For fans of the ancient custom of gematria, a Babylonian and Assyrian method of assigning numbers to codify names, words and phrases, it was later adapted into Hebrew by the mystics of the Kabbalah.
In kabbalistic practice, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet could be equated into a number and that number could be incorporated into a word or a name.
The most used and popular example is the combination of the two Hebrew letters “chet” and “yud” equaling the number 18 and forming the Hebrew word “chai”, meaning life. And 1+8 equals 9, the 9 months prior to child-birth.
Scholars of Kabbalah have for centuries been intrigued by the practices of gematria whose Hebrew name is a direct translation of the Greek word for geometry.
To play a game by example: the new year is 2019. Adding those numbers we arrive at 12 representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
And if we add the numbers in 12 we arrive at number 3 representing our 3 ancient patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Stepping back to the out-going year 2018 we have a combination equal to number 11, representing the 11 stars in Joseph’s dream (achad asar kochvaya) which led to the anger of his brothers, his sale to merchants en route to Egypt, his imprisonment in Egypt, his interpretation of the pharaoh’s dreams and ultimately his rise to become viceroy of all Egypt, second only to the throne of the pharaoh.
Counting the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in my name, Aleph =1 , Yud =10. Samech =15, Resh=20, a total of 46 which when combined equals number 10. The Ten Commandments.
It may be a game that mature students enjoy playing but for the kabbalists it is a very holy exercise in an attempt to find the hidden meanings in words or names. The mystical Zohar is an example of this methodology.
Why, however, is it important to look for hidden meanings? Is it not less complicated to accept the “pshat”, the written word as it is? Everyone who reads the Hebrew bible understands the intended meaning of every name and place mentioned clearly and without mystery or confusion
Each letter is from the Word of God handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. From Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the elders and from the elders to you and to me…to the entire people of Israel.
The interpretations of the kabbalists can be confusing, each scholar assigning a different interpretation.
Surprisingly, the study of Kabbalah has become a modern fad, popular among leading personalities in the theatrical world.
As for me, I am too frightened and too hesitant to explore the hidden world. It is sufficient for me to understand only that which is clear before my eyes.
So for this new year, I gladly accept 2019 as the equal to number 12, the 12 tribes of ancient Israel.
The only mystery for me, however, is from which of the 12 tribes am I descended?