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Where Are the 600,000 Letters of the Torah?

Where Are the 600,000 Letters of the Torah?

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Question:

I have been told that that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah scroll, and I always understood this to be the case. However, I was recently made aware that if one actually counts the letters, one would find that there are just over half that amount of letters in a standard Torah scroll. How do we reconcile the number 600,000 with the more accurate count?

Response:

There are 304,800-plus letters in the Torah, but as you noted, we often hear of the 600,000 letters in the Torah. Several non-standard methods of counting are offered to arrive at the number 600,000.

One is given by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. The count includes vowel letters that are not included in the text, but are implied in the pronunciation of the word. If they were all to be written out, there would be many more letters in a Torah scroll.

Another view explains that the count of 304,800-plus letters includes only those that we see, black ink against white parchment. But there are also the letters in white against black. The heavenly, non-physical version of the Torah is described as black fire on white fire, and both the black and white are equally meaningful. The black are the letters we see, while the white, the inverse space between the black, are the letters we don't see. The count of 600,000 includes both the black and the white letters.

Knowing this, there's an interesting law about the writing in a Torah scroll that now makes a lot of sense: If any letter has no space around it, the entire Torah is invalid, even though all the letters are complete. According to what we've just said, this is easy to understand: Although the revealed black letters would be complete, a hidden white letter would be missing.

There's yet more significance to the idea of inverse letters. The 600,000 letters correspond to the 600,000 souls of Israel. Although there are many more than 600,000 Jews, there are 600,000 general souls which divide into the individual sparks that become each of our souls. Some are of the black letters; their place in Torah is clear. It holds their life and purpose. The black stands out in strong contrast to the surrounding space.

Those of the inverse, white letters may not see where they fit into Torah. The space around the letter isn't seen in its own right, it simply enables the black letter to be seen. Perhaps a soul is here to allow another to shine, but that soul is integral. If a black letter lacks the surrounding white letters, the entire scroll is invalid.


Editor's Note:
Every Jewish child and adult should own a letter in a Torah scroll. Read more about how to do that at A Letter in a Torah Scroll.
Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (19)
May 28, 2016
correction
Pardon my interjection, but there are 304,805 letters in the Torah(.) One does not count Nikkud, Trop, or other diacritical marks. Have both written and keyed in these letters many times over, the encounters I have had with people over this matter amazes me - The text has been in existence for 3500 years. And I can guarantee you one thing - most of what people know about the accuracy of the Torah and its 'being the untouched Word of G-d' is false. However there are three Torah texts in major use by Judaism. Only one - the Koren text - is even near to being a true remnant of the original Torah texts (the five.) I would gladly share what I know if any are interested, as I have the research to prove what I say. Thank you for allowing me to post my comment. Peace to you all!
Manuel Colunga-Hernandez
Deer River MN
June 20, 2013
number of letters in the TORAH
Excuse me, but there are exactly 304,805 letters in a legal Torah. NOT 600,000... you may be thinking of the Tanach (which is also incorrect for a count!).
Manuel COlunga-Hernandez
MN, USA
November 13, 2012
gender duality, mismatched numbers
So I read in multiple places that the black and white letters represent a gender duality -- that somehow the black on white is male and the white on black is female. If each letter represents a soul, though, and there are 600,000 letters, and each soul has a single body divided in two on the earth...then apparently male and female mean something non-standard here. Also, for the census -- 600,000 isn't 603,550 and 600,000/2 (if the letters are both directions) isn't 304,805. What could this possibly mean?
Jeremy McCandlish
Pittsburgh
August 15, 2010
the significance of the Hebrew Letters
I see that our quotation marks, do resemble the YOD, as in YOD YOD, and I am saying I see within all words, the Hebrew letters, and I find myself sometimes on my knees with what I am gifted to see, namely, a script we did not write and that we are truly co-creating the universe.

I once wrote about the SHIN in SHINE, and I think people thought me quite "out there", but for me, the SHIN is truly, a menorah, and so how beautiful, how relevant this is. And if no one ever perceives it, as I do, it doesn't matter. What I am gifted to see, what throws me to my knees, at every turn, is a story, so beautiful, so amazing, so incredible, I see the menorah in cacti, in plants, wherever I turn.

We are all one soul, and I do deeply believe that RUAH, the soul, that embodies the compassion of Ruth, well that soul, to reach that soul, through our own compassion, is the "key". We are gifted a story that turns on the letters themselves. However we write about this, it all does deeply connect
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
August 12, 2010
600,000+
Presumably, the significance of the number 600,000 is based on the recorded census of the Jewish people leaving egypt and recorded in the "written" Torah and thus has eternal significance for all time.

The census number is 603,550.

Our sages are telling us that the Jewish souls are bound up in and relate to the Torah at an essential level. Whether you know how and what to count is beside the point.
Naftaly
August 12, 2010
Black letters, white letters
What a beautiful concept! Many of us want to be "black letters," and may feel disappointed in our lives if we aren't, but the total picture, how G-d sees us, is that the white letters, too, the folks who make up the unnoticed background, are also essential. I hope that I can keep that idea in my thoughts.
Sara Fishman
Worcester, MA
August 10, 2010
Male-Female Duality
After reading this wonderful article and agreeing with its findings, my wife said to me, "Maybe, the 'inverse' letters are feminine in nature and hidden by G-d for the sake of their modesty. I liked the idea of the Torah having modesty embedded within it, so I thought I would share this insight from a modest female. Thanks for the articlem, Malkie.
Arik
Marysville, Kansas
August 10, 2010
Wow, what a concept. Thank you I really enjoyed this.
Anonymous
Branson, MO
August 9, 2010
What about ancient Hebrew?
Sarah, from what we can see in the Torah Scrolls of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Museum), the ancient Hebrew script hasn't changed that much over time. Those readable ancient Torah letters, the oldest known, have almost the same shape as the actual letters. The Dead Sea Scrolls make the Torah more valid, even if our understanding may have diminished over time.
Walter
Capesterre, France
August 9, 2010
What about ancient Hebrew?
The Hebrew letters have changed shape over time, from the ancient Hebrew script to what we have today. Very much so.

This means that the letters being written now in Torah scrolls are not the same as the letters that were originally written in the Torah.

This means that not only have the black letters changed, but this has also changed the shape of the hidden white letters.

Wouldnt the entire Torah we have today be invalid because of this?

I would like to see a Torah scroll be found with the ancient form of Hebrew letters on it. Or a Torah scroll created like that today by a sofer who knows how the ancient Hebrew letters were formed.
Sarah
Los Angeles