G_d said: Let there be an expanse amid the waters,
and let it separate waters from waters!
God made the expanse and separated the waters that were
below the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.
It was so.
G_d called the expanse SHaMaYM.
There was setting, there was dawning,
a second day.
Reshit chokhmah yirat Hashem
Please feel free to print out this (text-intensive) page since it may be significantly easier
to absorb from the hard copy.
Everyone who has reached this page is undoubtedly familiar with these verses from the first
chapter of Bereshit. So, why - you may ask - is the term SHaMaYM not translated with the
familiar "heaven" or "sky"? Consider that our sages saw in this word as in so many Torah
words a multitude of hidden meanings which a single translation will forever lose.
Torah sparkles in her seventy faces in the form of the tagin (crowns) of its Hebrew letters.
In the case of SHaMaYM, there are several hidden sub-phrase possibilities:
SHaM-YaM (there is sea), SHeM-YaM (name: sea) or SHe-MaYM (that water...).
What a different perspective this draws of "heaven"! Our sages took the letter
implications of SHaMaYM further but suffice it to notice for now how Hebrew words gain an inner
meaning which may be of no consequence in modern Hebrew usage, which however has GREAT meaning in
Lashon HaKodesh (the Holy Tongue) of Torah.
This inner meaning of the words in Torah is not only derived via "sub-phrases". Each individual letter
reverberates with unique associations and their constellation within a word add a special aura to the meaning of
each word. Many insightful books have been written about the special significance of Hebrew letters. To give
but one example, consider the word SHaLOM (peace). The root letters shin_lamed_mem speak of
perfect completion and wholeness. On the achetypal level, Kabbalah views the letter Shin as representing
ESH (fire) whereas the letter Mem stands for Mayim (water). The middle letter Lamed means "learning" but
equally suggests melamed (teaching). The letter Vav means hook and literally hooks together and unites
the primordial opposites FIRE and WATER in perfect harmony
that we may learn from their peaceful co-existence and teach this
message. As such the word SHaLOM embodies the quintessence of peace.
Based on the above consider for a moment, if you will, the deeper significance of the Hebrew word for
"name" SHeM (Shin-Mem). What's in a name? Well, in Hebrew the very name contains the great dichotomy of life
represented primodially by Fire_Esh_(Shin) and Water_Mayim_(MeM) brought together under a single roof.
Giving a name thus represents the ability to behold this dynamic duality of life within the object in question.
This is why bestowing names to G_d's creatures was such a co-creative task for Adam.
Similarly, SHaM (Shin_Mem with a different vocalization), the word for "there" contains the notion that
you can only say SHaM there if you also have an awareness of here.
Lashon Hakodesh is viewed as the holy repository of the collective intelligence and consciousness,
the cumulative wisdom of bnei Yisrael throughout the ages coupling Jewish minds over the centuries
into a collective timeless super mind.
Kabbalists have always believed that Torah is the living incarnation
of divine wisdom - eternally emitting the pulse of creative intelligence in form of the eyn sof or,
the infinite light, bringing forth ever new light. With its letters and crowns, Torah directly
embodies this divine power in our universe:
according to Kabbalah not merely as symbols but rather as actual vessels. It is this unique persective
which explains in part the inherent letter/number relationship. The focus of the following texts is in fact this
peculiar characteristic of Hebrew letters. The letter-quality expresses divine immanence whereas its numeric-quantity
represents divine transcendence.
Before embarking on our project, let us take note of a Hebrew root which represents this contradictory
QUALITY-QUANITY relationship within each letter. The letters samekh_pe_resh (SFR) shed light
on this reality. [Remember that the letter Pe can be rendered as "P" and as "F"]
This group of letters forms on one hand the root for many words associated with writing/telling
such as SeFeR (book), SoFeR (scribe), SaPeR (tell), SiFRiah (library), SiFRut (literature) - and on the other hand the root
for words associated with counting such as SeFeR (ledger) SiFRah (digit), miSPaR (number)
liSPoR (to count), SiFRur (numbering).
You may be already familiar with the first line of the Sefer Yetzirah which clearly invokes
this paradoxical relationship "...And He created His universe with three books (SeRaFim), with text (SeFeR),
with number (SeFaR), and with communication (SiPuR)." (trans A. Kaplan)
Thus numeric value and letter form a sphere (note: SFeRe) of a cipher which
fuse together into a single SeFiRaH (emanation) radiating
congruent communication with the billiance of a "SaFiRe". Within this sphere, these two components are SePaRate and
form an internal SFaR (border). As you can see, these root letters give expression to the entire concept.
You may recall how the letters of the root for Kabbalah fulfilled the same function.
Indeed, this delicate paradoxical relationship creates a mental hurdle.
Perhaps, an analogy to the properties of light will help to cross this obstacle.
Depending on circumstances, light can take on the
characteristics of either particle or wave.
While we know this "impossibility" to be true and accept
this perplexing fact, it is virtually impossible to
visualize HOW this can be! (Unless you are a gaon of a physicist.)
As we contemplete letter/number relationship in Hebrew, we must avoid one
frequently drawn - albeit incorrect - conclusion regarding the gematria considerations.
Even some well know Torah Scholars have expressed their belief
that gematria interpretations are "ingenious (super-imposed) afterthoughts" of the proper text.
To such skeptic, Torah interpretations which make use of the numeric dimensions of the words
in Torah are not viewed as being inherent but rather post-factum. Therefore,
they appear inherently suspect - possibly dangerous and, at best, only of limited value.
To me, it is more a matter of being fine-tuned into a particular frequency of Torah.
To a person who is tone-deaf, the glorious sounds of a great symphony will forever remain hidden.
Until we had the appropriate instruments, we only saw a very limited spectrum of light waves whereas the
infra / ultra frequencies were beyond perception. Obviously, their existence did not depend on
human awareness. I think of the numeric aspects of Torah as being in a realm of elusive frequency.
Our chokhamim never doubted its existence, yet justifyably they entered it with greatest caution and
Due to the esoteric nature of this "inner geometry" of words
and phrases, it is by all means conceivable to arrive at
entirely incorrect conclusions if one were to not also bear in mind the overt meaning of Torah.
Throughout the ages, Kabbalists have advised and cautioned to always keep the overt text clearly
in mind. Proper gematria interpretations MUST NOT and CANNOT contradict the simple meaning of
The mere fact that gematria elucidations could easily get on the wrong track
(if not cross-checked) do not render them any more suspect or invalid than any other
D'var Torah of the overt text.
The risk of contradictory readings extends well beyond the realm of numbers.
It is an inherent characteristic of the Hebrew language.
Even the surface level of each story presents possibilities for incongruent readings. Consider the many
possibilities of interpreting the Akedat Yitzkhak (Binding of Isaac).
Could one arrive at an interpretation of this story that would be entirely un-jewish ?
Divrei Torah using gematria elucidations must be congruent
and bring out the vibrant reality and deep truth to the surface.
While it would be false to perceive such interpretations as fortuitous coincidences,
it is inconceivable to attribute these secret, subtle frequencies to the individual human, intentional design.
Granted, there are some quantitative aspects that may very well reflect human design intention
such as the fact that the Ten Commandments always occupy 26 lines in a Sefer Torah. [26 is
the gematria (numeric value) of the Tetragrammaton: yud-hey-vav-hey.]
Neither this introduction nor any of the texts should be taken as an attempt to explain
naturally arising questions about the HOW, WHY, WHERE and WHEN. Certainly, a few texts such
as these cannot suffice to fully demonstrate the astonishingly consistent numeric dimension
that permeates Torah to its very letter. Gaining an appreciation of this fascinating
face of Torah does not prove anything.
A definitive explanation of these underpinnings of this reality may always elude us, but
as with the paradox of light - we may behold its forceful presence, even if we cannot
fully fathom its origin.
Finally, it must be said that our approach to learning Torah must be balanced.
Gematria perspectives by themselves are indeed only of limited value if they are not part
of a greater purpose. As esoteric as the numeric aspects of Torah can be,
a great antidode to "going off the deeep end" is the regular practice of layning (chanting) Torah not
to mention the performance of its mitzvot (commandments).
With this in mind, enjoy the following texts.
Index of Texts - as of Mar 8th 1999
At present the following articles are available. You may find that a hard copy
is more user-friendly. You may therefore print out one (1) single
copy for your personal use.
A Brief Review of the Word Geometry / Gematria Methods
Copyright © - C. Moshe Harlan 1999
You may click on the above and then reduce/minimize the opening window to be called up
anytime later for reference. The same may be done for the Alef-Beit value chart.
The Mystic Ayin Of Torah [3/8/99]
This text revolves primarily around two parashiot, VaYiGaSh / VeYeCHI, and examines the
significance and implications of the letter/number ayin_70.
The Commanding Light of One [3/16/99]
Let us look at the First Commandment of asert dibrot, The Ten Commandments.
To begin with, this term is a misnomer because more than 10 mitzvot are
derived from them and the phrase is misleading in that Torah contains in all 613 mitzvot (commandments).
Nonetheless, this particular segment of Torah is treated with particular deference as already
indicated by the facts that (1) the congregation stands whenever this portion of Torah is read and (2) scribes
ALWAYS fit these p'sukim on exactly 26 lines. [26 is the gematria of the Tetragrammaton] It is fair to
call these p'sukim one of the Crown Jewels of Torah. The first pasuk represents the so-called first
commandment and is being examined in this text.
A Heavenly Ladder to Bridge the Gap
We examine the famous story of the Parsha VaYeTZE in which Yaaqov dreams of the angels
ascending and descending the ladder to heaven.
Undefeated Yet Forever Changed
The mystical encounter experienced by Yaaqov at the Yabok river offers some timeless lessons on
the meaning of his transfiguration and transformation to become Yisrael.
A Pardes interpretation is being utilizes in delving into to spiritual depth of the story.
Names of Symmetry and Sequence
The first parsha of Exodus, SHMOT, provides many overt as well as hidden examples
of symmetry and sequence. The centerpiece of this sidra is the singular reference
to H" three word name generally translated elusively as "I am that I am". Additional material from
the parsha Yitro supports assertions made in Shmot.
BeRESHYT (to come...)
more to come...