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Historical Coincidences My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

Kavod — The Most Peculiar Word in Biblical Hebrew

Link to podcast-audio:

“Kavod – the most peculiar word in biblical Hebrew” (Podcast-audio)

Kavod in modern Hebrew means honor, respect or glory. A person may show Kavod to his fellow human being, and a military medal of honor, bestowed unto a military service person, is a medal of Kavod (Ot Kavod).

The word appears in the Jewish Bible no less than 199 times. Numerous times it appears therein in the same sense as in modern spoken Hebrew. Examples:

  • “Akhan, My son, give, I pray thee, respect to Jehovah, God of Israel..” (Joshua 7:19);
  • “And on that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob shall fade..” (Isaiah 17:4);
  • “The Heavens declare the glory of God..” (Psalms 19:2).

Yet, this is only one sense with which Kavod appears in the Bible and it is not the most frequent one. A more frequent usage does not relate at all to the created giving glory to the Creator. Rather, it relates to Kavod as intrinsically linked to the Divine. And here we encounter the impossible combination of words:

Jehovah’s Kavod.

What does that mean?

Jewish bible interpreters have attempted, throughout the ages, to impart plausible meaning to this bizarre idiom; however, they have always relied on the traditional sense of “honor” or “respect” or “glory”. In most Bible translations (from biblical Hebrew), “Jehovah’s Kavod” translates into “Jehovah’s glory”.

As we shall soon realize, all those interpretations fall short of satisfactorily explaining most usages of this combination of words in the Jewish Hebrew Bible.

Thus, we are left helpless figuring out and imparting any sensible meaning to this bizarre expression; That is, until we scrutinize instances where it appears, and try to integrate these with scientific knowledge we currently possess about the universe. Once we do that, stunning amazement and deep appreciation for Jehovah’s Kavod follows.

Let us start with a few examples:

  • When Moses expresses desire to learn of Jehovah’s ways in leading His world, he asks: “Please show me Kevodcha” (“Your Kavod”). The Divine response: “..I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And He said, thou cannot see my face for no man shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20);
  • Prophet Isaiah explains why the world exists (seemingly the only time the Bible relates so explicitly to this question): “All that can be named, by My Name and for my Kavod I have created it, I have formed it, I have even made it” (Isaiah 43:7);
  • Prophet Isaiah delivers an account of his vision, hearing the Seraphim crying to each other, saying: “…Holy , Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his Kavod” (Isaiah 6:3).

How can we settle the first example with the last, while they seem so much at odds and unrelated to one another?

In the first example, Moses obviously requests to learn how the Divine is leading His world. While the response Moses gets is unsatisfactory (“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious”), the Divine response affirms that what Moses really desired in his request (“Show me your Kavod”) is to learn the ways by which God is leading His world. No reference whatsoever to God’s glory, as the latter is seemingly implied by the last example!!

Jewish tradition makes a reasonable distinction between two types of Divine leadership of the universe: By Law-of-Nature and by Divine Intervention (often explicitly expressed on a personal level as Divine Providence, or Hashgachah Pratit).

The former, Law-of-Nature, relates to the Ten Divine “sayings” of Genesis Creation narrative (Genesis 1). Later, after Noah’s flood, God re-assures humankind that Law-of-Nature exists and that it is ever-lasting: “While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night would not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

The latter, Divine Intervention, relates to divine intervention in the world to exercise a system of justice: “..Would not the Judge of all the earth do Justice?” (Gen. 18:25). However, this Divine intervention is mitigated by Divine graciousness and mercy, as the former quote of God’s response to Moses has shown. Furthermore, leadership by Divine intervention is not restricted to the confines of Law-of-Nature; Occasionally, it operates contrary to Law-of-Nature, as the Ten plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:20-12:30) testify.

Let us assume that indeed Jehovah’s Kavod is an overall term for the two basic Divine leaderships of the universe: By Law-of-Nature and by Divine intervention.

Is there indication for Law-of-Nature in Jehovah’s Kavod?

Is there indication for Divine intervention (or Divine moral code) in Jehovah’s Kavod?

Expressed differently: Can one find evidence, within the term itself, that Jehovah’s Kavod indeed represents the double-faceted Divine leadership of the world?

Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding YES.

Let us address the former first. As quoted earlier, prophet Isaiah describes his vision of Seraphim crying to each other, saying: “the whole Eretz is full of his Kavod.” (Isaiah 6:3). However, as addressed in my book (Section 14.1, p. 201), Eretz (earth in biblical Hebrew) implies either “world” or “Earth”. Given current scientific knowledge, we may therefore re-translate Isaiah thus: “..Holy , Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole universe is permeated with his Kavod.” (Isaiah 6:3).

Is there any hint in Jehovah’s Kavod for Law-of-Nature, something that, by modern science, permeates the whole universe?

We can think of one answer only:

The gravitation force!! (in modern spoken Hebrew, force of Kevidah).

By Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the gravitation field, generated by any celestial mass (like galaxies and stars), determines the most fundamental properties of the four-dimensional space-time, as we experience it in daily life and as we observe throughout the universe via astronomy, aided by scientific theory (Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, with succeeding derivatives up to the present Super-string theory). There is indeed nothing else that we can state permeates the whole universe.

And how do we, mere Earth-bound mortals, experience gravitation force?

By feeling that every physical object, large and small, is heavy, carries weight. We nowadays are aware that this sensation of physical articles being heavy is due to gravitation force. That is how we experience it in our every-day life. Additionally, by modern science, we have learned that the gravitation force (indeed gravitational field) determines the fundamental properties of the four-dimensional space-time continuum, in which we live, and the gravitational field indeed permeates the whole universe.

So:

  • If Jehovah’s Kavod expresses modes of Divine leadership of the universe (as Moses used the term in his request to God, “Show me thy Kavod”);
  • And if one of the two modes of leadership, by Jewish tradition, is Law-of-Nature;
  • And if per modern science, the most central and fundamental force-of-nature to determine the basic properties of the space-time continuum, permeating the whole universe, is the gravitation force;

Given all that, does Jehovah’s Kavod in any way points to the gravitational force???

Amazingly, Biblical Hebrew makes the impossible and implausible link between two utterly non-related concepts: Jehovah’s presence in the world via Law-of-Nature, and the most basic force of the universe, the most influential on observed Law-of-Nature, only known by modern science— the gravitation force.

Heavy, in biblical Hebrew, is Kaved (same root as Kavod, implausible as this may sound). Examples (altogether 41 instances of Kaved in the Bible imply heavy):

“Behold, tomorrow about this time I will rain heavy hail, the like of which has not been in Egypt since its foundation until now” (Exodus 9:18,24);

“And now my father had burdened you with a heavy yoke and I will add to your yoke..” (1 Kings 12:11).

We finally address the second question, put forward earlier:

Is Jehovah’s Kavod also indicative of Jehovah’s leadership via Divine intervention, imposing the set of moral Divine commandments via a system of justice operating within the confines of free-will?

The answer is similar to that for the previous question: As Jehovah’s Kavod indicates a major Law-of-Nature (Gravitation Law), so it hints at a major Divine commandment, the fifth commandment, which starts with Kabed (meaning honor):

Kabed thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).

We summarize:

  • Jehovah’s Kavod, mostly wrongly interpreted to-date as Jehovah’s glory, has been shown in this post to really mean, consistent with Jewish tradition, Jehovah’s double-faceted leadership of the universe;
  • It is completely incomprehensible why biblical Hebrew should link “glory” with… ”heavy” (as both derive from same linguistic root);
  • Aided by modern science, and pursuing the new interpretation of Jehovah’s Kavod, an incredible link has been established between Kavod and Kaved (both emanating from same biblical Hebrew root);
  • Consistent with the new interpretation, Jehovah’s Kavod is appropriately indicative of both force of gravity (leadership by Law-of-Nature) and of the Ten Commandments (leadership by Divine intervention).

Personal confession: Mind boggling…


Comments:

Comment [1]  (added April 28, 2019): The three-letter Hebrew root of Kavod (and related words) is “כ.ב.ד” (K.B.D). The gematria value of this root is the same as Jehovah (26). This is perhaps further evidence that Kavod in biblical Hebrew is indeed a general term for all modes by which the Divine manifests its presence in the world.

Comment [2] (added June, 17, 2020): The Coronavirus pandemic, denoted by WHO (World Health Organiztion) — COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease-2019), is indicative of, sounds like — Kavod (a stunning insight by Avinoam Ben-Mordechai); Read a separate post about the pandemic here.

Comment [3] (added June, 19, 2020): In the most prominent biblical demonstration of Divine intervention in the affairs of humankind (Divine leadership, Kavod), the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the word Kavod, with variations, appears Ten Times (within only three chapters!). Five times the word describes, as adjective, four of the plagues (“natural” disasters), stating that they were “heavy”; the other five times, Kavod describes Pharaoh’s “heavy” heart, refusing “Let My People Go”. Here is the list in Exodus (Chapter: Verse):

{ (8:11), (8:20), (8:28), (9:3), (9:7), (9:18), (9:24), (9:34), (10:1), (10:14) }.

22 replies on “Kavod — The Most Peculiar Word in Biblical Hebrew”

I’m perplexed….I never thought that the Jewish people would refer to G-D as Jehovah!!!! Does this mean that the real name of G-D is Jehovah?

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Thank you for the comment. Jehovah is originally a biblical Hebrew word (pronounced somewhat differently). I have written much about the fundamental difference between Jehovah and Elohim on this blog, and referred to it at length on one of the videos accessible from the blog.

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Dear Professor Shore
Thank you for the fascinating article on kovod. Could you reconcile your analysis with the concept of coved meaning “liver,” or “cold” as in lacking life? Thank you

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Thank you for the comment. Before answering more thoroughly, what word in Hebrew do you have in mind regarding “cold” or “lacking life”?

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Hi Thank you for your quick response. Perhaps I have taken license with the idea of coved meaning liver. The liver filters blood which is the source of vitality and life.

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The human liver weighs about one and a half kilograms, making it the largest gland in the body. Perhaps this is why, in biblical Hebrew, it is literally called Kaved (“heavy”). Assuming that the biblical liver is same as in modern Hebrew, I see no other plausible explanation why this organ is named that way in biblical Hebrew.

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Hello,
Professor Shore,
I am currently studying this topic and have your book. I have left you a message on Facebook messager explaining in more detail as I cannot find a means to directly message you.

In regards to your insight on Kavod thank you! I was thinking that maybe a closer word to study for gravity could be Shaqal? Since we have to stretch for the meaning with Kavod and Shaqal is in direct connection with the meaning of gravity. I do not speak Hebrew but I understand from my studies that the primitive root of Shaqal means to suspend or poise. Please excuse any mistakes I am at the very beginning of learning Hebrew and I hope to get better in time.

If you are available I would like to speak to you further on G-d speaking the universe into existence as this is what I hope to research at Univerisity in the near future.

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Hi Enid,

Thank you for your comment. I am not sure that Shaqal, or Li-shqol (to weigh), can replace or join Kavod (or Kaved, heavy).

The former describes human activity. The latter (Kaved) describes a property of nature, which is what Kavod (with respect to physical existence) is all about.

Regarding your request (not mentioned in this message), my present condition, healthwise, does not afford me to engage in activities beyond those I am already engaged in. I apologize for not being able to be more encouraging.

I wish you much success with your new endavour and all the best,

Haim.

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I really appreciate this in depth explanation of Kavod. I had never seen Jehovah-Kavod used before yesterday when I found it in a devotional. It was using it in the context of Divine Glory.

I have a question about it’s reference as heavy, is it ever used in the context of the Spirit of God resting on a person? (Is there a Greek equivalent?)

In reading your blog, the idea came to me that this is what we experience when the Holy Spirit overshadows a person and we literally feel a heavy weight upon us. To me this could add meaning to this affect of God resting in a way of Divine rule. Could this mean a mantle of leadership or correction of an individual morals being moved by God to align with His Divine rule?

I have read stories of many men experiencing the presence of God so heavy that they couldn’t withstand it i.e. Charles Finney. Some even accounted that they felt they would die if they didn’t ask for relief of His Glory.

Thank you,

Geoffrey Stephens

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Hi Geoffrey, Thank you for the comment, I am not aware of any expression in the Jewish Bible of God spirit being heavy, apart from the quote in my added comments (at end of post) of God making Pharaoh heart “heavy”. Also, I am not sure that the Bible advocates “correction of an individual morals being moved by God”. To the contrary, the Bible always emphasizes free-will as a given, namely, humans always have the free-will to choose between good and evil (starting with the Apple Story in Genesis). Also, every verse of the prophets “cries out” because of free-will decisions gone awry. You are correct about “heavy” in the sense that for most prophets in the Jewish Bible the mission to speak in the name of God is felt as an inescapable mission that they were reluctant to fulfill. I detail this in my post “Why do I trust the Bible prophets” (worth reading!!). Take care, Haim

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Morning Professor
Am I correct to understand that Kavod refers to the essence or substance of the person of Jehovah?

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Thank you for your comment. I believe you have mis-construed my post. Regarding “what we know of God”, I advise you read my post: “What do we know of God?

Per your question: Kavod relates only to observable manifestations of the leadership of God, often aided by guidance of Jewish prophets, as delivered in Scripture. Kavod as a concept never relates to “the person” of God, of which we know not anything.

I hope this clarifies. Perhaps a second careful reading of the Kavod post be helpful too.

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You are weIcome. I hope you enjoyed reading my insights about the significance of the Hebrew root of this word. Haim

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Dear Professor, Thank you so much for your book. It has been a great joy for me to read and I recommend it to everyone who is scientific and religious and those who are not religious. Truly the Universe is filled with Jehovah’s Kavod.

I wonder if there is a relation between David’s heart tones and the world that has been explored?

I am personally amused that we all exist in the center of a perfect sphere in light-years to the edge of the observable in the Cosmos. The heavens are in fact stretched out as a current (Lemaitre), the Lord putting on Light as a garment, (“for a thousand years in thy sight are as a day that is past, as a watch in the night”) the Earth is established, it shall never be moved forever. In a general relativity sense, the Earth bound observer sees the sun set in the West, arise in the East, and when accounting for gravity, clocks, orbital precession, and cosmology – turns out the Psalmist was right – that is the best way to observe things in a co-moving coordinate system – the Earth is established, it shall never be moved forever. The minimum entropy intelligent Earth-bound observer is perfect center – without even the slightest uncertainty except in how we recon time. Jehovah loves us so much, we are always in the center of creation – the inverse Copernican principle.

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Hi Andrew, Thank you for your enlightening thoughts. Real food for deliberation and contemplation. Amen. Also I appreciate your view of my book, I feel priviledged. Thank you, Haim

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Tout d’abord merci de cet article fort intéressant qui m’a donné une piste de réflexion sur ce qui m’était arrivé dans la ville de Medjugorge (Croatie), lieu d’apparition de la Vierge Marie.
Alors que j’étais avec la foule qui priait et après plusieurs heures attentes, sur le petit mont où ont lieu les apparitions, j’ai ressenti un poids inqualifiable. Il me semblait qu’un gigantesque pied m’ait soudainement enfoncé sous terre. Mon mental était devenu parfaitement immobile. Il ne me semblait pas avoir perdu connaissance, mais il ne se passait plus rien. Seuls du poids, de l’immobilité et de la terreur. Quand j’ai ré-ouvert les yeux, tout semblait normal, mais les voyants de Medjugorge au même moment avait vu la Vierge apparaître. Le mot ” poids de la gravitation” est certainement le mot le plus proche de cette expérience.

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Martine, Thank you for your comment. Regrettably, I cannot relate to its contents for lack of sufficient fluency in French. I am sure of the high quality of your comment. Haim

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BS”D
Shalom Prof. Shore,

Thank you for this insightful article. As we explore more connections between the physical and the spiritual worlds, we will find more and more ways to boggle our minds.
Actually, I can well understand why “glory” is associated with “heavy.” The 4-D world of Asiyah is limited by space and time. We are limited in what we can experience with our consciousness scattered in the normal waking state. However, those who have focused their attention inside and have experienced states of mystic transport describe these experiences as being more “real” than the physical world. They would describe these experiences not only as glorious, as in Holy, but also as “heavy,” as in profound. The world of Asiyah seems as a dream to the more substantial Yetzirah, which reveals more of the glory of the Blessed Ayn Sof. That world is “heavier” and more profound than Asiyah. Beriyah even more so than Yetzirah, etc. Each higher world represents a recursive reversal of the Tzimtzum process that was used to create (as in Barah) the universe. Each higher world is more substantial (heavier) than the world below it and more glorious beyond description.

Maybe it is no accident that the Higgs boson, which gives rise to mass, is called the “God” particle. (Actually all particles are “God” particles.) Perhaps is because we associate mass not only with gravity, but also with the “reality” that we call the physical world. In the end, nothing in the creation could possibly be more real, profound, heavy and glorious than the Creator of the universe, Himself.

If we stay tuned and focused, we will find many more profound and glorious experiences. Our minds seem boggled because our mind cannot go beyond Beriyah. We are like previously blind people who are beginning to regain sight. – Insight that is.

Thank you again for this great article. Keep up the good work.

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Shalom Dr. Ceruti, Thank you for your interesting and intriguing comment. You are probably aware of PARDES, the four modes by which Jewish Scripture may be interpreted. In your comment you moved to the more mystical one, the Sod mode (Kabbalah). I agree that the higher worlds, like Yetzirah, might be considered as “heavier”. However, I do not recall encountering this concept (“Heavy”), in relation to the four “worlds”, in any Jewish source that I am familiar with. This is what has made me so stunned when I realized that Jehovah’s leadership, as conveyed by biblical Hebrew, is bizarrely linked to…gravitation.

On a more personal level, in most of my writings I attempt to stay within the first of the four modes of PARDES, the Pshat (the simple straightforward interpretation). This allows me to reach simple conclusions that are hard to argue with since they are anchored strongly in simple observable facts. Such do not require, additionally, mystical and debatable interpretations.

I appreciate very much you kind remark about my post, Haim .

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BS”D

Shalom Prof. Shore,
Thank you for your kind reply, which has stimulated additional thoughts regarding your observation. First, it is not surprising that the Kabbalah scriptures do not describe the higher “worlds” in terms of “heavy” because descriptions using human language, even the highly spiritual and multifaceted Hebrew language, do not adequately describe experiences associated with these levels of consciousness. Sikh and Hindu mystics also struggle to describe in human language details of the “worlds” higher than Assiyah.
Seth Shiv Dayal Singh, an Indian mystic, expressed frustration to describe the higher “regions” in human language. He wrote, regarding the highest “world,” that it is all love. Love alone exists at the highest level. He said “Love alone counts in the court of the Lord.” I call it the “Ahavah Rabbah” for lack of a better term. In my next book, which is in progress, I describe love as the fifth fundamental force in the universe, which created and therefore rises above the four fundamental physical forces – weak nuclear, strong nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational.
This is related to my second point. That the God’s leadership should be linked to gravitation actually makes sense to me. Gravity is a force between any entities with non-zero mass. Gravity is to mass as love is to consciousness. It attracts even from long distances. The closer we get to the source, the more we feel its attraction. In a black hole, gravity overcomes all other forces. Even light cannot escape. Similarly, as we get closer to the source of the universe, this Ahavah Rabbah overcomes everything as God reveals Himself in ways that cannot be described in human language. The analogy is actually deeper than this.
It is great that you are focused on the Pshat, with the goal to establish a firm foundation with physically observable facts. The world of Assiah, to which these facts pertain, was created by recursive projections and reflections of the higher worlds. Therefore, facts regarding the physical world constitute a good starting point from which to draw analogies to what is going on in the higher worlds. Just as we can observe the physical universe of Assiah using various techniques, we also can experience the higher worlds using a systematic technique.
Again, Prof. Shore, it is wonderful that you can make contributions like this to increase our knowledge and understanding. I look forward to your next insight.

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