As we started discussing last week, there’s a whole bevy of words in the Hebrew language that all mean “corner.” Because of the plethora of relevant words, I split this article into two parts, with Part 1 discussing the words peah, keren, and zavit. In Part 2, we will now discuss the words pinah, miktzoa, katzeh, and atik. Let’s cut to the chase!
The word pinah appears only twice in the Pentateuch, and both instances are found in the schematics of the altar in the Tabernacle. Those passages call for making a “horn” (keren) at each corner (pinah) of the Altar (Exodus 27:2, 38:2). In both of these verses, the word pinah is rendered by Targum Onkelos as zavit, a word with which you should already be familiar. The word pinah also appears another twenty-eight times throughout the rest of the Bible.
Mordechai Zer-Kavod (in Daat Mikra to Nehemiah 3:24) writes that the primary meaning of pinah in the Bible is not actually “corner” but rather “raised location,” hence the terms rosh pinah (Psalms 118:22), pinot v’gevohot (Zephaniah 1:16), and migdalim hapinot (II Chronicles 26:15). The even pinah (literally, “cornerstone”) is presented as the opposite of the even mossad (“foundation stone”) in Jeremiah 51:26 because the latter is underground while the former is all the way on top.
If I understood him correctly, Rabbi Pappenheim differentiates between zavit and pinah by explaining that a zavit refers to the inner part of a corner, while a pinah refers to the outer part of a corner. For example, imagine the corner of an exterior room in your house. When you look at that corner from inside your house, you might refer to it as a zavit. But if you were looking at that corner from the street, it would be called a pinah.
Based on this, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that the pinah of a building must be stronger than the rest of the structure because it is exposed to the outside and more likely to be damaged than other parts of the edifice. Taking this a step further, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that important people who assumed leadership positions are called pinot (Judges 20:2, I Samuel 14:38) because they too have to be higher quality than the rest of the people.
According to Rabbi Pappenheim, the word pinah derives from the bilateral root pey-nun (“surface”), which also gives us the words panim (“face”) and panah (“turning” or “facing”). The term pinah as “corner” is an expansion of this meaning, because if one followed the perimeter of a given area and reached a pinah, one would have to “turn” the corner in order to continue following the perimeter.
Interestingly, Rabbi Pappenheim also suggests that the word peninim – often translated as “pearls” but more accurately as “precious stones” – refers to a multifaceted gemstone that has been polished in such a way that one looking at it can see its multiple faces and the “corners” formed at the intersections of those planes.
Rabbi David Chaim Chelouche (1920-2016), the late Chief Rabbi of Netanya, offers etymological connections between peah and pinah, tracing both to the monoliteral root pey (with the extra letter aleph added to peah, and the extra nun to pinah). The core meaning of that root is “end”/“edge,” with peah referring more broadly to the edge of a specific area and pinah referring to an edge of two sides of a specific area.
The word miktzoa derives from the triliteral root kuf-tzadi-ayin. That root gives way to three different words: a verb (“cutting,” “removing,” “peeling”); and the three nouns maktzoa (the tool used for performing the verb form of this root; see Isaiah 44:13 and Shabbat 123b), miktzoa (“corner”), and ketzia (a type of spice). These four terms all appear in the Bible, and miktzoa as “corner” also appears in the Mishna (Tamid 1:4, 3:3, Middot 2:5). Like some of the other terms we’ve already encountered, miktzoa is also rendered as zavit by Targum Onkelos (Exodus 26:23; see also Rashi to Nehemiah 3:19). The connection between the first three derivatives is probably that when cutting or scrapping something, one’s instrument should be positioned perpendicular to whatever is being cut or scraped, thus forming an “angle” or “corner.” Perhaps ketzia is likewise derived from the verb meaning because it came from a plant that had to be “cut.”
The Mishna (Bava Batra 10:8) uses the word miktzoa when stating that anyone who wishes to become wise should study monetary law, for there is no other “miktzoa in the Torah and flowing spring” like that field of study. In this case, the meaning of miktzoa is somewhat obscured. In his commentary to Bava Batra (175b), Rabbi Yishmael ben Chachamon (a commentator who lived in Egypt at the same time as Maimonides) notes that the word miktzoa in this context means “corner” just like it does in the Bible, but this does not help clarify its usage. Alternatively, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Yadler (1843-1917) explains that the Mishna means that monetary law functions like the cornerstone of Torah Study, because it is rooted in logical structures. As he explains it, monetary law serves as a keystone and wellspring from which all other novella introduced into Torah Study may be derived. In Modern Hebrew, miktzoa refers to a “profession” or “occupation,” which seems to be totally unrelated to its original meaning.
Rabbi Pappenheim differentiates between pinah and miktzoa, postulating that pinah refers to a “corner” that forms any type of angle – a right angle, acute angle, an obtuse angle – while miktzoa refers specifically to a “corner” that forms an acute angle (although he concedes that sometimes a miktzoa can also refer to a corner that forms a right angle).
Another word for “corner” is katzeh (plural: ketzot or ketzavot). It is clearly related to the root kuf-tzadi-hey, which means “edge” or “end.” This word is also translated by Onkelos as zavit (Exodus 38:5). Rabbi Pappenheim explains that it refers specifically to a corner that forms a “right angle.” Other words derived from that root include keitz (the “end” of a period of time), katz (“being disgusted,” because when one is disgusted with something, one feels like it will cause one to die and bring about the end of his life), ketzitzah (“cutting off the edge” of something), kayitz (“summer,” that is, the last season before the end of the year at Rosh Hashana), yekitzah (“waking up,” because it is the end of one’s sleep cycle), and kotz (“thorn/thistle,” because it has multiple sharp edges).
Rabbi Pappenheim differentiates between a katzeh/peah and miktzoa. He explains that katzeh/peah refer to spacious areas located in the corner, while miktzoa refers to a single point or angle where two sides converge, but not spread over a larger area. He further differentiates between katzeh and peah, by explaining the former as referring to a corner that is “above, below, frontward, or backward,” while the latter refers to a corner that is on the “side” (I’m not sure exactly what this means.).
Finally, another word for “corner” is atik (Ezekiel 41:15, 42:3). There are three ways of understanding its etymology.
Menachem Ibn Saruk (920-970) categorizes this word as deriving from a root of its own, the quadriliteral aleph-tav-yod-kuf. Ibn Janach and Radak trace this word to the triliteral root nun-tav-kuf (“disengagement,” “uprooting”). Rabbi Pappenheim traces it to the biliteral tav-kuf (“static,” “unchanging”), as atik refers to a panel that holds a wall in place and does not allow it to move from where it stands.