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When we talk about "redeeming" a first-born son or a captive, we use "pidyon" (root פדה). When we talk about what God does for us we use "goel" (גאל). My dictionary translates both of these roots as "redeem" with no further differences. Are they synonyms (with customary usages) or is there some deeper difference between them?

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Re "When we talk about what God does for us we use "goel" (גאל)": Note that we also refer to Him as פדהing (as in Jer. 31:10). –  msh210 Nov 7 '11 at 21:48

3 Answers 3

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Malbim (to Ps. 69:19) draws the following distinction:

גאל means to redeem someone or something because of your relationship. (The cases in Lev. 25 where a person has to sell his property, or even himself into slavery, and is "redeemed" by himself or a close relative, are all described with this root.)

פדה means to redeem someone or something because of its intrinsic value.

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Malbim is a good source for distinguishing apparent synonyms generally. –  msh210 Nov 7 '11 at 21:52
@msh210, thanks for the tip. –  Monica Cellio Nov 7 '11 at 23:56
There's also a three-volume work called Beur Shemos Hanirdafim ("Explanation of Synonymous Terms"), by Rabbi S.A. Wertheimer (available on Hebrewbooks: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). I haven't found anything about גאל vs. פדה there, though. –  Alex Nov 8 '11 at 2:34

Just a thought. Generally when you "pode" (the action of pidyon) it includes a transaction e.g.money. Like in pidyon shevuim (captives) or the first born. Goel seems not to require such a transaction and is a one sided act.

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Interesting. What led me to this question was Avram's rescue of Lot, which seems like a case of pidyon shivuim, but that was not a transaction. So I wonder if it's incorrect to characterize that event that way? –  Monica Cellio Nov 8 '11 at 4:10
I think that what he did is more a rescue. We don't find any evidence that there was any negotiations on the matter which is part of the Pidyon. BTW even on the Pidyon of the first born the Cohen asks the father if he is sure he wants the son. Now I realize that this may be a kind of "negotiation". –  rony Nov 8 '11 at 5:04
I don't know if this is accurate. We have גאלה תהיה לארץ referring to buying back the land, and פלוני is called the גואל for buying back Elimelech's land. –  Double AA Aug 20 at 14:50

Pidyon is when we redeem something we are doing a Pidyon, such as a Pidyon HaBen. Goel is when we are being redeemed then it is Goel Yisroel.

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But why two words, rather than just applying the appropriate binyanim to the same root? –  Monica Cellio Nov 7 '11 at 19:24
The answer here seems to be making a distinction between doing an act and an act happening to someone. –  avi Nov 8 '11 at 15:42
Goel Yisrael means God redeems Israel, not that Israel is being redeemed. –  Double AA Apr 17 '13 at 6:28

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