Questions in the Bible

The Evolution of Where

There are three forms of the question "where?" in Biblical Hebrew. They first appear in the Torah in evolving order, both grammatically and numerically.

The first form, ey (אי), comprises only two letters (perhaps the simplest syllable in the Hebrew language) and first appears in the question we contemplated above, "Where is Abel your brother" (אי הבל אחיך). Previously God had asked Adam, "Where are you?" (איכה), a word that unites "where?" (אי) with "[are] you" (כה).

The second form, ayeh (איה), comprises three letters (the original two letters and an additional hei) and first appears in the question the angels (who appeared as guests) asked Abraham (before blessing him to bear a son), "Where is Sarah your wife?" (איה שרה אשתך).

The third form, eyfoh (איפה [note that the variant form אפוא does not mean "where?" in the normal sense of the word, see commentaries]) comprises four letters (adding a pei before the last letter of the previous form and literally reading "where-here?" [note that in English here is part of where]) and first appears in the question that Joseph asked the man (who really was an angel, according to the sages), "[I am seeking my brothers, tell me please] where are they feeding their flocks?" (איפה הם רעים).

The logic behind the conceptual evolution of these three forms of the question "where?" is that as the forms progress the place asked for becomes more and more tangible, definite and identifiable (the three forms relate to the concept "place" from the perspective of the three descending worlds of Creation, Formation, Action).

  • When God asked Adam "Where are you?" He was alluding primarily to Adam's spiritual condition, not to his physical location. Similarly, when God asked Cain "Where is Abel your brother" He meant in what world is he, is he alive or dead? This is a "quantum" question, like the puzzle of Schrödinger's cat (a question pertaining to the World of Creation, as explained elsewhere).
  • The angels knew that Sarah was "in the tent," and their question was simply to arouse Abraham's love for his modest and righteous wife, as explained by the sages (a question pertaining to the World of Formation, the world of emotion).
  • Joseph was sent by his father Jacob to physically locate his brothers and bring back news of their wellbeing (his question pertained to the World of Action).

Ironically, Joseph was seeking his brothers' love while they were planning to kill him, as Cain had killed his brother Abel. After the perpetration of his sin God asked Cain "Where is Abel your brother?" Here, Joseph intended to prevent (on a spiritual plane, by means of telepathy, as it were) his brothers from killing him (in the World of Action) by first asking, out of love (the primary emotion of the World of Formation), "I am seeking my brothers, where are they feeding their flocks?" (a shepherd feeds his flocks out of love for his flocks, and so Joseph imagined that his brothers were in a mood of love which would reflect itself towards him).

The sum of the numerical values of the three forms of "where?" (11, 16, and 96, respectively) equals 123, the value of the first two questions posed by God to mankind: "Where are you?" (36) and "Where is Abel your brother?" (87). The three values also begin a quadratic series whose base is 75 = "why?" (למה). All three forms derive from the first (אי) whose two letters together with the three letter of "why?" (למה) permute to spell God's Name Elokim (אלהים), the Name with which God created the world. He asks the world "where?" and the world asks Him "why?"

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Geert van den Bos June 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Might "koh" ("there" – Genesis 22: 5) be the final "where"?

admin June 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm


R. G. June 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm

How does this all fit in with the teaching of the Besht that a person is where his thoughts are? How can we make the place of our thoughts into our physical place?
For example, a person's thoughts might be in Jerusalem, while physically he is situated elsewhere – how can he bring his thoughts into action?

Silvana Origlia June 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Generally spoken I would like to thank HaRav Ginsburgh for his outstanding, wonderful knowledge of Truth and for his art of sympathically teaching it. I wish that he'll be soon recovered perfectly: Rafua Sheloma. Shabat Shalom.


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