Soil that Soul

The other day, I overheard Susan reading a much-beloved children’s book to a  young grandson. Over the years, between reading to our own children and now to the next generation, she has probably read this book and many others hundreds of times. With each reading, she gains pleasure from affirming a relationship with the child as well as seeing his or her reaction. But she isn’t getting deeper insights into well-loved Lapin family classics such as Henry’s Awful Mistake or But No Elephants. In these cases, repetition brings no deeper understanding.  

However, rereading any  portion of Scripture never fails to bring new additional understanding. Over the course of a year, we Jews read and study the Five Books of Moses, preferably reviewing each section more than once. Whether you are nine or ninety, new insights and understanding always await you. 

For this reason, preparing Scrolling through Scripture Unit 1 for you has been a particular delight. I’d like to share one previously hidden discovery that newly popped off the page for me. 

The Hebrew word A-R-TZ (or E-R-TZ) meaning earth appears in the first sentence of Genesis and reappears a number of times over the course of the six days of Creation. Yet, we see something different when we reach verse 25. 

Most English translations say:

God made wild beasts of the earth to its kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth to its kind…

However,  looking at the Hebrew reveals an inaccuracy. 

ויעש אלקים את־חית הארץ למינה ואת־הבהמה למינה ואת כל־רמש האדמה למינהו… 

Do you see that? Look at the bolded words. The English translation uses the same English word – earth – for two quite different Hebrew words. What makes this problem even more compelling is that the very next verse introduces us to man – Adam. Compare his name with the second word that is translated as earth. 

ויאמר אלקים נעשה אדם … 

And God said, “Let us make man

poorly translated as
←Hebrew reads right to left←Hebrew reads right to left

(*The final letter takes a different shape when at the end of a word but it is the same letter as the third letter in the left column.)  

What is going on? In the short space available to me here, let me share one of the ideas I present in Scrolling through Scripture on this confusing wording. To do so I am going to abandon the poor translation of earth for the Hebrew ADaMaH and replace it with soil. 

Both the word for ADaM (general mankind) and for soil share the same root as another word – the Hebrew word for the color red, ADoM. As westward expansion took place in America of the 1800s, one of the first things that pioneers evaluated was the quality of the soil. Was the soil of their new home fertile and full of promise or was it inhospitable? Red, loamy dirt was a happy discovery. 

God created mankind as fertile soil. Verse 25 reminds us that we have options. We may choose to be “on the ground” like creeping animals or we can choose to use that same ground to plant, cultivate and harvest immeasurable crops. Just as a patch of soil that looks barren can contain hidden seeds that will feed, clothe and shelter untold numbers, each of us can fertilize our seeds and be a blessing to innumerable others. Whether we crouch on our soil or grow from our soil is always our decision.


Are you ready to become more familiar
with the hidden depths of Hebrew?

or at least get to know the letters?

14 thoughts on “Soil that Soul”

  1. This Thought Tool is an interesting reminder of how soils can differ around the world. I live and own farmland in the heart of the Corn Belt of the Upper Midwest, and the most expensive farmland here has the very black soils that were built by the tallgrass prairie. Farmers here talk about “black dirt farms.” And the best farmers use good conservation methods, like cover crops, to improve the health of their soil and and prevent it from washing or blowing away.

  2. Choice is a great gift and a burden. My grandmother taught me that I had the ability to choose anything I wanted. At the same time, I must be willing to accept any and all consequences of my choice.
    Thank you, Rabbi and Susan Lapin for sharing wisdom.

  3. Thank you for printing your thoughts about soil. My difficulties in life I have seen as compost for my life, to enrich instead of harm. Like the castoffs in my kitchen going into my compost pile, my challenges in life God takes and brings fertile life instead of rot.
    I think He has a tumble composter of Hesed.

  4. Interesting! Does the “red” stew in Genesis 25, then, emphasize the physical/earthly nature of the prize Esau traded his birthright for?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Oh yes, Richard-
      Good catch–every mention of red in the Hebrew scriptures contains this secret subtext.

  5. I so enjoy learning from you! I used to be able to get your podcasts but haven’t been able to find them lately. I miss them. I value reading & have read to my children but the grandbabies live to far away & that makes me sad. I do send them reading material when I can.
    I’m glad you pointed out the mistake in the bible. I believe in the bible as far as it is translated correctly! Thanks for all that you and Susan (that is also my daughter’s name!) do! Lovingly, Joyce

    1. Joyce, just a note that it isn’t a mistake in the Bible. It is an inaccuracy in the translation. Those are inevitable and sometimes avoidable though often not. Although we have missed some weeks of podcasts, if you are on our mailing list (check your spam folder) you should get a notification when one is available. You can always access them through our website as well at

      1. Hi Susan,

        On the subject of podcasts, Rabbi Lapin’s two most recent podcasts are absolutely tremendous! RDL is on a roll! Marsha usually gets to listen to the podcast before I have a chance to and let’s me know that I’m in for a treat. Please tell him how much we’re enjoying the Ancient Jewish Wisdom. Many blessings to you both.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Thanks so much Peter–
          It really is so uplifting for me to know you and Marsha are listening. I am sorry that I missed posting a new one last week but a new one will go up in next few days.
          Good to hear from you

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