Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 4
Sound: "D"
Meaning: 1. Poor 2. door 3. lift up

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A young girl is born into an observant Jewish home. A staunch believer, she wakes up one morning and suddenly decides she wants to experience other religions. So she ex­plores various cults and faiths, and begins to learn about their ideas. Her father, of course, is puzzled. There is a rabbi nearby, an emissary (shaliach) of the Rebbe. So the father asks him for advice. The shaliach answers: we’ll write to the Rebbe—since the Rebbe is known for his prophetic vision and his love for every Jew—and see what he tells us. The pair composes a letter to the Rebbe and the Rebbe replies, “Check your mezuzahs.” The father and the shaliach proceed to take off the many mezuzahs in the house. The father is a very wealthy man. He’s the gimmel, the giver. They bring the mezuzahs to a scribe to be checked. But there’s nothing wrong with them. Each one is perfect. Time goes on and the girl is becoming more and more steeped in foreign faiths. Again the father and the shaliach write to the Rebbe: “What should we do?” The Rebbe answers a second time, “Check your mezuzahs.” So the men remove the mezuzahs a second time and check them from top to bottom, but again they’re perfect. But if the Rebbe says, “Check the mezuzahs,” what are they to do?

One day the shaliach is strolling with the father across his beautiful property, some seven acres in size. At the end of a field the rabbi notices a small hut. He asks, “Does this belong to you?” The father replies that it does. “Does it have a mezu­zah?” “Well, we put one there many years ago.” So the two men check the mezuzah on the door of the hut and, in the first verse of the Shema, where it is meant to read אחד, echad (one), part of the dalet has been rubbed away and it reads אחר, acher (other). They immediately replace the mezuzah, and the following morning the daughter wakes up crying. “Daddy, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened to me. I don’t know what got into me. But I want to return. I want to come home to Judaism.”


The dalet is the fourth letter of the alef-beis. The Talmud1 tells us that the dalet represents the poor person. Thus the phrase gomel dalim: the benefactor who gives to the benefi­ciary.

The Talmud2 also tells us that when we observe the shape of the dalet, its single leg stretches toward the right—in the direction of the gimmel. This teaches the poor person that he has to make himself available to receive the charity of the benefactor. Similarly,3 the small extension on the right-hand side of the dalet’s horizontal bar looks like an ear, for the pauper must always be listening for the presence of the wealthy man. However the left side of this bar doesn’t confront the gimmel, the giver, but faces left, toward the letter hei, which represents G‑d. This instructs us that we must give charity discretely and not embarrass the poor person. The pauper must put his faith in G‑d, Who is the ultimate Giver of the universe.

The Mishnah4 tells us that in the Holy Temple, there was a room called “the Silent Chamber.” One would enter this room alone and close the door directly behind him. In the room was a big box. One had a choice: either to put money into the box or to take some out. Of course, the rich man would put money in. And after him, also alone, would come the poor man, who took money out. It was all done discreetly. The rich man couldn’t see to whom he was giving charity. The poor person didn’t know from whom he was taking it.

A second approach to the form or design of the dalet is that the dalet represents a doorpost and a lintel.5 The vertical line is the doorpost; the horizontal line is the lintel. What is the con­nection between the door and the poor man? Customarily, a poor man must knock on doors.

There’s also a third interpretation provided by the teachings of Chassidus.6 This view points out that the dalet is composed of a reish and a yud. What’s the difference between the dalet, ד and the reish, ר? A yud. If one affixes a yud to the upper right-hand corner of the reish, the reish becomes a dalet. The yud, a very small letter, represents humility. That humility is what separates the reish from the dalet. The mezuzah on our door­posts contains the famous paragraph of the prayer known as the Shema. In the Shema we say, “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our L-rd, G‑d is One.” The word echad, one, as in “G‑d is One,” is spelled with the letters alef, ches, dalet, אחד. What happens if the yud is removed from the dalet and it becomes a reish? The word is no longer echad, but acher, אחר—other. If such a mistake were made, this would now translate into, “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our L-rd, G‑d is other (i.e., other gods).” So critical is the aspect of yud, humility, in the belief in G‑d’s oneness that its omission might cause one to reject G‑d, G‑d forbid, and believe in the existence of other omnipotent powers in the universe. The Midrash7 tells us that if one switches the reish for the dalet, he’s destroying all the worlds.


The gematria of dalet is four. Four represents the Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. It also represents the four created worlds as explained in Kabbalah: Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. In addition, dalet signifies the four basic elements of Creation: fire (energy), air (gas), water (liquid) and earth (solid). Four also represents the holiday of Passover: the four cups of wine, the four children, the four questions.

What is the reason we drink four cups of wine on Passover?

There are four expressions of redemption in the Torah. When G‑d took the Jewish people out of Egypt, He said: “I will take you out”; “I will save you”; “I will redeem you”; and finally “I will take you to Me as a nation.”8 The first three expressions involve the intervention of G‑d Himself in taking the Jewish people out of Egypt. The Jews themselves remained passive. But the fourth—to become G‑d’s nation—required both personal and communal action on the part of the Jewish people.

What does it mean to become G‑d’s nation and how do we prepare ourselves? By purifying ourselves. The Zohar9 tells us that at the time of the Exodus, the Jewish people were at the forty-ninth level of impurity. Had they remained in Egypt one more moment they would have fallen to the fiftieth and lowest level and been lost forever. It wasn’t because of their merits, their goodness or their kindness that they deserved to be re­deemed. Rather it was due to G‑d’s benevolence: “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” “I will redeem you.” But how did G‑d ultimately redeem the Jewish people? By making them His nation and by giving them His Torah. This fourth term of redemption did not occur until Matan Torah, when G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Matan Torah took place forty-nine days after the Jews left Egypt. For forty-nine days, we prepared ourselves to be fit to be His people. In the first three steps of redemption, we were passive and undeserving. The fourth level we had to earn.

The difference between the first three and the fourth expres­sions is signified by the difference between matzah and wine.10 Matzah is a food that has no taste. According to halachah, matzah for the Passover Seder is made simply by mixing flour and water together—called “poor man’s bread.” When the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt, we were in a state of spiritual poverty, undeserving of the redemption. We were like matzah, tasteless. But over the next forty-nine days, we worked on ourselves. We began to comprehend and internalize what Judaism and Torah are all about. We lifted ourselves up from the forty-nine levels of impurity to the forty-nine levels of understanding. We acknowledged G‑d. Once we began to understand what Judaism embodied, once we understood what it meant to become G‑d’s people, we became joyous. It is for this reason that we drink wine, for it says,11 “There is no song without wine.” We drink wine so that we can fully acknowl­edge our redemption from Egypt and sing G‑d’s praises with great joy.

Matzah represents the first three expressions—G‑d’s inter­vention on behalf of the Jewish people when they were “flat,” passive. The four cups of wine represent the fourth expression—becoming a nation, the active role and commitment of the Jews.

There’s another way to differentiate between the three matzahs and the four cups of wine. Three represents potential; four represents the development of that potential.

In the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, G‑d represents three: investing His potential in the Jewish people with the three expressions of redemption. Four represents the Jewish people, who complete the process.

Potential (three) can also be represented by the father, the investor of potential, with the developer (four) represented by the mother.

We can now understand why there were three fathers and four mothers. The father (the investor of the potential) provides the seed, and the mother (the developer) takes and refines it. The father is the biological benefactor and the mother the biological beneficiary. The father is therefore represented by three. The three Patriarchs are the gimmel, the giver, the third letter of the alef-beis. The mother, the receiver and beneficiary, is represented by the dalet, the four Matriarchs. Once the poten­tial is realized (i.e., the child is born), one can rejoice. The symbol of rejoicing is wine, represented by four and cor­responding to the four mothers.

So the mother not only receives the seed, she develops it. In practical terms, one must first acknowledge the kernel of an idea in order to expound on it. At the Pesach Seder we acknowl­edge the fact that G‑d took us out of Egypt. We thank G‑d by drinking four cups of wine, asking four questions, and speaking about the four children. With four, we appreciate all that has happened to bring us to this day—including our own participation in bringing it to a new level. But to represent G‑d’s participation alone in taking us out of Egypt, we eat only three matzahs. For at the moment when G‑d took us out, the future of the Jewish people lay only in potential. We were in a state of matzah; inactive vessels in a state of spiritual poverty. Through our efforts, we brought three to four—potential to actuality.


The meaning of dalet is delet, a “door.” It also means dal, a poor person. Finally the word dalet represents dilisoni, which means “to lift me up.” How do these three definitions work together? The convergence occurs when every individual realizes that he or she is poor. This poverty doesn’t necessarily denote a state of financial want. Rather it means that everything a person “owns” in fact belongs to G‑d. G‑d has been kind enough to give us life. G‑d has been kind enough to give us sustenance. Without G‑d, we have nothing. The acknowledgment of this is the door into G‑d’s chamber. And once we enter that chamber G‑d will lift us up—dilisoni—to bless us with life, health, sustenance and success. In Psalm 30 of the Book of Psalms, King David tells us, “I praise G‑d because He lifts me up (dili­soni).” If we turn this phrase around, we could say dilisoni—“Because G‑d lifts me up, I praise Him.” In this expression, G‑d lifts me up by giving me the skills to be productive. This enables me to praise Him from a higher level.