Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

When the Pharaoh dreamt in his royal slumber of seven skinny cows consuming seven fat cows, the parsha relates that at the conclusion of this portent dream, the Pharaoh “woke up” – vayikatz (Gen. 41:4). Then Pharaoh fell back asleep and dreamt another dream of seven wind-blasted bundles of wheat swallowing up seven good and healthy bundles, and again Pharaoh “woke up” (41:7). This word for waking up is the same as that used for Jacob waking up after his fateful dream of the ladder (Gen. 28:16).

However, there is another word in biblical Hebrew for waking up: oorah. For example, “Wake up (oorah)! Why do You sleep? G-d wake up, do not reject forever…” (Ps. 44:24). We will trace these two terms for waking up to their etymological roots and examine the difference between them.


The Targumim always translate cognates of the Hebrew yekitzah into Aramaic as cognates of oorah. The word vayikatz itself is translated as ve’itar, with the letter tav in Aramaic filling in for the Hebrew yod to denote the reflexive form.

The Talmudic term for a person who is half asleep is nim v’lo nim, tir v’lo tir – “asleep and not asleep, awake and not awake” (Pesachim 120b, Taanit 12b). Rashi (to Taanit 12b) understands the word tir to be derived from the Targumic ve’itar (as though the letter tav were somehow part of the root) and refers to a sleeping person on the cusp of waking up (see also Rashi to Bava Kamma 117b). The Tosafists, on the other hand, explain that tir refers to the state of awakeness of a person who is about to fall asleep (Tosafot to Taanit 12b; see also Tosafot to Niddah 63a).

The trilieralists like Ibn Chayyuj, Ibn Janach, and Radak all trace the term yekitzah to the triliteral root yod-kuf-tzadi, which means “waking up” – with Radak adding that kuf-vav-tzadi can mean the same thing.

However, Menachem Ibn Saruk in Machberet Menachem traces yekitzah to the biliteral root kuf-tzadi, which also has several other meanings, including: “border,” “summer,” “pressure,” “disgusting,” “cutting,” and “thorn.” Menachem himself does not intimate how these different meanings connect to the concept of “waking up,” but we can glean some connections by looking at some of the other commentators.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Gen. 9:24) connects the term yekitzah to kutz (“harvest,” “cut off”) and kayitz (“summer”): When summer arrives and fruits have reached a certain stage of ripeness, they tend to disengage from their source of nourishment (as if they are already “cut off”) and are ready to be “harvested.” Rabbi Hirsch explains that the same is true of a person who has slept his due. Once he slept enough and his body has been satisfied with the quantity of sleep, he will automatically wake up.

Similarly, Rabbi Hirsch (to Gen. 41:4) also compares yekitzah to kotz/katz (“disgusted”), explaining that when one eats too much food, he becomes “disgusted” and “sickened” by the prospect of eating more. Essentially, his body has decided that he ate enough and rejects the notion of eating more. In the same way, explains Rabbi Hirsch, when one has slept enough and has reached a point where his body no longer deems extra sleep necessary, he will automatically “wake up,” as if his body is “disgusted” by extra sleep.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) explains that the core meaning of the root kuf-tzadi is “end/edge.” This applies both in a spatial context, as k’tzei means the edge of an area (Gen. 23:9, Num. 22:6, and II Kgs. 7:8), and in a temporal context, the word ketz refers to the end of a given span of time (Gen. 6:13, Ps. 119:96 Dan. 11:35, 12:13). The word miketz is derived from this last example, with the initial mem as an added letter. Rabbi Pappenheim also notes that kayitz (summer) is the end of the year, as it is the last season before Rosh Hashanah.

Rabbi Pappenheim further explains that the term ketzitzah (“cutting off”) specifically refers to cutting/chopping off the edge or end of something (see Ex. 39:3, Deut. 25:12). He notes that this action is typically performed with one swift motion, as opposed to the prolonged act of sawing or slicing. In this sense, the word yekitzah in the sense of waking up refers to a sudden and complete awakening in which at one moment a person is asleep and the next moment he is awake. Yekitzah thus denotes a waking up in which there is no intermediate state of half-awake, half-asleep.

By contrast, Rabbi Pappenehim explains, the term oorah refers to a more gradual form of waking up, whereby a person might slowly transition from sleep to wakefulness by being in an intermediate stage of snoozing. This concept is alluded to in the verse, “I am asleep (yesheinah), but my heart is awake (er)” (Song of Songs 5:2), which shows that one can engage in oorah at the same time that one is technically still sleeping.

Rabbi Aharon Marcus (1843-1916) explains simply that yekitzah relates to ketz (“end”), with waking up being the “end” of one’s sleep.

We may explain that yekitzah refers to the end of a dream or other false impression of reality. Most of the times that cognates of yekitzah appear in Tanach are related to waking up from a slumber that involved dreaming (Gen. 28:16, 41:4, 41:7, I Kgs. 3:15, Ps. 73:20, Isa. 29:8), or to a drunk person “waking up” from his intoxicated stupor (Gen. 9:24, Prov. 23:35, Ps. 78:65, Joel 1:5).


About The Word ‘Irin’

In explaining why certain types of angels are called irin, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) writes that this name derives from the word er (“awake”), because these angels are always awake and cognizant of man’s deeds.

Shoresh Yesha explains how derivatives of the root ayin-vav-reish are all related to “revealing” and “exposing.” The Hebrew word ohr (“skin”) refers to the part of one’s body that is visible and exposed, as opposed to the flesh and bones, which are covered by the epidermis. The term ervah (“nakedness”) also refers to exposing that which ought to be covered. In a similar sense, when a person sleeps, his eyes are closed and he sees nothing – as if nothing has been revealed to him.

This is why, when a person wakes up, it is called oorah –an entire world is now revealed to him. A blind person is called an iver because it is as though he sleeps an eternal slumber, seeing nothing. Shoresh Yesha alternatively suggests that he is called an iver because it is as though he has a layer of “skin” always covering his eyes.

Similarly, Rabbi Pappenheim traces all of these words to the biliteral root ayin-reish, which he too relates to the concept of “revealing.” But when it comes to the word oorah, Rabbi Pappenheim explains the connection to this core root a bit differently: When one sleeps, his or her abilities are not readily apparent; rather the sleeping person appears inanimate. But when a person awakens, those abilities are suddenly revealed, so the very term for waking up is related to the word for revealing. Building on this, Rabbi Pappenheim further explains that noer (“roar”) is an outburst of sound that a lion suddenly lets out and reveals as within his repertoire.

In the Nishmat prayer recited every Shabbat and holiday morning, we describe G-d as HaMe’orer Yesheinim v’HaMekitz Nirdamim – “He who awakens the sleeping and He who wakes up those who fell asleep.” This expression uses the two different verbs for waking up, but also uses two different terms for sleeping. Rabbi Yechezkel Pannet of Karslburg (1783–1845), the chief rabbi of Transylvania, seems to suggest that the term orrer is most appropriate when somebody sleeps a deep sleep (yesheinim), along with dreams and the whole nine yards, and now awakens from that sleep (me’orer). On the other hand, the term yekitzah is most appropriate when waking up a person who merely happened to “fall asleep” (nirdam, in the reflexive tense), i.e., he was dozing off but never fell into a deep slumber.

Alternatively, the Malbim explains that these two terms describe the gradual process of waking up. First one comes to one’s sense, denoted by the term oorah. Only afterwards does one actually get up from one’s bed and remain fully awake, a stage denoted by the term yekitzah.

The prophet Habakkuk cursed those who put their trust in idols, saying: “Woe unto he who says to wood ‘wake up’, [or says] ‘awaken’ to an inanimate stone” (Hab. 2:19). The Malbim points out that the prophet used a different term for waking up when discussing wooden idols (hakitzah) from when he spoke about stone idols (oori) because of the difference in sentience of those items. Meaning, Kabbalistic and philosophical traditions speak of four levels of existence: “inanimate” (domem), like rocks and stones; “growable” (tzomeach), like plants and other flora; “living” (chai), like animals and other fauna; and “speaking” (midaber), like human beings. On this scale, wooden items are considered more “sentient” than stone items. Accordingly, the Malbim explains that Habakkuk used the word oorah when discussing stone idols because it denotes the most basic form of “waking up,” while he used yekitzah for wooden idols because it represents a more responsive state of being awake.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articlePolice Arrest Arab Who Conducted a Wedding on Begin Highway
Next articleHaredim Slam Religious Services Minister Kahana for Allowing Local Conversions
Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.