Kaf is the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 20
Sound: "K" with a dagesh (dot) and "KH" without a dagesh
Meaning: Palm, spoon, crown

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A king once traveled to a great forest. He penetrated so deeply into the forest that he got lost and could not find the way home. In the depths of the woods he met simple peas­ants and asked them to lead him out of the forest, but they were unable to help him, for they had never heard of the great highway that led to the royal palace.

The king then found a wise and understanding man, and requested his aid. The sage discerned immediately that this was the king and his heart stirred within him. In his wisdom, he immediately led the king to the correct path, guided him to his royal palace and aided him until the king was finally restored his true honor and seated on his majestic throne. The rescuer, of course, found great favor with the king.

Time passed and the wise man acted improperly, angering the king. The king ordered that he be tried for violating the royal law. The man knew that he would be dealt with very severely. In great anxiety, he fell before the king and implored that he be granted one plea: before the trial and the subsequent judgment, he wished to be garbed in the very same clothing he had worn when the king first encountered him in the forest. The king, too, was to don the original clothing he had been wearing then.

The king acceded to this request. When the forest encoun­ter was re-enacted by their dressing in the original garments, the king vividly remembered the life-saving kindness of his rescuer. Great mercy was aroused within him as he recol­lected how he had been restored to the royal throne. With compassion and mercy, the king magnanimously forgave his rescuer and restored him to his place of high honor.

This story, told by Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev,1 is an analogy of the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people. Before the great revelation at Sinai, G‑d went from nation to nation and offered them the Torah, but they declined it. We, the Jewish people, accepted the Torah with gladness and joy, affirming that “We will do and we will hear,”2 accepting the Torah even prior to hearing its specific teachings. We declared our loyalty to G‑d, “accepting the yoke of the Heavenly kingdom,” proclaimed G‑d’s majesty as King over us, and affirmed that we would fulfill His commands and be loyal to His holy Torah.

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have sinned and rebelled against G‑d... and every Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar, reminiscent of the shofar that blew at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. This reminds us of our vow to submit to G‑d’s sovereignty and evokes our thoughts of repentance. Through the shofar blowing, G‑d remembers our original acceptance of the Torah when we made Him our King. He thus forgives us for all our sins and inscribes us immediately to the Book of Life for a good life, etc.3 The kaf, the representation of Kesser, the crown of the King, reminds us that our intention in performing mitzvos must focus on our submission to G‑d’s will.4


The eleventh letter of the alef-beis is the kaf.5

The design of the kaf can perhaps be described as a pipe bent in two places. The concept of bending oneself represents sub­mission to a greater force and entity—the King of all kings, A-lmighty G‑d.


The gematria of kaf is twenty. Twenty can be divided into ten and ten. The first ten represents the Ten Utterances with which G‑d created the world. The second ten represents the Ten Com­mandments.6 Together, they become a kaf. In Numbers7 it states: “Ten-ten is the kaf.”8

If you take the word עשרים (esrim, the word “twenty” in Hebrew) and add up its letters, you arrive at 620: ayin=70, shin=300, reish=200, yud=10, mem=40. 620 is also the gematria of the word כתר, kesser: kaf=20, tav=400, reish=200. Kesser means crown, the ornament placed on the head of a king. Kesser also reminds us of the 620 letters in the Ten Command­ments. G‑d crowned the Jewish nation by giving them the Torah. And it became the Jews’ raison d’êtreto follow the 613 commandments and the 7 Rabbinic laws9—which together total 620. Significantly, the first letter of kesser is kaf.10

In Kabbalah, the Sefirah (or faculty) of Kesser represents a level that is beyond intellect. The crown is placed atop the head. Of course, our head is the vessel that carries the brain, the seat of intellect and thought. But the crown rests above the head, beyond thought. What can be greater than intellect? Desire. In Hebrew, this is called ratzon. Desire is a mighty force, inviting us to explore possibilities that rationality would show to be wrong or difficult.

Say, for example, you’d like to become successful in a certain occupation. Even though you may have failed every class in school, you can persevere and succeed if you have the will and desire. Why? Because you want to. The power, the crown, of desire is so potent that it has the ability to transcend and actu­ally transform your intellect.

In turn, there’s another concept that even transcends desire, and that is pleasure (tainug). If a person derives pleasure from something he will automatically gravitate toward it. As a result he will mobilize his intellect and devise a strategy to attain it. That’s why kesser is represented by the letter kaf—twenty—to teach us that there are two levels, or faculties, within the crown: desire and pleasure, with each faculty containing ten aspects. These aspects are also known as the ten holy Sefiros (spheres),11 the ten building blocks of Creation. Three of the ten levels reside in the dimension of the intellect—Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge—and seven occupy the dimension of the emotions—Love, Fear, Mercy, Victory, Praise (Acknowledgment), Foundation (Bonding), and Sovereignty (Speech). The two faculties of the crown of kaf—pleasure and desire—twice encompass the three levels of intellect and seven levels of emotion for a total of twenty levels.

It states in the Talmud12 that the crown of Torah is halachah—law. Why is it specifically law (i.e., those things that we should and shouldn’t do) that is considered the crown of Torah? For the answer we can look to the reason G‑d gave us the Torah. We did not receive the Torah to have some nice stories to entertain ourselves with, to read to our kids as a bedtime story, or to analyze in a literature class. On the contrary, the purpose of Torah is that we carry out His law, i.e., that we fulfill G‑d’s desire and in so doing give Him pleasure.

It therefore states in the Talmud: “Great is the study of Torah, for it brings to action.”13 Like the crown, Torah’s ultimate purpose is to go beyond the head, beyond the intellect, and propel us to act in accordance with G‑d’s will, thus refining us as people and completing G‑d’s purpose in Creation.


One of the meanings of the letter kaf is “spoon.” The root of the word “spoon” is kafaf—to bend. As we discussed earlier, the kaf is a letter that is bent. It represents the aspect of submitting oneself to a greater power.

This notion of submission—and humility—can be seen clearly in the difference between the words anochi and ani. Both mean “I.” When a person walks around all day and says, “I, I, I,” he has a problem with egotism. How does one over­come this self-inflation? By adding a kaf to the אני (ani), the I, and transforming it into the אנכי (anochi). When the “I” submits to G‑d, when it recognizes and bends to the higher power through the kaf, it is no longer the egotistical I. Rather, אנכי (anochi) is the “I” that serves as a channel to do G‑d’s will.14

There are actually two kafs. There’s the bent kaf (כ), and the straight, or final, kaf (ך). What’s the difference?

We explained previously that Kesser, the king’s crown, is comprised of two levels: pleasure and desire. It has also been described as representing the internal and external aspects of the king. In this case, internal refers to the king’s relation to himself, while external is his relationship to the world, his kingdom. Regarding the king’s internal aspect—he doesn’t necessarily want to be king, to be under the thumb of the ceaseless demands of his position. He wants to live within the boundaries of his own will, the internal world of study, erudi­tion, spirituality, and family. This is the meaning of the passage15 “From his shoulders up he was taller than the rest of his people,” that is, secluded from the people.

The king’s crown, however, also demands the straight kaf, which unfurls to reach down to his subjects; the external level of the king’s existence. He’s required to interact, to be responsi­ble and benevolent to his kingdom.

The bent kaf therefore represents the introverted or inverted king—who remains isolated within his internalized world. The straight kaf (similar to the vav) represents the king who descends from his high level and reaches down to others in order to communicate with and rule his people.

Interestingly enough, we observe that when you affix the straight kaf as the suffix to a word, it adds the word “you” to the root. As it says:16 “I will exalt You (ארוממך) my G‑d the King.” When you speak directly to a person, you say “you”: lecha, לך, or becha, בך—spelled with a straight kaf: The final kaf thus literally unfolds to include the person to whom you are speaking. It represents the fact that the king has appeared to us and we are able to speak to him face to face.

The letter kaf. To bend oneself. To submit to the crown—the King, G‑d, the ruler of the universe.