Lamed is the twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 30
Sound: "L"
Meaning: 1. Learn 2. teach

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Story

I was having a hard time disciplining one of my children. Whatever I tried didn’t work. I would tell him, “You will be punished, I won’t give you a Chanukah present, I will not buy you any toys this year for your birthday....” To no avail.

One day, while I was standing with my family in a shop­ping center, my son began seriously misbehaving. I knew that my previous threats had proved to be futile and decided to try another strategy. To get his attention, I took out some lollipops and gave them to my other children, but not to him. He started to scream and demanded to know why he didn’t get one. I knelt down and looked at him with compassion. “When a child gets a lollipop,” I said softly, “it is a reward for his good behavior. I know you are a good boy so I know you will soon show me that you deserve the lollipop.” This approach caught him off guard. He instantly calmed down, gave me a smile... and put out his hand for the lollipop. I then realized that one can teach discipline with love and kindness rather than with hate or anger. You just have to raise yourself to a higher consciousness. My son also learned a valuable lesson:that expressing a desirable quality is much more rewarding than misbehaving.

Design

The twelfth letter of the alef-beis is the lamed. The design of the lamed is two letters merged together1: the vav and the kaf.2 The Kabbalah3 says that the letter lamed is compared to a tower flying in the air.

Gematria

The gematria of lamed is thirty. It states in Ethics of Our Fathers: “When one reaches the age of thirty, he reaches the age of full strength.”4 We find in the Torah that when the Jewish people were in the desert, the Levites who carried the heavy vessels had to be between the ages of thirty to fifty, for these are the mightiest years of man.

What was the underlying purpose of the Jews’ journeying forty years in the desert? On one hand, we know that it was the result of the sin of the Spies. The Spies’ forty-day turn in the Land of Israel evoked G‑d’s decree to remain in the desert for forty years.5 But why did they specifically have to wander throughout the desert? Why not stay in one place? Set up camp and stay there for forty years. What was the reason for having to undertake a total of forty-two different journeys in forty years?

The purpose of the Jewish people’s travels in the desert was to transform it into a garden; to bring G‑dliness to a desolate place. By carrying with them the Holy Ark—and within it the Torah—each and every one of the Jews’ encampments became not only a spiritual but a literal garden. This became a lesson and guidepost for the Jewish people in all their future exiles. G‑d was informing them: Throughout history, you will have to travel. You’ll trek from country to country to country. But wherever you go, you must take the Ark of G‑d with you—ushering G‑dliness to that area, elevating it and making its inhabitants more refined and spiritual. This is the purpose of a Jew.6

This power to begin transforming the world in earnest begins when we turn thirty. Up until that point we are in training. The Midrash Shmuel7 states that one has the ability to guide and influence others for good at the age of thirty. Until then, he is simply laying his foundation.

We find another interesting gematria in relation to lamed. Both the alef (in the form of the word ulfana) and the lamed (as in lameid) represent G‑d as a teacher. What’s the connection between the two letters? The design of the alef is comprised of two yuds and a vav: 10 and 10 and 6=26. The lamed is com­prised of a kaf and a vav: 20 and 6=26. Twenty-six is the gematria of G‑d’s name, the Tetragrammaton Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei.

Yet there is a marked difference between the teaching styles of the alef and the lamed. The alef is more theoretical while the lamed is more practical. For example, the alef represents the Written Law of Torah (stories and general concepts) while the lamed focuses on the Oral Law (how to practically apply these concepts in one’s day-to-day behavior).8

In another source, the Rebbe writes9 that the kaf of the lamed represents the human being, which is comprised of a G‑dly soul and animal soul, each of which is comprised of ten faculties (equaling twenty). The vav represents G‑d dwelling between them. The numerical value of the kaf is twenty. When G‑d dwells between them, He adds His Ten Sefiros, or G‑dly ener­gies, making thirty, which is lamed.

This is perhaps why the Zohar calls the lamed a tower flying in the air. The vav of the lamed represents G‑dliness, spiritual­ity, found high up “in the air.” The vav, which is a chute, draws this G‑dliness down from the spiritual realms into the physical world, until it is internalized into the kaf, the human being. This merging of spiritual and physical imbues the lamed with the ability to teach very lofty concepts in a practical way.

Meaning

Lamed means to learn and to teach—found in the daily prayers with the phrase lilmod u’lameid.10 But the word lamed, the com­mandment to teach, is not directed merely toward school­teachers, it is adirectivefor every individual. Every person can influence his or her friend or student, and every parent has the obligation to teach his or her children the knowledge of G‑d, good deeds and ethics. The Torah tells us11 that “You shall teach your children and talk to them about these things” (i.e., the Torah’s commandments and responsibilities). The Rambam informs us that this passage is the premise for the mitzvah of talmud Torah, Torah study; that through the commandment to teach our children, we know of our own obligation to study the Torah. For how can we teach our children the Torah if we haven’t learned it ourselves?

We can all ask a simple question: Why do we have to learn about this most essential commandment indirectly? If G‑d wanted to tell us that we are obligated to learn Torah, why didn’t He just say, “Learn Torah!” Why do we have to learn about this mitzvah by way of the commandment “Teach your children”?

The Rebbe12 explains that when it comes to studying Torah, a person is always a child, and thus the commandment to “teach your children” can also apply to us. One should never say, “Oh, I’m fifty now. I’ve read through the Torah more than twenty times. You can’t teach me anything new.” On the contrary, Torah is infinite. No matter how many times we’ve set foot in it, we can always discover a new insight or uncover deeper meaning. We must approach it like children, and be ready to receive and listen. As it states in Ethics of Our Fathers:13 “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” “Everyone” can mean even someone who’s younger than you.

Even your children.

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