Three Hebrew Words for Love: Ahava, Racham & Dod

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Love goes beyond what you’ve read in a romance book or seen in films. You can truly understand the first and greatest commandment by exploring it in God’s holy language or Lashon HaKodesh. Learning the Hebrew words for love can help you better understand God’s love. You’ll familiarize yourself with the Jewish language and appreciate the culture. Furthermore, you’ll enjoy learning new things, particularly those concerning God’s love for us. That said, learn the three Hebrew words for love below.

The Hebrew words demonstrating love are ahava/ahab, racham, and dod. The first, ahava, represents romantic love and general affection. Racham, on the other hand, signifies caring and devoted love reminiscent of a parent-child relationship. Lastly, dod takes on a romantic meaning in the Bible, notably in Song of Solomon, where it emphasizes the lover’s relationship. 

Ahava or Ahab

Ask a contemporary Israeli about the Hebrew term for love, and they’d likely say ahava (noun) or le’ehov (verb). These are the most common modern Hebrew expressions to convey affection. They encompass both romantic love and preferences, like one’s favorite beverage.

Biblical ahava signifies a strong emotional attachment or intense connection. The Holy Book says that Jacob had a special love for Joseph. He declared him his most beloved among all his children (Genesis 37:3).

The word ahava also has romantic significance. This is evident in instances like Isaac’s love for his wife Rebekah (Genesis 24:67) and Jacob’s affection for his wife Rachel (Genesis 29:18).

But is ahava the God-given kind of love? Absolutely! In fact, the book of Hosea notes the word multiple times. The prophet predominantly mentioned ahava when urging the Israelites to return to the Father. God promises to heal their backsliding and love them freely in return. (Hosea 14:4)

Racham

The predominant Bible translation of the Hebrew word racham in the Bible is compassion. But the English Bible has notable instances where it’s replaced by the term “love.” In its broader sense, “racham” embodies a devoted, caring love extending beyond mere compassion.

For instance, David uses the word in Psalm 18 to demonstrate his devoutness to God:

“I’ll love you, O Lord. He is my strength, rock, and fortress” (Psalm 18:1-2a).

The Jewish culture considers racham a profound and boundless love, like the intimate bond between a parent and a child. This association may arise from its shared root with the Hebrew word for womb–”rechem.”

God expressed His intention to demonstrate this all-encompassing love or mercy towards Israel In the words of the prophet Hosea. He declared the nation would be called His people, and they would recognize Him as their God (Hosea 2:23). Some translations use “mercy,” and others use “love.” However, the original Hebrew text of the prophet employs the word racham to denote a complete, reciprocated form of love.

Dod

The Hebrew word “dod” carries a nuanced meaning. It can refer to an uncle in Modern Hebrew, but its usage in the Bible is more frequently associated with romantic contexts. The scripture often translates it as “beloved.”

You’ll consistently encounter the romantic sense of “dod” throughout the Song of Solomon chapters. The writer lavishes compliments upon their beloved in this poetic text and uses the term to emphasize the depth of their relationship.

The verse “Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely” (Song of Solomon 1:16) is one such instance. It illustrates the use of “dod” to underscore the romantic connection. However, the most popularized romantic usage is “I’m my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Chapter 2:16). It reads Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li in Hebrew.  

Prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah also refer to love as dod and use the word to demonstrate its profound meaning. Ezekiel uses it to capture God’s love for the unfaithful Jerusalem in chapter 16. The eighth verse says:

“When I saw you once more, it was a time filled with love. I spread my protective wings over you and took care of you. Indeed, I swore an oath, and from that moment on, you belonged to me.” (Ezekiel 16:8)

Understanding True Love

God’s true love is not just a cocktail of desire and hormones. It emanates from the soul, a transcendent virtue that links our deepest self to the people around God and us. Love has a soulful nature that’s selfless and giving. This is the true ahava. 

The character of God perfectly demonstrates the link between selflessness and giving. Our creator springs the truest form of love. Out-giving Adonai is impossible, but we were created to emulate Him. Furthermore, He made love the top commandment.

Moses teaches us to adore our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus echoed this lesson by stating that it’s the second most important thing after loving God.

An Overview of Other Almost Similar Hebrew Words

Here are more terms with the same meaning as the three Hebrew phrases:

Hesed

This refers to organic love based on kindness, loyalty, and covenant.

Chasadim

Use this translation when referring to love demonstrated through kindness and charity.

Re’ut

This is Hebrew for Ruth. The term refers to love based on a loyal, loving companionship.

Rachamim

 “Ra-cha-min” refers to the most motherly body organ, the womb. It’s one of the strongest connections based on mercy and compassion. 

Ohev

This Hebrew term means “to love.” Consider it the verb version of affection. A male speaker will say ohev, while their female counterpart will say ohevet.

G’milut Hasadim

Modern Hebrew uses this phrase to describe acts of kindness and love without expectations.

Eemunah

This term refers to the loyalty and faithfulness partners demonstrate in a relationship.

Chibah

This final term captures deep, committed love similar to the connection between married partners. The word is connected to the Hebrew term for beloved chaviv.

Conclusion

Jesus said: You must love the Lord with all your mind, soul, and heart. This is the first commandment and the greatest. The second is similar: Love your neighbor as yourself. Fortunately, this comprehensive revelation of the three Hebrew words for love has taught you what it is to love. The three definitions emphasize the fact that love goes beyond basic attraction. It’s more of a committed connection based on actions rather than feelings.

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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