From the Highest of Heights to the Depths of the Sea: The Hebrew Concept of ‘Expanse.’

Last time we spoke about the ‘expanse’ or the ‘firmament’ as described in the first chapter of Genesis:

“And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1:6-9)

We have mentioned that in the original Hebrew the ‘expanse’ is called ‘Rakia’ {רקיע} and because of what was told in the verses above it is also another name for ‘sky’ in Hebrew.  The other – more common – name for ‘sky’ in Hebrew is ‘Shamaim’ {שמים} and that is the original Hebrew word for ‘Heaven’ from the biblical reference ‘and God called the expanse Heaven.’

It is acceptable that the structure of the Hebrew word ‘Shamaim’ is composed of TWO words – however, there are TWO different opinions with regard to the FIRST word. The second (and the ending) word is ‘Maim’ {מים} which means ‘water’ in Hebrew and is agreed upon.

The first word could be ‘Sham’ {שם} which means ‘there’ and combined with ‘Maim’ creates the phrase ‘there water’ and refers to the water above – exactly as was mentioned in the scriptures.

The second explanation bears more ‘mystical’ nature and its origins can be found in the Kabbalah (ancient Hebrew mystical writings). According to this explanation, while the second word remains ‘Maim’ (‘water’) the first word is in fact ‘Esh’ {אש} which is the Hebrew word for ‘fire’ and therefore symbolizes the ‘supernatural part of the sky’ which is the part where water and fire can reside together.

In other words, the TWO explanations of the Hebrew word ‘Shamaim’ make it easier for us to understand why in Hebrew ‘sky’ and ‘heaven’ share the same word. The answer is that according to the Hebrew perception both (‘sky’ and ‘heaven’) are TWO sides of the same phenomenon: one is natural and within the rules of physics and is what we see when we look up and the other is spiritual – meaning above nature.