When the Torah talks about the שמים, does it means the spiritual world or the sky? The most relatable example for my question would be the first Pasuk of the Torah, right at the beginning of Bereshit:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

From my understanding, this could mean that G-d created the spiritual and the material worlds. Or it could also mean that he created (or divided) the sky and the Earth.

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    depending on context it would mean either the physical sky or referring to a spiritual שמים – Dude Dec 14 '15 at 2:12
  • @Danno And what would the meaning be in my example? – Gabriel12 Dec 14 '15 at 2:27
  • @Gabe12 both was my gut reaction. Yoni's answer seems to bear that out. – rosends Dec 14 '15 at 3:12
  • @Dude do you have examples in scripture where it means the latter? – mevaqesh Aug 10 '16 at 2:54
  • @mevaqesh b'reshis – Dude Aug 11 '16 at 13:31

See ספר אמת ליעקב by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky on the first pasuk in the Torah where he writes that Rambam understands שמים to refer to the physical world above earth i.e. the sky, while the Ramban and the Kabbalists understands it as referring to the spiritual world.

In his discussion he quite surprisingly continues to state that the Rambam's approach has been shown to be incorrect based on related texts of Rambam which he finds inconsistent with the lunar landing. The footnotes are particularly informative.

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In terms of etymology: "Sham" = there, and the pair suffix "-ayim" is often used for concepts, the way chayim means life. So "shamayim" would mean "thereness", and would refer to any place we cannot reach. Not a name of a particular place or domain of existence.

Notably the antonym is "aretz", a noun built from the verb "ratz" -- to run, or to cross a distance, by adding a prefix alef. Similar to the way an even is that which we use for banah, or okhel is that which we consume (kalah). (This second part is R' SR Hirsch's idea, not mine.)

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  • I would agree,it would seem to me that the World is created as a picture of the spiritual world,a place we cannot reach. – Aigle Jan 29 '16 at 0:28

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