What exactly are we supposed to subdue?

May 25th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet


“The first mission or command given to mankind is be fruitful, multiply, subdue and have dominion. Can you explain this in detail? I’ve heard that the word “subdue” specifically means to take rulership over something or someone hostile. 

Who or what is the word hostile referring to?  

∼ Scott C.


Dear Scott,

Because of the difficulty in translating accurately from the Hebrew we think that your English translation is actually combining the final two verbs to imply both subduing and having dominion.The word we think you are focused on in Genesis 1:28 is the Hebrew word whose root letters would be K-V-SH. We think a better translation would be ‘conquer’ though at first glance, this also seems to be a word one would use in a hostile manner. However, we can find a clue from modern Hebrew where that root is used for the word KViSH, meaning a road.

What’s the connection? A road is a means of leading you to where you want to be. Being K-V-SH something means to control it so that it can serve your purposes. In military terms, conquering is not the same as annihilating. It means redirecting the resources of the conquered for the victor’s benefit. Ancient Jewish wisdom praises one who is K-V-SH their urges—not eliminating them but rather harnessing them for the right goals. For example, sexual urges aren’t meant to be disparaged or crushed, but they are meant to be channeled in order to encourage marriage and, once married, to enhance marriage.

The world is full of powerful forces, such as rain, wind and fire. Man is meant to  conquer these forces and channel them in ways that make our lives safer, more productive and more joyous. This does not mean a hostile takeover of these forces, rather a respect for their place in our lives along with a recognition that God put them in the world so that people could collaborate together and use them to serve us.

Keep conquering,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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