Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Last week, we mentioned four Biblical Hebrew words for a lion roaring: “shoeg,” “nohem,” “yehegeh,” and “noer.” Rabbi Yechiel Michel Stern (rav of the Ezras Torah neighborhood of Jerusalem) suggests that these different words reflect the different reasons why a lion might roar.

The Vilna Gaon (to Proverbs 28:15) writes that a lion is shoeg when it is hungry. Its roar causes other animals to freeze up in fear and become the lion’s prey. Rashi (to Sanhedrin 102a, Berachos 32a) writes that a lion is nohem when it has a lot of food to eat such that it becomes especially happy and goes berserk. Rabbi Stern does not explain what causes a lion to be yehegeh or no’er.

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Rabbi Shlomo Pappenehim of Breslau (1740-1814) differentiates between these words by tracing them to their core roots. He explains that “sho’eg” derives from the biliteral root shingimmel, which denotes inadvertency (like “shogeg”). He argues that sho’eg specifically denotes the almost-involuntarily emission of an emotional outburst in response to something painful or joyful.

Additionally, Rabbi Pappenheim traces “yehgeh” to the root heygimmel, which primarily refers to diligence and consistency, making its derivative “yehgeh” refer to a lion consistently crying.

In explaining the word “no’er,” Rabbi Pappenheim offers a similar explanation. He traces this word to the two-letter root ayin-reish, which means revealing. Other words that come from this root include “ohr” (skin, i.e., the revealed/visible part of one’s body), “ervah” (nakedness, when a person’s body is revealed), “ta’ar” (razor – a blade used for cutting hair and revealing the skin underneath), and “ar” (an enemy who reveals his enmity outwardly).

Eir” (awake) is also derived from this root because when a person sleeps, his abilities are not readily apparent, but when he awakens, those abilities are suddenly revealed. Building on this last example, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that no’er is an audible outburst that a lion suddenly lets out and reveals as within his repertoire.

Finally, “nohem,” according to Rabbi Pappenheim, derives from the two-letter root hey-mem (storminess or chaos). Other words derived from this root include “hamon” (multitudes, i.e., masses joined together in a stormy or chaotic gathering) and “tehomot” (depths of the sea, where the water is wild and stormy). When a lion is nohem, he is expressing some sort of inner turmoil and storminess.

Rabbi David Chaim Chelouche (1920-2016), the late chief rabbi of Netanya, argues that “nohem” and “nohek” are both derived from the two-letter root nun-hey. That root also yields the word “nehi” (Jeremiah 9:17-19 and 31:14; Amos 5:16; and Michah 2:4), which is an onomatopoeic interjection that denotes sighing.

Rabbi Pappenheim, on the other hand, traces “nohek” to the monoliteral root kuf, which denotes expulsion (the biliteral nun-kuf [cleaning] is derived for this root). Consequently, he regards “nohek” as audible moaning or sighing intended to clean/clear one’s heart of suffering.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) notes that the very word for animal in Hebrew – “behemah” – relates to the different noises that come from them. He explains that the root of “behemah” is hey-mem (-hey), which means incoherent noise.

Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843-1916) similarly writes that “behemah” derives from the root bet-hey-hey, which is an onomatopoeic representation of a common animal sound (baaaa). He links this root to the ancient Latin and Old Irish word “bo(s)” (an etonym of the English “bovine,” also related to “bousi” in Greek and “bol”/“vol” in various Slavic languages).

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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.