the letters also serve as numbers.
, the first letter, is one,
, the second letter, istwo, continuing up to
, ten. Numbers higher than ten are expressed by a
(twelve), etc. In addition to the meaning of any given word expressed by the characters read as letters, it also has a numerical equivalent(
) composed of the value of its letters in numbers. The meaning of wordsor phrases which have the same numerical equivalent may be connected on aprofound level.In some instances, the tally is off by one. For example, one word may add up toninety-eight, and the other, to ninety-seven. In such a case, the discrepancy isresolved by adding what is called “the
,” counting the word itself as anadditional one.
This practice is surprising. If the figures do not tally, why introduce what seems to be an artificial device, as if to force the calculation to fit? What is the
, and how does it work?In his Kabbalistic work
, Rabbi Yehuda Koriat explains the ideabehind adding the
with an interesting analogy. A visitor to ashipyard will see a whole range of objects: planks and beams, rope and fabric, nails,screws, and bolts of all sizes, and much, much more. The shipwrights can identify each isolated item and explain its use in the construction of a ship. However, if the visitor returns after the ship is completed, they will no longer tell him, “Here’s a nailand here’s a plank.” They will tell him, “This is a ship.” No more a pile of assortedmaterials, it is an entirely new entity, composed of all those components. On theirown, each individual component is of limited importance, and cannot be utilized tothe maximum. Only when they are combined in the finished structure are they attheir finest and most useful. It is the completed boat that can sail the high seas – notthe stacks of wood, metal, and cloth.The same is true of a
. Its components, the individual letters, each withits own numerical value, are put together to form a new entity – a complete word.The word itself stands on its own as an additional component. According to thisanalogy, it makes sense to add the
to the calculation of a
, becauseit is an element on its own.The
describe the construction of every individual part of the Tabernacle in detail. Each had its own distinct identity.
We find an allusion to the practice of counting the
commentary onthe verse “Efraim and Menashe, like Reuven and Shimon, they will be [the same] to me” (
48:5). The Hebrew words
have the same numerical equivalent as
, minus one. Even so, the verse says, “they will be [the same] to me,” meaning that they will be considered equal. By adding the
, an additional one, they become equal.