This page is not intended as a course in Hebrew - if you're interested in that, I've included an excellent book in
the bibliography - but to point out a few of the esoteric aspects of Hebrew that attracted me to the language in the
Hebrew is an ancient language, dating back at least 6000 years. It is in a completely different "family" to English.
English is part of a family of languages called "Indo-European", which includes not only English but languages as
diverse as French, German, Celtic languages like Gaelic and Welsh, several Indian languages like Hindi and Urdu,
Russian and most Eastern European languages, Greek, Latin and most Mediterranean languages, and most
Scandinavian languages. Indo-European is the largest family of languages in the world.
Like English, Hebrew has an alphabet. In fact, our word "alphabet" comes from the names of the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph and Beth. The Hebrew alphabet was almost certainly used as the basis for the ancient Greek alphabet, which in turn became the basis for the alphabet used by the Romans, and now by most languages in Europe.
Unlike English, the Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, and words are written from right to left. This is why there can
be confusion over how Hebrew words are pronounced. In modern Hebrew, vowels are usually missed out
altogether in the written language. However, the Bible is considered such a sacred work that it is necessary to know
how each word is pronounced. For this reason, Biblical Hebrew does indicate vowels by placing marks under or
alongside each letter. These dots have names in their own right, but are not strictly speaking part of the alphabet,
which consists of 22 letters.
We tend to take written language for granted. To the ancient Israelites, Hebrew was far more than just a language - it was a means by which they could interact with God. According to Jewish legend, the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) was written before the Universe was created, and by implication, the letters themselves predated the
For example, in Genesis, it is written that "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into
his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Later on in Genesis, "Adam" is referred to, but
nowhere is Adam introduced - it's taken for granted that the reader understands that "Adam" must be the man in
question. Now, in Hebrew, Adam is written like this:
This consists of three letters (right to left): Aleph, Daleth and Mem. The word for "blood" in Hebrew is "Dam" -
Daleth and Mem. Aleph by itself not only represents the "Ah" sound, but also the element of air, or breath - so
"Adam" is seen as blood with the breath of life - the man created by God. There are many other such hidden
meanings in the Bible - using letters as numbers, using a "cypher" so that the last letter of the alphabet corresponds
to the first, the penultimate letter corresponding to the second, and so on, and hidden abbreviations. Scholars have
spent many years finding meaning in these, and the Talmud is a body of writing which largely consists of
commentaries - the "hidden meanings" - on the Torah. Even today, Jewish scholars are researching such hidden
meanings. In recent years, the "Bible Code" has received a lot of publicity; this is a system where supposed hidden
messages are teased out of the bible by picking, say, every 31st letter in a sequence, or every 42nd letter, to reveal
new words. Unfortunately, a number of people have brought discredit to this idea by jumping on the Bible Code
bandwagon and finding all sorts of apparent links which simply don't stand up to statistical analysis. However, the
original idea was discovered by a statistician and quantum physicist, Eliyahu Rips, and his original paper on the
Bible Code, though now generally dismissed, was sufficiently impressive to be included in an academic journal on
One word in the Bible which is never pronounced "correctly" is the name of God - YHVH. There are several words
used for God in the Bible - "Adon", meaning "Lord", and "Elohim", which is a curious word based on "El" (God)
and the plural ending "im". However, God's name is often given as YHVH, which we know as "Jehovah".
According to legend, if the name of God is ever pronounced correctly, the Universe will come to an end. For this
reason, the "real" pronounciation is - sensibly - never given in the Bible. Instead, the vowel signs used for "Adon"
are used for the middle H and V instead, giving us a pronounciation of "Ye-Hah-Vo". Some scholars maintain that
the "correct" pronounciation is closer to "Yahweh" - but please don't practice this at home; we don't want the
Universe to end just yet!
The Tree of Life has 22 paths on it, each path corresponding to a Hebrew letter. There are 22 major arcana cards in
theTa r o t, so there is a direct correspondence between the Tree of Life and the Tarot. This is, I realise, a very
controversial statement. Devout Jews may strongly disagree with this, particularly if they view Tarot as a form of
fortune telling, which is prohibited in the Torah. I personally see the Tarot as a tool for personal growth, rather than
a predictive device, and for me, the mapping between the Tarot and the Tree of Life works.
Each Hebrew letter corresponds to a number; most Hebrew bibles actually use the letters to indicate chapter
numbers and verse numbers. This means that every single Hebrew word has a numeric value, and scholars have
long been fascinated by entirely different words that have the same numeric value as each other. A simple example:
the word for love is Ahebah (Alef-Heh-Beth-Heh), which adds up to 13. The word for unity is Achad (Alef-Cheth-
Daleth), which also adds up to 13. Thus there is a correspondence between love and unity. The art of finding words
with the same numeric value is calledgema tr ia - the concept is vaguely similar to numerology (where a person's
name is reduced to a number, to indicate their personality), except that gematria is usually conducted on biblical
names and the names of angels.
In addition, each Hebrew letter has a meaning in its own right - for example, the letter representing the "Ts" sound
is called "Tzaddi", which means "fish-hook", and the symbol actually looks like a fish hook. Some of the
correspondences are not terribly obvious - the "N" sound is called "Nun", which means "fish", but the symbol for
Nun doesn't honestly look much like a fish!
Finally, Hebrew letters are divided into three categories: three "mother" letters, which correspond to the three
elements (Air, Water and Fire - Earth is considered to be a combination of all three elements, and not an element in
its own right), seven "double" letters, which correspond to the seven planets known to the ancients (Moon,
Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Double letters are so called because they historically had two
different sounds; for example, the letter "Peh" can have a "P" sound or an "F" or "Ph" sound; some of these
distinctions have now disappeared - for instance, the letter "Gimel" only has a single sound now (a hard "G"), but
used to have two sounds ("G" or "J"). The remaining twelve letters correspond to the twelve zodiac signs:
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