As a young pupil, the Chassidic master, Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin, was instructed by his teacher that whenever he saw two dots next to each other he was to pronounce G-d’s name. Now, at the end of a verse in the Torah, there are also two dots: one above the other. That evening at home, the young Reb Yisrael began to read. And every time he reached the end of a verse he uttered G-d’s name. His father reprimanded him: “What’s going on here?! Who taught you that?!” The boy responded, “My teacher did. He taught me that whenever I see two dots together, I should pronounce G-d’s name. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Reb Yisrael’s father explained to his son: “The dot, the yud, represents a Jew. When one Jew is beside another, when one Jew respects the other, then G-d dwells in their presence. Their alliance becomes G-d’s name. But when one Jew is on top of the other, when one Jew thinks he’s better or smarter than the next, or disrespects his neighbor, then that’s the end of the passage. It creates a separation in the relation between a Jew and G-d.
The tenth letter of the alef-beis—and also the smallest—is the letter yud.
On the simplest level, the design of the yud is a point: a dot which represents G-d’s essential power; the one G-d Who is indivisible. Furthermore, the yud looks like a flame that soars ever higher, representing the soul of a Jew yearning to unite with G-d.
Additionally, the yud represents the method by which the blessing descends from G-d to His people. The letter yud when spelled out is י-ו-ד. The yud represents a seminal drop, the concentrated power of G-d. The vav represents a descent, for its form is that of a chute—and through this the blessings of G-d travel downward to our world. The dalet, having height and width, represents the physical world, signifying how G-d’s blessings are manifest in every aspect of nature. This teaches us that G-d’s blessings don’t only reside in heaven. They flow down to this corporeal world and endow us with physical health, sustenance and success.
Perhaps this is why the first letter of each of the three passages of the Priestly Blessing begins with the yud:
יברכך ה' וישמרך—May G-d bless you and guard you.
יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחנך—May G-d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום—May G-d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.
Furthermore, every letter of the alef-beis begins with the yud, a point. This illustrates the inherent spirituality of every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and that the Torah and G-d’s teachings are all for the sake of the Yid, or Jew.
The numerical equivalent of the yud is ten. Up until now, we’ve been discussing the single integers of the alef-beis. Now we enter the realm of two-digit numbers. After the yud, each letter’s gematria increases by ten instead of one. Yud is ten, kaf is twenty, lamed is thirty, mem forty, and so on. In Judaism, the number ten is quite significant. Throughout the teachings of Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah and Chassidus, the number ten is a fundamental building block for every aspect of Creation.
Firstly, there are the Ten Utterances of Speech through which G-d created the world. Next come the ten generations from Adam to Noah, and the ten generations from Noah to Abraham. There were ten plagues that G-d brought upon the Egyptian people, and ten miracles that He performed for His people to save them from those plagues. G-d challenged the Jewish people with ten tests in the desert. And, of course, G-d gave us the Ten Commandments.
The fact that ten represents sanctity and holiness is another reason for the importance of the yud. The Talmud tells us that when ten Jews assemble, G-d dwells in their presence. The Tanya gives an example of just how powerful that congregation is. It states that if an angel were to fly above the room in which ten Jews were gathered—even if there were no words of Torah exchanged between them—the angel would be burnt out of existence from the holy light that radiated from their combined energy. This is the power of ten souls. And if these ten souls are gathered together for Torah study and prayer, how much mightier is their force.
How do we know about the sanctity of ten? From the story of the Meraglim—the Spies. Moses sent twelve spies to scout the land of Canaan (the land of Israel). Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, delivered a positive report: “If G-d desires it... we shall surely ascend and conquer it.” The other ten reported negatively: “We cannot go up against those people.... It is a land that devours its inhabitants.” G-d responded, “How much longer must I remain amongst this evil congregation (eidah)?” referring obviously to these ten men.
From here we learn that a congregation (an eidah) refers to a group of ten, a minyan. A number of important questions logically follow. Why is the concept of ten men constituting a minyan based on the fact that there were ten evil spies returning from the land of Israel? How do we ultimately say that ten traitors represent proof that G-d can only dwell among a community of at least ten, and that the Shechinah (a manifestation of G-dliness) can exist only in such a gathering?
In examining the treason of the Spies, we come to realize that, in essence, they weren’t such grave sinners. The Spies were the heads of ten of the twelve Tribes. They were holy people. When Moses sent them into the land of Israel, they saw a beautiful land, rich soil, a wonderful climate, and large, succulent fruits. Upon their return, they said to Moses, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants”—meaning—“It’s not that we couldn’t conquer Canaan’s inhabitants physically, but if we reside in this materialistic environment, there is no way we would be able to maintain our current spiritual level. We will be swallowed up by materialism.”
G-d chose us to study His holy Torah. He chose us to be a light unto all the nations of the world. How could the Jewish people accomplish this if, by living in Israel, by indulging in this physical wonderland, they would forget about their responsibilities? Instead of studying and praying all day they would be working the soil. They would be reaping delicious produce. And they would forget all about why they ultimately came. In the desert, the Jewish people were essentially provided for. They had manna from Heaven to eat. They had water from the well of Miriam to drink. Their clothes were washed and maintained by the Clouds of Glory. So what did they do all day? They learned Torah. They discussed its instructions and delved into its secrets.
In the Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishnah, he discusses how the Oral Law was imparted to the people. Each time G-d gave a law to Moses, Moses taught it four times: first to Aaron, then to Aaron’s sons, then the seventy elders, and then the Jewish people.... After all this, the nation divided into small groups and discussed the particular law, analyzing it over and over again until they were utterly clear about every one of its aspects. This was the daily routine of the Jewish people in the desert.
Moses’ spies were great Torah scholars and holy Jews. They said, “Look, if we go into the land of Israel, we’re not going to have time to sit around and discuss all the minute details of halachah. We won’t have the opportunity to analyze the law in depth, or pass it on scrupulously to our children. For this reason, Israel is a land that will eat up its inhabitants. The Jewish people will become immersed in the physical rather than the spiritual.” The Spies therefore told Moses, “We don’t want to go.” Obviously this was a sin, but why was this a sin for which they were mortally punished? Because G-d’s original and fundamental intention in bringing us into the world was not to eschew physicality, but to transform the physical into the spiritual. That is the ultimate goal of the Jewish nation.
So the incident of the Spies represents a rather unique paradox. The Spies sinned because they didn’t follow G-d’s objective in conquering the land. On the other hand, they had a valid point. They knew of the temptations that awaited the Jewish people.
Now imagine this scenario. A mother wakes up her eight-year-old son for school and he says, “No! I don’t want to go and I’m not going to go!” How does the mother respond? Does she say, “Get up! You’re going to school whether you like it or not”—or—“Oh, you don’t want to go to school? No problem. But you’ll have to stay in bed for the next forty years!” Obviously she’ll tell him to go to school.
Similarly, when the Spies said, “We don’t want to go into the land,” why didn’t G-d just ignore them and demand that they go in anyway?
Because they weren’t ready. There was much more studying to be done.
Now if only we would all be on the Spies’ level—committed to learning Torah and striving to be spiritual and connected to G-d every minute of the day! In their own way, the Spies wanted the era of Mashiach to begin at that very moment. But the time simply wasn’t right. First, the Jewish people had to enter the Land. They had to work it and bring its fruits up to G-d, exemplifying how everything in this physical world is linked to the spiritual. Then and only then—in that era and our own—would we be fit for the coming of Mashiach. This is the richness of the passage from which we derive the concept of a minyan. To this very day, any time ten Jews gather for any reason it is a quorum of holiness.
The meaning of yud is a Yid—a Jew. The yud can also represent a yad—a hand, which is an allusion to G-d, for we say that G-d took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
How do we differentiate between the yud that represents G-d and the yud that alludes to man? We see many times in our prayer books that the name of G-d is composed of two consecutive yuds, one immediately adjacent to the other. The two yuds constitute a vital force in two of G-d’s names: The first name of G-d, the Tetragrammaton, is spelled י-ה-ו-ה—Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei. The Tetragrammaton represents G-d as He is beyond nature. The second name of G-d is A-donai—which is א-ד-נ-י—Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yud. It signifies how G-d, the Master of the universe, manifests Himself in nature. The Yud at the beginning of the Tetragrammaton and the Yud at the end of A-donai come together—a Yud followed by another Yud—to represent a fusion of these two expressions of G-dliness. This fusion is an affirmation of the fact that while we live in a physical world of “natural” order, G-d is truly the one and only creator of nature.
The yud is also the first letter in the two names for a Jew. The first name is ישראל (Yisrael). Jews are called b’nei Yisrael—the children of Israel. Yisrael means both לי ראש—“I am the head,” and שר א-ל—“minister of G-d.” The terminology “minister of G-d” represents the spiritual aspect of a Jew when he prays, studies Torah, performs acts of loving-kindness and all the other mitzvos.
The second name for a Jew is b’nei Yaakov—the children of Jacob. Yaakov is a phonetic fusion of the letter yud and the word akeiv. Yud represents G-d. Akeiv means “heel,” the lowest part of man. The heel is what we use to tread upon the earth. Therefore, the mission of a Jew is to go forth into the depths of the materialistic world and infuse it with the Yud of G-d, with G-dliness. This isn’t true only with regard to the land of Israel or the synagogue. It refers to every place a Jew’s foot lands. We must journey from Shabbos into the weekday and from prayer into business with the same intention, with the same passion to fulfill and complete G-d’s creation.
We’ve just said that there are two names for a Jew. But from where does the word “Jew” (Yehudi in Hebrew) actually derive? We don’t even see the term Yehudi in our texts until Megillas Esther, the scroll that we read on Purim.
In Megillas Esther, Mordechai refused to bow down to the wicked Haman. It says: “A man, a Jew (ish Yehudi), was in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai.” The Talmud observes that Mordechai didn’t come from the tribe of Judah (Yehudah). Rather he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. He should thus have been called “Mordechai the Benjaminite (Yemini).” The Talmud proceeds to state that anyone who denies idolatry and thereby acknowledges G-d is called a Yehudi—Yehudah, or the Jew.
It is interesting to note that the letter yud, when placed at the beginning of a word, represents constancy. This concept is illustrated in the verse in Job: “So did Job do (yaaseh) all of his days.” The verb asah (עשה), “to do,” would typically refer to a one-time accomplishment. Here, however, a yud precedes it—יעשה
. The yud
with continuity. Job offered burnt offerings for his children not just this one time, but every year at that time—all of his days.
The same concept holds true with G-d’s name. The name of G-d is spelled Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei. The word hoveh (hei, vav, hei)means “the present.” G-d continuously creates the world—right now, even as you read this. The Yud in front of hoveh reminds us that Creation was not a singular occurrence. Rather, G-d is forming the world anew every moment.
The word Yehudah (i.e., Yehudi)—the Jew—also begins with a yud. The Alter Rebbe explains that Yehudah means “praise” and “acknowledgment” (etymologically, it stems from the word hod, to praise). A Jew, by nature, praises G-d. But this isn’t merely enacted once or twice in a lifetime, or even once or twice a day. Praise is expressed every moment of our earthly existence. This is the yud that is placed before the root word hod, “to praise.” It represents a Jew’s continuous, innate desire to praise G-d. Of course, some days that desire can be concealed and we may be unaware of it. But that can never obscure a Jew’s perpetual, unyielding connection to G-d.
In light of this fact, we may re-examine one of the darkest periods of Jewish history. Hitler—may his name be erased—forced all Jews to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” (i.e., Yehudi) on it. In retrospect, we can say that Hitler’s attempt to extinguish the Jewish spark actually served to re-ignite and distinguish it. Wearing the star meant that even in the most harrowing times, the Jewish people would never stop loving and praising G-d. Yehudah—to praise G-d constantly—was emblazoned on our very being.
Yud. G-d’s indivisible power. His hand. His name. A corridor to a heightened level of connection and understanding—forever embedded in our Jewish name and our inherent desire to praise Him.