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How long is עוֹלָם?

Question:

7‮וַהֲקִמֹתִ֨י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֜י בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֗ךָ וּבֵ֨ין זַרְעֲךָ֧ אַחֲרֶ֛יךָ לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם לִבְרִ֣ית עֹולָ֑ם לִהְיֹ֤ות לְךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים וּֽלְזַרְעֲךָ֖ אַחֲרֶֽיךָ׃

1. In the Torah, עוֹלָם is used to denote past time (כָּל־יְמֵ֥י עֹולָֽם, Isaiah 63:9), even ancient history. עוֹלָם is also used to describe a long duration of time, an undetermined duration of time that may have limits. עוֹלָם can also mean “everlasting”, meant to go indefinitely into eternity – even forever. How long is עוֹלָם in Genesis 17:7?

2. How can we differentiate between these different nuances from the Hebrew text? Or is the interpretation עוֹלָם in Scripture determined by immediate and surrounding context only?

Answer:

The verse in Genesis refers to an everlasting covenant, meaning for all times which will never end. As you say the interpretation of each time this word is used is only through our Oral tradition which provides us with our understanding of the entire Written Law.

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