We read in Gen. 13:14: “And the LORD said to Abram… ‘Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north (צָפֹנָה) and south (נֶגְבָּה), to the east (קֵדְמָה) and west (יָמָּה).’” The Hebrew words for the four directions where Abram was asked to direct his gaze are: “north” צָפֹנָה (pronounced as tsafonah), “south” נֶגְבָּה (negbah), “east” קֵדְמָה (kedmah) and “west” יָמָּה (yamah).
In English these words are technical navigational terms, but Hebrew is an extremely physical language and the origin of these words is tied to the environment.
The Hebrew phrase translated as “to the north” – צָפֹנָה (tsafonah) – is connected to Mt. Tsaphon in modern Syria (see Isa. 14:13), which lay to the north of Abram when God told him to look in all directions. The Hebrew term נֶגְבָּה (negbah), traditionally translated as “to the south,” literally means “to the Negev” – the name of a wilderness in the south of Canaan/Israel. The phrase יָמָּה (yamah), translated as “to the west” means “to the sea.” Similarly, קֵדְמָה (kedmah), translated as “to the east,” evokes an image of “going back to something from a time long ago”, namely to the Garden of Eden that God planted in the beginning of history (Gen. 2:8).
Someone put it very well: “To read the Bible always and only in translation is like listening to Bach, always and only played on the harmonica. You certainly get the tune, but you will miss pretty much everything else”. We invite take your first steps in learning how to read Hebrew.