Friday, December 22, 2023

The Hebrew word פעם (paʿam, pronounced pa-AHM), has several meanings that all revolve around the concept of an interval of time, or a specific or repeated instance. It can mean "a step, pace," as in Isaiah 26:6: "The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps (פעמי) of the needy." The idea here is that a "step" is a repeated instance of the foot being placed on the ground while walking. In fact, פעם (paʿam) is also a synonym for "feet," be they human feet, as in Song of Songs 7:1: "How graceful are your feet (פעמיך) in sandals," or the "feet" of a piece of furniture like the Ark in Exodus 37:3: "He cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet (פעמתיו)." It is even used in Isaiah 41:7 as a word for "anvil" with reference to that which a smith's hammer strikes: "The one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil (פעם)." However, the word פעם (paʿam) is most typically used to mean "time" or "instance," as in Exodus 8:32: "But Pharaoh hardened his heart in this instanceפעם) also, and would not let the people go." The word is also used to convey the idea of "one time," as in Joshua 6:3: "You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once (פעם אחת literally: "one time").

In modern Hebrew, there is actually a fun expression that is used when two people see each other a second time in passing. While in English speaking countries we may say, "So we meet again," the common expression in Hebrew is פעם שׁלישׁית גלידה (paʿam shlishit glida)—"third time ice cream"! The idea is that if the two see each other a third time, ice cream is in order.