In many places in the TaNaKh, I see the distinctive use of similar words, like:

  • תורה - "law"
  • חקי - "statutes"
  • מצות - "commandments"
  • פקדי - "precepts"
  • עדות - "testimonies"
  • משפטים - "judgments"
  • דבר - "word"

These are prominent in Psalm 119, but are used as early as Genesis 18:19 and 26:6. Also, some of these words are used in the same sentence, implying different meanings. For example, Deut. 30:16 says:אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחָיִיתָ וְרָבִיתָ וּבֵרַכְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:

I have been trying to learn the distinctions of meaning by paying attention to instances of them in the text, but this is slow and uncertain. My question is two parts:

  1. Each of these words imply a requirement of G-d, but how are they distinguishable in meaning?

  2. What resources are helpful to understand how these and other words are understood in Tanach?

  • 2
    I don't understand the question. What do you want to know about these words? Why these words? What do you want to know about other words? What is the concordance teaching you?
    – Seth J
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 4:27
  • 1
    @SethJ what's the difference between them? Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 7:13

1 Answer 1


R. S.R. Hirsch in Nineteen Letters, 10 divides all of the commandments into six broad categories, five of which overlap with the ones you listed here:

  1. תורות

    Instructions or doctrines. The historically revealed ideas concerning God, the world, the mission of humanity and of Israel, not as mere doctrines of faith or science, but as principles to be acknowledged by mind and heart, and realized in life.

  2. משפטים

    Judgments. Statements of justice towards creatures similar and equal to yourself, by reason of this resemblance and equality, that is, of justice towards human beings.

  3. חקים

    Arbitrary statutes. Statements of justice towards subordinate creatures by reason of the obedience due to God; that is, justice towards the earth, plants, and animals, or, if they have become assimilated with your personality towards your own body and soul.

  4. מצוות

    Commandments. Precepts of love towards all beings without distinction, purely because of the bidding of God and in consideration of our duty as men and Israelites.

  5. עדות

    Symbolic observances. Monuments or testimonies to truths essential to the concept of the mission of man and of Israel. These testimonies are symbolic words or actions which bear a lesson for the individual Jew, collective Israel, or mankind in general.

  6. עבודה

    Service or worship. Exaltation and sanctification of the inner powers by word-or-deed symbols to the end that our conception of our task be rendered clearer, and we be better fitted to fulfill our mission on earth.

His discussion of the commandments in Horeb is also split in to these categories.

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