Parshas Vayechi (5772)
By Rabbi David Zauderer
In this weeks Dvar Torah, I would like to share with you a fascinating piece of “Torah trivia” that you, in turn, can share with your family and friends at your Friday night dinner table this Shabbos. I hope you enjoy it ….
In the Hebrew language in which the Torah is written, there are no numbers. Instead, each letter possesses a numerical value (alef = one, beis = two, gimmel = three, etc.). The mystical tradition of Gematria is the calculation of the numerical equivalence of letters, words, or phrases, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person's age, the calendar year, or the like.
Here is a basic chart showing the numerical value of each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet:
1 Alef א
2 Beis ב
3 Gimmel ג
4 Daled ד
5 Hei ה
6 Vav ו
7 Zayin ז
8 Ches ח
9 Tes ט
10 Yud י
20 Kaf כ
30 Lamed ל
40 Mem מ
50 Nun נ
60 Samech ס
70 Ayin ע
80 Pei פ
90 Tsadi צ
100 Kuf ק
200 Reish ר
300 Shin ש
400 Taf ת
In the Kabbalistic tradition we find additional types of Gematria which are used to gain even deeper insight into the nature and essence of words and concepts and their interrelation with each other.
One type of Gematria is what the mystics call Mispar Katan Mispari (integral reduced value), also referred to in mathematics as the digital root, or repeated digital sum, where the total numerical value of a word is reduced to a single digit. If the sum of the value exceeds 9, the integer values of the total are repeatedly added to each other until a single-digit number is reached. For example, the digital root of 65,536 is 7, because 6+5+5+3+6=25, and 2+5=7.
One famous (and fabulous) example of this was taught to us by the Vilna Gaon. As indicated in the chart above, the numerical value of the letter zayin is seven. Seven, of course, represents the seventh day of the week, which is Shabbos.
There are various actions and foods that are traditionally associated with Shabbos, such as lighting candles, making Kiddush over wine, eating fish and meat, etc. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Gematria, or numerical value, of the Hebrew words for all things associated with Shabbos will always have a digital root of seven. He gives five examples:
NER (Shabbos candles) (spelled nun, reish) 50+200=250, and 2+5+0=7
YAYIN (wine for Kiddush) (spelled yud, yud, nun) 10+10+50=70, and 7+0=7
CHALLAH (loaves of bread) (spelled ches, lamed, hei) 8+30+5=43, and 4+3=7
DAG (fish) (spelled daled, gimmel) 4+3=7
BASAR (meat) (spelled beis, shin, reish) 2+300+200=502, and 5+0+2=7
I would add on to the Vilna Gaon’s list the following five Gematrias (okay, so maybe Sushi isn’t a “traditional Shabbos food” – but it sure is becoming a popular alternative to Gefilte Fish in many Jewish homes these days!):
CHREIN (horseradish) (spelled ches, reish, yud, nun) 8+200+10+50=268, and 2+6+8=16, and 1+6=7
MARAK (soup) (spelled mem, reish, kuf) 40+200+100=340, and 3+4+0=7
KISHKA (stuffed derma) (spelled kuf, yud, shin, kuf, alef) 100+10+300+100+1=511, and 5+1+1=7
CHOLENT (meat and potato stew) (spelled tes, shin, ayin, lamed, ayin, nun, tes) 9+300+70+30+70+50+9=538, and 5+3+8=16, and 1+6=7
SUSHI (spelled samech, vav, shin, yud) 60+6+300+10=376, and 3+7+6=16, and 1+6=7
Pretty amazing, eh? Something to think about as you sit down this Shabbos to eat all these yummy foods. It all adds up ...