Pey (also spelled peh and pei) is the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 80
Sound: "P" with a dagesh (dot) and "F" without a dagesh
Meaning: Mouth

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Story

In Israel, a fifteen-year-old girl woke up one morning to discover suddenly that she could no longer speak. After three days of shock and denial, her parents brought her to an elite doctor in Tel Aviv. The physician examined her. Then he told the mother and father, “It is impossible that this girl has ever spoken. She has no vocal chords.” The parents protested that their daughter had been speaking for fifteen years! Nevertheless, the doctor proclaimed he could do nothing to help her.

After many months and numerous visits to all the top spe­cialists, the family’s last hope was a doctor in England. He too concluded that the girl’s case was hopeless. By chance, the family happened to encounter a Chabadnik on their jour­ney. The man advised them to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The father was reluctant, but the mother insisted. She started making phone calls and arranged their trip to the United States. The family went into the Rebbe’s office and the mother immediately started to sob uncontrollably. After several minutes she got hold of herself and told the Rebbe their story. The Rebbe asked the parents to leave the room so that he could speak to the girl alone. He said to her, “I know you are an intelligent girl and will appreciate what I have to say. In your previous gilgul (incarnation), you did many things that were not very good. What they were isn’t impor­tant. What is important is to know that it was decreed in Heaven that your punishment was to come down to this world and be born mute. However, because you were blessed with great and holy forebears, for their merits you were given fifteen years of speech. From now on you will not be able to speak... unless you agree to use your mouth to talk to other children about keeping Shabbos. If you agree to do this, you will once again speak. Do you agree?”

The girl nodded. The Rebbe pressed her for a commitment, “So. We have a deal?” The girl opened her mouth and out came the word “yes.” To this day that girl—now a grown woman—gathers children together every Shabbos to speak to them about the sanctity of the day.1

Design

The seventeenth letter of the alef-beis is the pei. The design of the pei is a mouth with a tooth emerging from its upper jaw. To understand the significance of this design requires the recounting of a Biblical story and a visual comparison between the letters pei and kaf. A quick glance shows that the kaf closely resembles the pei; only the “tooth” in the pei is absent from the kaf.

In the Book of Exodus,2 Pharaoh, whose name also begins with a pei, said, “Let us [confine the Jews to slavery] lest they multiply.” The word for “lest” in Hebrew is פן, pen: pei-nun. G‑d was displeased with Pharaoh’s declaration, so He “knocked out his tooth” by knocking out the tooth of the pei in Pharaoh’s “pen,” which made it a kaf. Now the word was no longer pen (“lest”) but כן, ken: kaf-nun, meaning “surely.” Surely the Jews will multiply.3

Gematria

The gematria of pei is eighty. As it says in Ethics of Our Fathers:4 “When one is eighty years old, he has reached a special strength.” Therefore we find: “Eighty thousand men by the name of Aaron all followed Aaron to his final resting place.”5 The reason there were eighty thousand men by the name of Aaron is as follows: We know Aaron was a great speaker. When G‑d asked Moses to speak to Pharaoh, Moses demurred, saying that he had a speech impediment. G‑d responded, “Is there not your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak well.” Aaron’s verbal skills also served him well as a marriage counselor. When there was a fight between a couple and the husband or wife left, Aaron became the peace­maker, appeasing them with soothing words. When the reunited couple gave birth to its next child, they invariably said, “We will name the child after Aaron the High Priest.” He reunited so many couples that thousands of children were named Aaron. Thus the number eighty (thousand) here signifies the special strength of the pei, the mouth.

Moses was eighty years old when he led the Jews out of Egypt and eighty when he transmitted the Torah to them.

Meaning

The letter pei actually means “mouth”—peh. A mouth is some­thing we use to speak, and the entire purpose of speaking is to communicate with another individual. That ability to commu­nicate is the essential aspect of eighty’s special strength.

Speech has tremendous power. A king rules with his words. An ordinary person also has great power in his mouth. With words of praise he can raise a person to great heights, and with a bit of gossip he can destroy a person’s reputation.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, everyone has a psalm in the Book of Psalms—the one corresponding to his age.6 If a person is 80 years old, for example, he should say Psalm 81. Psalm 81 states: “I am G‑d your L-rd Who lifted you out of Egypt. Widen your mouth and I will fill it.” Two questions present themselves here. First, how is one able to “widen” his mouth? The mouth has a certain size. How can one stretch it beyond its natural parameters? Secondly, why does it say, “I am G‑d, Who lifted you from the land of Egypt?” In the book of Exodus7 it reads, “Hotzeisicha—I took you out,” not, as the psalm states, that “I liftedyou.” So, what is the connection between these two verses? Furthermore, what is the connection between an eighty-year-old person and Psalm 81?8

As discussed earlier, the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, connotes restraints or borders, a narrow place. A Jew must realize that every day of his life, G‑d not only releases him from the shackles of Egypt (“takes him out”), but gives him the opportu­nity to break through an even higher and more subtle level of limitation (“lifts him”). G‑d gives a Jew the ability to go beyond his personal physical limits and even beyond nature. This is alluded to by the expression “widening our mouths,” as explained below.9

Recall that the letter beis, which begins the Torah, has three sides. Its missing fourth side signifies that the world is incom­plete. The Jew, however, has the ability and responsibility to complete G‑d’s creation, to go beyond what he believes possi­ble and make the world whole. We accomplish this by widening our mouths. With the use of our mouths to praise G‑d, learn Torah, pray, and communicate positive messages to others, we complete the world. In this way we fulfill our purpose in com­ing to this world, by transforming nature and making the world a better place in which to live.

That mission is signified by the number 81. G‑d tells us that He lifts us out of Egypt. But not only does He physically raise us from the narrow place, He spurs us to move from 80 to 81. Even though we are 80, the upper limit of our strength, G‑d gives us the ability to break that barrier and move one level higher.

One can therefore say that eighty also denotes strength in leadership and character. Ayin, as we said in the last chapter, stands for leadership. When you have been a leader for ten years, you have refined all aspects of your leadership skills and can now guide with authority and confidence.

Everyone has the ability to communicate and inspire others. One should not shy away from that responsibility claiming, “I have an impediment.” Moses had an impediment, yet he revealed the ability to lead a nation of several million people for forty years. All of us have impediments in one area or another. Yet those external weaknesses should never incapaci­tate us or stymie our desire to bestow goodness and communicate words of inspiration to others.

G‑d told Moses, “Anochi eheyeh im picha10—I will be your mouthpiece.” The word anochi has the gematria of 81: alef=1, nun=50, kaf=20, yud=10. If a person is humble and relies upon G‑d to be his mouthpiece, his power of speech will transcend its natural limits and be a source of strength for others.

There is a famous teaching of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev11 which explains the meaning of the Passover holiday (Pesach). “ Pesach” literally means peh-sach, “the mouth (peh) talks (sach).”On Pesach, the mouth talks about the wonders and miracles of G‑d. Pesach represents the antithesis of Pharaoh, who, as the Megaleh Amukos12 explains, signifies peh-ra, a “bad mouth.” Pharaoh was someone who denied G‑d’s providence in every act of nature. Our mouths were not given to us to slander or denigrate others, but to speak of G‑d’s greatness and wonders.13

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