Parshas Re-eh (5769)
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, and so on …) Gematria is the calculation of the numerical equivalence of letters, words, or phrases, and, on that basis, gaining insight into interrelation of different concepts and exploring the interrelationship between words and ideas.
The idea behind Gematria is that numerical equivalence is not coincidental. The Mystics teach that the Hebrew language, unlike other man-made languages, was created by G-d Himself – and that he used this holy language to “speak” all things into existence. Since the world was created with the letters of the Hebrew language, each letter represents a different creative force. Thus, the numerical equivalence of two words reveals an internal connection between the creative potentials of each one. [It is interesting to note that Plato discusses Gematria in its simplest forms in Cratylus, where he claims that the "essential force" of a thing's name is to be found in its numerical value, with words and phrases of the same numerical value may be substituted in context without loss in meaning.]
Allow me to share with you three amazing examples of Gematria – one of which relates to this week’s Torah portion – that share a similar theme:
1) In Parshas Re’eh, we are commanded to give Tzedakah (charity) to the poor. The Aish Dos points out that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for a wealthy person, ashir, is 580 (ashir is spelled ayin, shin, yud, reish; ayin = 70, shin = 300, yud = 10, reish = 200, totaling 580). The word for a poor person is ani, which equals 130 (ani is spelled ayin, nun, yud; ayin = 70, nun = 50, yud = 10, totaling 130). The difference between them is 450, which is also the numerical value of the Hebrew word tein, which means to give (tein is spelled tuf, nun; tuf = 400, nun = 50 totaling 450). If we want to erase differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, we just need to open up our wallets and give!
2) The Talmud in Chagigah 9b teaches: “There is no comparison between one who studies [a section of Torah] one hundred times and one who studies it one hundred and one times”. The Kli Yakar, in his commentary to Deuteronomy 4:9, teaches that this idea of reviewing what we learn 101 times is alluded to in Gematria as follows: The Hebrew word for “forgetting” is shachach, which has the numerical value of 328 (shachach is spelled shin, chuf, ches; shin = 300, chuf = 20, ches = 8, totaling 328). The Hebrew word for “remembering” is zachar, which equals 227 (zachar is spelled zayin, chuf, reish; zayin = 7, chuf = 20, reish = 200, totaling 227). The difference between shachach, forgetting, and zachar, remembering, is 101. If we want to erase the difference between forgetting the Torah that we learn and remembering it, we need to review it 101 times!
3) The Hagaddah that we read at the Passover Seder discusses the Four Sons – the Wise Son, the Wicked Son, the Simple Son, and the Son Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask. In response to the Wicked Son who sits at our Seder table and mocks everything that we are doing, we are instructed to “blunt his teeth”. Rabbi Elazar Rokeach of Worms explained this strange response as follows: Many a “wicked” child isn’t really wicked. Underneath the surface, beneath the layers of rudeness and rebellion, there lies an innocent soul. Even the most delinquent children have goodness at their core. It may be buried beneath layers of hurt and pain, but the soul itself remains pure. And all the lashing out and mocking that this child does – the angry “bite” and “fangs” that he shows to all around him – are only external manifestations of a poor soul who, often through forces beyond his control, has gone astray and rebelled against his family and G-d. Our job as parents is to “blunt” and “de-fang” his teeth, i.e. to see beyond his angry, rebellious exterior to reveal the pure inner soul that has yet to come out. This can be seen in the Gematria as well. A wicked person is called a rasha in Hebrew, which has a numerical value of 570 (rasha is spelled reish, shin, ayin; reish = 200, shin = 300, ayin = 70, totaling 570). The word for a pure, righteous person is tzaddik, which equals 204 (tzaddik is spelled tzaddik, daled, yud, kuf; tzaddik = 90, daled = 4, yud = 10, kuf = 100, totaling 204). The difference between them is 366. Beneath every rasha is a hidden tzaddik. We just need to remove the layers of evil and we will find his goodness. Numerically, we have to remove 366 to get 204 from 570. So we must blunt his teeth. "His teeth" in Hebrew is sheenav, which has a numerical value of 366 (sheenav is spelled shin, nun, yud, vav; shin = 300, nun = 50, yud = 10, vuv = 6, totaling 366). De-fang the rasha, and you will find his inner tzaddik.