web analytics
April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Permutations & Combinations

Gematria is more than random wordplay.

hebrew-alphabet-gematria-chart

Share Button

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Elisha Greenbaum

Some people just don’t appreciate gematria.

In our synagogue I try to find something to say during the pauses in the Torah reading every Shabbat. We’re fairly eclectic in our tastes, and you might find us flitting between an ethical teaching, a play on words, a chassidic interpretation, or a piece of numerology during the break between one reading to the next.

Many of our regulars question my occasional use of gematria or other types of numerology.

Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Aleph = 1, bet = 2, etc., and adding up the letters gives you the unique numerical value, or gematria, of each word and phrase. Comparing and contrasting the relative value of different words and phrases often affords surprising insight into the text and allows us to correlate seemingly unconnected Torah topics.

I admit it does sometimes seem somewhat random. One congregant of mine frequently observes, often after I’ve just introduced a particularly obscure piece of numerology, that you can read whatever you wish into numbers, and if you try hard enough you could probably find a tenuous connection between most topics.

He’s right, in a way. These methods are described as parparaot la-chochmah, the condiments of wisdom. They’re not the main meal of Judaism, just the seasoning that gives Judaism its taste. Torah is Godly and infinite, and all wisdom is contained within her words. You’d never decide a law on the basis of gematria; but, used properly, they can help give a new and deeper appreciation and understanding of the text.

Take one of the most famous examples of word and number play in the Torah. As Jacob leaves his father-in-law’s house on his journey back to Israel, he sends a message to his brother, Esau. Im Lavan garti, I have lived with Laban.

Rashi pointed out that the gematria of garti is 613, which is also the number of commandments in the Torah, and thus interprets Jacob’s message to be saying, “Throughout the years that I lived with the evil Laban, I kept the 613 commandments.”

But would my friend be convinced? So the word garti equals 613; it’s surely not the only word in the Torah with that value. Where do you get mitzvahs from “I have dwelled”? Why would Rashi assume that Jacob is doing more than just describing his living arrangements for the last 20 years, and is rather making a metaphysical point about his commitment to the commandments?

Gematria is more than random wordplay. Legitimate tools of Torah interpretation treat the text as a living document: an interplay of content and context, with each letter, word and phrase redolent with meaning. In our example, the correlation between garti and mitzvah observance is deeper than just adding up the letters; rather, the context leads to the conclusion.

The word garti, from the root ger, “stranger” or “convert,” is unusual. Had Jacob just wished to say “I lived with Laban,” there are other, seemingly more appropriate verbs that he could have used. Garti has connotations of “I was a stranger”; I was different, I never fit in with the wicked people because I lived and acted differently than they. Jacob was saying, “The whole time I was away from home, I stayed true to the lessons that I learned in my parents’ home.”

It was in this context that the rabbis observed that there is also numeric support for this supposition. “I was able to keep the 613 mitzvot, even in Lavan’s house, because I remained a stranger to their way of life.”

Wherever a Jew is, no matter how far from home he may have traveled, he can always maintain his connection to the words and letters of Torah by appreciating the value of each letter and word of Godliness and seeking out the underlying purpose of each phrase and phase of life.

Share Button

About the Author: Chabad.org is a division of the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, under the auspices of the Lubavitch World Headquarters


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Permutations & Combinations”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Border Police take charge of  Yitzhar's Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva while students are on vacation.
Brave Israel Police Stand Guard at Empty Yeshiva to Stop Violence
Latest Indepth Stories
Israeli flag

R. Hadaya strongly argues in favor of establishing a festive day in commemoration of the establishment of the state of Israel.

Palestinian boys stand behind mock jail bars during a rally calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails (but not from Palestinian Arab jails), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2014.

The Palestinian Authority has jailed more than 350 Arabs for “security” reasons in just 2014.

Rabbi Auerbach seen at a ceremony for the students who have finished the reading of the Babylonian talmud, at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem on July 31, 2012.

Since Torah is the great equalizer, the great reconciler of divergent but valid opinions, this is also the place where common ground is reached.

Dueling Shofarim

Some American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by groups waging war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem only seems important in the Islamic world when non-Muslims control or capture the city.

Jordan’s king is adding fuel to the fire on the Temple Mount, blaming Israel for violence by Muslim Arab rioters.

At Brandeis, much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with Hirsi Ali.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light.

As support of their messianic dream, Halevi and Antepli approve dishonoring Hirsi Ali as a ‘renegade.’

If itis a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, then why is there no berakha attached to it?

When we are united with unconditional love, no stone will be raised against us by our enemies.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

More Articles from Chabad.org
chabad building attacked

Chabad Rabbi Michael Oishie had left the building just 20 minutes before the attack.

From left: Rabbi Berel Mockin, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rabbi Zalman A. Grossbaum and Rabbi Rabbi Yitzchok Wineberg, as Rabbi Wineberg presents Harper with a Chumash that includes commentaries of the Rebbe.

Canadian Chabad rabbis accompanied Harper on his trip.

“It was quite an institutionalized racism, and we didn’t come to get involved in politics.”

Gematria is more than random wordplay.

We are brought into this confusing, fascinating, infuriating world for such a short amount of time, and it’s our mission to accomplish what we can for the several decades we are allotted.

If one has only enough money to afford either a cup of wine for Shabbat kiddush or oil for his Hanukkah lamp, the mitzvah of Hanukkah takes precedence.

Originally published at Chabad.org. Chabad Lubavitch emissaries will begin arriving in New York next week from all parts of the world for the Kinus Hashluchim—the annual get-together of emissaries, their parents, friends and supporters, and a record number are expected to attend this year. Organizers have spent more than six months planning for the Chabad […]

The Torah they got “is a piece of art. It is one of the most beautiful Torahs anyone’s ever seen…”

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/permutations-combinations/2013/11/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: