For six months, Joab, King David’s fierce general, warred against and killed all the males of the evil nation of Amalek.
When he finally returned, he told the king of his great victory and how he had slain all the men of Amalek, to which King David responded, “The Torah commands us to destroy the entire nation of Amalek, including the women and the children. Why did you kill only the men?”
Joab answered that the Torah explicitly states: “...timcheh et zachar (זָכָר) Amalek—you shall destroy the males (zachar) of Amalek.”
King David replied, “You have read the word with the wrong vowels (nekudos). It is not זָכָר, zachar, but זֵכֶר, zeicher, which means the ‘remembrance’ [of every member of Amalek].”
Joab then went to his childhood teacher and rebuked him for mispronouncing the word zeicher as zachar. His teacher replied, “On the contrary, I taught you correctly with the word zeicher, remembrance, implying our obligation to destroy the entire nation of Amalek. I’m sorry, but the mistake was yours, Joab.”
How could Joab have made such a mistake?
Like the letters, the nekudos, or vowels, are also of Divine origin. Given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai, they were passed down orally from leader to leader until they reached Ezra the Scribe, who revealed and taught them to the Jewish nation. Up until that point, Hebrew was never written with vowels and the commoner didn’t even know they existed. The incident with Joab took place approximately 500 years before Ezra revealed the vowels—hence the justification for his error.
In Sefer Pardes and Tikkunei Zohar it’s explained that each vowel is representative of one of the ten Sefiros, and that each one has a gematria and a meaning. The names of the vowels are not only holy, they also carry the initials and acronyms of angels.
The writings on Hebrew grammar explain that if the letter is the “body,” then the vowel is its soul. A body without a soul cannot survive. One can thus begin to appreciate both the spiritual energy transmitted via the nekudos and what they represent.
The vowels, like the letters, can also be explained on the three levels of design, gematria, and meaning. The gematria can be computed on several levels. The simplest level is that each dot, similar to the yud, equals ten, and each line (horizontal or vertical; similar to that of the vav) represents six.