When G-d blesses Abraham, he says in Breishit (Gen.) 13:14

וַיהוָה אָמַר אֶל-אַבְרָם, אַחֲרֵי הִפָּרֶד-לוֹט מֵעִמּוֹ, שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה שָׁם--צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה, וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה.

(English from Mechonmamre.org):

And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him: 'Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward;

But, when he blesses Jacob, G-d says in Breishit (Gen.) 28:14:

וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ, וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה, וּבְזַרְעֶךָ.

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Why is there a change in the order of the compass directions in these two verses?

  • I almost wonder if JAcob's which mentions "abroad" is a hint at exiles. Maybe West is Egypt, East is Babylon, North is Assyria but South would not be Rome so maybe it is just the final exile where the descendents spread everywhere including places in the Southern Hemisphere... But then Assyria is a few generations before Babylon so perhaps not.
    – CashCow
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 10:55
  • Also whether Abra(ha)m's includes descents of Ishmael, Keturah and Eisav too.
    – CashCow
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 10:56
  • Perahaps they were not at the same place and and not oriented equally, the hour of the day was not the same. on morning a man look at west, on afternoon at est because he cannot look in direction of the sun. At night north and sud are more significants.
    – kouty
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 12:37
  • The south could be edom which is like rone Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 12:52
  • South being Edom makes sense but we still have the problem of East (Babylon/Persia) before North (Assyria)
    – CashCow
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 15:54

1 Answer 1



The Baal HaTurim asks your question (Gen. 13:14). He explains that Abraham was told the directions starting with the north in order to acknowledge the merit of Abraham's korbanos, which are to be slaughtered in the north (of the Temple courtyard?). Yaakov was told about the west first, in order to let him know that in his merit the sea would split for his descendants. A remez is brought to prove this. The verse says "And Israel saw the mighty hand..." by the splitting of the sea etc. The Baal HaTurim explain the word Israel to refer to Yaakov himself. Later, by Gen. 28:14, The Baal HaTurim continues this explanation by showing that the gematria of "U'faratzta yama" is the same as "krias yam".


The Kli Yakar on Gen. 28:14, explains that it is Yaakov's sequence which is out of order. This is done to provide a remez to reassure Yaakov about the future tribulations of Klal Yisroel. West is the setting sun. This shows that the Jewish people may endure a crushing lowering of status. However, this will bring them to fully trust in Hashem, only; through humility. This will lead to their salvation which will turn the situation East; which is the strength of the new sun dawning. So, even if the Jews will be enduring darkness and a reduced state (represented by the North), they will eventually dwell in great heights. (Dar - Rom) The word South is seen here as a combination of two words "dwell - high". The descendants of Yaakov will eventually be elevated throughout the world. See there at length.


I have been inspired to receive my own vort for you. I hope you like it.

In Gen. 13:14, the exact order of the compass directions, seem to be given to Abraham midah k'neged midah. This measure for measure choice of wording would have the effect of providing approval for Abraham after he just passed another test by sending Lot away.

When Lot was told to please choose a direction, the Torah tells us that he "lifted up his eyes" and saw Soddom. Now if a man lifts up his eyes and sees a place, it must mean that he was facing it to begin with. Therefore, Abraham and Lot were standing facing Soddom (East). Abraham then offered Lot use of a portion of the land he himself was promised, for the sake of peace. First he offered the "Left" and then the "Right" as an alternative. So, he first offers Lot the North, then South. Lot however picks East. Abraham accepts giving up the East. The West was not involved.

Therefore the Torah uses the specific wording that Abraham should also "lift up his eyes" (as Lot did) "from the place in which he was" (referring to that same vantage point where he offered the choice to Lot) and look North, then South, then East, then West (in the same order he offered pieces to Lot). He was then told all of the promised land would be his anyway. This was a heavenly acknowledgement that he had passed the test and handled Lot correctly.

Abraham's intent, was that Lot either pick the North or South of Eretz Yisrael. This is because the Land would keep Lot connected to Hashem because he would constantly need to pray for rain. However, Lot chose straight ahead, since Soddom was like a watered garden (like Egypt) which did not need rain. (see Devarim 11: 10-12)

Yaakov however was about to leave the Holy Land, and was worried about returning intact. Therefore, Hashem wanted to reassure him by starting off with the West. Yakov was heading to the land of the East. So, in order to return, he would need to go West. So too, in any future exile, (Yaakov was shown the 4 exiles at this point) his children were first promised to spread out West which would represent a return to the place of the Shechinah's dwelling, (the Temple in the land of Israel) which is always in the West.

Antoninus asked Rebbi: "Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?"

Rebbi: "If it were the opposite you would ask the same thing!"

Ant.: No, I mean why doesn't it just circle back to where it began. Why does it set?"

Rebbi: "In order to give "Shalom"(bow in obedience) to its Creator."

You see from here that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is in the west. (see Sanhedrin 91b with meforshim.)

Hope this helps. :)

  • Interesting sources. Your vort was "soul candy" :-)
    – DanF
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 15:09

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