I believe the root of עֶצֶם/bone, and of עַצמוּת/essence, is the same.

Is there any discussion about metaphorical connections between bones and essence?

  • sefaria.org/…
    – rosends
    Jan 25, 2023 at 18:13
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    Etzem means middle. Like in Shemos 12:17 (this week's sefra, as I write this), "כִּ֗י בְּעֶ֙צֶם֙ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶת־צִבְאוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם -- for in the middle of this day. Bones are in the middle of the limb, and we think of an essence as a thing's core. I think it's straight etymology. Derashos aren't necessary, unless the conclusion is worth the effort. Jan 26, 2023 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


The Shelah (Torah Shebikhtav, Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Torah Ohr 66) connects this idea, of עֶצֶם and עַצמוּת sharing a root, to the report of the Torah that when the Jews left Mitzrayim, Moshe Rabbeinu took the bones of Yosef HaTzadik. But why?

The Shelah explains:

The Torah's report then has a dual meaning, i.e. Moses took Joseph's essence with the Jewish people when they left Egypt. Having acquired Joseph's essence, Moses was later able to give the Jewish people the Torah. To come back to the roots.

In Yechezkel 37:7 it says:

and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

Refer to Rashi there:

"bone to its bone": the bones of each person, no matter in what place they had been scattered, were leaping up and joining together each one near to the place where it is joined to its matching bone.

The bones in our body are preventing us from falling and collapsing to the ground. Besides that, one of the other main functions of the skeletal system is to support other organs

The ArtScroll version quotes both Abarbanel en Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer in saying that the bones refer to the nation, who lost hope to ever come back to life. This were the unconnected bones the prophet Yechezkel speaks about. However, "the bones came together", reads the posuk. Meaning: the nation will be connected with each other, through the fact that the people will recognise their essence. This is what happened to the people when they left Mitzrayim.

See also: Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach, can be found in the Gutnick Chumash.

Similary, the Rebbe of Piaseczna, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira brings in his Chovas HaTalmidim (chapter 13:4) two different approaches to what the relationship between essence and bones is and sums up with:

According to his essence and character, so is the essence and character of the procedure

The same approach is understood by Rav Kook in Shemonah Kevatzim:

But if [these] states of awareness would [initially have] come naked, exposed, in their being as they are, then there would have been no place for an awakening of the inner life of [a person’s] spirit. [These] states of awareness would appear in the images of [his] spirit just as the external states of awareness of the senses appear in any person who enters a world that is entirely foreign to him. They indeed make an impression on the network of the nerves of [his] sense of sight, they make their marks on [his] “plaque of life,” but they do not deepen their being in this person, they do not root themselves in [his] soul to bring forth branch and fruit and to be transformed to the essence of his inner bones [and] cause his character to grow.

Both the Rebbe of Piaseczna and Rav Kook seem to understand the connection between bones and essence to mean that if one would like to adjust his life, adjust and to improve his middos, there must be followed a specific procedure (see Rebbe of Piaseczna).

Besides that, there is a tradition that the human body has a specific bone, called לוז - Luz bone, where our soul resides. This bone is, according to this explanation, literally our essence.

We have a tradition that there is a bone in the human body called the luz. This bone did not benefit when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge; therefore, even though death was decreed upon mankind as a result of the sin, this bone does not rot. At the time of the resurrection of the dead, each individual’s revival will begin from the luz. This bone, we are told, is nourished only by melaveh malka (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 300:1-2; Vayikra Rabba 18:1).

  • I think saying the soul resides in the luz is a conclusion not necessary from the evidence. Usually it's ascribed to organs -- kidneys, heart (or heart and lungs), brain... depending on which aspect of soul we are talking about. The luz, btw, is either the top vertebra where the brain turns into the spinal cort, or the last one -- either the coccyx or the last to have spinal cord in it. Either way, emblematic of soul meeting body. And thus the city of Luz is renamed Beis-El. Jan 26, 2023 at 14:17

So Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman in his footnotes on the Maharal, records the times in which the Maharal makes note of this connection.

Rabbi Hartman writes:

מבאר לשון "עצם מעצמי" לא רק מלשון עצמות של גוף האדם, אלא מלשון עצם ועיקר, שהעצמות נקראו "עצמות" משום שהם עצם ועיקר האדם. ובדרשת שבת הגדול [קצז:] כתב: "'ועצם לא תשברו בו' [שמות יב, מו], שלא יהיה נחלק בעצמו, כי העצם הוא בנין בעל חי, ולא היה נחלק עיקר בנין בעל חי, שהם עצמות שעליהם נסמך הבעל חי". ובנצח ישראל פ"ה [קט:] כתב: "היינו דכתיב [משלי טו, ל] 'שמועה טובה תדשן עצם', רצה לומר עצמו של אדם". וראה למעלה פ"ח הערה 200.

(163) We can explain the expression "the bone of my bones" as not only an expression of bones of the body of a man, but an expression of the main essence; that the bones were called "bones" because they are the essence and fundamental element of man. And in the Shabbos HaGadol sermon (197) he wrote, "And you shall not break of bone of it" (Shemos 12:46) - so that it should not be split/divided from itself since the bone is the structure (lit. building) of an animal, and the main structure of the animal should not be broken up, as the bones are what the animal relies on. And in Netzach Yisroel, chapter 5, he similarly wrote (in Mishlei 15:30) "Good news puts fat on the bones", which means to say that it is the essence of a person.

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