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What is gematriah and how does it work?

  

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Rabbi Marcus: Shalom and welcome to Askmoses!

seeker: What is gematriah and how does it work?

Rabbi Marcus: Gematriah is the numerical Alef-Bet. Each Hebrew letter has a numerical value and when we calculate letters/words by their numeric value, we are using Gematriah.

seeker: How does that work? 

Rabbi Marcus: The interpretations of Torah are generally divided into four categories: literal, allusion, homiletic, and secret (Kabbalistic).

Rabbi Marcus: Gematriah, is part of the “allusion” category. Basically, gematriah means that when words or phrases share numeric equivalence it is often a symptom of an inner connection between those two things.1

Rabbi Marcus: So, for example, the Divine Name Elokim is numerically equivalent (86) to the Hebrew word Hateva - which means nature - since Elokim is the Name that represents our perception of G-d as the Creator and sustainer of nature (as opposed to Y-H-V-H, which represents our perception of G-d as transcendent from nature.

seeker: Are there examples of gematriah in the Talmud?

Rabbi Marcus: Yes. For example, the Talmud uses gematriah to show that Abraham recognized G-d at age three (eikev=172...).2

For in-depth coverage of the various forms of gematriah used by the kabbalists, visit www.inner.org/gematria/gematria.php

[Ed. note: Also read "Can I come up with my own gematriah?"]

All names, places, and identifying information have been changed or deleted in order to protect the privacy of the questioners. In order to preserve authenticity, the chat sessions have been posted with a minimum of editing. Please excuse typographical errors, missing punctuation, and/or grammatical mistakes which naturally occur in the course of informal chat sessions.

Footnotes

  • 1. People make all sorts of gematrias all the time. However, since this is part of a deeper aspect of Torah, it takes a qualified scholar to make a proper gematria and highlight a real connection.
  • 2. Tractate Nedarim 32a. The verse (Genesis 26:5) says G-d blessed Abraham "Eikev (trans. because) Abraham listened to my voice". The Talmud translates Eikev in its numerical value 172, and reads the verse "[For] 172 [years] Abraham listened to my voice”. Abraham lived to be 175 - 172 = 3, so we know Abraham already discovered G-d at the young age of three. (See there for other examples of gematria.)

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Miscellaneous » Hebrew / Languages » Codes and Numbers

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.