Monthly Archives: July 2016

ערף/עריף and ערפל and רעף

The root ערפ has two apparently unrelated meanings in the Bible, (1) the back of the neck and (2) relating to clouds, dripping, and darkness.

This post will discuss only (2).  Tawil has a long entry on ערפל in which he quotes an article by Chaim Cohen (see below).  He links ערפל to the Akkadian erpetu (urpatu), “cloud”.

ערפל occurs in the Bible 15 times.  I will not quote all of them here, only give the references to the verses, though I do quote those parts of the verses that refer to clouds or darkness:

Exodus 20:18
Deuteronomy 4:11 (חשך ענן וערפל)
Deuteronomy 5:19
II Samuel 22:10
I Kings 8:12
Isaiah 60:2 (והנה החשך יכסה ארץ לאמים ועליך יזרח ה)
Jeremiah 13:17
Ezekiel 34:12 (ביום ענן וערפל)
Joel 2:2 (יום חשך ואפלה יום ענן וערפל)
Zephaniah 1:15 (יום חשך ואפלה יום ענן וערפל)
Psalms 18:10
Psalms 97:2 (ענן וערפל סביביו)
Job 22:13
Job 38:9 (בשומו ענן לבשו וערפל חתלתו)
II Chronicles 6:1

Chaim Cohen (Ben Gurion University) wrote an article “The Basic Meaning of the Term ערפל ‘Darkness’” in Hebrew Studies 36 (1995) 7-12.  In which he also discusses the verb ערפ.

Cohen points out that the verb ערפ (meaning dripping) occurs only twice times in TaNa”KH, and five other times as רעפ.

דברים לב:ב
יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב:

 דברים לג:כח
וַיִּשְׁכֹּן֩ יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל בֶּ֤טַח בָּדָד֙ עֵ֣ין יַעֲקֹ֔ב אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ דָּגָ֣ן וְתִיר֑וֹשׁ אַף־שָׁמָ֖יו יַ֥עַרְפוּ טָֽל:

 ישעיהו מה:ח
הַרְעִ֤יפוּ שָׁמַ֙יִם֙ מִמַּ֔עַל וּשְׁחָקִ֖ים יִזְּלוּ־צֶ֑דֶק תִּפְתַּח־אֶ֣רֶץ וְיִפְרוּ־יֶ֗שַׁע וּצְדָקָ֤ה תַצְמִ֙יחַ֙ יַ֔חַד אֲנִ֥י יְקֹוָ֖ק בְּרָאתִֽיו:

 תהלים סה:יב
עִ֭טַּרְתָּ שְׁנַ֣ת טוֹבָתֶ֑ךָ וּ֝מַעְגָּלֶ֗יךָ יִרְעֲפ֥וּן דָּֽשֶׁן:

 תהלים סה:יג
יִ֭רְעֲפוּ נְא֣וֹת מִדְבָּ֑ר וְ֝גִ֗יל גְּבָע֥וֹת תַּחְגֹּֽרְנָה:

 משלי ג:כ
בְּ֭דַעְתּוֹ תְּהוֹמ֣וֹת נִבְקָ֑עוּ וּ֝שְׁחָקִ֗ים יִרְעֲפוּ־טָֽל:

 איוב לו:כח
אֲשֶֽׁר־יִזְּל֥וּ שְׁחָקִ֑ים יִ֝רְעֲפ֗וּ עֲלֵ֤י׀ אָדָ֬ם רָֽב:


Cohen argues that the usage in Psalms 65:13 differs from the others (see note 23 on page 11).

The parallelism with תזל/יזלו suggests that ערפ in these verses also means to drip.  Another instance in Hosea:

הושע י:ב
חָלַ֥ק לִבָּ֖ם עַתָּ֣ה יֶאְשָׁ֑מוּ ה֚וּא יַעֲרֹ֣ף מִזְבְּחוֹתָ֔ם יְשֹׁדֵ֖ד מַצֵּבוֹתָֽם:

Seems to have another meaning altogether, to break or destroy.  Probably from the verb ערפ to slaughter an animal from the back of the neck (HALOT, s.v ערף II)

The word עריף appears in Isaiah as a noun meaning cloud:

ישעיהו ה:ל
וְיִנְהֹ֥ם עָלָ֛יו בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא כְּנַהֲמַת־יָ֑ם וְנִבַּ֤ט לָאָ֙רֶץ֙ וְהִנֵּה־חֹ֔שֶׁךְ צַ֣ר וָא֔וֹר חָשַׁ֖ךְ בַּעֲרִיפֶֽיהָ:

 Finally, Cohen points out that the verb also appears (together with ענן and טל) in Ben Sira 43:22:

[מרפא כל מערף ענן טל פורע לדשן שרב [רטב

Cohen concludes that the basic meaning of ערפל is “darkness”, and that the sense of “fog” develops from that.  He writes:

“There are two distinct primary verbal roots involved: *grb/p ‘to be dusky, dark’ and `rb/p ‘to enter’; one primary noun *`erp/betu ‘cloud’ and its denominative verb *`rp/b ‘to drip’, which appears also in metathesis as *r`p.”

Thanks to Wendy Amsellem for starting this discussion as we discussed the phrase: המעריף מטובו עלינו in the short form of Birkat ha-Mazon found in the כל בו.  This short Birkat ha-Mazon probably deserves a post of its own, for which I would have to start a Piyyut blog.