75 words for 75 years of Israel – Shamayim/Heavens

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible! Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available now!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

שָׁמַיִם

SHAMAYIM

SHA-MAI-EEM

HEAVENS

“Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created, on the day God made earth and heaven.” (Genesis 2:4)

אלה תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם ביום עשות יהוה אלהים ארץ ושמים.

“The heavens belong to God, but the earth He gave over to man.” (Psalms 115:16)

השמים שמים ליהוה והארץ נתן לבני אדם.

Shamayim, Hebrew for “heavens,” appears in the very first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible, however, tells us almost nothing about the creation of the heavens, focusing almost entirely on the creation of the Earth and on the lives of the people who inhabit it. “The heavens belong to God, but the earth He gave over to man” (Psalms 115:16). Our primary goal in life is not to understand the mysteries of the vast heavens, but rather to learn how to best live our daily lives here on Earth.

Nevertheless, the great medieval rabbi, Maimonides, favored the study of science and believed that contemplating God’s wonders in nature brings people closer to love and awe of God. As is written in the Book of Psalms, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers – what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:4-5).

The word shamayim contains within it the Hebrew word mayim, meaning “water.” The atmosphere, or heavens, contains a significant amount of water, a fact reflected in the verse, “God made the expanse, and separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse” (Genesis 1:7).

Shamayim is also used to refer to God Himself. Yirat shamayim, “awe of God,” literally means “fear of heaven.” Similarly, performing an act for God’s sake is called l’shem shamayim, “for the sake of heaven.” 

The Israel Bible Team

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