The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman)1 had a student, Reb Avner, who unfortunately converted to Christianity and became a high official in the court of Spain.2

When the Ramban questioned his actions, Avner replied: “I left Judaism because of you.... You taught us that all the laws of Torah, science, and history are hinted to in the Torah portion of Haazinu3... and I refused to believe this. How could one small portion be so replete with knowledge? Your statement eventually brought me to deny the entire Torah.”

The Ramban persisted: “What I said is true. If you want, you may challenge me.” Avner then asked the Ramban to show him where his name, “Avner,” appears in Haazinu.

G‑d endowed the Ramban with Divine wisdom, and he quoted the following verse from Haazinu4:

"אמרתי אפאיהם אשביתה מאנוש זכרם" — I said I would make an end of them. I would cause their memory to vanish from among mankind.” The Ramban instructed his former student to join the third letters of each of the last four words of the verse to spell the name Avner.

Avner realized his teacher was right and asked the Ramban if he could do teshuvah for his sins. The Ramban replied, “Your repentance lies in the very verse I just quoted.” Reb Avner then took a boat and set off on the seas unaccompa­nied by a sailor or navigator. He was never heard of again.

The Rebbe explains5 that the third letter of the first word of the quoted verse is the letter reish, ר, which stands for Reb (or Rabbi). What is most intriguing about this story is that Avner’s name, as it is hinted to in the Torah, includes the honorable title of Reb, which he merited through his repentance. In truth, concludes the Rebbe, even before repenting, he carried the title of Reb.

Design

The twentieth letter of the alef-beis is the letter reish. The de­sign of the reish represents an individual who is bent over; a poor person. The reish is composed of two lines, one horizontal and one vertical. It looks very similar to the dalet, but the dalet has a yud at its upper right-hand corner, which the reish lacks.6 As we explained in the chapter on dalet, the yud represents one who is subservient to G‑d and adheres to every letter of the law. The reish’s two lines represent intellect and speech.7 Be­cause they are not joined with a yud, the speech and intellect of this individual are for his own gratification—they can even degenerate and become corrupt and evil. Such a person’s thoughts and speech are often directed to hurting and conspir­ing against others. In this way he drags his most essential fac­ulties into the depths of unholiness.

The absence of the yud is important in another way. The yud signifies Olam HaBa, the World to Come. The Talmud8 tells us that G‑d created the physical world with the letter hei, and He created the World to Come, with the letter yud. The yud thus represents the judgment that will take place in the World to Come. Adalet is someone who always has in mind that there will be a Day of Judgment. He is therefore careful about what he thinks and does. Areish, however, is a person who does not care what he does. He has no regard for his thoughts or speech because he doesn’t believe in the ultimate Day of Judgment signified by the yud.

So the reish is the unholy counterpart of the dalet.9If a reish is substituted for the dalet in the word echad, אחד, the word becomes acher, other. The mere removal of the dalet’s yud changes the concept of “one G‑d” to “other gods,” or idol wor­ship. By removing the yud, thus declaring one’s belief in other gods, the Midrash tells us it is as if one is “destroying worlds.”

We find a reverse situation in regard to the birth of Joseph (Yosef). When Joseph was born, his mother, our Matriarch Rachel, said, “Yosef li Hashem ben acher—G‑d, add to me another son (ben).” In Hebrew, the word yosef means “to add.” Acher means “other.” The Tzemach Tzedek explains that the mission of every Jew is to change a person who is “other,” who doesn’t appreciate holiness, into one who is a ben (a child of G‑d). In other words we must transform an acher into an echad, a person who is one with G‑d.

Gematriav

The numerical equivalent of reish is two hundred. It states in the Talmud that a poor person is permitted to collect charity from a synagogue if he does not possess two hundred zuz.10 The moment the person has two hundred zuz, he is no longer con­sidered to be poor.

Meaning

The word reish stands for rash, one who is poor. This meaning is illustrated in the famous story of King David11 after he mar­ried Bat Sheva. Bat Sheva had been the wife of one of King David’s soldiers whom he had sent to the front lines of battle and who subsequently died. Nathan the Prophet came to David and reproved him with a parable: “There were two men in one city; one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds but the poor man had nothing save one lamb.... The rich man took the poor man’s lamb....” The Hebrew used for the passage “and the poor man had nothing” is “v’larash ein kol....” So reish/rash signifies poverty.

The poverty of the reish is more wretched than the destitu­tion of the dalet, a dal—who also is a poor person. The poor person represented by the dalet has a pittance, but the rash has nothing.

The Talmud states: “There is no poor person except he who is poor in knowledge.”12 The reish is far away from G‑d. He enter­tains flagrant, evil thoughts and speaks negatively. He is be­yond the level of having or not having money. He is spiritu­ally bereft; the poorest of the poor.

The Talmud13 tells us that the reish also stands for the word rasha, which means an evil person. We know, however, that when a wicked person repents, he becomes a baal teshuvah, and is therefore higher than a tzaddik. In such a case, the reish no longer means rasha, but rosh, or “head.” This concept is also hinted in its design and gematria, as will be explained.

If you continue drawing the rounded line of the reish (ר), it turns into a kaf (כ), representing the Sefirah of Kesser (crown).14 In so doing, the reish is elevated to the level of Kesser. This is hinted to by the fact that the reish also stands for rosh (head)15 and the head’s skull is considered its crown. Furthermore, the numerical equivalent of reish (200) is 10 times kaf (Kesser) (20).

The reish, at times poor and at times wicked, has the ability to do teshuvah. It can awake from its slumber and repent. The reish can truly be transformed into the rosh: the head of the Jewish people.