Two « Sons » : Bar and Ben

« Michel d’Anastasio. Calligraphie hébraïque »

There are two words in Hebrew for the idea of filiation : ben בן and bar בר.

These two words mean « son », but with very different shades of nuances, due to their respective roots. Their etymologies open surprising perspectives…

The word ben comes from the verb banah בָּנָה, « to build, to construct, to found, to form », which connotes the idea of a progressive emergence, an edification, a construction, necessarily taking a certain amount of time.

The word bar comes from the verb bara‘ בָּרַא, « to create, to draw from nothing, to give birth » and in a second sense « to choose ». The idea of filiation is here associated with a timeless or instantaneous creation, that may be congruent with a divine origin. Thus the verb bara’ is used in the first verse of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim . « In the beginning created God… ».

In a figurative sense, bar also means « chosen, preferred », connotating choice, election or dilection.

What does the difference between ben and bar teach us?

There is a first level of reading: with bar, the idea of filiation begins with a ‘creation’, appearing from nothingness (bara’), but with ben, it rather implies a long work of ‘construction’, and ‘foundation’ (banah).

On the one hand, bar evokes the atemporality (or timelessness) of a transcendence (coming from nothingness), and by opposition, ben implies the necessary temporality of immanence.

In the biblical text, these words, (banah and bara’, ben and bar) so common, so familiar, are like two opposite doors, opening on very different paths.

Doors, or rather trapdoors, under which profound abysses are revealed.

Let’s start with creation. Berechit bara’.

The word bar has its own depth, its subtle ambiguities. Its primary meaning is ‘son‘, but it may mean son of man, son of Elohim, or son of the Gods.

« What! My son! What! Son of my guts! « (Prov. 31:2)

The Book of Daniel uses the expression בַר-אֱלָהִין , bar-elohim, literally « son of the Gods » (Dan 3:25). In this case, bar-elohim refers to an « angel ».

But bar seems to be able to also mean « Son of God ».The psalmist exclaims, « Worship the Lord with fear » (Ps 2:11), and immediately afterwards David cries out, « Nachku bar », « Kiss the Son » (Ps 2:12).

Who is this ‘Son’ (bar) to be kissed or embraced ? He indeed has a special status, since he is refered to by David, just after the name YHVH, and in the same elan of praise.

According to some, this ‘Son’ is to be understood as ‘the king’, and according to others, it refers to ‘purity’.

Why the ‘king’? Why ‘purity’?

Because bar comes from the verb bara’, one of whose original meanings is « to choose ». Bar also means ‘chosen, elected, preferred’.

In Psalm 2, the word bar may well mean the ‘Chosen One’, the ‘Anointed’ (mashiah, or ‘messiah’) of the Lord.

By derivation, bar also means ‘pure, serene, spotless’, as in bar-levav, ‘pure in heart’ (Ps. 24:4) or ‘the commandments of YHVH are pure (bara)’ (Ps. 19:9).

So, what does ‘nachqou bar’ really mean ? « Kiss the Son », « kiss the king », « kiss the Chosen One », « kiss the Anointed One », « kiss the Messiah », or even « embrace purity »?

Who will tell?

Let us note here that Christians could interpret this particular bar (in Ps 2:12) as a prefiguration of Christ (the name ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek christos which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiah, ‘anointed’).

As for ben, like I said, this noun derives from the verb banah, that we find used in various ways (to build, to form, to found):

« I built this house for you to live in. « (1 Kings 8:13)

« The Lord God formed a woman from the rib. « (Gen 2:22)

« By building your high places » (Ez 16:31).

« He founded Nineveh » (Gn 10:11).

Solomon played with the word and its ambivalence (to build/ a son), as he made his speech for the inauguration of the Temple. He recalled that it was indeed David’s idea to build (banah) a temple in honor of God, but that the Lord had said to him, « Yet it is not you who will build (tibneh) this temple, it is your son (bin or ben), he who is to be born of you, who will build (ibneh) this temple in my honor. « (1 Kings 8:19)

Solomon was to be the son (ben) who would build (ibneh) the Temple.

Noah also built an altar (Gen 8:20). Here too, one can detect a play on words with even deeper implications than those associated with the construction of the Temple.

« What does ‘Noah built’ mean? In truth Noah is the righteous man. He ‘built an altar’, that’s the Shekhina. His edification (binyam) is a son (ben), who is the Central Column. » i

The interpretation is not obvious, but if one believes a good specialist, one can understand this:

« The Righteous One ‘builds’ the Shekhina because He connects it to the Central Column of the divine pleroma, the Sefira Tiferet, called ‘son’. This masculine sefira is the way by which the Shekhina receives the ontic influx that constitutes her being. »ii

The Shekhina represents the divine « presence ». It is the ‘feminine’ dimension of the divine pleroma. And even, according to some daring interpretations proposed by the Kabbalah, the Shekhina is the « spouse » of God, as we have seen in a previous article.

The Kabbalah uses the image of the union of the masculine (the Central Column) and feminine (the Abode) to signify the role of the Just in the ‘construction’ of the Divine Presence (the Shekhina).

« The Righteous One is the equivalent of the sefira Yessod (the Foundation) represented by the male sexual organ. Acting as the ‘righteous’, the man assumes a function in sympathy with this divine emanation, which connects the male and female dimensions of the Sefirot, allowing him to ‘build’ the Shekhina identified at the altar. » iii

Ben. Son. Construction. Column. Male organ.

And from there, the possible theurgic action of the righteous man, ‘edifying’ the Shekhina.

We see that bar and ben offer two paths linking the divine and the human. One path (bar) is a descending one, that of choice, of election, of the Anointed One, of the Messiah.

The other path (ben) rises like a column in the temple, like a work of righteousness, erected upright, toward the Shekhina.


iZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot, Jerusalem, 1978, fol. 117C cited by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 593