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On a biblical level, what is the difference (if any) between נחלה and מורשה?

We find both שרשים being used in various forms, for example:

(Deut. 32:8-9) בהנחל עליון גוים...יעקב חבל נחלתו.

(Deut. 33:4) תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהלת יעקב.

(Deut. 11:8) וירשתם את הארץ אשר אתם עברים שמה לרשתה.

And sometimes both words appear in the same פסוק:

(Numbers 36:8) וכל בת ירשת נחלה.

Are the two words interchangeable, or do they have different meanings?

  • I suggest that you create a separate question asking about the difference between yerusha and nachala. One reason is that the body of your text doesn't match the question title. The second is (granted that I have a bias in that I provided a "partial" answer) that I think morasha is a special case that is different from yerusha even though it shares the same shoresh (root). – DanF Jul 10 '17 at 19:10
  • I was assuming that morasha is simply the noun form of the root yarash, but perhaps it has more of a special meaning like you suggest. I am not sure if the form yerusha is biblical. Do you know if it is? – browngreen Jul 10 '17 at 21:26
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I actually mentioned several answers to this question in an essay I wrote last year. This is just a synopsis of what I wrote, for my specific examples, I refer you to that essay.

  1. Malbim offers two ways of differentiating between the terms. First, he argues that the word yerusha is related to the word reshut (“domain” or “charge”) and simply denotes the transfer of property from one party’s domain to another’s. Nachala, on the other hand, refers specifically to the transfer of property in the transgenerational continuum of parent to child.
  2. Malbim also explains that yerusha focuses on the inheritance as a legal transfer of property whether or not it was sanctioned by the inheritee, while nachala refers specifically to when the inheritor willingly bequeaths his belongings to his inheritee.
  3. Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto (1800-1865), known as Shadal, posits a fundamental difference between the Hebrew words nachala and yerusha. He proposes that the word nachala denotes one who receives his inheritance as part of a greater undertaking of divvying up a specific estate. One who receives a nachala does so alongside others who also receive their portion. Shadal even contends that the word nachala is related to the word chelek (“portion”), as both words contain the CHET-LAMMED combination.
  4. Others explain that nachala refers specifically to the passage of inheritance from father to son, while yerusha denotes any form of inheritance between relatives, even if not to one’s direct descendants.
  5. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), in an almost-prophetic synopsis of current events, identifies the difference between yerusha and nachala as reflective of two opposing ways in which the younger generation may relate to the older generation. In one model, the younger generation views itself as primary, rejects its connection to the past, and takes for itself everything the elders had built up. In such a case, the inheritance of the younger generation may aptly be called a yerusha. In the second model, the younger generation views itself as the continuation of previous generations. Inheritance under this more conservative paradigm is called nachala because, like a river (nachal), it flows seamlessly and naturally. In this, preferred model, there is no disconnection or repudiation, as both the older and younger generations are of one continuum, and the young appreciate the old.

SOURCE: What's in a Word?, "A Heritage of Inheritance" by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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Partial answer:

I love this question, because I have used it in a few of my Rosh Hashanna or Yizkor sermons in the past.

I am quite certain that Art Scroll (Stone) Chumash explains this difference in the 2nd verse that you cited. I don't have access to the source before me now, so, I am summarizing from what I recall. I'll try to edit in later when I can locate this source.

He explains that נחלה means "inheritance" and it comes from the root form נחל meaning a stream. When someone receives an inheritance, it is a gift that flows from one generation to the next, but as with any flow, it eventually stops at some point. For example, when one receives money as part of the inherited estate, one may use it as he wishes for himself. Once the money has been used, it's not around to pass to the next generation.

I have to research the other usages. The last verse that you cited which has both is curious.

By contrast, מורשה means "heritage". Rash"i and Ramba"n (among others) explain that a מורשה is an item that becomes a continuous endless "gift" that is required to be passed to all future generations until the end of time. This is why the Torah is called מורשה .

Rabbi Riskin gives the same explanation of these two words but expands on the idea by claiming that an inheritance is given over easily. a heritage is given via much intensive work. he also emphasizes that together with the Torah, as mentioned in the verse that you cited, the land of Israel is also called a Morasha (Shemot 6:9.) These are the only two items that the Torah calls a morasha.

  • Thank you, I appreciate your response. I am still trying to figure out how this fits with all of the usages, like as you mentioned the verse that uses both. And does this imply that when it says that the Jews are Hashem's nachalah, this is something that will end? The same question could be asked about the idea that Hashem is the nachalah of Shevet Levi (Num. 18:20, Deut. 10:9). – browngreen Jul 10 '17 at 18:16
  • @browngreen I may have "exaggerated" the concept of "nachala" having an end. If you think about a stream, its flow ends unless there is replenishment at its source. Perhaps, the idea is that a nachala needs to be "replenished", in some way. Again, I have to research the concepts regarding the other words. What I gave you is definitely applicable to morasha. It may not apply to yerusha which might be synonymous with nachala. – DanF Jul 10 '17 at 18:27
  • Thank you for the insights and sources! Any further research would be greatly appreciated. – browngreen Jul 10 '17 at 21:20
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Morasha is not an inheritance which the inheritor can dispose of if he wishes. It is more of an heirloom which he must hand over to future generations intact. The inheritor is not the owner but merely a trustee. The Torah and Eretz Yisroel are the only two examples.

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    Welcome! Do you have a source for this fascinating answer? – Danny Schoemann Feb 5 '18 at 13:53
  • Thank you for your response! It is true that the word morasha in that form only appears in the Torah two times, although the shoresh of yarash appears several other times. Are you suggesting that the form morasha takes on a different meaning than other forms of the root yarash (as @DanF has suggested in a comment)? Or would you extend this definition to any time the shoresh of yarash is used? – browngreen Feb 6 '18 at 16:07

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