacob was in fear his entire life, saying [to himself], ‘Woe is to me if dross shall descend from me as it did from my ancestors. Ishmael came out of Abraham, and Esau came out of Isaac, but me? Dross will not come out of me as it did from my ancestors… and Reuben went and laid with Bilhah(Gen. 35:22). When Jacob heard about this he was shocked, saying: Woe is to me, has it happened that there is some dross within my children! Until he was informed by a Divine spirit that Reuben had repented, as it states [in the continuation of that same verse] The sons of Jacob were twelve(ibid.)… and so too,,, when Jacob, our father, was taking leave of this world, he summoned his sons and rebuked them, each one individually (Gen. 49:1-8)… and then he called them together as one and told them: Perhaps in your hearts there is a divisiveness against the One who spoke and the world came into being? They told him: Hear, Israel our father, just as in your heart there is no divisiveness, so too in our hearts there is no divisiveness against the One who spoke and the world came into being; rather, Hear, Israel, the lord Our G-d, the Lord is One.


Thus, Jacob was constantly worried about his children’s righteousness, and sought to guide them on the proper path. In other words, he sought to uproot and eliminatethe “dross” from them, so that he could rest assured that “dross would not come out of them.” At the end of his life, he once again demanded that they purge and remove any “disputes” with the Holy One, and in this manner he formed them into a “flock well counted”(Song 4:2), unique in their common faith and focused on their role to set apart and unite the Name of G-d. Consequently, he merited that his children, grandchildren and all descendants would perpetuate the reciting of his name twice daily, when they cry out: שמע ישראלHear, O Israel.


The very last instance of the term עדרin the Pentateuch is in the aforementioned verse (Gen. 35:21) that mentions the site known as “מגדל עדר“, the Tower of Eder.That is where Benjamin was born, thus completing the Tribes of Israel, as noted by Rabbeinu Bachya(ad loc.).21This site is also mentioned in Micah(4:8), where the commentators state thatעֵדֶרrefers to the Jewish people.22Radak(ibid.) states that Migdal Ederrefers to the Tower of David, but is called the Tower of Eder because the Jewish people is compared to a flock (עֵדֶר) of sheep in numerous Scriptural references,23and Zion and Jerusalem is the place where the Jewish people assembled three times a year, congregating in it like a flock in the fold.


Midrash Sechel Tov (Gen.35:21) draws a link between the two verses that mention מִגְדַּל עֵדֶר. After stating (as cited above) that it was so called by a Divinely inspired premonition that it will be from there that God will arrayHis flockthat had gone missingamong its enemies, he notes that this was in the merit of Jacob, as is hinted at in the connection between the Micahverse and the verse in Gen. 35:21. Jacob toiled throughout his days on earth to remove(לַעֲדוֹר) all evil from his sons, and to arrange(לְעַדֵר) them into a flock(עֵדֶר) that was integrated and straight. In that merit, King Messiah will, in the very near future, redeem his descendants, so that not one of them shall be missing (יֵעָדֵר), Amen.24

1דהב לב:כחוְאֻרָוֹת לְכָל בְּהֵמָה וּבְהֵמָה וַעֲדָרִים לָאֲוֵרוֹת; מצצועדריםכן יקראו קבוצתהמקנה.

2ישעז:כהוְכֹל הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּעְדֵּר יֵעָדֵרוּן;מצצבמעדר יעדרון הנחפרים בכלי חפירה. וכן:לא יעדר (ישעה:ו).

3Malbimalso alludes to this link, stating that “in war, the respective armies line up assembled groups (עֲדָרִים)facing each other.”

4In explaining the origin of the city name, Migdal Eder(ְמִגְדַּל עֵדֶר), mentioned in Gen. 35:22,Midrash Lekach Tovmerges all of the aforementioned meanings: 1. arrangement; 2. digging; 3. gathering of sheep; 4. missing– stating that it was so called by a Divinely inspired premonition that from there, God will arrayHis flockthat had gone missingamong its enemies(לעדור את עדרו הנעדר בין משנאיו) .

5YS(Vol. II, 61a) defines the underlying meaning of the root דרas freedom /independence /privacy (as in the word דרור), in that one who establishes boundaries gains independence (as inדירה, a private dwelling, as will be explained below).

6The Targum attributed to Yonatan.

7ברמג:לוַיְבַקֵּשׁ לִבְכּוֹת וַיָּבֹא הַחַדְרָה וַיֵּבְךְּ שָׁמָּה.

8תהפד:יאמִדּוּרבְּאָהֳלֵירֶשַׁע;רשימדור באהלי רשע מלהיות דר בשלוה באהלי עשו הרשע.

Some of the early commentators also interpret the word דּוֹרִיin Isaiah 38:12 as meaning living quarters:

ישעלח:יב דּוֹרִי נִסַּע וְנִגְלָה מִנִּי כְּאֹהֶל רֹעִי.

9יחזכד:דוְגַםדּוּרהָעֲצָמִים תַּחְתֶּיהָ רַתַּח רְתָחֶיהָ;יחזכד:טגַּם אֲנִי אַגְדִּיל הַמְּדוּרָה;מלביםדורשמסדריןעציםוזפתואשלעשותמדורה;ישעל:לגכִּיעָרוּךְמֵאֶתְמוּלתָּפְתֶּהגַּםהואלַמֶּלֶךְהוּכָןהֶעְמִיקהִרְחִבמְדֻרָתָה;רשימערכתעציםעלהאשקרויהמדורה.

10Based on this definition, Igra D’Kallah (p. 211) explains that the difference between a נֶדֶר(an offering based on a vow) and a נְדָבָה(a voluntary offering) is that a נֶדֶרhas clearly defined limitations, while a נְדָבָהdoes not have any limits and boundaries (גֶדֶר וּגְבוּל).

11מא ו:טוַיִּסְפֹּן אֶת הַבַּיִת גֵּבִים וּשְׂדֵרֹת בָּאֲרָזִים;רשיושדרותלוחי ארזים סדורים.

12מב יא:חוְהַבָּא אֶל הַשְּׂדֵרוֹת יוּמָת;מצצהשדרותכמו הסדרות,בסמך,והוא מלשון סדור ועריכה,וכמו שהחיל המסודר יקראו מערכת,כמו כן יקראו סדרות.

13See Emunot V’Dei’ot of Rav Saadiah Gaon(Essay 1, paragraph beginning “v’hadaat ha’chamishit”). For a more general summary of the early commentators’ views on this topic, see Chumash HaChidah (Gen. 1:1).

14See YS (Vol. 2, 48a), who defines two types of partitions: a) one that covers the source of light and prevents it from coming out; b) one that covers the viewer’s eyes and prevents him from seeing, but others see the light.

15שמכ:יחוַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק וּמֹשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל הָעֲרָפֶל;רשינגש אל הערפל לפנים משלש מחיצות,חשך ענן וערפל,שנאמר:וְהָהָר בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ עַד לֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם חֹשֶׁךְ עָנָן וַעֲרָפֶל (דברים ד:יא).

16Some of the early commentators compared this palpable darkness to the darkness that Scripture describes at the time of Creation, since the verse states that God separated between the light and the darkness(Gen. 1:4), which implies that the darkness was also physically palpable (see Chesed L’Avraham,Rav Avraham Weinberg, Yozpof, 1885, pg. 54).

17ישענ:גאַלְבִּישׁ שָׁמַיִם קַדְרוּת;תיאֲכַסֵי שְׁמַיָא כִּדְבְּקַבְלָא.ירד:כחוְקָדְרוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם מִמָּעַל;תיוִיקַבְּלוּן נְהוֹרֵי שְׁמַיָא מִלְעֵילָא.יואל ב:ישֶׁמֶשׁ וְיָרֵחַ קָדָרוּ;תישִׁמְשָׁא וְסִיהַרָא קָבָלוּ.

18ומעין הלבושיםהאחרים של השית,כביכול:תהקד:אהוֹד וְהָדָר לָבָשְׁתָּ;שם צג:אהמָלָךְ גֵּאוּת לָבֵשׁ לָבֵשׁ העֹז הִתְאַזָּר;ישענט:יזוַיִּלְבַּשׁ צְדָקָה.

19We also find numerous instances in which Metz. Tzionlinks אַדֶרֶתto the word אֲדִיר(mighty/ glorious), e.g. Josh.7:21.

20כלומר,למה נאמר דווקא ישראלבכל מקום:זית רענן ילקש ואתחנן תתלג פירוש למה מזכיר דוקא ישראל בכל מקום וכן דבר אל בני ישראל.אולם במהדורת רהילל בן אליקים מארץ יוון ציין את הפסוק הבא במיוחד:שמכה:ב דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵלתְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ.ואולי הדגש לפז היא כל איש” – בזכות יעקב אבינו שדאג לאיחוד כל השבטים ושלכל אמהם יהיה חלק בקיום העם ומצוות התורה.

21ברלה:כאוַיִּסַּע יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּט אָהֳלֹה מֵהָלְאָה לְמִגְדַּל עֵדֶר.רבינו בחייבאותו המקום נשלמו השבטים,כי בנימין שנולד שם הוא היה תשלום השבטים.

22See Alshich(Ber.35:21), and Abarbanel (Mashmi’ei Yeshuah Mevaser Tov Ha’Asiri, first prophecy).

23In Jer. 13:17, 31:9; Micah 12:2; Zec. 10:3, the Jewish nation is compared to a flock of sheep. The nation is compared to sheep in general in I Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:15, 31, 36:37; Psalms 80:2.

24ותי יחס מגדל עדרלמשיח:תי(מיוחס)ברלה:כאמִן לְהַלָא לְמַגְדְלָא דְעֵדֶר אַתְרָא דְמִתַּמָן עָתִיד דְאִתְגְלֵי מַלְכָּא מְשִׁיחָאתי מיכה ד:חוְאַתְּ מְשִׁיחָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל דְטָמִיר מִן קֳדָם חוֹבֵי כְנִשְׁתָּא דְצִיוֹן לָךְ עֲתִידָא מַלְכוּתָא לְמֵיתֵי


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