The Torah vs. the Computer, Part II
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Chisma said, The laws of the bird-pair
offerings and the beginning of menstrual periods -- these are essential
laws. Astronomy and the numeric values [of the Hebrew letters] are the
spices to wisdom."
Last week we began discussing the concept of "numeric values" ("gematriya")
in the Hebrew language -- that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet each have
associated numeric values (alef = 1, bais = 2, gimmel = 3, etc.), and so all
Hebrew words and phrases have corresponding values, sometimes of profound
significance. We also introduced the modern equivalent of the gematriya --
the Torah Codes. The idea is that by searching through the letters of the
Torah at regular intervals (by selecting e.g. every 50th letter), one will
find significant words and messages hidden within the text.
Last week I also offered my personal disclaimer. I am neither great rabbi
nor great statistician. In writing on this controversial topic, I am not
attempting to convince anyone of the validity of the Codes or to weigh in
with my own two cents. That being said, I'd like to offer a bit of
background to the Codes phenomenon and a few noteworthy illustrations. I
will then suggest what I feel is an important perspective on the Codes --
one which will perhaps provide a valuable handle on the topic, rather than
simply stirring up further controversy.
The concept of hidden information in the letters of the Torah is not a new
one; a number of the classical medieval commentators make reference to it.
The topic, however, became popularized only in the last few decades. The
earliest research was done by R. Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl, (1903-1957, a
Hungarian Holocaust survivor who was instrumental in slowing the deportation
of Jews from Slovakia during the War). He, without the benefit of computer
technology, discovered example after example of fascinating pattern in the
Torah, one of which is illustrated below.
With the advent of computers, researchers have begun exploring the text of
the Torah and in particular of the Book of Genesis with ever more
mind-boggling results. These include such finds as discovering the word
"Eden" encoded 16 times in Genesis 2:4-10 (discussing G-d's creation of the
Garden), as well as tens of tree names encoded in the entire chapter.
Likewise, the name "Aaron" ("Aharon" in Hebrew, brother of Moses and
Israel's first High Priest) was discovered tens of times encoded in the
first chapter of Leviticus (discussing Temple offerings). Many other finds
have indicated hints to such major future events as the Chanukah story and
the Holocaust, as well as the names of great rabbis together with their
Allow me to provide two more substantial examples. Last week we quoted that
R. Eliyahu Kramer (the "Vilna Gaon" of 18th Century Lithuania) claimed that
Exodus 11:9 -- "...in order to magnify My wonders in the Land of Egypt" --
contains a hint that there would one day exist a scholar known as
Maimonides, great medieval sage who lived much of his life in Egypt. R.
Kramer saw this in the fact that the Hebrew verse -- "re'vos mofsai b'eretz
Mitzrayim" begins with the letters raish - mem - bais - mem = Rambam, the
acronym by which Maimonides is universally known.
R. Weissmandl buttressed this with an additional discovery. If we take an
instance of the letter 'mem' which appears earlier in this same verse, and
count forwards, selecting every 50th letter, we find the word "Mishne". If,
in addition, we count 613 letters from the initial 'mem', we discover an
additional word (at 50 letter intervals) -- "Torah". And the Mishne Torah
was Maimonides' classic work on the 613 Commandments!
Here is another personal favorite of mine, really not a Code at all, but a
related phenomenon -- of the Torah's allusion to future events. (As above,
my goal here is to broaden this subject, rather than tying ourselves down to
the Codes controversy.) In the Book of Esther, towards the end of the story,
King Ahasuerus allows the Jews to avenge themselves of their enemies on the
13th day of Adar. In Shushan, the capital, the Jews kill 500 men and hang
Haman's ten sons on a gallows.
Queen Esther then approaches the King with an additional request: "...allow
the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow as they did today, and let the
ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows" (Esther 9:13). It's curious that
she would request the hanging of Haman's already slain sons. Nevertheless,
the King complies.
Now, the Hebrew word for "tomorrow" ("machar") often refers to the distant
future. Further, the Midrash states that whenever the word "king" appears in
the Megillah it alludes to the King of kings as well. Thus, the verse could
be understand as a request by Esther to G-d to again hang the ten sons of
Haman at some point in the distant future.
Now, when the Megillah lists the ten sons Haman during their hanging (9:7-9)
there are a number of unusually-sized letters. (We have a tradition to write
certain letters in the Torah larger or smaller than the standard size.)
According to the most accepted tradition, there is a large 'vuv' (numerical
value = 6) and a small 'tuv' (400), 'shin' (300) and 'zayin' (7). The
following suggestion has been made: The large vuv refers to the sixth
millennium (of the Hebrew calendar); the small letters refer to year 707 of
that millennium. The meaning, then, is that G-d agreed to hang Haman's ten
sons again in the year 5707 = 1946-7.
On October 1, 1946, a few days before Yom Kippur, the first of the major
Nuremberg trials was concluded. Ten of the chief Nazi masterminds and
instigators were sentenced to hanging. (The actual number was twelve; one
was sentenced in absentia and another committed suicide before his
execution.) The last of them, Julius Streicher, on his way to the gallows
and after his face was covered, cried out, for no apparent reason, "Purim
Fest 1946!" And again, Esther's request was fulfilled.
At this point, I would like to offer some perspective on this subject. The
following thought is primarily not my own. I heard it was the reaction of a
great rabbi (of uncertain identity), when introduced to the phenomenon of
Of what value truly are the Codes? Say the phenomenon really is too
remarkable to deny -- and again, that in itself is highly controversial. Is
this our ticket to proselytizing the world? Should we attempt to ram the
Codes down the throat of every non-believer -- "proving" once and for all
that G-d wrote the Torah, that it contains hidden patterns alluding to
future events human beings could have never foreseen? What are we to make of
this phenomenon, supposing it is true? Why, in fact, would an
all-knowledgeable G-d bother putting such patterns in the Torah to begin
with? (It's certainly not to allow us to predict the future. Even the most
serious proponents of the Codes are quick to deny this.)
Well, firstly, I'm not all certain that the Codes would be an effective
means of proselytizing the world in the first place. Would, say, an
unaffiliated Jew begin observing the Torah -- changing his or her lifestyle
-- because of statistical results of a scientific study? It is a very small
class of people who are so intellectually inclined as to be willing to
follow mathematical evidence alone and adjust their personal lives
accordingly. (Look at how many otherwise intelligent people fervently
believe in the notion of creation through uncontrolled evolution.) Dry facts
-- even very compelling ones -- do not create moral human beings. (The old
OJ trial is another telling case in point. People believe what they want to
believe. All else is what we call, "Don't confuse me with the facts.")
Consider also the generation of the Exodus. A fraction of the men, 40 days
after witnessing G-d at Sinai, were dancing around a golden calf. Knowledge
alone is a very dangerous thing. If our brains know more than our hearts are
willing to accept -- well, that's the one whose "wisdom is greater than his
deeds" we talked about so recently
(http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter3-22.html). We may just
rebel against knowledge we cannot deny but can neither live with, as did the
generation of the Desert. If so, how are we to view the Torah Codes? What
are we to make of them?
Let me illustrate with one more related example, and we'll finally arrive at
our punchline. I apologize for the length of this class, but I feel this
issue must be properly addressed.
In I Kings 7:23, during the construction of Solomon's Temple, the King
constructed a large, round laver, described as being 10 cubits in diameter
and 30 in circumference. Hey, any calculus majors out there? Isn't pi
3.14159..., not 3, as Scripture here clearly states? My, the ancient Hebrew
authors of the Bible weren't very sophisticated! Why, even the ancient
Greeks had a pretty good idea of the value of pi! (Pi is a Greek letter, you
know.) :-) If the Torah truly is the word of G-d, how could such an archaic
blunder slip in?
But let us look closer. When describing the cylinder's circumference,
Scripture writes: "and a line of 30 cubits did circle it..." The word "line"
-- "kav" is spelled "kuf" (100), "vuv" (6), "hai" (5) = 111. (The "hai" is
spelled but not pronounced.) There is a parallel passage in II Chronicles
4:2 describing the exact same structure. There the same phrase appears, but
the word "kav" is spelled in the more standard manner -- "kuf" + "vuv" =
106. Now, if we multiply 3 by 111/106, the result is 3.141509433... --
within 1/10,000th of the true value of pi! (This was told to me by my
father, of blessed memory, as he heard from a mathematician-friend of his.)
G-d has a message for us in all of this. First of all, do you really think
the G-d who created heaven and earth does not know the value of pi? But of
course, the message is far more profound.
The computer is quite possibly modern man's greatest invention. Microscopic
processors perform upwards of a billion floating point operations every
second. We can process data and relay information in ways unimaginable even
a few years ago. Microprocessors, fiber optics, wireless technology, real
time processes, touch screens interfaces, voice recognition, etc. The feats
of modern man absolutely boggle the mind.
And the question nags. Does our technological prowess fail to make us look
backwards, towards our past? Does the Torah seem dated, eons ahead of its
time for the semi-nomadic tribes of Mesopotamia but not really in step with
modern man? Does the Torah really talk to our generation and our times? Are
its messages wholesome and traditional but unable to elicit more than
nostalgia? Does G-d have anything to say to us?
But what do the Codes tell us? We take our most prized possession, the
indomitable computer, we turn it towards the Torah -- and we find even
*greater* wisdom in the Torah. This, I believe, is why G-d planted the Codes
in the Torah. Let us not feel society has advanced in ways never anticipated
by the Torah, that the world is a changed place, never to return to the
simple, pastoral existence of our ancestors.
No, wherever we reach, however far technology and humankind progress, the
Torah is still there and has something to say to us. The same G-d who
appeared to the ancients when civilization was at its infancy is aware of
the feats of modern man and is again ready to communicate with him. G-d has
one message to man today (or at least the first of many), perhaps encrypted
in the Torah Codes, but in truth ever-present: "I a-m h-e-r-e! I know of the
achievements you will one day make in the sciences, and I am still ready and
waiting to speak to you. The timeless messages of My holy Torah are still
here for you, and I patiently await your return."
May our forward-looking society continue to be conscious of the roots upon
which it is founded. May we look forwards as well as backwards, and ever see
With this, and with G-d's help, we have finished the third chapter.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.