The Ties between Letters, Words, and Numbers
In Hebrew, each letter corresponds to a number. As a result, any word or name can become a series of numbers. Numbers can be taken one at a time or added together. There is significance when words include or add up to the same numbers; the meaning of the words that share numbers are thought to be deeply related or even identical.
The letters are results of spiritual sensations. The direction of the lines and shapes in a letter has spiritual meaning.
As a result, Hebrew letters are also codes for sensations the writer receives from the Creator. When a letter or word is written, the author is giving us his or her conscious perception of the Creator. The Creator is acting on them as they write.
The color in writing is also a clue to the way creation (black ink) works hand in hand with the Creator (white paper). Without both of them, you could not understand the writing or the story of creation and what it means to you.
A Map of Spirituality
The Torah is the major text of Judaism and the “Old Testament” in Christianity, as well as a Kabbalah text. Its letters show all the information that is radiating down from the Creator. There are two basic kinds of lines in Hebrew letters, representing two kinds of Light. The vertical lines stand for the Light of wisdom or pleasure. The horizontal lines stand for the Light of mercy, or correction. (There are also diagonals and circular lines that have specific meanings in each letter, but that’s beyond the scope of this book.)
The codes come from changes in the Light as it develops your Kli (desire). The Light expands your desire. When Light enters your Kli, it is called Taamim (flavors), and when it leaves, it is called Nekudot (dots or points). Memories of Light entering are called Tagin (tags), and memories of Light departing are Otiot (letters).
All letters start with a dot or point. A complete cycle of a spiritual state contains entrance, departure, memories of the entrance, and the memories of the departure. The fourth and last element creates letters, and the other three are written as tiny symbols Taamim (flavors), tags (Tagin), and dots (Nekudot) above, within, and below the letters respectively.
With correct instruction for reading the Torah, Kabbalists can see their past, present, and future states by gazing at these symbols in each of their combinations. But to see that, it is not enough to simply read the text. You must know how to see the codes.
Certain combinations of letters can be used instead of the language of Sefirot and Partzufim when you describe spiritual actions. Objects and actions shown through letters and their combinations, too, can give a description of the spiritual world.
The key to reading the Torah in this way is The Zohar. In essence, the book contains commentaries on the five parts of the Torah and explains what is concealed in the text of Moses.
The letters represent information about the Creator. More precisely, they describe the individual’s experience of the Creator. Kabbalists depict the Creator as white Light, the background of the paper on which letters and words are written. The creature’s perceptions of the Creator emphasize different sensations that a person feels while experiencing the Creator, using letters and words. This is why traditional Hebrew writing is made of black letters over a white background.
It turns out that the Hebrew letters are like a map of spirituality, describing all the spiritual desires. The way they connect gives us the Torah.
Dots and Lines
The dots and lines in Hebrew letters are shapes on the paper, which is blank and void. The paper is the Light, or Creator. The black ink on it is the creation.
There are Emanator and emanated. The Emanator has four elements: Fire, Wind, Water, and Dust, which are the four Otiot (letters): Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey, which are Hochma, Bina, Tifferet, and Malchut. They are also Taamim, Nekudot, Tagin, Otiot, and they are Atzilut, Beria, Yetzira, Assiya.
—The Holy Ari, The Tree of Life
A vertical line (|) means that the Light descends from Above—from the Creator toward creation. A horizontal line (—) means the Creator is relating to all existence (like the sweep of a landscape).
The shape of Hebrew letters comes from the combination of Malchut (represented by black) and Bina (represented by white). The black point is Malchut. When the dot connects to the Light, it expresses the way it receives the Light through all kinds of forms and shapes. The shapes show the different ways creation (black ink) reacts to the Creator (the white background).
Each letter signifies combinations of forces. Their structure and how letters are pronounced express qualities of the Creator. You express the spiritual qualities you achieve through the shapes.
Black on White
Hebrew letters also represent Kelim (vessels). The Zohar tells us that the letters appeared one by one before the Creator and asked to be selected to serve Him in creating the universe. Put simply, the letters asked to receive his blessing and give it to creation, just as a Kli (vessel) receives water and pours it out to sustain life.
Even if we take the subtlest word that can be used… the word “Upper Light” or even “Simple Light,” it is still borrowed and lent from the light of the sun, or candlelight, or a light of contentment one feels upon resolving some great doubt. …How can we use them in context of the spiritual and Godly? …It is particularly so where one needs to find some rationale in these words to help one in the negotiation customary in the research of the wisdom. Here one must be very strict and accurate using definitive descriptions…
—Baal HaSulam, “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah”
The shapes of the letters symbolize a connection and bond between you and the Creator. They are not just black lines; they form clear shapes because they represent corrected relationships between creation and Creator.
This bond is built on contrast and collision. As creatures, you and I don’t experience Light unless it collides with something. To sense Light, it must be stopped by something, such as the retina in your eye. The surface of an object (sound, light, or any kind of wave) collides with our perception. This stops it from continuing and allows us to sense it.
Because the paper is like the Light, it must be stopped with black lines (letters). That allows a person to sense the Light and learn from it. The black lines of the letters are seen as a barrier to the Light. This is because black (the color) is the opposite of Light. The Light strikes against the creature’s Masach; it wants to enter the Kli and give delight. Instead of deflecting it, the struggle between the rejecting Masach and the striking Light creates a powerful bond. This collision is what the relationship between the Light and letters is based on.
In this way, the black lines of the letters limit the Light or restrict it. When the Light “hits” a line, it is forced to stop, and then the Kli can study it. It turns out that the only way to learn anything about the Creator is by stopping His Light—restricting it and studying it. Ironically, it is precisely when you contain the Creator that you learn how to be as free as Him. In a sense, the Masach is like a prism: the rejection of Light breaks it into the elements that comprise it, and this allows us, creatures, to study it and decide how much of each “color” we want to use.
Letters and Worlds
Hebrew consists of 22 letters. The first nine letters, Aleph through Tet, represent the lower part of Bina. The next nine, Yod through Tzadik, stand for Zeir Anpin, and the last four, Kof through Tav, stand for Malchut, the creature itself.
In addition to the “regular” letters, there are five final letters in Hebrew. If you look at the illustration below, you will see that they are not new letters; they bear the same names as letters in the original 22. There is a good reason for that.
You study the qualities of the Creator in the same way you determine an object’s color. When you see a red ball, it means that the ball reflected the red color, and that’s why we can see it. Similarly, when you reject (reflect) a fragment of the Creator’s Light, you know exactly what you rejected. This is why the only way you can know the Creator is by first rejecting all His Light. Then you can decide what you want to do with it.
Atzilut, the highest of the five worlds introduced in Chapter 7. Because the original 22 letters are in the world closest to the Creator, they describe a corrected connection between creation and Creator. The five final letters make contact between the corrected state (World of Atzilut) and the worlds of the uncorrected state, Beria, Yetzira, Assiya (BYA). Because there are five phases in creation, there must be five final forms of contact between Atzilut and BYA, hence the five final letters.
The letter Bet is the first letter in the Torah and the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It’s the first in the Torah because Bet stands for the corrected connection between Bina and Malchut, which is called Beracha (blessing). A blessing is received when Malchut (creation, us) can connect to Bina (Creator). We can connect to Him only when we want to be like Him, and that’s what is meant by “corrected connection.” When Malchut asks to be like Bina—that is, when you and I want to be like the Creator—it is called “a corrected connection” blessing (Beracha).
Ones, Tens, Hundreds, and Beyond
Letters are divided into three numerical categories: ones, tens, and hundreds:
The Bina level corresponds to ones: Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalet, Hey, Vav, Zayin, Het, Tet. These are the nine (1–9) Sefirot of Bina.
The ZA level corresponds to tens: Yod, Chaf, Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Peh, Tzadik. These are the nine (10–90) Sefirot of ZA.
The Malchut level corresponds to hundreds: Kof, Reish, Shin, Tav. These are the four (100–400) Sefirot of Malchut.
The obvious question comes to mind: what about the numbers above 400? The answer is that Hebrew is a spiritual language, not a math language. Everything about it represents spiritual states, and no more numbers are required to describe the structure of the world of Atzilut (the “home” of the letters). In other words, with these 22 letters, you can describe everything from the beginning of creation to infinity.
So what happens when you want to express complicated numbers, like 248? You use three letters: Reish (200), Mem (40), and Het (8). And what if you want to write a higher number than 400, like 756? You use more than three letters: Tav (400) + Shin (300) + Nun (50) + Vav (6) = 756.
Of course, we can reach this number using many different combinations, but it is important to remember that if two words add up to the same number, they are spiritual synonyms and have the same spiritual meaning.
Now here’s how this discussion of numbers relates to the evolution of spiritual desire explained in Kabbalah. When numbers represent the size of your Kli, the bigger they are, the more Light enters them. If there are only ones in your desire, that is, if you have a small desire, a small amount of Light is present. If tens are added and your desire grows, more Light enters. If hundreds are added and your desire reaches its peak, the Light symbolized by the letters fills your spiritual Kelim.
Things get tricky, however, as Kabbalah has an exception. Numbers can also represent the Light, not just the desires. In this case, ones (small Lights) are in Malchut, tens are in ZA, and hundreds are in Bina. This is because of an inverse relation between Light and Kli (desire). This may be confusing, but it is because the greatest Light of the Creator enters your Kli only when you activate your lowest desires.
Here are the numerical values of each level expressed in terms of the Light they represent and the level at which they fill your vessels:
Bina—Light (100); Kli (1)
ZA—Light (10); Kli (10)
Malchut—Light (1); Kli (100)
If God = Nature, and Nature = Desire, then…
Here’s something else to think about: if you sum up the numeric values of the letters in the words HaTeva (the nature), they add up to 86. Next, if you sum up the value of the letters in the word Elokim (God), they add up to 86. And finally, if you sum up the value of the letters in the word Kos (cup), they add up to—you guessed it—86. That shows the equivalence of God, cup, and nature in Kabbalah, which we noted in Chapter 2. Here’s how it works.
We’ve already said that if two words add up to the same number, they have the same spiritual meaning. Therefore, the statement that Kabbalah is making here is very interesting (if a little complex):
Nature and Creator are one and the same. The fact that we don’t see them as such doesn’t make it less true, just like the fact that we can’t see bacteria with a naked eye doesn’t stop them from affecting our bodies.
A cup, in Kabbalah, stands for a Kli, meaning a desire to receive. Therefore, nature and our Kli are the same. Here, too, the fact that we don’t sense it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, but the fact that they have the same value means that we have the opportunity to correct (change) our desires to match nature’s structure.
When we match our desires (Kli) with those of nature, we will also match them with the Creator (because nature and the Creator are synonyms). In simple words, when we equalize our Kli with nature, we will discover the Creator.
In terms of an equation, it looks like this: If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.