How do we understand the connection between שחר (morning/light) and שחור (black) which seem to be opposites of the spectrum? (The definition should also be able to fit into 'shaver' as Rashi in Beitza (35b) writes השחור - תער על שם שמשחיר את השער אלמא לשון השפלה הוא)

4 Answers 4


I created a list containing most of the times Shachar, Shachor, and Shichor come up in Tanach with the respective mefarshim who explain the connection to the shoresh ש.ח.ר.

This is a post from the Hebrew etymology extraordinaire Balashon:

"Is shachor (shahor) שחור - "black" related to shachar (shahar) שחר - "dawn"? The best way to tell would be to see if there are common or divergent etymologies.

Klein, who tends to be more conservative in these questions, shows different derivations. Shachor, he writes, is related to Syrian שוחרא shuchra and Akkadian shuru, meaning "coal". On the other hand, shachar is related to Moabite שחרת, JAram שחרא, Arabic sahar, Akkadian sheru and shirtu - all meaning "dawn".

Steinberg also provides different etymologies. He writes that shachar is related to צחר, צהר and זהר - all meaning "to shine", whereas shachor is the Shaph'el form of חרה - "to burn". For an example, he writes that the Targum for Iyov 30:30 offers שחם for שחר - also Shaph'el of חם, "to be warm".

However, there are those that disagree, and find a connection. Almagor-Ramon writes that there is a phenomenon in Hebrew and other languages, where when there is a root that has words which approach the limit of that meaning, from that limit they have a tendency to switch meanings. For an example, she writes that at night, everything is black (shachor), and toward the end of the night, on the limit, when there is already more light than black, we still refer to that period as shachar - dawn. This concept is used in word games called "synonym chains" as described here.

This site quotes a couple of Rabbinic sources:

Immediately before the rise of the morning star, the night is at its darkest...(Midrash Shocher Tov) Shachar---"morning" or "dawn"---is related to shachor---"black"---because the moment immediately preceding the dawn is the blackest, darkest part of the night. (Vilna Gaon, Avnei Eliyahu)

It even goes so far as to suggest that the expression "It is always darkest before the dawn" has its origins in the connection between shachar and shachor. Curiously, even Klein gives three definitions to shachar: 1) dawn, 2) daybreak 3) the blackness preceding the dawn (emphasis mine).

One verb that everyone connects is שחר - "to seek, to search". Klein writes:

Probably derived from שחר ( = dawn), whence arose the meaning 'to rise early in the morning; to go out early in the morning and seek', whence 'to turn toward'.

Jastrow offers "to break through, dig, to search, seek" - and from here to the break of dawn.

Other derivatives of shachar are shacharit שחרית (the time of, and the name of the morning prayer) and shocher שוחר - a fan, a friend, as in שוחר שלום - "a lover of peace".

Shachar can also mean "meaning, sense, significance". This derives from Yeshayahu 8:20 - אֲשֶׁר אֵין-לוֹ שָׁחַר - which literally meant "with no dawn", for no light will be shone upon it. Today the expression often refers to rumors "that have no foundation".

Whether or not shachar and shachor are connected, there is one word that people derive from one or the other. In Kohelet 11:10, we find the pairing of הַיַּלְדוּת וְהַשַּׁחֲרוּת - childhood and youth (shacharut). Ibn Ezra connects shacharut to dawn, the beginning of a person's life. The Targum indicates that shacharut means youth due to the darkness of hair (יומי דאוכמות שער).

As we've done with the other colors, we should also ask: does shachor only mean black? Kaddari writes that there are times when shachor means the color black (VaYikra 13:31), and other times where it means "dark" (Shir HaShirim 1:5-6).

In Modern Hebrew slang, shachor can refer to the Haredim, the black market, and members of the Tank Corp in the army."

  • add this one? he.wikisource.org/wiki/… Rashi on Eccl. 10:10 "ויתרון הכשר חכמה" - ומעלת כשרון יש עוד לחכמה יותר מן הברזל אם תלמיד חכם משחיר פניו ברעב ואתה רואהו מסכן בין העשירים הרבה חיילים מתגברים על ידו ועל תתמה על וי"ו וחיילים כי הרבה ווין נופלים כן בלשון עברית כמו (תהלים ג) אם ראית גנב ותרץ עמו (שמות טו) עזי וזמרת יה ויהי לי לישועה והרבה מפורשים כזה "... if a talmid chakham "darkens his face (i.e. suffers? endures?) in hunger" and you see him pitiful among many rich... Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:34
  • And again in sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.100a.13?lang=bi דרש ר' יהודה ברבי סימון כל המשחיר פניו על דברי תורה בעולם הזה הקב"ה מבהיק זיויו לעולם הבא שנאמר (שיר השירים ה, טו) מראהו כלבנון בחור כארזים Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Simon, taught: For anyone who blackens his face while toiling over matters of Torah in this world, the Holy One, Blessed be He, shines his brightness in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: “His locks are curly black as a raven” (Song of Songs 5:11), ... Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:38
  • ...and thereafter it is written: “His countenance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars” (Song of Songs 5:15), followed by: “His palate is like sweets” (Song of Songs 5:16). One who engages in sweets, i.e., Torah study, in this world, until he is blackened, black as a raven, is privileged to shining brightness in the World-to-Come. Interesting we also see here an antiposition of Arov,-raven in Song 5:15 with Arev-sweet (ibid. 5:16) [cf. Erev-evening] Commented May 12, 2021 at 14:41
  • @NissimNanach What are these quotations trying to add?
    – N.T.
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 1:56

The earliest uses of שחר as "morning" (which is perhaps better known as בוקר) seem to be in the form of עלות השחר, the שחר has ascended. See Bereishis 19:15, 32:27. So, maybe עלות השחר means the darkness has ascended and been replaced by light.

Another possibility would be that morning is called שחר because it is like a young man with dark hair (see mishna avos 3:12)?

  • Definitely an interesting theory, thank you for sharing! According to this, why would we call it Birkas HaShachar? It should seem to be Birkas Alos HaShachar. Also, how does shaving a beard connect with darkness (when it's more the removal of darkness covering one's face)
    – NJM
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 17:08
  • Words can acquire new meanings with time. An example is the word תרומה, which is originally from the root רום. But once it took on a specific meaning, it started being treated as an independent root, and so in the mishna we see words such as תרם, where הרים would be more appropriate with the original grammar. Similarly, שחר could have become a shortcut for עלות השחר. As for the razor, I don't have any ideas.
    – Derdeer
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 22:47
  • Chizkuni says this: sefaria.org/…
    – user6781
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 4:24
  • Also: sefaria.org/…
    – user6781
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 5:01

Leshacher is "to discern"; you can start making out pictures and forms at dawn; and black ink is easily read.

  • Source that these are connected?
    – user6781
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 5:11

See אור התורה at length starting page 44 and on.

In short: It means both in different places (see the sources inside the Hebrew). Simple way to understand is שחר is darkness see here and here (also like you mentioned it mean blade because it darkens the hair). But according to chassidus it means both that through the ultimate darkness one reaches the light. (Similar to golus with which we reach geulah.) See there and the sicha below at length.

והנה שחר פי' ג"כ חושך וקדרות כמו עורי שחר מעלי איוב ל, ל שחורה אני ונאוה, וכן פי' במד"ת סי' כ"ב ע"פ למנצח על אילת השחר וז"ל אמר דוד למנצח למי שהוא קופץ כאיל ומאיר לעולם בשעת חשיכה כו' ואימתי הוא חושך מע"ה הלבנה והכוכבי' נכנסי' והמזלו' הולכי' להם, ואותה שעה אין חושך גדול מזה, והקב"ה באותה שעה מעלה את השחר מתוך החושך ומאיר לעולם עכ"ל, א"כ בשעת עלות השחר הוא חושך וקדרות, ואזי בוקע אור השחר. נמצא שחר כולל ב' לשונו' לשון שחרות וקדרות וחושך, ולשון זהרורי' והארת הבוקר. והענין כי יתרון האור נמשך דוקא מן החושך...(

הפסוק חושך שבטו שונא בנו ואוהבו שחרו מוסר במשלי ססי' י"ג ופירש"י לבקרים מייסרהו מפרש שחרו לשון בוקר ות"י מפרש מקדי' לי' כו' א"כ לפי הת"י י"ל ההקדמה קודם אור הבוקר בעלות השחר שאזי עדיין חושך כנ"ל בשם המד"ת בענין אילת השחר ולכן פי' הרבו' ר"פ שמות דאוהבו שחרו מוסר קאי על הגלות, דלפ"ז א"א לומ' דפי' לבקרים שהגלות נק' לילה א"ו היינו ששחרו המוסר קודם אור הבוקר וגם הוא שחרות וקדרות ע"ד אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת, חשך משחור תארם, ועי"ז דוקא יבא לבקוע אור בבחי' אז יבקע כשחר אורך

See https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/project-pls-e0f4f.appspot.com/o/NSXBSVYuhkfpTPobdMDP%2Fpdf%2F6ad2a9d0-7216-11eb-b7bb-4fb39a81a545?alt=media&token=9100ad46-c5ee-48c7-aa5a-ba166b1076eb towards the end where the rebbe learns a practical lesson we can take from this paradox.

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