The word chet is "sin" and is used as such (and in related ways -- sin offering, guilt from sinning, cause others to sin etc.) over 200 times according to my Even-Shoshan. It seems to be connected to a word meaning "miss" as it is used in Shoftim 20:16. But in some cases, the first one being in Vayikra 14:49, the root belongs to a word that means "to purify." The Targum there translates it into the same Aramaic root as it would a word based in t-h-r.

When a word like "k-d-sh" is used to mean something other than "holy" there are commentators who explain both the linguistic/etymological ("separateness") and the stylistic (as a euphemism) but I was unable to find anyone in a Mikra'ot Gedolot who comments on that pasuk in Vayikra to explain why a word which means sin suddenly means "make pure."

Is there any commentary who explains the word and its use in this way?

s a side note (edit) if the word is used to mean "purify" then the Gematria of 18 makes much more sense.

  • The word is also used as "lacking", see for example Melachim I 1:21. See here as well: aspaklaria.info/008_HET/…
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 23:57
  • @Menachem yes, but at least there, the meforshim try to explain the connection. That's what I am looking for.
    – rosends
    Commented Mar 24, 2014 at 0:00
  • 1
    This is one of my favorite reasons for my dream of becoming a Semitic Philologist when I grow up.
    – Seth J
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 20:54

2 Answers 2


Rav Hirsch to Bereishis 39:9 understands the word חטא to be related to the word חתה, which he says means to move something from it's place. He goes on to explain the concept of חטא with the more contextual meaning of חתה, which is to remove something from a fire, but the central concept of חטא would be to remove. This could explain the verse in Vayikra, as it is removing the impurity.

  • This is an ineresting angle to consider.
    – Seth J
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 20:55

The cases where it means purify are examples of "privative piel", where the form חִטֵּא implies that something (sin, guilt, etc.) is being removed, as opposed to the qal form חָטָא, which implies that something (sin, guilt, etc.) is being added (or incurred). Another example of this phenomenon is וַיְסַקְּלֵהוּ (he cleared it from stones) in Isaiah 5:2, or לִבַּבְתִּנִי (you have taken my heart) in Shir HaShirim 4:9.

See Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 146 for information, and footnotes there for other references.

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