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Biblical Gematria was a system of formal mathematics.

# #8 The Letters of the Lord: the letter Vav

Stylized hieroglyphic Vavs. Artwork by Bethsheba Ashe. 2023.

In this special series of blog articles at the Times of Israel we’re analyzing the gematria of Bereshith (Genesis) 1-2. I’ve published all the calculations for the first two chapters on Shematria (click here), but in these articles we’re going to go through them letter by letter and we’re going to look more deeply at how the math was constructed with the ancient system.

The letter Vav emerged from the hieroglyph that looks like a wooden tent peg.

Drawing of 030 from the Gardiner List. Copyright Bethsheba Ashe 2023.

The value of the vav is six. It would be hard to see what it has to do with the creation of living creatures, birds and fish, if it were not for the meaning of the vav as a prefix, where it means “and”. Birds of a feather, flock together, goes the saying, and they look alike too. One must be an extremely skilled ornithologist to differentiate individual birds from within a flock of the same species, and almost everyone would have the same difficulty with a school of fish. On the hieroglyph, one prong looks exactly the same as the other; a replica, and the theme of this letter is replication (or propagation) and movement, for the tent peg is used every time the owner moves his tent to a new location. These wooden pegs were also used in ancient Egypt as an accessory to a fowling net (a net for catching birds).

This is the first time in the Torah that Elohim gives his blessing to any part of his creation, and a blessing, at least in the formal system of Hebrew mathematics at that time, meant a multiplication by 2. “Be fruitful and multiply” he tells his creations, intending them to go out and produce more beings just like themselves to populate the heavens and the seas.

According to Rabbi Hanina (writing in Bereishit Rabbah 1:3), all flying things, including the angels were created on this fifth day. He makes reference to Isaiah 6:2 to support his opinion which says:

שרפים עמדים ממעל לו שש כנפים שש כנפים לאחד בשתים יכסה פניו ובשתים יכסה רגליו ובשתים יעופף׃

Seraphim stood above it six wings, six wings had one, with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

He is disputed by other commentators (naturally) but surely, the fact that Isaiah’s angels have six wings, like the value of the Vav, was a factor in his thinking. In Haamek Davar, the Netziv interpreted the doubling of words in 1:20: ועוף יעופף (usually translated as: birds flew) to mean instead that there were two types of flying, low flying and high flying. Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, in his commentary on Bereishit (Keli Yekar), mentions that a double blessing was stated about the fish in the same way as was given to the human race.

Most commentators think that birds were created from the waters or a combination of earth and water, sometimes mud, sometimes swamp, and arise thereupon from the lower firmament to fly in the heavens, and this is due to the phrase “let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures” which is thought to include the birds. Chizkiyahu ben Rabbi Manoach (in Chizkuni) noted that when any still water, even a small amount, is left for some amount of time it will bring forth some form of life. Radak noted that the expression שריצה (swarms) referred to multiple births, meaning multiple eggs being deposited for hatching, and he noted that the term נפש חיה (living being) indicated a mobile form of life, as distinct from plant life which doesn’t not move from the spot it emerges from the earth. Onkelos interpreted the keyword ישרצו in the verse as having reference to propagation and Shadal agreed.

The calculations of Genesis 1:20-22 concentrate heavily on the number 930 to indicate the lower expanse of the Merkabah which is the gate value of the final Heh of the Holy Name YHWH when multiplied by 10, and also אל (God) x 3 x 10. Click here to see the diagram.

As we’ve seen in previous sums, על (upon) is an operator signifying subtraction of the previous word, while את ,ואת and ויברא signify addition. This is the first time we see the flag word כל (all) used, which signifies addition of the next few words, even if they are verbs as long as they are not known operators or reserved words, so we include the word הרמשת (that moves) after נפש החיה (living beings). This particular word כל needs more study to determine whether the rule was an exact one or whether individual scribes interpreted its role with some degree of flexibility.

In 1:20 we see the word רקיע (expanse) is used again, which has the set value of 3 for the gimel (see previous articles) and there are a couple more of these mnemonic words introduced here. The value of 2 for ועוף and its variations meaning birds, fly, wings, etc are obvious because the most prominent feature of any bird is that it has two wings. There’s also the value of 50 for התנינם (sea monsters / crocodile) in keeping with Exodus 7:9¹ and elsewhere. Unlike previous verses, the scribe only uses the biblical gematria cipher for these verses.

The first two verses are to be calculated as all one sum:

Genesis 1:20-21:
ויאמר אלהים ישרצו המים שרץ נפש חיה ועוף יעופף על הארץ על פני רקיע השמים׃
ויברא אלהים את התנינם הגדלים ואת כל נפש החיה הרמשת אשר שרצו המים למינהם ואת כל עוף כנף למינהו

And said Elohim, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”
And created Elohim the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind.

אלהים המים נפש חיה ב – ב – הארץ + פני ג השמים אלהים נ נפש החיה הרמשת המים ב ב = 930

In Genesis 1:22 there is the operator ויברך (and blessed) which indicates multiplication by 2 of the following word, which is אתם (them) which needs to be replaced by what its referring to as mentioned in recent calculations, so these in combination give us:

930 = אתם ויברך = נפש החיה הרמשת + נפש החיה הרמשת +  נ+  נ+ ב + ב
…which is rather a good checksum.

Genesis 1:22:
ויברך אתם אלהים לאמר פרו ורבו ומלאו את המים בימים והעוף ירב בארץ׃
And blessed them Elohim saying “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

The rest of the sum uses notariqon to spell out a surprising message:
אלף וו אהב ויב means Aleph Vav, Love and Twelve, which is both curious and interesting because the word love bears the set value of the aleph, and the word Vav (being made of two vavs) has the value of 12. Now, if the aleph is the large aleph then the sum of this is 1012, which is the value of all the letters assigns to the Merkabah.

Via notariqon, all three verses:
ו א י ה ש נ ח ו י ע ה ע פ ר ה ו א א ה ה ו כ נ ה ה א ש ה ל ו כ ע כ ל ו א כ ט ו א א ל פ ו ו א ה ב ו י ב = 1010
…which is the value of all the letters assigns to the Merkabah minus the letter beth, and so is the value of the Holy Name on the Merkabah.

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Next time we’ll be looking at the role of the letter Zayin, and the beasts and bugs of creation, so stay tuned for more numerical honey!