“Mercy” in Hebrew Thought

Mercy” in Hebrew Thought by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

Hebrew רחמים (pronounced rakhamim) is usually translated as “mercy.” However, it is actually plural in form, like many common Hebrew words including “face” (פנים, panim), “water” (מים, mayim), and even God (אלהים, elohim). What is very interesting is that the singular form רחם (rakham) looks identical to the word for “womb” (רחם, rekhem), which is in fact closely related.

Hebrew is a very physical language, and concepts that may seem unconnected to us often share the same root. What is the deep connection here? In ancient times in particular, if a woman was able to get pregnant and give birth it meant that God had bestowed mercy on her and opened her womb (Luke 1:57-58). This is one obvious connection between rekhem (“womb”) and rakhamim (“mercy”).

Another connection may be understood from the “compassion” typically felt by a mother for her own offspring, the “fruit of her womb” (Isaiah 49:15).