Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The hugely important root עבר ('abar) yields words that have to do with transition, usually in the sense of a traversing through (hence the ethnonym Hebrew, initially simply meaning nomad or passer-by; see Ezekiel 39:11). Another verb of transition is פסח (pasah), which has the connotation of skipping or passing over (hence the name Pesah or Passover). These two transitory verbs come together in Exodus 12:23, where YHWH passes through Egypt (עבר, 'abar) but passes over Israel (פסח, pasah).
Our two verbs may express a mere motion, but also suggest that whatever passes or is passed is affected by this passing. The verb עבר ('abar) almost exclusively describes a passing over of water or "fluidic" entities such as minds or peoples and the cultures they form. The Hebrew word for river, namely נהר (nahar), is closely related to the verb to shine or emit light; cultures commonly arose on the banks of great rivers and these rivers became as central to their culture's operating and survival as did their wisdom traditions.
Our verb עבר ('abar) may describe a passing over of a river (Genesis 31:21, Joshua 3:14), a political border or territory (Numbers 20:17, Judges 11:32, 1 Samuel 9:4) or a kind of terrain (Jeremiah 5:22). It may describe a river's overflowing (Isaiah 23:10), or the flowing of thoughts (Psalm 73:7) or the passing of time (Amos 8:5). Water may overwhelm a drowning person (Isaiah 54:9) like wine overwhelms a drunk (Jeremiah 23:9), or a spirit of jealousy overwhelms a husband (Numbers 5:14). One may overstep an edict (Numbers 14:41, Joshua 7:15) or overlook someone's faults (Proverbs 19:11, Micah 7:18).
Sometimes our verb is used in highly similar ways that mean precisely the opposite: Deuteronomy 17:2 speaks of 'crossing over' his covenant, which means transgressing it, whereas Deuteronomy 29:12 speaks of 'crossing over' into the covenant, which means engaging in it.
Causative forms of this verb may describe a causing to pass in the various contexts described above, but also a "passing to" or devoting to something (Deuteronomy 18:19, Jeremiah 32:35) or "passing from" or taking away something (2 Samuel 3:10, 1 Kings 15:12).
The first occurrence of this ubiquitous root עבר ('abar) is in Genesis 8:1, where God caused a wind to pass over the earth, which made the waters subside, and which revealed the land for Noah's family to people in imagery that is strongly reminiscent of the first three days of creation. Another highly significant occurrence of our root is in the enigmatic cadaver vision of Genesis 15:17, ". . . there appeared a smoking furnace and a flaming torch that passed between these parts". This vision shows God making the covenant with mankind of which Christ is the fulfilment.
The name of the website you are on right now is also derived of this verb: Abarim, which is the name of the mountain from which Moses viewed the Promised Land (Numbers 27:12).
Other derivations of the verb עבר ('abar) are:
- The very common masculine noun עבר ('eber), which denotes what or where you get when you do the verb: the "other side" (of a river or wadi you crossed; Genesis 50:10, Numbers 21:13, Judges 11:18), or the "region across" (from the land, rivers or sea you traversed or perhaps poetically reviewed; Deuteronomy 30:13, Joshua 22:11, Isaiah 18:1). Sometimes our word is used with the meaning of "side" when some motion "from side to side" is reviewed (1 Samuel 14:1, 1 Kings 5:4). Notably, in Exodus 32:15 we read how the Law was engraved on the tablets' "two sides," which has merited the ongoing discussion on whether the Law was written across the faces of the tablets (between both their sides, that is: without margins) or perhaps on both faces (front and back). Fundamentally important to the study of the origin of Yahwism is the Lord's review of Abraham's great journey: from "beyond the river" (עבר הנהר, eber ha'nahar; Joshua 24:2-3), which is commonly understood to denote the Euphrates, but which obviously also refers to the wisdom tradition of Babylon (the name Ur, where Abram originated, means light).
- The feminine noun עברה ('abara), meaning ford (2 Samuel 19:19). This noun is a rare synonym of מעבר (ma'abar; says BDB Theological Dictionary), see below.
- The feminine noun עברה ('ebra), which uses the root figuratively and means an overflowing of temper: wrath and rage. Sometimes this 'ebra stems in man (Amos 1:11 - he maintained his fury forever) and sometimes in God (Psalm 78:49 - he sent on them the heat of his anger, fury and indignation and trouble).
- The denominative verb עבר ('abar) meaning to be arrogant or infuriate oneself (Proverbs 14:16, 20:2).
- The masculine noun עבור ('abur) meaning produce. It is used in Joshua 5:11-12 where the Israelites abandon their diet of manna and begin to eat the yield of Canaan.
- Identical to the previous word is the frequently occurring preposition עבור ('abur), meaning because of, for (Genesis 3:17, 8:21, 12:13, 12:16). This word is always preceded by the particle ב (be), meaning in or by. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains the relationship with the root as a movement 'from purpose (or cause) to accomplishment (or result).'
- The masculine noun מעבר (ma'abar), meaning ford or passage, such as the passage through the river Jabbok (Genesis 32:23) or the passing of a striking staff (Isaiah 30:32).
- Similar is the feminine מעברה (ma'bara), meaning passage, wadi.
Also note that the reversal of our root עבר ('abar) forms the root רבע (rb'), which yields words that have to do with the cardinal number four, or rather, the demonstration of a level of contemplative reflection that supersedes the animal realm and requires language.