Vayeishev: Words for Nations ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

When a very pregnant Rivka consulted with the prophets Shem and Ever to find out what is in store for her unborn child, she was informed that she was actually carrying twins. The prophet cryptically spoke about her future sons Jacob and Esau: “Two nations (goyim) are in your stomach, and two nations (leumim) shall separate from your innards, and one nation (leom) will be stronger than the other nation, and the greater will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). In this one verse there are three different words used which mean “nation” and, of course, the Hebrew word am also means “nation”.

Rashi (to Ps. 2:1) writes in the name of Rabbi Menachem Ibn Saruk (920-970) that leomimumim, and goyim are all words which bear very similar meanings. Rabbi Wolf Heidenheim (1757-1832) infers from Rashi’s comment that these words are not true synonyms that mean the exact same thing; rather, they have slightly different, nuanced meanings. What do all these words for “nation” really mean and what is the difference between their implications?

In his commentary to Psalms, Rabbi Yoel Ibn Shuaib (a 15th century Spanish commentator) writes that goy refers to a nation that is not united under one king (like the Phillistines who were ruled by a pentaverate comprised of five leaders, see Josh. 13:3), while the words umah/leom refer to a nation united under one king. Similarly, Rabbi Heidenheim explains that the word goy refers to a conglomeration of people who are not necessarily united or connected to each other in any concrete way. The word am, by contrast, refers specifically to a group of people who are united by way of a singular leader, king, or G-d/god. According to this, every am is also a goy, but not every goy is also an am.

Following this basic approach, Malbim further explains that the word goy is a more general and vague type of nation, while the word am denotes a smaller, more specific type of nation. For this reason the Jewish people are generally referred to as an am (Am Yisrael is “the Nation of Israel”), while other nations of the world are referred to as goyim (“nations”). The only exception, Malbim notes, is that when the Bible wants to focus on the multitudes of the Jewish population it will sometimes use the word goy to refer to the Jewish People simply because that word is more associated with greater numbers than the word am is.

Malbim further explains that the word goy is related to the word gviah (body), and in its crudest form refers to simply a collection of “bodies” who are joined together as one unit. There are four possible reasons why these individuals might unite: geographical considerations, linguistic affinities, genealogical realities, or simply the desire to enter a political union. Each of these types of groups — people who live together, people who speak the same language, people who are descendants of the same tribal patriarch, and people who agreed to unite — is called a goy. They are united by a “marriage of convenience”, as no other goals or values really unify them. The word am, on the other hand, is specifically related to the concept of sovereignty and authority. Thus, a nation described as an am can only be a nation that is united under a singular king — not a group of people who join together for any other reason.

Based on this, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) and Malbim explain why the Bible almost never conjugates the word goy in the possessive form, but does do so for the word am. The word goy is simply a loose confederation of people who decided to join together, but cannot be attributed to one specific leader/king. In contrast, the word am by definition refers to a group of people ruled by one king. Therefore, the word am can and does appear numerous times in the Bible in the possessive form as belonging to its king (amcha is “your nation”, ami is “my nation”, amo is “his nation”, etc.). In the case of the Jewish People, that possession almost always belongs to G-d.

Rabbi Wertheimer argues that an am is a group of like-minded individuals who act similarly. For this reason, the Bible says about the day the Jews accepted the Torah “On this day, you became a nation (am) to the L-rd, your G-d” (Deut. 27:9). This also explains how a swarm of grasshoppers can be called an am (Joel 2:2), even though locusts are not united under a single king, as explicitly noted in Proverbs 30:7. (Nonetheless, see Biur HaGra to Isa. 1:4 who writes that goy denotes people who share a common manner and am simply denotes a mass of individuals.)

Rabbi Heidenheim approvingly cites an interesting point made by Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814): the word am is spelled the same as the word im (“with”), as both are spelled AYIN-MEM. This indicates that the word am represents a stronger connection between the members of the nation than does the word goy because the word am is related to the word for “with”.

Based on the Midrash (Bereishet Rabbah §63:27), Malbim explains that the word leom refers to a group of people joined by a common religion. He explains that the term leom can be more inclusive than the word am because sometimes multiple kingdoms might share the same religion. Rabbi Wertheimer says a leom is united by either a common king (as Rashi and Targum to Gen. 25:23 translate leom as kingdom) or a common religion. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760-1828) writes that the word leom or om (as it is used by some post-Biblical poets) refers to a family or tribe within a greater nation. It is thus probably related to the Hebrew word em and the Aramaic word imma which mean “mother”.

Interestingly, Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi (to Gen. 20:4) writes that the word goy can only refer to a nation and not an individual, while Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Melech (Michlal Yofi to Gen. 20:4) and Radak (Sefer HaShorashim) cite in the name of Rabbeinu Yonah that goy can also refer to an individual. Ultimately, Rabbi Mecklenburg proves from Exodus 21:8 that the word am or goy does not just refer to a national group as a whole, but could also be used to refer to any individual within such a group. This, of course, is the basis of the colloquial usage of the word goy to refer to a single gentile, even though the word goy literally means “nation”.

Vayeishev: Born to Fly/Break on through to the Other Side ~ Tzvi Abrahams


Born to Fly/Break on through to the Other Side

פָּרְחָה: fly

פֶּרַח: flower

פִּרְחֵי כְּהוּנָה: young kohanim

אֶפְרוֹח: fledgling

וּבַגֶּפֶן שְׁלֹשָׁה שָׂרִיגִם וְהִיא כְפֹרַחַת עָלְתָה נִצָּהּ הִבְשִׁילוּ אַשְׁכְּלֹתֶיהָ עֲנָבִים
On the vine were three branches, and as it was budding, its blossoms shot forth with clusters of ripe grapes.1

פָּרְחָה: Fly

The theme that connects these words is one of breaking through the boundaries. Just like a fledgling cracks through the shell from a constricted world to a much more expansive world, so too regarding humanity; when we leave the restricted space of our bodies and pass through to the next world, Chazal use the lashonof flying: פָּרְחָה הַנֶפֶשׁ. When we leave this world, Hashem gives us our wings and we fly, no longer confined to the limitations of the body; we soar to the heavens like a bird.

פֶּרַח: Flower

We learn from the Gemara in Brachosthat once a year we say a special brachahwhen we see the trees in bloom:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’אֶ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹא חִיסֶר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ דָבָר וּבָּרָא בּוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבוֹת לֵהָנוֹת בְּנֵי אָדָם
Blessed are you Hashem King of the universe Who did not lack in His world anything, and Who created in it good creations and good trees to benefit the children of man.2

The nature of this brachahis that Hashem could have easily created a world without the need for the trees to blossom, and the universe would have lacked nothing. It is only because Hashem wished to bestow His goodness on man in creating such a magnificent display of beauty within nature that once a year the trees blossom with breathtaking colors and exotic smells, giving pleasure to man.

The nature of a flower is to blossom forth from a tree, opening up to give its fruit — a new life is born.

No wonder women like flowers, as it represents the potential for new life. Deep down inside every woman, there is a strong need to nurture new life. Her children are her flowers.

בִּפְרֹחַ רְשָׁעִים כְּמוֹ עֵשֶׂב
Therashaflowers in this world, but like grass he has no fruits.3

צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח…שְׁתוּלִים בְּבֵית ה’בְּחַצְרוֹת אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ יַפְרִיחוּ
Thetzaddikflowers in the Next World. He is compared to a palm tree that grows straight up to Shamayim. Since he is planted in the House of Hashem, his roots are strong and he is not blown over in the strong winds. His whole essence is to break through to the Next World, בְּחַצְרוֹת אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ יַפְרִיחוּ/there in the courtyards of Hashem he enjoys the fruits of his labor.

פִּרְחֵי כְּהוּנָה: Young Kohanim

Theפִּרְחֵי כְּהוּנָה, the young kohanim, are young flowers and young fledglings, which, after a period of nurture, blossom into fully developed fruits, the highest role attainable by human beings, which is to serve their Creator in the Beis HaMikdash.

אֶפְרוֹח: Fledgling

Hashem created the concept of בֵּיצָה. The egg is the symbol of אַבֵילוּת/mourning, representing the circle of life. Much deeper than that, though, the egg hints to us at the idea that the whole of life is like one big egg, with an incubation period of approximately seventy to eighty years. We are the אֶפְרוֹח, where the alephdenotes the future tense, אֶפְרוֹח, a lashonof “I will flower, I will break through, my neshamahwill lift off and fly.” All the time we are אָדָם, we are grounded to the אַדָמָה, and our job is to become airborn. Born to fly!

Life begins with the fertilization of the egg. A lonesome sperm, one in a million, heads upstream and breaks through to the egg. From this comes the עוּבָּר/embryo, which also means passing through. This world is like the עוּבָּרwhere we are not only passing through — we have to be the ones who break through to the other side. And just like an egg, we are breaking into something much bigger than ourselves.

Avraham was the first Ivri/עִבְרִי/Hebrew because he crossed over to the other side of the river. He was one in a million; he was like the lonesome sperm that broke through to the other side. We all have Avraham’s spiritual DNA, and therefore we all have the potential to flow upstream, against the current, against all odds, and smash through the kliposof this world and connect to Hashem.

Hashem planted us in the Garden of Eden, where our essential purpose was to work and guard the garden. Once we tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad, good and bad became part of us. Hashem threw us out the Garden lest we partake from the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is offlimits to us. Instead, Hashem planted us in this world, where we are compared to a tree, where we have to unearth the roots to the secret to life, to choose life, rather than to have life just handed to us on a plate.

Our job in this lower world is still to work and guard the garden, however the work is much harder since now we have to separate the good from the bad. In order for our garden to grow, we have to get rid of all the weeds and thorns.

In this world we are just a rose among thorns, where we are constantly striving to return to Eden. Our purpose is to be a flower in Hashem’s garden, to make Hashem’s garden beautiful. The tachlisis not the flower, but the overall garden, to be a flower among flowers.

This parshah regularly coincides or preceeds Chanukah, and therefore we must mention the flowers that decorated the golden Menorah.
It is easy to see how the Menorah is compared to a tree, a golden tree with its six branches and a central shaft, numbering seven, which denotes this world, the world of nature (e.g., seven days, seven musical notes, and seven colors of the rainbow).

וְזֶה מַעֲשֵׂה הַמְּנֹרָה מִקְשָׁה זָהָב עַד יְרֵכָהּ עַד פִּרְחָהּ מִקְשָׁה הִוא
This is the making of the Menorah, solid gold until its base until it’s flower, solid it should be.

Thispasukin Parshas Beha’aloschateaches us that there was a flower toward the base of the Menorah. If we continue with the analogy of the Menorah being like a tree, then the flower at the base, from which the rest of the tree grows, represents the origins of the tree that indeed come from a flower, because the flower leads to the fruit, which produces seeds, which contain the whole tree.

Rabbeinu Bechaya compares the twenty-two גְבִיעִים/goblets to the twenty-two letters of the Aleph-Beis(which come from out of this world), the כַּפְתּוֹרִים/buttons to the world of the angels, and the פְּרָחִים/flowers to this world, the world of growth and vegetation.4

So we can say that the flower at the base of the Menorah signifies the beginning of life, breaking through from the womb into this world, producing fruit and seeds from which our tree grows. If we, the gardener, do our job correctly by working and guarding the garden, then our tree will branch out into seven, symbolizing the full utilization of this world. The flowers at the top of each branch represent our breaking through into the Next World, the world of eight, symbolized by the שֶׁמֶןfromשְׁמוֹנָה/eight. And, finally, the fire, which flies free from the constraints of this world, symbolizes the פְּרִיחַתהַנֶפֶשׁ/flight of the soul. With wings we fly and return to Eden, Hashem’s Garden, not as a rose among thorns but a flower among flowers.

Yosef HaTzaddik is the flower of Egypt. Not only was he extremely attractive, but he alsocaused Egypt to flourish and blossom. He was צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵח/the one who reveals hidden things. So too the flower through its fruits bears hidden things.

Not only is a flower’s appearance beautiful, it also gives off a beautiful fragrance. So too the tzaddikgives off a beautiful fragrance by his good deeds. For this reason the caravan of the Yishma’elim was carrying fragrant spices.

The flower is one of Hashem’s beautiful creations, specifically designed with beautiful smells and arrays of colors, giving of its sweet pollen to the bees so it can in turn be cross-pollinated, which causes the flowers to reproduce and spring forth fruit.

בֵּן פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת עֲלֵי עָיִן
Yaakovblessed Yosef to be fruitful, and indeed Yosefbore many fruits, symbolized by אֶפְרַיִם/Ephraim.5

In order to bear fruits, we must first have the necessary tools to make our flower attractive — to attract the one who will come and cross-pollinate us, namely our spouse, who will help us bear fruits.

Yosef is known for beauty. He is the יִסוֹד/foundation of beauty in the world, for he was shomerthe brisin that his flower was only pollinated in kedushah.

However, we have to make sure that we don’t exploit our beauty, for by doing so, we could end up attracting a nasty bug like Potiphar’s wife.

The real battle of Chanukah was the fight to recognize the true beauty of the world. The outside beauty of the Greeks, which was only skin deep, produced a פֶּרַח/flower that bore no fruits and instead led to a פּוֹרַחַת/skin outbreak. The beauty that lies within every Jew is much deeper — the beauty of Shabbos, the beauty of chodeshand hischadshus/renewel, and the beauty of being shomerthe bris— pollinating in kedushah. When we are in touch with our inner beauty, we shine from within, we light up the darkness and bring Hashem’s Shechinah to rest upon us, giving Hashem a place to dwell in the world. This is the true beauty that produces a flower that bears fruits in the world.

1Bereishis 40:10.

2Brachos 43b.

3Tehillim 92:8.

4Rabbeinu Bechaya in Parshas Terumah.

5See Bereishis 49:22.

Vayeishev: A Compromised Article ~ Yehoshua Steinberg


בר’ מ:ח-וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו חֲלוֹם חָלַמְנוּ וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי.

And they said to him, “We dreamt a dream, but there is no interpreter (פֹּתֵרfor it.” So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations (פִּתְרֹנִיםbelong to G-d? Relate it to me, if you please” (Gen. 40:8).


Although we find numerous dreams in the Bible, the root פתר (interpret) appears in all of Scripture only concerning Joseph – being mentioned thirteen times in this parashah (Vayeishev) and Parashat Mikeitzregarding his interpretation of various dreams.However, we do find numerous instances of the similar Aramaic term, פשר, in the Book of Daniel, concerning both the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, and the mysterious “writing on the wall” in the days of his grandson, Belshazzar. Some interpretפשרas simply an Aramaic translation of the word פתר, with the letter ש’ replacing the similar letter ת’, a common phonetic shift between Hebrew and Aramaic words. Alternatively, it is viewed as a Hebrew permutation of the root פרש (explain).Support for the former view can be inferred from the fact that the Scriptural Aramaic Targum (translation) of the root פתר is always פשר or one of its derivatives. In addition, we find many other words in Scriptural Hebrew in which the letters ש’ and ת’ are used interchangeably.2

In contrast to this view, however, we find the word פשר in the verse, “Who is like the wise man, and who knows the פֵּשֶׁר of things” (Eccles.8:1). While Ibn Ezra suggests that this term is also “from an Aramaic family,” Rashi (in his second interpretation) cites a Talmudic teaching (Sotah 13b) that expounds the word as being related to the word פְּשָׁרָה (compromise), with the verse asking, “Who is like the wise man (i.e. Moses), who knew how to forge compromises between Israel and their Father in Heaven?”

In light of the fact that the Sages chose not to define this particular instance of פשר as merely an Aramaic version of the verb פתר, and instead expounded it is a word that means to solve through compromise, it would appear that they viewed the Hebrew word פשר (in contradistinction to the Aramaic פשר) as somewhat distinct from the Hebrew word פתר, which simply means to solveor interpret. In order to explain this in greater depth, we shall begin by noting that there are a number of Talmudic words that are derived from the root פשר: 1. פְּשָׁרָה; 2. פּוֹשֵׁר; 3. אֶפְשַׁר; 4. הַפְשָׁרָה. Let us study each of these individually:

  1. The word פְּשָׁרָה (compromise) – “until they make a פְּשָׁרָה between them” (Ketubot 10:6). As Rambam explains in his Commentary to the Mishnah, the primary meaning of the word פְּשָׁרָה is to mediate the matter, i.e., to reach a compromise agreement in a peaceful manner.
  2.  The word פּוֹשֵׁר (lukewarm) – Rambam(ibid.) explains that medium-temperature water that is neither hot nor cold is called פּוֹשְׁרִין.
  3. The word אֶפְשַׁר (perhaps/possible) – the word derives from the root פשר3; a compromise, an indecisive proposal.
  4. The word הַפְשָׁרָה (melting) – the Talmud (Pesachim 94b) discusses how the sun’s early summer path allows it to melt the mountain snow.

Upon close analysis, it would appear that common to all of these terms is the notion of release from a physical or figurative impasse,as follows:

  1. The word פְּשָׁרָה – Each side is adamant in its position, until a compromise is proposed to them to bridge the gap.
  2. The word פּוֹשֵׁר – One side desires cold and the other hot, and they are caught up in confrontation until they can compromise on lukewarm.
  3. The word אֶפְשַׁר – Each side insists that its view is the correct one, until a third position is set forth as a compromise offer.5
  4. The word הַפְשָׁרָה – Ice and snow “imprison” water within them until they melt, upon which the water is released.

Let us now return to the aforementioned verse in Eccles., “Who is like the wise man, and who knows the פֵּשֶׁר of things,” in which the Sages interpreted פֵּשֶׁר as פְּשָׁרָה (compromise). King Solomon refers here to wisdom, and mentions פֵּשֶׁר in that connection. Now, directly after Solomon began his reign as king, he requested of G-d, “an understanding heart, to distinguish between good and evil.” G-d responded: Behold, I have acted in accordance with your words; behold, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, such that there has never been anyone like you before, nor will anyone like you ever arise.” Immediately thereafter, his first judicial decision – involving two mothers contending over custody of an infant – came before him (I Kings,Ch. 3). Solomon sums up the testimony of the two women: The king said, “This one claims, ‘This is my son, who is alive, and your son is the dead one,’ and this one claims, ‘It is not so! Your son is the dead one, and my son is the live one’” (v. 23). In other words, each woman was adamant in her opinion, and they had reached an impasse. In an attempt to find a way out of their confrontational standoff, Solomon put forth a drastic proposal, ordering his servants to bring a sword before him and cut the child in half, with each mother getting a half of the child. This decision by Solomon, and the just result that emerged from it, is of course paradigmatic of his wisdom. But how could he permit himself to propose such an extreme solution, one that was liable to end with the death of the child?

Since Solomon received his wisdom as a direct gift from G-d, we ought to contemplate the wisdom that we find in G-d’s own actions as a possible clue to the source of Solomon’s wise solution. Our Sages tell us that in response to the stalemate in which King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah found themselves trapped – with each one demanding that the other come to him, and not vice versa – G-d brought afflictions upon King Hezekiah and he was stricken with a potentially fatal illness, so that Isaiah was forced to come to him. The Sages expound all this on the Eccles. verse cited, as stated in Berachot 10a: “What is the meaning of the verse, Who is like the wise man, and who knows the פֵּשֶׁר of things?Who is like the Holy One, blessed be He, Who knew how to effect a reconciliation / compromise (פְּשָׁרָה) between two righteous men, Hezekiah and Isaiah? Hezekiah said: ‘Let Isaiah come to me …’ Isaiah said: ‘Let Hezekiah come to me …’ What did the Holy One, blessed is He, do? He brought sufferings upon Hezekiah and then said to Isaiah, ‘Go visit the sick.’” Thus, in order to bridge the gap between the obstinacy of these two righteous men, G-d imposed a פְּשָׁרָה on them whose end result was liable to be the death of Hezekiah.

Now, Since Scripture does not indicate that Solomon was ordered to impose his decision directly, we propose that this was an example of the especial wisdom G-d had granted him, namely the brilliant art of compromise. But, as seen regarding G-d’s own example of a compromise solution, the path to settlement may involve drastic and even dangerous propositions.Hence, Solomon’s compromise proposal regarding the mothers entailed potential danger, and yet it would seem to parallel G-d’s own use (so to speak) of this tool called פשרה, called פשר דבר by Solomon himself.

By contrast, the root פתר that describes Joseph’s solution to the dreams was truly divine in nature, as he noted: “Do not interpretations (פִּתְרֹנִיםbelong to G-d? Relate it to me, if you please(Gen.40:8), and once again with regard to his solution to Pharaoh’s dreams: “That is beyond me. It is G-d Who will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare(ibid. 41:16). Since פתר is depicting a Divine act, it denotes an unambiguous and absolute meaning. This, in contrast to the Hebrew term פשר, which, as a solution arrived at by human wisdom, is neither perfect nor absolute. I propose to offer support for this theory regarding the contrasting meanings of the Hebrew words פשר and פתר based on an analysis of the respective underlying roots.

In a number of his commentaries,Rabbi S. R. Hirsch equates the roots ישר,כשר ,קשר andגשר 8, all of which involve notions of straightness and connection; in other words, preparing / straightening groundwork or creating a straight path to connect various views or entities. It would appear that additional words containing the two-letter string שר also share similar meanings, according to the Scriptural commentators. This list includes the following words:

  1. The word ישר: straight, upright.
  2. The word כשר: proper, fit, valid.
  3. The word קשר: link/tie.
  4. The word גשר: bridge/connect.
  5. The word חשר: The commentators interpret חשר as an expression of linkage [Metz. Tzion defines חַשְׁרַת (II Sam.22:12) as implying a connection, just as חִשֻׁרֵיהֶם (I Kings 7:33) means the spokes of a wheel, which connect the inner wheel to the outer wheel.]
  6. The word אשר: Radak defines אַשְּׁרוּ (Isa. 1:17) and מְאַשְּׁרֶיךָ (ibid. 3:12) as יַשְּׁרוּ (straighten out) and מְיַשְּׁרֶיךָ (those who should set you straight).
  7. The word תשורה: gift (I Sam. 9:7), derived from the root שור, according to Radak. Rashi (based on Targum Yonatan) links it to the words יושר (equity/ virtue) and כשר (fit/valid) – i.e., something worthy and fitting.9
  8. The word אֲשׁוּרֶנוּ (see Num. 24:17): also derived from the root שור, according to Radak. Kli Yakar suggests that the name יִשְׂרָאֵל is linked both to אֲשׁוּרֶנוּ (and thus means “he sees G-d”) and to ישר (and thus means that “he is straight upright in the eyes of G-d). In a similar vein, Ibn Ezra (Deut.32:15) cites an opinion linking יְשׁוּרוּן (another name for Israel) to אֲשׁוּרֶנוּ. Be’er Yitzchak explains that they are linked by the notion of seeing straight, as the Children of Israel “see” their Father in Heaven in a direct manner.
  9. The word נשר (vulture): Ibn Ezra (Lev. 11:14) also sees this word as linked to אֲשׁוּרֶנוּ, because of the vulture’s ability to see (straight and) afar.

In contrast to the linkage import of the two-letter string שר (contained in the word פשר), Yeriot Shlomo (I:75a-76a) suggests10 that the meaning of the biliteral root תר is removal/separation, as the linkage or adhesive that served to keep the two things attached is removed or loosened. Thus, the term מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים means to “release” the bound.11 This is also the reason that the word יתר means remainder/leftover, as in the נוֹתָר that remains from an offering after its time expires – as its link and relation to the other item is removed or undone. Likewise, the verse in Hab. (3:6), רָאָה וַיַּתֵּר12גּוֹיִם, means He looked and “dispersed” nations,as some nations were removed from among the rest.13 Likewise, the term תוֹר is related to הַתָּרָה, release/dispensation. This is also the essence of the word תֹּר in Est. (2:12,15),14 וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר נַעֲרָה וְנַעֲרָה, which is typically translated as when each maiden’s “turn” came [to appear before the king]. This was in fact one’s turn to be set free, for the maidens had hitherto been held captive in preparatory wards for an entire year (as recorded in Esther [ibid.]). When a maiden was finally summoned to the king, this was her תֹּר, her release from imprisonment.

From the string תר also derives the verb לתוּר, which denotes spying/revealing secrets, as in the word וְיָתֻרוּ, and they shall spy (Num.13:2). In this case, the verb is named after its end result, as the information attained is used to resolve,release or expose all doubts and questions and indeed, secrets. When one sees or attains the sought-after information, he is relieved of his consuming doubts and questions.15 And by secondary derivation, the string תר refers to searching for one’s heart’s desires in order to breach the standards of permissibility, as Scripture warns, and you shall not תָתוּרוּ16 after your hearts and after your eyes (ibid. 15:39). Merchants as well are called תָּרִים (I Kings 6:15), as they are constantly reconnoitering out ways and means of infiltrating new markets.17

In my opinion, there are additional words containing the two-letter combination תר that share the meaning of release /separation /opening /revealing:

  1. The word אתר: As in18הָאֲתָּרִים (Num.21:1), meaning the revealers of secrets.19
  2. The word בתר (cutting/opening /revelation): e.g., וַיְבַתֵּר in Gen.15:10.20
  3. The word חתר (digging/revealing secrets): e.g., וָאֶחְתֹּר in Ezek.8:8 (see Metz. Tzion).21
  4. The word נתר (springing, displacing; all connoting releasing of the bonds to a given location): e.g., לְנַתֵּר in Lev.11:21.22
  5. The word סתר: an Aramaic word used in Scripture and by the Talmudic Sages that has two meanings: a) demolition/destruction: e.g., סַתְרֵהּ in Ezra5:12 (with Rashi and Ibn Ezra), and הסותר in Shabbat 73a; b) the breach of a whole thing, i.e. opening something in a negative sense.23
  6. The word עתר: e.g.,וַיֵּעָתֶר in Gen.25:21. Although its plain meaning is: he prayed, the Sages interpret it to mean חתר 24 (dug) [see Ruth Rabbah (5:6), Zohar (Vol. 1, p. 137a)].25

Finally, after a long and winding path, we can return to the word with which we began,     פתר26 – which also denotes opening/revelation. There is no word that can be more fitting to the dream-interpretation of Joseph, a man in whom is the spirit of G-d (Gen.41:38). As we noted, his interpretations are entirely unambiguous. They are presented with absolute certainty, revealing the secrets represented by the dreams. [This also offers support for our earlier assessment that the Aramaic root פשר – in contrast to the Hebrew root פשר that appears in Eccl. – is indeed a precise translation of the Hebrew root פתר. For the root פשר -in Aramaic – appears in Scripture only regarding Daniel, who also attributed to G-d his power to decode dreams (see Dan.2:27-28), thereby sanctifying G-d’s Name like Joseph, the master of Divine interpretations].


In closing, let us raise our eyes to the חכם הרזים (Sage of Enigmas), that He open the Heavenly Gates and interpret our dreams positively, and return His Divine Presence to Zion, speedily, in our times, Amen.

1HaTishbi (entry פרש) notes that the word appears only in Eccl., and suggests both interpretations as possibilities. See also Malbim (Ps.137:3) and Torah Temimah (Eccl. 8, note 3).

2Sefer Zikaron of R Yosef Kimchi (p. 71) brings examples:חרושה(Jer. 17:1) and חרותה(Ex. 32:16); ותוללינו(Ps. 137:3) andושוללינו(Job 12:17). Ibn Ezra and Torah Temimah to (Song 1:17) compare the wordבְּרוֹתִים(ibid.) to בְרוֹשִׁים(I Kings 5:22).

3See Aruch HaShalem (root אפשר); Responsa Yad Yitzchak (294-295).

4The case of two opposing parties is simply an illustration. However, it is also certainly possible for an individual to resolve a private dilemma by means of compromise.

5אפשרis also an example of a “tentative” word, which can be useful in avoiding conflict and misunderstanding. Moses prudently used the “imprecise” term כחצות(Ex. 11:4) instead of the clear-cut בחצות(the term used by the Almighty), from which the Sages taught: “Teach your tongue to say I don’t know so as to avoid embarrassment” (Berachot 4a).

6Note that there are two types of פְּשָׁרָה: a) a willfully accepted compromise; b) a compromise imposed by force, which is referred to as בּוֹרְרוּת, or binding arbitration(see Sanhedrin 5b, and Chiddushei HaRan ad loc.).

7E.g., Gen.2:7; 3:6; Ps. 68:7.

8See also Tosefet HaAruch (root גמל), who likewise equates the roots כשרandגשר.

9“Worthy” and “fitting” are parallel concepts to “straight.”

10The following two paragraphs are a paraphrase of YS.

11The root of מתירisנתרaccording to Radak.

12Its root of this word too is נתרaccording to Radak.

13Compare the Sages’ exposition on the verse in Tanchuma (Shemini, Ch. 10).

14The root isתוּרaccording to Radak.

15Based on YS, we can also explain the verb לָתוּרthat appears in לִדְרוֹשׁ וְלָתוּר בַּחָכְמָה,to seek and probewisdom(Eccles. 1:13). לָתוּרmeans to arrive at obscure secrets, by opening the obstructions and thus uncovering the wisdom. This is the basis for the word תיירthat appears in the Midrash (Song Rabbah 1:7), which asks: “What isלָתוּר-to become a תיירin wisdom.” The above Midrash (ibid. 2:1-3) goes on to interpret the word תּוֹר(turtledove) mentioned in Song(2:12) based on תייר, as it states, the voice of the turtledove [הַתּוֹר] is heard in our land – this is the voice of Moses… Joshua… [the Persian king] Cyrus… (and according to Pesikta this is a reference to the Messiah). The common factor in all these leaders is that that they each opened the way to a new direction, a new hope; hence, their connection to the word תייר(fromתר-expose, uncover, open), according to YS.

We can suggest a second reason as to why the turtledove, the bird that will herald the coming of Messiah and our deliverance from the yoke of foreign rule, is called a תּוֹר. The Targumofתּוֹרthroughout Scripture is שַׁפְנִינָא- the same translation that we find in Targum for the דְרוֹר(“free” bird– see Ps. 44:8). If these two birds are indeed one and the same, we can understand why this specific bird would have been given such an esteemed mission. For according to the Talmud (Beitzah 24a), aדְרוֹרis so called because it does not accept authority, “living in [its masters] home as it does in the field.” Thus, just as the דְרוֹרdoes not accept authority and lives wherever it wishes, so will the תּוֹרherald the removal of the shackles of those who are prisoners in foreign lands (see also Malbim to Lev. 1:14).

16The root of this word too being תורaccording to Radak.

17See Abarbanel’s comments in the I Kings verse, and his commentary to the beginning of P’ Shelach.

18כן הביאו רשב”ם וראב”ע:רשב”ם במ כא:א-האתרים-כמו אפרוח,אתמול,אזרוע.הרבה אלפין אותיות א באין לשמוש בראש תיבה;אב”ע-דרך האתרים-האתרים-י”א כי האנוסף,והטעם-התרים את הארץ.וכן:א אזרועך (ירלב:כא);ומנחם חבר את הכתובים הבאים בערך תר:מנחם(ערך תר):דרך האתרים,ויתורו את הארץ,מתור הארץ.

19The Targum rendersboth the words אתרandתר(with and without the opening letterא) as אלליא, namely, spies who uncover the secrets of the enemy for the occupiers.

20See RSRH (to Ex.13:2, Lev.1:8), who suggests that the words בתר,פטר, and פתר(among others) are related, as they all denote opening/uncovering /release.

21Note that the wordחפר, which like חתרusually means digging, is also used to denote spyingand revealing secrets,as the Shelah HaKadosh(in P’ Shelach) explains, that the term וְיַחְפְּרוּin the verse regarding the spies (Deut.1:22) means that their purpose was to reveal the disgrace of the land.

22Although the literal meaning ofלְנַתֵּרisto spring, and refers to the purpose of a creatures jumping legs, Radak(rootנתר) states that לְנַתֵּרmeansto jump and transfer from its original location, and thus links it to the wordsמַתִּיר(releases) in Ps. (146:7), and וַיַּתֵּר(He dispersed) in Hab. (3:6) that we discussed above – all of which involve removal from a location. The word is also found in the sense of detergent (Jer. 2:22) – an agent to release dirt and stains.

23Regarding the connection between the two definitions, see entry סתרin Nimukei Lashon in our upcoming -with G-d’s help- Yalkut Hashorashim encyclopedic compendium.

24Due to the exchanging of the guttural lettersעandח, as noted in the HaSulam commentary to ibid.

25ומצאנו ששרש עתר משמש כשם עצם לכלי חקלאות,כדוגמת הקלשון:סוכה יד:-א”ר(אליעזר)למהנמשלהתפלתןשלצדיקיםכעתרלומרלךמהעתרזהמהפךאתהתבואהבגורןממקוםלמקוםאףתפלתןשלצדיקיםמהפכתדעתושלהקב”הממדתאכזריותלמדתרחמנות.

26First mentioned in Gen.40:8. RSRH (to Ex.25:39) suggests that it may be linked to the compoundwordכַּפְתּוֹר(button), comprised of כפתandפתר- with כפתmeaningtied,and פתר, which is itself related to פטר, meaning an opening. Thus, a button ties togetheran openingor separation.