Vayeitzei: Like a Rock ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

I’m not a geologist, nor do I pretend to be one. But I do think that we can draw some fascinating insights into the Holy Language by studying a bit about rocks. Yaakov Avinu is especially associated with rocks because he slept on rocks when he had his famous dream of the ladder (Gen. 28:11), he used a rock as an altar to pour oil in honor of G-d (Gen. 28:18), and he single-handedly lifted a heavy boulder from on top of a well (Gen. 29:10). He even coined the phrase “The Rock of Israel” (Even Yisraelpronounced ehven) which first appears in Gen. 49:24. In all of these cases, the word for “rock” which appears in the Bible is even.

The Malbim defines an even as a naturally-occurring stone (while contrasting it with leveinah, a “brick”, that is man-made through mixing mortar), but there are other words in Hebrew which also refer to a rock.

The Mishnah (Zevachim 13:3) teaches that besides slaughtering a sacrifice outside of the Temple, there is a separate prohibition of offering a sacrifice outside of the Temple. According to Rabbi Yosi, this only applies to somebody who erected an altar especially for such use, and offered a sacrifice upon on it. However, Rabbi Shimon disagrees and maintains that even if one offered a sacrifice on an even or a sela (types of rocks) he has violated this prohibition — even though he did not offer the sacrifice on an actual altar. What is the difference between an even and a sela?

Rabbi Immanuel Chai Ricci (1688-1743) explains that a sela is a rock which is attached to the ground, while an even is a rock which is detached from the ground, such that one can simply pick it up.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) explains that even is an umbrella term which includes sela and other words. It is the most general way of referring to a rock, without being more specific. Rabbi Pappenheim notes that even sometimes appears in the construct form to refer to specific types of rocks: avnei ha’sadeh (rocks of the field), avnei yakar (precious stones), avnei shayish (usually said to be marble stone, but in the Judean Formation, limestone is a more likely candidate). He argues that the root of the word even is the two-letter combination BET-NUN, which refers to the notion of “building”. This is because most rocks are usable for construction, and indeed the most common use of rocks is for the purposes of building. Because rocks are hard, the word even was borrowed to refer to any matter which is in a solid state. For this reason, Joshua 10:11 refers to avnei barad (“rocks of hail”) because even though hail is not actually a rock, it is hard like a rock, although my geologist friend Aaron Kahn tells me that from a scientific point of view, ice is technically considered a rock.

Rabbi Pappenheim explains that rocks are commonly comprised of sand, dirt, and many other mineral deposits, tightly compressed together. Those rocks can easily be broken if shattered by a hammer. However, other rocks are harder, and cannot be as easily broken. Those rocks are typically made up of different minerals glued together with calcium carbonate (calcite), and generally have a whitish complexion. This type of rock is known in Hebrew as a sela. In order to smash a sela, one must apply intense pressure, so that when the stone is finally smashed its pieces will fly outwards and disperse (see Jer. 23:29).

In most instances in which the Bible speaks of a sela, it refers to a hard rock which protrudes from the ground, or even a rocky mountain. Because a sela is quite hard and cannot be easily chipped, it became accepted as the recognized standard in determining weights and currencies. Therefore, in the time of the Mishna a sela was the name of a specific currency. (Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865), in HaKsav VeHaKabbalah, on Ex. 4:25, Deut. 9:9 cites Rabbi Pappenheim’s explanation, and adds to it a layer of exegetical interpretation related to the Stone Tablets of the Ten Commandments.)

Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843-1916) makes a fascinating suggestion. He proposes that in all Hebrew words whose essential root is the two letter combination SAMECH-LAMMED, the SAMECH is actually a placeholder for the letter AYIN which follows in the aleph-bet. In other words, he says that when a word’s root seems to be SAMECH-LAMMED, it should really be understood as AYIN-LAMMED. The letters AYIN-LAMMED refer to something “on top” (al/l’malah) of something else, and to something which is “raised” or “ascends upward” (oleh/aliyah). To that effect, he suggests that the word sela should be understood using this paradigm, and that it too refers to something which “comes up” — in this case, the type of rock which “comes up” from underground.

Both Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim and the Malbim write that a tzur is a harder rock than a sela. We will explore exactly what type of rocks are considered a tzur, and in doing so will accrue a greater appreciation of why G-d is sometimes referred to as a Tzur (for example, Tzur Yisrael, “The Rock of Israel”).

As Rabbi Pappenheim explains, the hardest types of rocks are called tzur. The word tzur is related to tzarur (“cluster” or “bundle”) because its components are so tightly packed together that the resulting stone is quite hard. Rabbi Pappenheim explains that one type of tzur is called Hornstein (German for “horn stone”), or chert. Pieces of chert generally have very sharp edges, so they can be used for cutting in lieu of metal knives. In fact, Rabbi Yosef Kimchi (1105-1170), the father of the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, 1160-1235), writes in Sefer Ha’Galui that tzor/tzur specifically refers to a sharp rock. When Moshe’s wife Zipporah took a stone to circumcise her son, the Bible uses the word tzur to describe that stone (Ex. 4:25). Similarly, when the Jews in Joshua’s time performed mass-circumcision (Josh. 5:2-3), their instrument of choice was described as charvot tzurim (literally, “stone swords”).

The word chalamish is commonly translated as “flint”, which is a glassy rock formed from silicate fossils. Like the tzur, flint stones are generally sharp because when they break, they form conchoidal fractures which always have sharp edges. Both chert and flint have historically been popular stones for making arrowheads. Interestingly, in Modern Hebrew the word tzur refers specifically to the “flint” stone.

Nonetheless, Rabbi Pappenheim argues for a different way of identifying chalamish. He explains that chalamish does not refer specifically to “flint”, but is rather a sub-category of tzur which refers to the hardest types of rocks within that category. To this effect, chalamish even includes diamonds (called yahalom in Modern Hebrew, after one of the precious gems mentioned in Ex. 39:11), which are generally considered the hardest natural mineral. By a small stretch of the imagination, Rabbi Pappenheim links the word chalamish to chelmon (“egg yolk”), explaining that both are round and smooth. The word chalamish sometimes appears attached to tzur as part of a construct phrase, such as tzur hachalamish or chalamish tzur (Deut. 8:15, 32:13); while other times it appears in the absolute as simply chalamish (Ps. 114:8, Job 28:9, Isa. 50:7).

In order to better appreciate the nuances that we are highlighting, I refer the reader to Moh’s Scale of Mineral Hardness. That scale rates minerals based on their hardness, with talc — the softest of minerals — rated at 1. In Moh’s scale, calcite-based rocks (what we defined as sela in last week’s essay) are rated at 3, while chert (a type of tzur) — which is much harder — is rated at 7. Diamonds, of course, take the cake at the hardness rating, at 10. If the conventional identification of chalamish as flint is accurate, then chalamish should be rated at 7. However, as Rabbi Pappenheim puts it, chalamish can reach up to a 10, because it includes such hard minerals as diamonds.

Malbim notes that a sela is the type of rock which is porous and can have water inside, while a tzur denotes the type of rock which is so hard that there is no possibility of water inside. This fits neatly with Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620), who wrote that a tzur or a tzur ha’chalamish is the type of rock which produces fire. If a tzur had water in it, then certainly it cannot create a fire. Interestingly, Rabbi Yisrael Menachem Mendel Sacharov (d. 1966) points out that the word ha’tzur (“the tzur”) equals the same gematria as the word aish (fire).

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (1923-1986) explains that a tzur refers to the bedrock upon which the foundation of a building rests. As any engineer knows, if the foundation is sturdy, the edifice has on what to stand. G-d is also called a tzur because He is likened to the sturdiest foundation. The implications of this empowering idea is that at all times we can rely on G-d to help us out, just as a building must constantly rely on its foundation in order to remain standing.

Maimonides in his famous Guide for the Perplexed (1:16) explains that the word tzur refers to a mountain and to a type of hard rock. He further writes that tzur also refers to the quarry from where rocks are hewn. To bolster this assertion he adduces the prophecy of Isaiah, who implores the Jewish People to look back at their history: “Look to the rock (tzur) from which you were hewn… look to Abraham, your forefather and to Sarah, who bore you…” (Isa. 51:1-2). In this context the word tzur refers to the genealogical root of the Jewish People. From that usage, explains Maimonides, the word tzur was borrowed to mean any type of “root” or “source”. It is in this spirit that G-d Himself is referred to as a tzur (see Deut. 32:4, 32:18, 32:30, I Sam. 2:2, Isa. 26:4) — for He is the Ultimate Source of everything. Based on Maimonides’ explanation, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841) explains that a tzur is the source of stones, while even or sela are the stones themselves.

Similarly, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that G-d is called a tzur because, as the Prime Force behind all of Creation, He “ties” (tzorer) together all aspects of creation under one common thread: everything requires Him in order to exist. As Hannah (the mother of Samuel the Prophet) famously exclaimed: “There is no Rock (tzur) like our G-d!” (I Sam. 2:2). The Talmud (Berachot 10a) expounds on this passage by taking the word tzur, and interpreting it as tzayir (“Fashioner” or “Creator”) — further cementing the connection between G-d’s rock-epithet and His role in Creation. The Rock is not only the peoples’ champion, but the champion of all of creation. Can you dig that?

Vayeitzei: All Along The Watchtower ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas וַיֵצֵא

All along the Watchtower

מִצְפֶּה: watchtower

צָפוּי: foreseen

צָפוּן: hidden

צָפוֹן: north

מְצַפֶּה: expect

צַףְ: float

צְפַת: Tzfas

צִפּוּי: plated, coating

הַר הַצוֹפִים: Har HaTzophim

בַּעַל צְפוֹן: Baal Tzaphon

צְפַנְיָה: Tzafaniah (prophet), Stephan, Steven

צִפְצוּף: chirping

מִצְפֶּה: Watchtower

וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן הַגַּל הַזֶּה עֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינְךָ הַיּוֹם עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמוֹ גַּלְעֵד:וְהַמִּצְפָּה אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יִצֶף ה’בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ כִּי נִסָּתֵר אִישׁ מֵרֵעֵהוּ.
And Lavan said, “Let this heap of stones be witness between me and you today, therefore its name was called Galeid. And the Mitzpah, for he said Hashem will watch over, between me and you, when we are out of sight from each another.”1


Amitzpehis a watchtower, a place to look out and observe from afar what is going on. One who is at ground level is limited to how far he can see, whereas the mitzpehaffords one a far greater vantage point. Compared to one at ground level, at a lookout one is able to see things coming ahead of time.

So this is what the pasukis saying: the gal/the mound of rocks, symbolizing a pact between us, is the point that we shall not crossover. Even though the galis at ground level and is limited to how far it can be seen, let Hashem be our mitzpeh/watchtower from above, making sure that when we are no longer in view of thegal, we will not trespass over one another. In other words, in time, after we have traveled away from the galand the pact fades into the distant past, let Hashem, Who sees from above, be witness to the guarding of the pact in the future. (This is unlike Bilam, who trespassed this point, causing his leg to be crushed along the gal).

צָפוּי: Foreseen; צָפוּן: Hidden

We can easily see how these words are related. Hidden and foreseen are two sides of the same coin. What is hidden by definition is not seen, while what is seen by definition is not hidden.

The exception to the above rule is the one who is high up in the watchtower, who can see what is hidden in relation to those who are on the ground.

הַכֹּל צָפוּי,וְהָרְשׁוּת נְתוּנָה,ובְטוֹב הָעוֹלָם נִדּוֹן.וְהַכֹּל לְפִי רֹב הַמַּעֲשֶׂה
Everything is foreseen (by Hashem), yet we are given free choice; in goodness the world is judged, and everything according to the majority of our deeds.2

I once heard a great analogy from Rabbi Zemir Cohen (Hidabrot) that helps explain the seemingly contradictory notions of having free choice with Hashem still knowing everything.

You are traveling on the motorway. Ten miles from the direction you have just come from is your past, and ten miles ahead is your future. Where you are now is the present. One who is flying in the air, directly overhead, has the birds-eye view; he can see all your past, present, and future at the same time. Ten miles away from home you call your wife to tell her you will be home in ten minutes. Although this is your expectation, the one flying in the air can see that in five miles there is a traffic jam!

The traffic jam is in fact being completely controlled by air traffic control, namely Hashem, from the watchtower above. The traffic is aנִסַיוֹן/test to see how you deal with the situation. Do you become frustrated knowing you are now going to be late for dinner, or do you turn on the “autopilot” and recognize that Hashem is in control? Hashem just wants you to see Him. (There have been many times when I personally have given control over to Hashem and suddenly the traffic clears inexplicably.)

We think we are in control of our lives, but really it is Hashem who is directing every little detail from above. He sees our past, present, and future at the same time, and so adjusts what happens to us now in order that we reach our required destination on time — our destination being recognition of Hashem. הַכֹּל צָפוּי, from Hashem’s view nothing is hidden,וְהָרְשׁוּת נְתוּנָה , and the choice is given to us to see that all is in the hands of Heaven except our ability to see Hashem (הַכֹּל בִּידֵישָׁמַיִם חוּץ מִיִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם).

And where do we see this principle of Hashem running the show? No other place than with Yaakov and Rachel, as it says: וְרָחֵל בָּאָה עִם הַצֹּאן/And Rachel came with the sheep.רַב הוּנָא אָמַר הַכֹּלצָפוּי לִפְנֵי הקב”ה/everything is foreseen before Hashem. Before Yaakov came to Charan, Hashem had already set the stage; He sent a plague among the flocks of Lavan, where there only remained a few from many, so Rachel became the shepherd, as it says: וְרָחֵל בָּאָה עִם הַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לְאָבִיהָ כִּי רֹעָה הִוא/and Rachel came with the sheep of her father because she was a shepherd.3

צָפוֹן: North

The earth tilts in relation to the sun, causing the sun to shine in a southerly arch. Therefore, the north, for the most part, is hidden from the sun’s rays and light, making it more obscure then the south, which is bathed in sunshine.4

There is a Gemara in Bava Basrathat says that whoever wants wealth should daven toward the north, and whoever wants wisdom should daven toward the south.5This is represented by the fact that in the Beis HaMikdash, the Shulchan is in the north while the Menorah is in the south. The Shulchan is the table upon where the Lechem HaPanimare placed, where bread signifies parnasah, while the Menorah represents light and spirituality.

There is another Gemara that states that brachahonly comes from what is hidden.6For example, if you have a purse full of money, once you count the money the total becomes fixed and cannot be blessed with an increase. However, as long as you don’t know how much there is, you give Hashem the opportunity to bless it. This is just like the analogy of the road, whereby in ten-miles time there is a traffic jam, which at this moment you can’t see. If you tune into the traffic report on the radio, you become aware of the traffic and it becomes real. As long as it remains hidden, it gives Hashem the opportunity to change what will be without having to perform open miracles.

In short, we see that brachahcomes from what is hidden, where brachahmeans increase. So now we can also understand why facing north when we daven is a segulahfor wealth, because the north also alludes to the hidden.

מְצַפֶּה: Expect

Expectation is to have an idea of what will happen in the future, even though the future is out of sight.

From our example of driving on the motorway, you expect to be home in ten minutes yet you don’t see the traffic. This is our expectation, but our expectations don’t always come to fruition.

So our expectations are really our hidden futures.

צַףְ: Float

Just like a סְפִינָה/boat that floats on the water is only partly seen above the water while part is hidden below the surface, so too many times in our life we only see the tip of the iceberg.

צְפַת: Tzfas

צְפַתis the city of רוּחַ/air and represents spirituality, which is hidden from the eye like air. Positioned high up on the mountaintop, Tzfas overlooks most of the north of Israel.

צִפּוּי: Plated, Coating

At the same time the coating is seen, it conceals what is underneath.

הַר הַצוֹפִים: Har HaTzophim

הַצוּפִיםis the name given to the vantage point that overlooks the Beis HaMikdash. As long as one is in view of the Makom/the place, one is bound to certain conditions of return if one has forgotten to burn leftover hekdesh/holy meat. But once one is no longer in sight, hidden from view, one is no longer required to return.7There is a discussion among the Rishonimif צוּפִיםis an actual place, or any place overlooking the Makom HaMikdosh. According to the opinion that צוּפִיםis an actual place, there is also a discussion as to what direction it was in relation to Yerushalayim. Most opinions say it was to the east. Since there is an opinion that צוּפִיםis connected to צָפוֹן,8it would suggest that צוּפִיםwas to the north of Yerushalayim like Har HaTzofim today. It is also more likely that the Mishnah is addressing the majority of people who are leaving Yerushalayim on their way home, and since Yerushalayim is to the south of Eretz Yisrael (in the times of the Temple), most people visiting would be leaving to go north.

בַּעַל צְפוֹן: Baal Tzaphon

SeeTargum Yonasanthat describes בַּעַל צְפוֹן as being connected to the north star of the desert, symbolizing darkness and desolation, which misled Pharaoh into thinking that בַּעַל צְפוֹן had the power to cause the Bnei Yisrael to be in the dark and lose their way in the desert (סָגַר עַלֵהֶם הַמִדְבָּר).

צָפַנְיָה: Tzafaniah (the prophet), Stephan, Steven

Literally means “the hiddenness of Hashem.” A fitting name for aנָבִיא/prophet, who reveals what is hidden. Similarly, Pharaoh gives Yosef the nameצָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ, because he was able to reveal the hidden.

צִפְצוּף: chirping

כִּי עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם יוֹלִיךְ אֶת הַקּוֹל וּבַעַל כְּנָפַיִם יַגֵּיד דָּבָר
Because the birds of the heavens carry the voice, and the possessors of wings will relate things.9

פּירוּשׁ יוֹנַתָן:הֵם חַכְמַי הָעוֹפוֹת שֶׁבְּצִפְצוּפִים יֵדְעוּ עַתִידוֹת/The Targum explains that צִפְצוּףis the wisdom of understanding the chirping of the birds who know the future.

According to the Ramban,a מְנַחֵשׁis someone who looks into the flapping of bird’s wings or their chirpings, because anyone who hastens to know the future before it happens is called נִיחוּשׁ. Similarly, Shlomo knew the art of צִפְצוּף, and this is not considered an abomination among the goyim,but rather it is considered a wisdom.10

Lavan uses נִיחוּשׁ,11whereas Yaakov is אִישׁ תָּם/a man of purity. For us it is a תּוֹעֵבָה/abomination to seek to know the future, since it shows a lacking of being תָּמִים תִּהִיֶה עִם ה’/ wholeheartedly with Hashem.

The way צִפְצוּףworks is that winged creatures, being able to fly high and mix with themazalos, are able to glimpse into the future. This is also why the goyimsacrifice to the demons — because demons also can fly and see into the future.12However, their perspective is limited compared to angels and to those who possess ruach hakodesh, which comes from far above what the birds and demons can see.

Accordingly, we are not meant to seek out chochmas hagoyimbecause their ability to see properly is limited. The birds-eye view overhead can see the traffic jam; however, the one who has true vision knows that the traffic can soon clear (depending on if we relinquish control to Hashem).

תָּמִים תִּהִיֶה עִם ה’/being pure in the ways of Hashem means that we should only consult with Hashem through His נָבִיא/prophet,אוּרִים וְתּוּמִים/Urim V’Tumim,or צַדִיקִים/tzaddikim. Only those possessing ruach hakodesh— Hashem being the point of call, because He sees everything that is hidden — therefore do not seek out an inferior source, a middle man, medium, astrology, fortune teller, palm reader, or crystal balls. Going to the medium and bypassing Hashem is, by definition,avodah zarah.

One cannot discuss trusting in Hashem without distinguishing between two fundamental concepts: emunahandbitachon.I once heard a seminar by Rabbi Zemir Cohen (Hidabrot) in which he said that in order to reach simchah, one first has to have emunahand bitachon. He described it as a building whose ground floor is emunah/faith in Hashem. The next floor is bitachon/trust in Hashem, and the higher floor is simchah. Just like the second floor cannot exist without the underlying floors, so too simchahcannot be achieved until one first attains emunahand bitachon.

The Difference Between Emunahand Bitachon

There’s a tightrope walker doing his act at the circus. Each time he goes across, the crowd shouts, “You can do it, you can do it!” One time he goes across with a bar, another time on a unicycle. Next, they take away the safety net. The crowd stands on its feet and again shouts, “You can do it, you can do it!” After this, the tightrope walker turns to the crowd and says, “Do you think I can walk across with someone on my back?” Again the crowd shouts, “You can do it, you can do it!” When he asks, “Which one of you is going to be the volunteer?” the crowd is suddenly silenced.13

This is the difference between emunahand bitachon. We all know that Hashem can do it, but are we prepared to climb on Hashem’s back? Hashem has a great track record. He took us out of Egypt, performed all those miracles for us, split the Reed Sea, defeated the mighty Egyptian army — He can do it! But when it comes to our own lives, are we willing to climb on Hashem’s back and let Him play an active role in our lives? Most of us are unable to trust in Hashem to the point where we can allow Him to run our lives. Rather, we feel insecure unless we take charge, so we support ourselves by working eight hours a day, five days a week, year in, year out, because no one else is going to do it for us — as you know, money doesn’t grow on trees!

Those who have money cannot truly know what it is like to have full bitchonin Hashem, for they are not reliant on Hashem for their פַּרְנָסָה/sustenance, as it says: שֶׁחָזַר הקב”ה עַל כָּל מִדוֹת טוֹבוֹת לִיתֵּן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא מָצָא אֶלָא עַנִיוֹת/ the best measure Hashem found to give to Yisrael was poverty.14One who has money cannot truly know what it is like to have fullbitchonin Hashem, for Hashem has already supplied him with his.

Mychavrusaonce said to me that he can see the pain on people’s faces because they are carrying such heavy loads on their shoulders. To them, life is a burden. When we are on the level of bitachonin Hashem, we allow Him to carry us on His shoulders. We realize all along that He is carrying us, and we can just let go.

I am not really the driver; Hashem is the driver and controls every detail of my life. I am really Hashem’s passenger; I am here to enjoy the ride — to spectate and observe — and to connect to the reality of אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדוֹ/there is nothing else but Him.

When I let go of the reins and trust in Hashem that every little thing will be all right, then life is much lighter; I am no longer carrying the heavy load of life. Life is no longer a burden.

וַיִשָׂא יַעַקֹב רַגְלָיו/and Yaakov lifted up his legs.15After Hashem appeared to Yaakov in the dream of the ladder, Hashem promised him that He would return him safely. Yaakov’s level ofbitachonwas lifted, and so he lifted up his legs instead of his legs carrying him. The Rashbam comments on the same pasukthat through trusting in Hashem, Yaakov went willingly with simchah.

Fromemunahand bitachoncomes שִׂמְחָה. One feels light and lifted to the point of being like a birdבְּצִפְצוּפִים/singing Hashem’s praises; one has a birds-eye view, one has expanse, one has vision, one has wings.

Maybe this is what is meant by the double lashonof וַיֵצֵא וַיֵלֶךְ — that Yaakov went out of his emunahlevel and went to the bitachonlevel, from driver to passenger. וַיֵלֶךְfromlashonוְהִתְהַלֵךְ, where Avraham, Noach, and Chanoch, who were all tzaddikim,walked with Hashem, letting Hashem be the driver.

Allowing Hashem to watch over us reminds us of the very famous mashalof the Ramchal in Mesilas Yesharimof life being compared to a maze of hidden pathways, where the only way out is to seek counsel from the One Who is on high, the One who all along the watchtower sees everything.

1Bereishis 31:48–9.

2Avos 3:15.

3Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 36.

4See the Kli Yakaron the pasuk, ופרצת ימה וקידמה צפונה ונגבה,Bereishis28:14.

5Bava Basra 25b.

6Bava Metzia 42a.

7See Pesachim 49a.

8Vayikra Rabbah 2:11, Maharzu; צפוןbeing lashon צופיה.

9Koheles 10:20.

10Devarim 18:9.

11Bereishis 30:27.

12See Ramban to Vayikra 17:7.

13Example given by Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein.

14Chagigah 9b. See Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta5 for further explanation.

15Bereishis 29:1.

Vayeitzei: The Unique Flock ~ The Wonders of the Holy Tongue


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