Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
חלא חלה חלל
There are two roots חלא (hala'), three roots חלה (hala) and two roots חלל (halal), and they're obviously related. The letters ה (he) and א (aleph) sometimes alternate, and there's a strong correlation between at least one חלא חלה (hala' - hala) duo.
Note that the forms חלל (halal) and הלל (halal) have nothing in common, even though they may seem somewhat similar to an untrained eye. The following set of words do have much in common with the word cluster we grouped under the חול hul header.
The verb חלא (hala' I) means to be sick or diseased. It's used only twice in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles 16:12 and Isaiah 53:10. Its sole derivative is used slightly more often: the masculine plural noun תחלאים (tahalu'im), meaning diseases (Deuteronomy 29:21, Jeremiah 14:18).
The root חלא (hl' II) isn't used in the Bible. We don't know what it means, although this same verb means to defile in Sabean. Perhaps its Hebrew usage is not very far removed from חלא (hala' I). The only extant derivative of this root is the feminine noun חלאה (hel'a), meaning rust or filth. It occurs only in one scene in the Bible, in Ezekiel 24:6-13.
The verb חלה (hala I) means to be weak (Judges 16:7) or sick (Genesis 48:1, Jeremiah 12:13, Micah 6:13) or wounded (1 Kings 22:34). It's obviously related to חלא (hala'). Its derivatives are:
- The masculine noun חלי (holi), meaning sickness (Deuteronomy 28:61, Isaiah 53:3) or wound (Jeremiah 6:7).
- The masculine noun מחלה (mahaleh), meaning disease (Proverbs 18:14, 2 Chronicles 21:15 only).
The root חלה (hala II) means to appease (Exodus 32:11, Jeremiah 26:19), or to entreat (1 Samuel 13:12, Proverbs 19:6). Its sole derivative is the feminine noun מחלת (mahalath), which occurs only in the titles of Psalm 53 and Psalm 88. It's unknown what it exactly means. If it came from root חלה (hala II) it would mean something like song of entreaty or pacification. But some scholars suggest it's actually connected with root חלה (hala I), and denotes a sad tune. It may even have to do with the word מחולה (mehola), meaning a dance. That word comes from the root חול (hul I); see the name Hul.
The verb חלה (hala III) doesn't occur in the Bible but in cognate languages it exists meaning to adorn. Its extant derivations are:
- The masculine noun חלי (hali), meaning ornament (Proverbs 25:12 and Song of Solomon 7:2 only).
- The feminine noun חליה (helya), meaning jewelry (Hosea 2:15 only).
Dictionaries commonly insist that there are two separate roots of the form חלל (halal), but also admit that the meaning and scope of particularly the second one is wrapped in mystery. In other words: these apparent two separate groups of words may very well be a misunderstood singular one. The second group of these words, having to do with to profane or defile, is often used juxtaposed to words from the root קדש (qadash), meaning to be holy or sacred.
The root חלל (halal I) has to do with to pierce or bore through; the primary verb חלל (halal) describes the fatally wounding of persons (Psalm 109:22, Proverbs 26:10, Ezekiel 28:9). In Isaiah 53:5 this verb is famously applied to the Suffering Servant, whereas Isaiah uses the same verb to describe YHWH's piercing of Rahab just two chapters prior, in Isaiah 51:9 (also see Job 26:13). This verb's derivatives are:
- The adjective חלל (halal), meaning fatally pierced (Job 24:12, Psalm 69:26, Jeremiah 51:52).
- The feminine noun חלה (halla), denoting a kind of cake or bread, probably one with a hole in it, like a donut or pretzel. It's mentioned frequently as part of the sacrificial staple (Leviticus 24:5, Numbers 15:20, 2 Samuel 6:19). Note the similarity between this word and the verb חלה (hala I), meaning to be weak, sick or wounded.
- The masculine noun חלון (hallon), which is commonly translated with "window" but more accurately describes a deliberate hole in a wall for ventilation and illumination (Genesis 8:6, 1 Kings 6:4, Jeremiah 9:20).
- The masculine noun חליל (halil), denoting a holed musical instrument like a flute or pipe (1 Samuel 10:5, 1 Kings 1:40, Isaiah 5:12).
- The denominative verb חלל (halal), meaning to play the pipe (1 Kings 1:40, Psalm 87:7).
- The feminine noun מחלה (mehilla), probably denoting a kind of geological depression or hollow comparable to a cave (Isaiah 2:19 only).
The root חלל (halal II) has to do with to profane, and is often used as the opposite of the verb קדש (qadash), meaning to be holy. What the fundamental meaning of the concepts of holiness and profanity might be has always been a bit obscure (these are really quite difficult ideas) but holy items appear to have been used for only one specific function and were left shelved the rest of the time, whereas profane items could be used for whatever seemed right at the time.
The difference between the two then appears to be that the use of a holy item is specifically determined by the item, while the use of a profane item is determined by circumstance and the user's good humor. A holy item directs the user, but a profane item is directed by the user.
An important difference between קדש-slash-חלל and holy-slash-profane is that the two Hebrew terms do not describe the inherent quality of the two groups of items but rather the user's understanding of them. An item that is deemed קדש (qedesh) sits mostly on a shelf, not because it is mostly useless but because its proper identity and purpose largely elude the user. When the user learns the full extent of the item, the item may become properly and continuously used by the user. But when a user helps himself to an item that he doesn't understand, and then proceeds to abuse it, he desecrates the item.
Among the items that could as such be profaned are: one's bed (Genesis 49:4), one's daughter (Leviticus 19:29), one self (Leviticus 21:4, 21:9), the earth-altar (Exodus 20:25), the sanctuary (Leviticus 21:12) and sacred things (Leviticus 19:8), the land (Jeremiah 16:18), the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14). But the most often mentioned item to (not) be defiled is the name of YHWH (Leviticus 18:21, 22:32, Jeremiah 34:16, Ezekiel 36:20-23, Amos 2:7, Malachi 1:12), which obviously is in line with the command to not use the name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
How the Lord's name is used in vain has also not always been clear, but a simple swearing or verbally evoking of the name is probably not what is meant. The name YHWH probably refers to the bringing forth of one's most defining characteristics, and denying oneself to be what one could be equals denying the Creator's intent. And since all of us are designed to be an utterly free and wholly applied element of a larger unified whole, which in turn is held together by the Holy Spirit, defiling the Lord's name, using his name in vain, and denying the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32) are probably all the same thing.
Unfortunately, being ignorant about the proper function of things is pretty much the human condition, which explains the association between our verb חלל (halal) and abuse. But when mankind enters her own stage of completeness, the divine will be continuously among humanity and there will be no more need for temples and other such holy items (Revelation 21:22). But ultimately, the verb חלל (halal) describes the initiation of a process of which unbroken communion with the divine is the ultimate goal. As such, our verb also frequently assumes the meaning of to begin:
Men began to call upon the name YHWH (Genesis 4:26), they began to multiply (Genesis 6:1), and began to built a world for themselves (Genesis 11:6). Noah began to farm (Genesis 9:20), Ahimelech began to inquire (1 Samuel 22:15), Haman began to fall (Esther 6:13). And frequently, the Lord began some kind of process (Deuteronomy 2:31, 3:24, Joshua 3:7).
Our verb marks the initiation of the process that completes by means of the verb כלל (kalal I), meaning to be or make whole or perfect. This graceful juxtaposition is utilized in 1 Samuel 3:12, where YHWH tells Samuel what he will do to the house of Eli, "from beginning to end" (החל וכלה).
Our verb comes with the following derivatives:
- The masculine noun חל (hol), meaning profaneness or commonness; the opposite of holy or sacred (Leviticus 10:10, 1 Samuel 21:5, Ezekiel 22:26). The same word חל (hol), but meaning sand, occurs as derivation of the verb חול (hul), denoting a whirling motion.
- The adjective חלל (halal), meaning profaned in the same broad range as the previous noun and parent verb (Leviticus 21:7-14, Ezekiel 21:30-34).
- The substantive חלילה (halila), literally meaning profaned. This remarkable word is sometimes used as supplicatory ("far be it" — Genesis 44:7, Joshua 24:16) but also as expletive ("what a load of crap!" — 1 Samuel 14:45).
- The feminine noun תחלה (tehilla), meaning beginning or first (Genesis 13:3, Ruth 1:22, Proverbs 9:10). This word differs from ראשית (reshit) in that the former refers to the first, separate element of a series or first unit of time (day, hour) of a period, whereas the latter serves as representative apex of the whole.