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Letters and Numbers of Torah

Decoding the Weekly Parsha

Rabbi Raskin looks at the hidden meanings of the sizes and numerical values (gematria) of the Hebrew letters in the weekly Torah portion.

20:44
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Bereishit
Why is the very first letter of the Torah the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? According to Rabbi Akiva, it hints to the special qualities of women as being the foundation for all human achievement.
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14:46
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Noach
The words "order the animals to leave the Ark" (Genesis 8:17) are written as if pronounced "forcibly remove the animals from the Ark." Why was it so difficult to leave the Ark and what can we learn from this about bringing holiness into our daily lives?
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18:35
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Lech Lecha
G‑d’s command to Abraham to leave his homeland (“lech lecha”) is spelled by repeating the same two letters twice. These double letters hint at a way to access infinity.
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20:15
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayeira
On what basis did Abraham and Sarah merit to have a child in their old age? Many answers are hinted to in the word "where" in the angels' question to Abraham (Genesis 18:9) "Where is your wife Sarah?"
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15:51
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Vayeira
When Avimelech kidnaps Sarah, G‑d tells him (Genesis 20:6), “I have withheld you from sin.” Why is the Hebrew word for sinning (chet) missing an aleph in this verse?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Chayei Sarah
“Sarah died . . . and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her.” (Genesis 23:2) The word “to cry” is written with a small letter “kaf.” What is the meaning of this small letter?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Toldot
This portion begins with the verse, “These (Jacob and Esau) are the offspring of Yitzchak" but the Hebrew word for offspring (toldot) is missing a letter vav. Also, when it says that Rebecca is pregnant with twins, the Hebrew word for twins (te'omim) is missing a letter aleph.
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Vayeitzei
Jacob’s seventh son is Gad, a name that means “good luck” (Genesis 30:11). But do Jews really believe in luck?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayishlach
In the verse (Genesis 33:4) that tells us how Esau kissed Jacob, the word "kissed" has a dot over each letter. How does this hint to the idea that the greatest enemy of spiritual growth is the resistance to studying the mystical parts of Torah?
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20:00
Parshah Vayeishev
In the verse (Genesis 37:4) "[Joseph's] brothers could not speak to him peaceably," the Hebrew word "shalom" (peace) is missing a letter vav. The real reason for the lack of peace between Joseph and his brothers was that they could not comprehend Joseph's view that a Jew can and must bring light into a dark world.
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20:00
Parshah Mikeitz
In the verse "Pharaoh dreamed..." (Genesis 41:1) the word "dreamed" (cholem) can also be read as the name of the Hebrew vowel cholem or rearranged to spell the word "salt" (melach). What is the connection between dreams and Chanukah?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayigash
In the verse (Genesis 47:23) Joseph tells the Egptians: "Here is seed for you so you can plant the ground," the word for "here" is the same word as the name of the Hebrew letter "hei." What does the letter "hei" teach us about human reproduction?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayechi
"[Jacob] blessed [Ephraim and Menashe] on that day, saying: With you, Israel will bless, saying, 'May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe,'" (Genesis 48:20). Why do Jewish parents continue to this day to bless their children to be like these two grandsons of Jacob? An extra letter vav in the word "saying" holds the hint.
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Shemot
When G-d shows Moses a sign by having him turn a staff into a snake, G-d asks Moses, (Exodus 4:2) "What is this in your hand?" But the two words, "mah zeh" ("what is this") are spelled in the Torah as one word, "mizeh" ("from this.") How does the term "mizeh" hint to the Alter Rebbe and Maimonides whose yahrzeits are this week?
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25:00
Parsha Va'eira
The Torah tells us (Exodus 7:7) "Moses was 80 years old... when he spoke to Pharaoh." The number 80 is represented in Hebrew by the letter "pei" which hints to the word "peh" meaning "mouth." It was at this age that Moses confronted Pharaoh--the letters of whose name spell "peh rah" or "mouth of evil."
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Bo
Three times in the Torah the word "ha-shvi-i" (the seventh) is missing a letter yud. (The first time is in this week's portion in Exodus 12:15.) When spelled this way, the word may also be read as "shavua" (oath) or "soveia" (satiated.) What is the connection between seven, swearing, and satiation, and how do they describe the process of the soul's descent into a body?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Beshalach
After fighting a war with the nation of Amalek, Moses says (Exodus 17:16) “There is a hand on the throne of G-d [swearing] that there shall be a war of G-d against Amalek from generation to generation.” In this verse, G-d's four-letter name is missing the letters vav and hei. What is the connection between the completion of G-d's name and the defeat of Amalek?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Yitro
The "taamim" (cantillation notes) used for reading the Ten Commandments differ when read alone than when read communally in the synagogue. What is the meaning of this special version of musical notes?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Mishpatim
The Torah describes the unfortunate situation (Exodus 21:8) of a destitute man who sells his daughter as an indentured servant. The word "lo" in this verse is written lamed-aleph meaning that the man for whom the girl works "did not betroth her as a wife" but it is read as if it were spelled lamed-vav meaning the man for whom the girl works "should have betrothed her as a wife." On a spiritual level, the verse can describe two kinds of relationships that we have with G-d.
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Terumah
The Sanctuary that Moses built in the wilderness was constructed of a kind of pillar called a "keresh" (kuf, shin, reish.) These are the same letters as the world for falsehood "sheker" (shin, kuf, reish) and the word for connection "kesher" (kuf, shin, reish.) The purpose of the Sanctuary that each of us builds in our hearts is to take the falsehood of this world and change it into a pillar and a connection to G-d.
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Tetzaveh
Purim usually coincides with the week in which we read the Torah portion of Tetzave. To find the hidden connection between Purim and Tetzave, we examine the five times the word "Purim" is written in the Megillah and ask why three of those five times it is missing the letter vav.
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Ki-Tisa
In this portion, we read G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy: "G-d, G-d, compassionate G-d and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth, preserver of kindness for two thousand generations. " In the word "notzar" (preserver of kindness) the letter nun is unusually large. Later in the portion, G-d prohibits the Jews from serving "another god." The letter reish in the word "acher" (other) is also unusually large. What is the meaning of these large letters?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayakhel
In the beginning of this week's portion, Moses gathers the Jews together and tells them (Exodus 35:1): "These are the things that G-d commands to do." In this verse, the word "to do" (la'asot) is missing the letter vav. How does our labor during the work week "fill in" this missing vav?
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10:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Vayikra
The name of this week's portion, Vayikra, means "G-d called out [to Moses]." The letter aleph at the end of the word vayikra is written in miniature size in the Torah. What does the small aleph teach us about how to be both great and humble?
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12:39
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Tzav
"This is the law of the burnt offering -- the burnt offering which burns on the fire (mokdah) on the altar all night..." (Leviticus 6:2) In this verse, the word "mokdah," which means fire, is written with a small-sized letter "mem". What is the deeper meaning of this letter?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Shemini
In the verse (Leviticus 11:42) that prohibits the eating of creatures that slither on their bellies, the Hebrew word for belly (gachon) is spelled with a large-sized letter vav. How does this allude to our inner struggle against the evil inclination, which is likened to a snake?
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25:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Tazria
In the verse Leviticus 13:33, the word "v'hitgalach" meaning "he shall shave" has a large-sized letter gimmel. The letter gimmel is numerically equivalent to the number 3. What is the connection between the number three, Biblical leprosy, removing hair, and the time of the Omer count?
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15:53
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Metzora
The ritual purification of the former metzorah includes placing blood from an animal sacrifice on the person's right eat, right thumb and right big toe as well as placing olive oil on the same three places plus on the top of his or her head. What is the deeper significance of the three applications of blood and the four applications of oil?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Acharei
Before the scapegoat was taken into the wilderness, “Aaron the High Priest placed his hands upon its head and confessed all the sins of the Jewish People." (Leviticus 16:21) The verse is written "yado" meaning "his hand," the way we recite it, however, is "yadav," meaning "his hands."
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11:29
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Kedoshim
"Do not place a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14) can also mean not to knowingly give bad advice. The Hebrew word for "stumbling block" appears 12 times in the Torah and Prophets and this is the only time it is spelled with a vav. How does this missing letter teach us the difference between good advice and bad?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Emor
“The L‑rd said to Moses: Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them . . .” (Leviticus 21:1) What is the difference between “speak to them” and “say to them”? In Hebrew these two words are “emor” and “amarta”—the first is spelled aleph-mem-reish, while the other is spelled aleph-mem-reish-tav, the only difference being the letter tav. This additional letter symbolizes the difference between a theoretical lesson and a hands-on educational experience.
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Bechukotai
After mentioning various curses for failing to perform G-d’s laws, the Torah says that at the end of time, G-d will bring an end to the Jewish people's exile by remembering the Patriarchs: “And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham I will remember….” (Leviticus 26:42) Why are the patriarchs listed in reverse chronological order? And why is the name Jacob (Yaakov) spelled yud-ayin-kuf-vav-vet with an extra vav, when it is always spelled yud-ayin-kuf-vet without a vav?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Bamidbar
After the general census of the Jewish people, Moses takes a separate census of the tribe of Levi, including the family of Aaron the high priest. In the verse (Numbers 3:39) “All the countings of the Levites that Moses and Aaron counted,” the word “ve-Aharon” (and Aaron) has five dots above it. One explanation of these dots is that they tell us that Aaron himself was not counted in the census of the rest of his tribe. What makes Aaron unique?
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20:00
Parsha Naso
“On the second day Netanel Ben Tzuar, the prince of Yissachar, offered. He offered his sacrifice ." (Numbers 7:18-19) Why is the word "offered" (hikriv) written twice? Also, why in the second time it's written is it missing a yud? Discover the connection between the missing yud and the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates the giving of the Torah.
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Behaalotecha
"So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, Arise, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered and may those who hate You flee from You. And when it came to rest he would say, Repose O Lord, among the myriads of thousands of Israel." (Numbers 10:35-36) These two verses are surrounded by an inverted letter "nun" at the beginning and end. Nowhere else in the Torah does the inverted nun appear. What is its meaning?
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13:37
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Shelach
When G-d wants to punish the people for believing the evil report of the spies, Moses pleads,"Now, please, let the strength of the Lord be increased." (Numbers 14:17) On a mystical level, Moses is asking that G-d express Himself through the Divine Name that is spelled aleph-daled-nun-yud and which represents the power of divinity that is hidden in nature.
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Korach
We are not to perpetuate the memory of the wicked, as the Book of Proverbs says (10:7), “The name of the evil person shall rot.” So why is the Torah portion of Korach named for an evil person? It is because of the positive lesson we can learn from Korach. But in order to do so, we must understand the three letters of his name.
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Chukat
Describing the red heifer ritual, the Torah states (Numbers 19:2) “Take a red heifer that never had a yoke placed upon it.” The Hebrew word for yoke (ol) is normally spelled ayin-vav-lamed, but in this verse, the vav is missing. What is the connection between 1) the missing vav, 2) the Edomites who are descended from Esau, and 3) the story of Moses striking the rock?
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15:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Balak
One of the praises that Bilam says of the Jews is: (Numbers 23:24) "Behold, a people that rises like a lioness and raises itself like a lion." Rashi explains: "When [the Jewish people] awaken from their sleep... they show the vigor of a lioness and a lion in grasping mitzvahs." What is the connection between this week's portion and the Festival of Liberation of 12-13 Tammuz? How is this connected to the two letters 'hei' and 'nun'?
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22:43
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Pinchas
"Pinchas...has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me... therefore I hereby give him My covenant of peace." (Numbers 25:11-12) In this verse, the letter 'vav' of the word 'shalom' (peace) is written like two separate letters, a 'yud' above and a small 'vav' below. What does this teach us about how to make true peace?
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20:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah—Matot
G-d tells Moses, “A thousand for each tribe, a thousand from each tribe, from all the tribes of Israel you shall send into the army [to battle the Midianites].” (Numbers 31:4) The Hebrew word for thousand is “elef,” which is spelled the same as “alef.” What is the connection between the battle against Midian, the letter alef, and the Three Weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple?
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16:45
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Devarim
There are three verses in the Torah where a new paragraph begins in the middle of a verse. One of them is found in this week’s Torah portion. The fact that there is a break implies that we are dealing with two opposite concepts, in this case, the people of Esau and Moab. How are Esau and Moab opposites? How is this related to the Nine Days?
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19:32
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Va'etchanan
In the verse “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One,” (Deuteronomy 6:4) the letter Ayin in the word Shema (Hear) and the letter Daled in the word Echad (One) are both unusually large. Ayin and Dalet spell Ayd (witness) to teach us that when we recite the Shema we should bear witness to G-d’s Oneness.
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14:54
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Eikev
In the verse "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your G-d, demand of you?" (Deuteronomy 10:12) the word for "what" (mah) can be read as "hundred" (meiah) by adding a letter alef. What does it mean that G-d asks for a "hundred" from us? Where does the extra alef come from? How are both of these connected to the fact that we read this portion about a month before Rosh Hashanah?
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31:57
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Re'eh
Based on an analysis of Deuteronomy 13:5 -- "You shall follow the L-rd, your G-d, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him."
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36:17
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Shoftim
The verse (Deut 17:14) "When you settle in the land... and you say, 'Let us appoint a king...'" is the basis for the mitzvah for the Jewish people to appoint a monarch. Why is the Hebrew word for "when you settle" (v'yashavta) written with an extra letter "hei" at the end?
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27:15
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Ki-Teitzei
Several explanations of why the Hebrew word "naara" (young girl) is spelled differently than it is pronounced thirteen out of the fourteen times it appears in a single Torah portion.
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35:55
The Unique Power of the "Frontlets Between Your Eyes"
The Talmud says that the verse (Deut. 28:10) "All the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is called upon you" refers to wearing the head tefillin. How does the head tefillin cause G-d's name to be "called upon" the one who wears them?
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30:00
Letters and Numbers of Torah - Nitzavim
The sages teach that the enlarged letter Lamed in Deut 29:27 "and He cast them into another land" hints to the purpose of exile. How is this connected to the fact that in the following verse, there are precisely 11 dots placed above 11 consecutive letters?
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Rabbi Raskin looks at the hidden meanings of the sizes and numerical values (gematria) of the Hebrew letters in the weekly Torah portion.
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