“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 birth dates.
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 the Codes.
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 (3:22). 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 our Creator.
With this, and with G-d’s help, we have finished the third chapter.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.