Jeshurun: Origin and Meaning [UPDATED October 2]

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Hebrew, Parshah, Tanach
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Question from a reader: “What’s up with Jeshurun? Where does this name come from? What does it signify?”

Great question! Believe it or not, my research, thus far, has not yielded much. Just haven’t found too many sources that actually address this. Like, everyone basically just shrugs and goes, “Yeah, Jeshurun is Israel. Same thing. Duh.”

On the surface, the name Jeshurun (pronounced Yeshurun in Hebrew) derives from the Hebrew root ישר, like the word yashar, meaning “straight” or “upright.” Yeshurun as a name for Israel would then signify “Upright Nation.” Sounds good.

In fact, this is exactly how Ramban (Nachmanides) defines the term (Deuteronomy 33:5). (See Oct. 2 UPDATE below.)

So far, I’ve only found one other writer that weighs in, and offers a different definition than the Ramban’s. According to K’li Yakar, “Yeshurun” derives from a root meaning “seeing” of some sort, like close scrutiny, though I’m not sure what word K’li Yakar is relating it to. (See Oct. 2 UPDATE below.) In any event, the meaning is, according to K’li Yakar, that Israel puts its leaders under intense scrutiny and does not easily accept their authority or legitimacy. Nevertheless, Deuteronomy 33:5 declares: “There was a King in Yeshurun,” meaning that the legitimacy of HaShem as God was accepted by Israel on account of the great signs and wonders that they themselves witnessed over the course of the sojourn in the wilderness over the past forty years.

This explanation of K’li Yakar is quite brilliant for many reasons. Firstly, it explains the context, why Yeshurun is the name chosen in conjunction with mentioning that Israel had a King. The Ramban’s explanation, though linguistically easier to digest, does not have this advantage of context. Secondly, since this is the end of the sojourn, and we are dealing with the generation that followed those who left Egypt, most of those present did not witness the miracles of the Exodus firsthand; they did not have the advantage of this experience to cause them to accept HaShem as God and King. Nevertheless, the Torah tells us here that even now, Israel accepted HaShem as King on the basis of the scrutiny of their own experiences in the desert.

Well, folks, that’s all so far, though I will be happy to post more info as I find it. And happy to hear from any readers with more insights.

October 2 UPDATE:

Ibn Ezra to Deut. 32:15 also relates Yeshurun to “yashar,” meaning straight, like Ramban, then offers that it may also be related to “ashurenu,” meaning “seeing,” as in Numbers 23:9: “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him (ashurenu).” Sephorno (Deut. 32:15) also relates Yeshurun to seeing. This gives us the source for the K’li Yakar cited above!

Also see Isaiah 44:2: “Thus says HaShem that made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you: Fear not, O Jacob My servant, and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.” Radak there comments that Yeshurun is from yashar, like Ramban and Ibn Ezra, “for they are upright among the nations.”

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