THE HEBREW LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET: The Channels, the Categories, and the Meanings Part IV


In Part III, each letter was shown to have a numerical value. What, might you ask, does this have to do with learning the alphabet? And, why is a number meaningful? There used to be a show on television called Numbers, and the protagonist was in Law Enforcement. He consulted his brother who was a physicist to help him solve crimes through the use of the laws of chance. If you are an affectionado of astronomy, you are undoubtedly aware of the differing mathematic theories of Chaos, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Schrodiger's Cat, String Theory, etc. The world of math can explain many things, and help to make sense of what appears to be nonsensical, and even ground the most bizarre ideas into a logical form. The origin of all things mathematical--queue up Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance and the Major General's song--begins with the creation story in Judaism. Numbering began on the first day, and it's been calculating ever since.


Gematria, an interpretive system based on numbers, is believed to have been derived in the second century either from the Greek word geometry or from gamma tria which means the third letter equals three. However, there are many who believe it was developed much earlier because of the book titled Numbers, or Bamidbar, in the Torah, which specifically explains the laws and history concerning the tabernacle. It also describes the tribes exodus from the second to the fortieth year, and elucidates the Levites and Kohanim's conduct in the dismantling and transportation of the tabernacle. But, more specifically, numbers became crucial in understanding the Torah, which was divided into five parts.

Although the Torah scroll is one long scroll, and there is a ceremony when the readings have been completed where the Rabbi rerolls the Torah scroll, it is understood to be divided in order to find and understand the differing parts more easily. The single hide was meant to show God's Oneness, and the continuous journey from the creation of the universe to the creation of the nation of Israel. The number five was related to the five senses, and the five extremities of the human being (arms, legs, and head), and this was the reason why the Torah represents man and his relationship with God.

Numbers became highly significant to the interpretation of the scriptures to the Ashkenenaz of Germany during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Abraham Abulifia and his circle in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries used gematria extensively, Lurianic Kabbalists in the sixteenth century wrote remarkable and beautiful interpretations of the scriptures making use of gematria, and, of course, the hasidic masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used the gematria to help prove many scriptural points. Great minds of the twentieth and this century continue to write groundbreaking work, especially among the hasidic communities, adding to what has been derived from the preceding years. Today, with the use of computers, there has been much emphasis on deriving interpretations through complicated calculations and some substitution methods. All of this only adds to the idea that creation is continuing, originating from the Jewish idea that the eighth day of creation occurred in the Sinai desert when the Hebrews became a nation.

Alef equals One

One is God's number, expressing His uniqueness and indivisibility. It's connection with the letter alef is because of the silence in that letter and can only be expressed through the breath alone. Visions of the rushing wind in the New Testament's account of the upper room in Acts comes to mind when examining this concept of God's name only expressed through the breath. The soul was breathed into the man of mud, Adam, etc. It's not difficult to gather many other images throughout the scriptures and the Jew's prayer life to understand the concept of One.

The word One, ehad in Hebrew, begins with an alef and is pronounced by drawing out the breath at the end of the Sh'ma. Eyewitnesses to the death of Rabbi Akiva (I wrote the scene in my novel, The Garden of Souls, where my protagonist, Father Liam, actually witnesses Akiva's death) relayed how he used his final breath in the word ehad to release his soul back to God as a final act of reverence to God's Oneness. The number One represents wholeness, uniqueness, unity, and marriage. When a man and woman are married they are no longer two separate individuals (Genesis 2:24), they become one.

All of this, of course, is the positive side of One, but there is an opposite and destructive part of the number One. Pride, barrenness, and an unchangeableness which can be interpreted as stubborness. One, in the sense that God can never change, is considered good. Our faith tell us that we can rely on God's unchangeableness, in His love for us even when we sin.

Bet equals Two

The Jews believe that because Two can be divided it allows for demonic activity, or it can mean balance. Two represents the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the two tefillin the Jewish man wears when praying, or the two cherubim on the seat of the Ark of the Covenant. It requires two to make a covenant, two to have a relationship. Two is also the number for the soul.

In Christianity we have the Second Adam, the Second Eve, and the opposite of Christ is the Anti-Christ.

Gimmel equals Three

There are numerous Threes in Judaism: Three Patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Three Angels who visited Abraham; Three musical sounds of the shofar--tekiah, shevarim, and teruah; Three pieces of matzah used at the Passover Seder; Three floors in Noah's Ark; Three sections of the Jewish Bible--Five books of Moses, Prophets, and Writings; Three walls required for a Sukkah in the Feast of Sukkot; Threefold priestly benedictions; Three categories of Jews--Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites, the three times a pronouncement is made to make an enduring office.

In Christianity the use of three is extremely important. Three represents the Trinity, the union of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The number Three figures prominently in each Mass: the prayers declaring the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world; the three Mea Culpas tapped on the chest; the three sections of the Mass--the Liturgy, the Prayers, and the Eucharist. Peter's enduring office was pronounced three times by Christ when He told Peter to "feed my sheep," in John 21:15-18.

Three is the number of reality, solidity, fullness. Think of the cubic measurement, or the measurement of up and down, right and left, forward and backward. These are the measurements of our existence. The first three numbers are the first prime numbers.

Dalet equals Four

Four is the number of the letters in God's name, YHWH, the name associated with the creation of man. YHWH is the Tetragrammaton, the unpronouncable name. There are Four Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah; there are Four cups of wine at the Seder; Four questions asked at the Seder. The idea of quaternary boundaries defining human space are expressed in the Four corners of the tallit which is also bounded by a four-string fringe or tzittzit at each corner (doubled over to make eight). Four lines make a square, and Jewish belief is that Israel or man takes his place in the middle.

There are Four sections of the Torah in the tefillin boxes, and Four rows of precious stones on the breastplate of the high priest. There are Four couples buried in the Cave of Machpelah (the first surprise in my novel, The Garden of Souls). Four has always been connected to the earth: Four seasons; Four corners of the earth, etc. Four also figures prominently in the scripture: Four rivers issuing from the Garden of Eden--Genesis 2:10-14; Ezekiel's vision of the divine chariot had four cherubim with four faces and four wheels. There are also four species gathered for the celebration of Sukkot for the ritual of waving--palm, myrtle, willow, and the citrus fruit etrog. Each species represents four areas of Israel: Palm represents the lowland; the willow, the river; the myrtle, the mountains; and the etrog, the irrigated areas.

But four can also be divided into two opposed to two or separated, or the one opposed to three. It is also the sum of 1+3 or 2+2 denoting union.

Hei equals Five

The number Five has always been believed to bring balance even though it is considered an uneven number. Jews believe that even numbers can bring about division or strife, but uneven numbers provide a balance. This is why three judges are required for a Jewish court of law. The multiples of five--10, 20, etc. have been used because we have five fingers on each hand. Five represents the five senses and the five parts of the body. Five is associated with responsibility to use our senses and parts of our bodies to serve God.

Five represents the Torah or Chumash which means Five. There are Five Megillot which are books always represented with the Torah--Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Generally, the Megillot refers to the Book of Esther which is read during Purim, but the other four books are also read during celebrations. The Song of Songs is read on Passover (the Feast of the Unleavened Bread); Ruth is read on Shavuot (Christianity's Pentecost--see my earlier piece); Lamentations is read on Tisha B'Av (commemorates the destruction of the Jerusalem temples); Ecclesiastes is read on Sukkot (the Feast of the Booths).

Vav equals Six

Six is the second number of true division. It expresses limitation. There are six days of the week where man works, just as there are six days God worked. Correspondingly, there were six steps leading to the throne of Solomon. Nebuchadnezzar's idolatrous image is 60 cubits high and 6 broad. One sixth of Gog's host is spared (Ezekial 39: 2).

In Christianity Six is profoundly associated with Christ's death on the cross. In the sixth hour darkness began and it ended on the ninth. Everyone has heard of Revelation's 666, the mark of the beast. Most Jews find this number amusing, but if you dissect the meaning in regard to three successive threes that lead the man to believe he is God, it makes sense. Although, it is "the number of a man," the 666 is the vanity and impiousness of the one man aspiring to be God. Why many Jews do not understand this only smacks of their indifference to the New Testament and unwillingness to see the truth in Christ.

Zayin equals Seven

Seven is the number of perfection, it brings completeness. There are Seven benedictions given on the Sabbath; there are Seven processionals on Simchat Torah (the annual completion of the reading of the Torah); Seven marriage blessings and subsequently seven times the bride circles the groom; Seven days of mourning; Seven lamps on the menorah; Seven times the tefillin are wrapped around the arm.

If you count the six directions for a coordinate, the seventh is from your vantage point. Seven is the day God rested; there are Seven Noahide Laws prohibiting--idolatry, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, eating from a live animal, blasphemy, and the obligation to establish a legal system. The Hebrew word for week is sheva which means seven. Once the Hebrews were established in Canaan, they were to bring their first fruits of seven species to the Levites as offerings. Those are specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 and consist of--barley, dates, figs, grapes, olives, pomegranates, and wheat. They were to march in procession on the holiday of Shavuot carrying these first fruits to the Temple. Think of the first fruits of the new wine in that upper room in Acts. The assembly became the first fruit of the Church on the day of Pentecost or Shavuot.

Chet equals Eight

Eight is the day of the creation of Israel, a new nation dedicated to serving God. On the eighth day the infant boy is circumcised as a sign of the covenant between God and man, to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments, and his dedication to serving God. There are Eight different garments worn by the high priest. There are Eight days of Passover, and Eight days of Chanukah (The Festival of Lights). Eight represents a new beginning, the first day of the new week.

Tet equals Nine

Nine is the number through which goodness enters the world. Goodness flows from above into the container man. It is through this goodness that man is expected to execute right judgment, to rule with wisdom as Solomon did. The letter Tet can also represent mud, from which all of us came. This gives new meaning to the novena; the nine day prayer to undo wrongs, to set things right, to launch not just the new week day of the eighth day, but adding another to seek forgiveness and ask for blessings. The mud of man can be transformed into a vessel for good. But this letter is also used in the word for sin, therefore, it was excluded from the names of the tribes of Israel. The destruction of the first and second Temples was on the ninth of Av.

Yod equals Ten

The number Ten constitutes a minyan, or a quorum. There are Ten Commandments or Ten Words; Ten days of repentance; Abraham was tested Ten times; Ten Plagues in Egypt. There are ten principles of Minyan:
  • Avodah be--Bittul or Meditation or the Annihilation of self as a separate entity.
  • Gerushin or the Repetition of a sacred word or phrase such as: Ineffable One or Merciful One.
  • Musar or Inspirational Reading and Reciting or Chanting of verses such as, The Psalms.
  • Kavvanah or Attention; specifically to focus your attention away from self.
  • Tzadakah or Generosity; to give without thought of where it goes.
  • Gemilut Chesed or Kindness; this is giving of oneself such as, visiting the sick.
  • Pitron Chalomot or Dream Interpretation; dreams are the gateway to the unconscious, and also a means of solving problems, and can be prophetic.
  • Eco-kashrut or Ethical Consumption; matter matters and all things must used ethically and with restraint. We are not to poison our world, but to treat God's creation with respect.
  • Teshuvah or Self-Perfection; to return to God, to repent constantly.
  • Shabbat or Sabbath; to rest and follow the prescriptions of the Sabbath.
These are all the practices meant to enhance our life, to create a better world through our behavior, and to help us become closer to God.


Ending this part at the number ten is meant to show that all the other numbers are multiples of ten from this point forward. Even though the number twelve has significant meaning to the Jew, such as, The Twelve tribes of Israel; Twelve loaves of shewbread; Twelve Minor Prophets. Twelve is allied in meaning to the number Seven. When we expect Seven, because it is the number of completion, we meet Twelve. Although all of numerology is interesting in this respect, the next letter Kaf is equal to twenty. Gematria or Numerology is only meant to help enhance, not to stand on its own, and its mystical qualities bring a beauty to our rituals and readings. If I tell you to recite a prayer for nine days, you ask, "Why?" If I tell you that nine days represents goodness flowing into you from God, it has more meaning than just praying for nine days.

Mysticism is neither weird nor perverse. It exists to try and explain the scriptures in a more meaningful way, and it does not exist on its own without the constraint given it by the Bible. Sorry, Madonna, and all you Builders of the Adytum, and Rosicrucians. The Kabbalah cannot stand on its own. You have to believe in God and practice the rituals and ceremonies prescribed by the Bible before you can even begin to understand it. Mysticism without boundaries or rooting can be very misleading. It could shorten your life by leading you to believe you are a Master. Sounds like the Anti-Christ to me.

Because this was a study of the Hebrew Letters, I remain true to that. Numerology would have to be dealt with on its own.


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