In the Hebrew Bible and in Judaism, words have power. Jewish mysticism holds that language has a supernatural power to reveal hidden layers of meaning that can bring one closer to God.
According to Roni Segal, academic adviser for the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, which teaches Hebrew language and Biblical studies online, “God created the world with His words, and communication is God’s creative gift to people.”
Here are 10 most powerful Biblical Hebrew terms that you should know:
1. Adon-ai- This is the term used to pronounce God’s name, as to not pronounce God’s full name out of respect for His divine nature. The name of God is related to the Hebrew verb “to be” and is often translated as “He causes to be” or “He is.”
2. Geula- This is the redemption, the process of revival in which the Jewish Messiah will come. The word comes from the word gelui, to reveal, the end goal being to reveal God permanently. It is said that in times of geula, there will be an eternal peace and no competition for power, money, and honor.
3. Shabbat- The word Shabbat occurs more than 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is related to the verb “to cease labor, rest.” The concept of Shabbat comes from when on the seventh day of creation, God ceased His work and rested. He sanctified the holy day, providing a practical model for the Jewish people to rest on the seventh day of the week. Thus, it is a Jewish commandment to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
4. Eretz- This word means land, ground, earth, or country, and is mentioned more than 1,500 times in the Hebrew Bible. But eretz is not something of cosmology but of ownership, and it is referred to as a “promised land” or the “land of Israel.” The land of Israel, where the Israelite tribes settled, represents God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
5. Yisrael- This name refers to the Jewish patriarch, Jacob, who was given the name “Yisrael” after he wrestled with an angel. Jacob’s descendants became known as the Israelites, forming the tribes of Israel, which became the kingdom of Israel, and now, the modern-day State of Israel.
6. Am- Jews are often referred to as a “nation” or a “people”– people of the book, people of the land, and the chosen people. Am Yisrael refers to the ancient Israelites, the people to whom God chose for a covenant.
7. Aliyah- Ascension is a common theme in Biblical Hebrew. An “aliyah,” an ascent, is also the term for immigrating to the State of Israel. This term started with the Israelites “ascending” from slavery to freedom when they went from Egypt to Israel. In this way, an ascent represents a journey to freedom and holiness.
8. Yerushalayim- Yerushalayim is a combination of the name given by Abraham to the place where he began to sacrifice his son, and the town “shalem.” However, it is also derived from the same word as “peace,” shalom, so a common translation is “city of peace.” In modern times, Jerusalem is a city located in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. The city has been sacred to Jews for 3,000 years, since King David proclaimed it his capital in the 10th century BCE. Jerusalem is the home to the former Jewish Temples. It first appears in the Bible in the Book of Joshua, and is then mentioned 631 more times in the Hebrew Bible.
9. Kodesh- Kodesh means holy, or set apart. Judaism places great importance on separating what is holy from that which is mundane. This is why Jewish holidays and Shabbat often begin with a special meal and the recitation of the kiddush, a declaration that the day is separate or holy.
10. Brit- There are various ways that God signals a brit, a covenant, with his chosen people, the Jewish people. One is through the covenant of circumcision on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life, called a “brit milah.” Another covenant is maintained through the Jewish peoples’ observance of Shabbat. God says that observing Shabbat is a sign between him and the Jewish people of sanctification. Through covenants, when the Jewish people perform a commandment, they sanctify the act just as God sanctifies the Jewish people.
This article was written in cooperation with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies.