What is the difference between the Hebrew words 'adam', 'ish' and 'enosh'? In Genesis, the word adam is used until the woman is brought to him and then he calls her 'Ishah' and refers to himself as 'Ish'. In Psalm 49;2 it refers to the sons of Adam and the sons of Ish. Who would then be the sons of Ish? Why this distinction? And in Genesis 18;16 the angels that visited Abraham are referred to as enosh in this verse.


1 Answer 1


The Torah generally uses 4 names for mankind, and Adam is the highest. There are 3 others that are gradually lower in stature (and therefore less of a compliment!):

  • Ish
  • Gever
  • Enosh

The Alter Rebbe explains that Adam is the highest (it is based on the fact that it is similar to the hebrew word "adame" which means "similar to [God]" and sometimes represents mankind in relation to his or her intellect), whereas Ish is lower (and conotes the emotions). Still, these two terms are lofty terms referring to mankind as a lofty entity in or even the pinnacle of creation.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn explains that gever means a man who is accomplishing his tasks, a man of strength and mastery, but not in a spiritual sense, so this term is not a very lofty one. An enosh literally just means "mortal", someone whose biggest compliment is that they are alive... otherwise they are not contributing very much.

He also explains that Adam is indeed the pinncale of creation, in that he can relate to God better than angels, even the most lofty of angels, who - in their raw abstract intellects - are unable to conceive of a dwelling place for Hashem in a time bound, space bound, physical reality. Only Adam is able to conceive of this and make it happen.

The Zohar (III, 48a) explains that Adam represents the complete human being, male and female (so it can be used to describe man before Hashem split them, or a married couple who have achieved true intimacy). Once they are split apart, they are referred to as Ish and Isha.

I will see if I can find an answer as to why the angels are called enosh. That (and the rest) is a great question! Maybe it's because they were being described how they were meant to look - like vagabonds.

  • Ish and Isha are referring to husband and wife specifically. The delineations you bring from the Alter Rebbe are related to variations in the human species…and Shavuah tov my friend! Sep 25, 2023 at 23:57
  • @YaacovDeane shana tova! Yes, I read your answer where you brought these details in full, feel free to link it. It is definitely interesting, if a tad controversial :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 26, 2023 at 12:46
  • I hope you’re proceeding toward a wonderful Shabbat and first days of the Chag. I was reflecting on your comment above that you felt what I was explaining was “controversial”. Assuming that you daven from the Alter Rebbe’s nusach, do you also think his nusach of אלו דברים שאין להם שעור כו׳ at the close of morning blessings is also “controversial”? (Specifically his addition to the text of Shabbat 127a) Most people read שבין אדם לחברו ובין איש ואשתו as a single category. But it actually means בין אדם לחברו and בין אדם למקום. That יהוה איש מלחמה (Shemot 15:3) and Israel is His wife. Sep 29, 2023 at 16:00
  • @YaacovDeane I don't daven that nusach (I daven sefardi), but you are making me wish I did, that's stunning, thanks for sharing and enhancing my Yom Tov :) I don't know if that is controversial, just the idea that there were variations in human species doesn't seem to be widely accepted, in my experience. Chag samayach my friend
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 29, 2023 at 16:07
  • 1
    You might want to source the section from HaYom Yom that actually discusses all this. Sep 29, 2023 at 18:00

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