Hebrew Word of the Day


Word of the Day (kippah)

Kippah (כִּפָּה‎ or כִּיפָּה) is from the root  כפף, which means “to bend,” as in:

סוֹמֵ֣ךְ יְ֭הוָה לְכָל־הַנֹּפְלִ֑ים וְ֝זוֹקֵ֗ף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִֽים׃

 “HaShem upholds all who are fallen and He raises up all who are bent.” (Psalms 145:14; v. 13 in Hebrew)

The alternative (Yiddish) name for the Jewish skullcap or kippah comes from Aramaic — yarmulke (יאַרמולקע) — and is a compound word combining yarma (fear/awe) and mulka (king): “awe of the King.”  This reflects Talmud Babli tractate Shabbat 156b, which reads,

“Cover your head in order that the awe of heaven may be upon you.”

Biblical references for the command to cover the head in G-d’s presence (i.e. in times of prayer, including worship, meals, and in some interpretations any activities of the day) include the following:

  • The Torah command for Aharon and his sons to wear head coverings in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:4, 36-43; 29:6; 39:30-31; Leviticus 8:9, 13; 21:10).
  • 2 Samuel 15:30 & Psalms 140:7 in re: King David wearing a head covering
  • Ezekiel 44:18
  • Zechariah 3:5

The democratization of the Priesthood from just the Cohenim to all Israel (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6) would extend this requirement upon all Believers.

Other related words:

  • kaf  “palm / hollow of the hand/foot,”  the letter kaf (sofit), “(table)spoon”
  • kappit “teaspoon”
  • kappah “palm branch”
  • kfafot “gloves”

Recommended reading for older students: C. Welker, “Let’s Talk about Men’s Head Coverings,” The Refiner’s Fire (online: http://www.therefinersfire.org/kippa.htm).


Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (כֵּן)The word כֵּן is an interesting one in that it has a different meaning (somewhat) in the Bible than it does in Modern Hebrew.  You might know it as the Modern Hebrew word for “yes,” but when it appears in the Tanakh, the meaning is “thus” or “so” (as in “it is so”) as an adverb or “right, honest” as an adjective.

For more advanced students, Balashon (tr. “in the tongue/language”) has a very good article covering both of these meanings and how they likely connect.



Hebrew Word of the Day

Word of the Day (tefillah)

“Prayer is not a list of requests. It is an introspective process, a clarifying, refining process of discovering what one is, what he should be, and how to achieve the transformation. Indeed, the commandment to pray is expressed by the Torah as a service of the heart, not of the mouth (Talmud, Tractate Taanis 2a)….  Prayer is uniquely a human function, because it blends man’s intelligence and imagination with his ability to put concepts into words. The faculty of intelligent speech, more than any other, sets man apart from animals.”

Excerpted from Rabbi Nasson Scherman, “Prayer: A Timeless Need,” The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1990; orig. 1984).


Hebrew Word of the Day

emunahRabbi Daniel Lapin teaches that the root of the Hebrew word for faith (emunah) is a picture of the glue-making process: taking an animal (aleph) hide and soaking it in water (mem) to make a glue (nun = peg), so faith, like glue-making, involves a sacrifice — the sacrifice of whatever in us is pagan.

What does that look like?  In Temple-less Judaism, it is constructed on the “Three Ts” — teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedeqah (righteousness, i.e. ministry to others).  Judaism would agree with Ya’aqov (James) in his “faith without works is dead” teaching.  These three Ts are the fruit that genuine faith produces.


Hebrew Word of the Day

Hebrew Word of the Day (brutish person)The Bible has nothing good to say of the person who behaves like a brute (beast).  We first encounter the word בַּעַר in Psalm 49:11 (English 49:10), but it is Psalm 73:23 (22) which unpacks its meaning — “So brutish was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before you.”

A brute is someone who would strike a cripple down or would treat a brother like a slave outside of Israel is treated.  A brute is considered a person who is human in form but a beast in behavior.

Hillel said of the brutish person: “The brute will not fear sin.  The ignoramus will not be saintly…. In the place where there are no human beings, try to be one.” (Pirqei Avoth 2:5).  Rashi defines a brute as “one bereft of any qualities,” and Maimonides echoes this, insisting that a brute is devoid of wisdom and ethical qualities.


Hebrew Word of the Day

Morning Blessing Today, let’s look at the word “neshama” (נְשָׁמָה).  R’ Aryeh Kaplan has an article on Aish.com discussing “the three parts of the soul,” identifying them as the nefesh, the neshama, and the ruach.

R’ Kaplan explains:

God’s exhaling a soul can be compared to a glassblower forming a vessel. The breath (neshama) first leaves his lips, travels as a wind (ruach) and finally comes to rest (nefesh) in the vessel. Of these three levels of the soul, neshama is therefore the highest and closes to God, while nefesh is that aspect of the soul residing in the body. Ruach stands between the two, binding man to his spiritual Source. It is for this reason that Divine Inspiration is called Ruach HaKodesh in Hebrew.  The neshama is affected only by thought, the ruach by speech, and the nefesh by action.

NASB translates neshama variously as blast (2), breath (15), breathes (1), life (1), persons alive (1), spirit (2), and who breathed (3).

See also the article on “Mi Yodeya”: http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/8921/nefesh-neshama-and-ruach-as-words-for-soul