Tav (also spelled Taw) is the twenty-second and final letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 400
Sound: "T" with a dagesh (dot) and "S" without (among Ashkenazim)
Meaning 1. Truth 2. sign 3. life or death

In this article:


Once, when the Rebbe Rashab was four or five years old, he came crying to his grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek. The Tzemach Tzedek asked, “Dear child, why are you crying?”

The Rashab said, “I just learned in cheder that G‑d revealed Himself to Abraham.”

“So why are you crying?”

The Rashab answered, “G‑d revealed Himself to Abraham, but why doesn’t G‑d reveal Himself to me?”

His grandfather explained that a man who is ninety-nine years old and willing to follow G‑d’s command to circumcise himself is worthy of G‑d’s revelation. Even after a man ele­vates himself ninety-nine levels, a level of near perfection, he must retain his humility before G‑d.


The twenty-second and final letter of the alef-beis is the letter tav.

The design of the tav is a dalet and a nun. These two letters spell out the name of Dan, דן, one of the tribes of Israel. In the desert, the twelve tribes of Israel were divided into four camps. When the tribes set out to travel, the camp of Dan was the last to proceed. If any of the other tribes left something behind, the tribe of Dan would collect and return it.

The Talmud states:1 “Who is called a fool? One who loses what (mah) has been given to him.” On a deeper level, the concept of “what has been given to him,” represented by the Hebrew word mah, denotes the state of humility. One who is humble says, “Mah—What [am I]? I am nothing before G‑d.”

A Jew, whose soul has its source in G‑d Himself, is naturally humble. By losing this humility, that which “has been given to him,” that individual throws away his connection to his soul, and is considered a fool. The tribe of Dan thus had the ability to return the holiness and humility (the mah) to the other tribes of Israel.2

The importance of Dan can be seen by way of analogy to the human body. A body has a head, hands, and feet. At first glance, the head is greater than the feet due to its intellectual superiority. But a head cannot reach its destination unless it is transported there by the feet. The tribe of Dan comprises the feet of the Jewish people. It represents the level of bringing the head to its destination. How? Through humility. The head is, quite literally, the brains of the operation. This often results in arrogance, as when something “goes to your head.” The feet, on the other hand, have no brains. They work all day long trans­porting us to our destinations but never get any recognition or honor. Reflecting on the humble service of the feet can bring us to humility.

The heel of the foot has no feeling or knowledge. Placing the heel of one’s foot inside a shoe, where it’s dark, represents the concept of accepting the yoke of Heaven in a cold, dark world. Just as the feet are the foundation and the support of the human body, so, too, accepting the yoke of G‑d is the foundation of Judaism. One must have the humility to accept the will of G‑d beyond question and beyond rational under­standing. It is the letter tav, the letter of humility, that allows the individual to ongoingly embrace the love of G‑d and Torah which all too easily can be left behind through human ego and arrogance.

On a practical level, the word dan means “to judge.” A Jew realizes that he must judge his every action before performing it. By looking into the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, the Jew learns that the performance of every action, whether actual law or beyond the letter of the law, has its own circum­scribed areas, responsibilities, and particulars. By acknowledg­ing the authority of the Code of Jewish Law, one is able to fulfill all of G‑d’s laws to the fullest degree. Again, this only comes through humility. If a person were to rely only on his mind and intellect, he might succumb to arrogance and con­vince himself that one commandment or another is not really that important. For the “important” commandments—like Shabbos or idolatry—he’ll follow the law to the letter. But as for the “little” ones—like where to place the mezuzah, putting on tefillin daily, or the particulars about keeping kosher—he does not have to be so scrupulous. It does not really matter to him what the Shulchan Aruch says. The tribe of Dan comes to teach that true submission to G‑d’s laws, with all their aspects and ramifications, requires self-judgment and humility.

Another aspect of the dalet and nun of the tav relates to the separate characteristics of each letter. As explained earlier in the chapter on dalet, dalet can mean both poverty (dal) and being raised up (dilisoni).The interpretation the dalet assumes is the result of the specific aspect of its companion nun.

As stated previously, the letter nun representsona’ah, deceit. There are two types of deceit. There is ona’ah which ultimately ends in pain and destruction, as it states:3 “And he repays His enemies [in their lifetime] to make them perish.” Although in this case the recipient is completely absorbed by the pursuit of self-indulgent pleasure, he is actually being deceived, because in the long run he will suffer.

Then there is ona’ah that results in a person being rewarded and uplifted. When G‑d created the world, He concealed Him­self within the laws of nature: the “ultimate deception.” When one toils to find the truth buried within the deception and restricts oneself to the laws of Torah to do so, although this route may be temporarily difficult, one will ultimately find G‑d and forever bask in the pleasures of Paradise.

When the nun is the former, the dalet becomes that of poverty. If one engages in excessive or lustful pleasure, he will eventually come to sin. He will not take the time to connect to G‑d and appreciate the spiritual blessings in his life because he will always be craving and running after more pleasure. So although this indulgent pleasure may initially seem glorious, it eventually leads to poverty.4

When the nun represents the latter, leading to progressive revelations of G‑dliness and self-refinement, then the dalet is exalted and the individual is uplifted.

Pertaining to the generation of the Flood, the Torah tells us that Noah was a tzaddik “in his generation” (b’dorosov). The word בדרתיו,b’dorosov, can be broken up into two words: b’doro and tav.5 The sin of Noah’s generation was thus the letter tav, an excess of pleasure, as reflected in its “excessive” nun. G‑d allowed the people of that time to do whatever they wanted. He did not restrict them or punish them for their wrongdoings. Rather, G‑d let them go on and on until they were so lost it was impossible for them to return to Him. The only way G‑d could rectify the world at that point was by destroying it through the Flood.

The Rebbe explains another element of the tav’s design.6 The tav is made up of three lines. In this sense it is similar to the hei, which also has three lines: two vertical and one horizontal. They represent Torah study (thought), prayer (speech), and the performance of good deeds (action). Because it is the last letter and thus the culmination of the alef-beis, the tav represents someone who is perfect on all these levels. However, the condi­tion of being “perfect” can also result in arrogance. Therefore, the yud in the lower left-hand corner completes the tav to lend it humility. When a person knows he is perfect and that he has ended his service by fulfilling his level or destiny, he must arrive at the yud of humility. We see this in the design of the tav.

When Abraham was ninety-nine years old and essentially perfect, G‑d told him to circumcise himself. G‑d said, If you will circumcise yourself (also symbolic of the removal of the ego),7 then you will be “perfect.” Why? Because if one is perfect in his own eyes without the aspect of humility, there is no true perfection. One can only be perfect when one circumcises his ego.


The numerical value of tav is four hundred. We find the num­ber four hundred mentioned frequently in the Torah. One instance is when Abraham needed to buy a burial place for his wife, Sarah.8 The Torah tells us that he went to Ephron, the leader of the Hittite people, in the city of Hebron and asked him for a piece of land. Ephron responded that he would sell the parcel for four hundred shekels. The name Ephron, עפרן,has the gematria of 400: ayin = 70, pei = 80, reish = 200, and nun = 50. Significantly, Hebron was the first city in the land of Israel to be officially purchased by the Jewish people.9

Furthermore, the letter tav in the “small gematria,” is four.10 The cave where Sarah was buried is called the “cave of the four couples,” as Adam and Chava (Eve), Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are all buried there.

Four hundred also represents the four hundred worlds of pleas­ure that the righteous people will acquire in the World to Come.11 The Land of Israel, according to the dimensions in the Torah, measures 400 by 400 mil (a mil is approximately 1 kilometer).

The number four hundred is also found pertaining to the “Covenant between the Parts,”12 when G‑d caused Abraham to fall into a deep slumber and told him that his children would reside in a foreign land (the land of Egypt) for four hundred years and afterwards go out with great wealth and an out­stretched arm.

Yet another instance of four hundred is found in the account of Jacob’s encounter with his brother Esau after sojourning twenty years in the house of Laban. When Jacob approaches Esau he is informed that Esau is mighty, for he has with him four hundred men. As a result, Jacob sends forth a messenger to tell Esau, “I sojourned (garti) in Laban’s house for twenty years.”13 The word garti, גרתי, (“sojourned”) has the gematria of 613, and is synonymous with the 613 commandments. What Jacob thus communicated to his brother was, “Though I lived in the house of this wicked Laban, I did not violate any of the 613 commandments.” The word garti can also mean to live as a foreigner.14 When it came to Jacob’s physical existence, the materialistic aspects of life, he lived as a foreigner, meaning that he recognized materialism and physicality as merely the means to serve G‑d, not as an end in themselves. This gave him the strength to keep the whole Torah. Twenty times twenty15 equals four hundred. Therefore after his twenty years of refine­ment, Jacob now possessed the ability to overcome the four hundred men of Esau.

Finally, the numerical value of tav can represent both the four hundred levels of evil and the four hundred sparks of G‑dliness that are found in the world. The tav thus embodies the ability to transform these negative energies into positive sparks.


It states in the Talmud16 that the letter tav represents the word אמת, emes, meaning truth. The reason emes is represented by its last letter (tav) and not its first (alef) is that the essence of truth is determined at the end of a journey or passage, not at the beginning. Often when we begin something, the truth of the matter does not seem attractive. Only upon seeing the outcome do we appreciate that the path of emes was the only way to travel.

This is the reason for using the tav to signify אמת. If the Sages of the Talmud needed a letter to symbolize truth, why didn’t they pick the א, the first letter of emes? Because the letter tav represents humankind’s ultimate destination, the culmina­tion of our Divine service to perfect the world. And this truth will be unveiled in the final stages of the coming of Mashiach.

Additionally, the Talmud comments that the word sheker, or falsehood (the antithesis of emes), is written with the letters shin, kuf and reish: the last three letters in the alef-beis before the tav. Emes, meanwhile, is spelled alef, mem and tav: the first, middle, and last letter of the alef-beis. The question is, why are the letters of emes so spread out in contrast to those of sheker? The Talmud concludes that the letters of sheker are close to­gether because falsehood is very common. Truth, on the other hand, is very hard to find. This is depicted by the vast expanse between its letters.

In Psalm 119 it states:17 “Your very first utterance is truth.” There are several commentaries regarding this passage. One states that the first letter of the Ten Commandments is an alef (Anochi). The first letter of the Mishnah is a mem (M’eimasai). The first letter of the Gemara is a tav (Tanna). Alef, mem and tav spell the word emes.

Furthermore, the Talmud states: “The signature of G‑d is the word emes.”18 Just as every artist puts his signature on his paintings, G‑d imbeds His signature in the universe, His crea­tion. This concept is found in the Zohar in its explanation of the last three words in the story of Creation: “...bara Elokim laasos19—[He rested from all His work] which G‑d created and made.” The final letters of these three words, ברא אלקים לעשות, spells the word emes. Why? Because G‑d’s painting is imbued with His signature of truth.

On Shabbos, the purpose of G‑d’s creation becomes clear. G‑d formed the world for humankind to rectify—laasos. By fulfilling Torah and mitzvos and increasing our acts of good­ness and kindness, we make the world a better place in which to live. In such a fashion we bring G‑d—truth—into the world.

Finally, the Tanya20 tells us that G‑d is called emes because the only real truth is G‑d.

The Rebbe explains that the word emes is comprised of an alef and the word mes. Alef represents G‑d, the Creator of the universe. If one removes the alef from the word emes, he is left with mes, which means “death.”

The actual meaning of tav is “sign.” In Ezekiel21 it states that when G‑d was about to destroy the Holy Temple he told His angel to put a mark on the foreheads of the people. That mark was the letter tav. Those who were righteous received the letter in ink. Those who were wicked received the letter in blood.

The tav can represent ticheyeh, which means “life.” But it can also represent the word tamus, which means “death.” Tav’s meaning as “sign” thus remains consistent with the dichoto­mous nature of its gematria, four hundred, having both a posi­tive and negative aspect (i.e., the four hundred spiritual worlds of pleasure vs. the four hundred men of Esau). And because the tav is the last letter of the alef-beis, this duality takes on a special importance. The tav, coming at the end of the twenty-two letters of the alef-beis with all of their ramifications and meanings on both the revealed and esoteric levels—could all too easily become overconfident: “I finished the entire set of letters. I accomplished what every letter stands for. Look how perfect I am.”

The message of the tav, however, is an eternal lesson for us. It tells us that if we continue to pursue the instruction of the Torah with humility, then this is ticheyeh, life. If, however, we seek this truth through arrogance, it is tamus; the antithesis of true living.

As stated above, the left leg of the letter tav incorporates the yud. Once we have absorbed each of the letters of the alef-beis representing the entire Torah, we must not forget that the ultimate level, the foundation of the entire alef-beis, is the yud of humility.

By embracing this humility, one is empowered to live the precepts of the Torah with a pure soul and a joyful heart. The performance of these commandments will reveal the essential quality of the twenty-two letters of light—the ultimate state that will accompany the imminent days of Mashiach.