Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jewish Geography

If you were lost in the wilderness, would you know which way was north? The classic natural tracking maneuver is to look up at the sky and find the north star. It is interesting then to note that the Hebrew word for north is tzaphon, which shares a root with the word tzaphoon, meaning hidden or concealed. 

In general, the direction words used in the Torah are tied to the geography of the holy land. The word for south is negev, which shares a root with the verb meaning to dry. For those who are familiar with Israel, this word may sound familiar as it is the name of the large desert region that covers much of the country’s south. The Torah also uses the word darom to refer to the south.

The Torah refers to the west with variations of the word yama, meaning sea. With directions based on the physical realities of the Holy Land, this is an obvious reference to the Mediterranean Sea. But ma’arav is also used to refer to the west, and this word is related to the words that refer to the evening, the two most prominent being erev (evening) and ma'ariv (the evening service).

Today, the most common term used to refer to east is mizrach, which shares the root of words meaning to illuminate. The connection, of course, is that the sun rises in the east. But the word used in the Torah for east, is kedem. What is fascinating about this term is that it is related to the Hebrew word mukdam, meaning early. Abraham, the first Jew, moved from east to west and left his past, that which came earlier, behind him.

In honor of Geography Awareness Week, Jewish Treats hopes that you’ve enjoyed this new interpretation of Jewish Geography.

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