Welcome to the eighth installment of my blog covering biblical gematria, the merkabah and the birth of the alephbet. This morning, like a bee to honey, I have been contemplating a wonderful post made by Rabbi Sacks : ‘The universal and the particular (Miketz 5779)’. He said a lot of interesting things that are worthy of further exploration, and in this blog we’ll look at how they bear a reference to biblical gematria, so please preface your reading of this by first reading the piece by Rabbi Sacks.
The entertainer and occult comedian, Lon Milo Duquette once pointed out that the very first thing that people do when they find out about gematria is calculate the value of their own name. Usually to see whether it totals to 666 or not. It’s a great comedic observation. Ask people about this and they’ll grin at you wryly as they remember their first exercise with gematria. They feel a tad foolish. It’s a little bit embarrassing to be caught red handed in such a rank display of egotism but it’s terribly funny because it’s universally true for just about everyone. Well… maybe not the 666 part.
Why do we do it? Perhaps its as Ajahn Munindo once pointed out in a rather good dhamma talk; that we’re just terribly important to ourselves. We have this “me” that wants to me recognized as “me”, and so we find ourselves in front of a gematria calculator typing our name into the box and expecting a number back that will … what? Define this sense of “me”? When asked what they expected from the exercise, most people cannot tell you, only that they expected “something” back. That “something” is more than a number to them. It means “something”, and that “something”, like the soul itself, is both universal and particular.
Rabbi Sacks observed: “The difference between proper names and generic descriptions is fundamental. Things have descriptions, but only people have proper names. When we call someone by name we are engaged in a fundamental existential encounter. We are relating to them in their uniqueness and ours. We are opening up ourselves to them and inviting them to open themselves up to us. We are, in Kant’s famous distinction, regarding them as ends, not means, as centres of value in themselves, not potential tools to the satisfaction of our desires.”
Unless your view of the world is animistic this is true, but a name is more than a personal pronoun; a name – particularly one written in the hebrew script – is made universal by its number.
Rabbi Sacks continued: “Hence the tension in Judaism between the universal and the particular. God as we encounter Him in creation is universal. God as we hear Him in revelation is particular.”
I have a small disagreement with this because to my mind, revelation is both universal and particular. The universal influences the particular and from the particular arises the universal, and both conditions apply all at once. There are no hard and fast semantic barriers to separate the tripartite soul. A good metaphor is the ocean, which does not cease to be the ocean as the waves roll into the shore (universal to particular), nor does the tide water become more ocean as it flows away from the shore (particular to universal).
When we analyse the Torah with biblical gematria it becomes clear that the names of the main characters have been either crafted or chosen specifically because of their number. To give you some examples, when God (Elohim) changes the name of Abram to Abraham he gives his reason for it: המון גוים נתתיך ‘of many nations I have made you‘ (Genesis 17:5).
המון גוים נתתיך = 248
אברהם = 248
In Genesis 32:28 for the name of Israel (244) the reason given by Elohim is:
שָׂרִ֧יתָ You have struggled = 217
אֱלֹהִ֛ים God = 86
אֲנָשִׁ֖ים Men = 104
(217 – 86) + (217 – 104) = 244.
And in Genesis 17:15-16 for the name of Sarah (208) the reasons given by Elohim are:
Shall be her name 48 + of people 160 = 208.
213 Sarai + 31 Shall come = 244.
30 And she shall be + 89 of Nations + 100 Kings + 160 of people – 135 from her = 244.
[ Interestingly, the names of both הָגָ֖ר – ‘Hagar’ and יִצְחָ֑ק – ‘Isaac’ also total to 208. ]
What do these numbers have in common?
248 + 244 + 208 = 700, which we first saw in Genesis 1:1:
220 In the Beginning + 86 Elohim + 98 Heavens + 296 Earth = 700.
While the Peshat interpretation of these verses concerns itself with human affairs and particular human names, the Sod shoots out universals for consideration and Talmud tell us that these interpretations do not contradict. Surely that is a reminder that this separate and particular egocentricity or “me-ness” that we all feel, is yet rooted in the universality of God.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of my blog. If you’d like to request a topic for the next post then please feel free to drop me a line by using the comment box below. Thank you and stayed tuned for more treats from the Torah’s dessert table.