The Hebrew alphabet consists of twenty-two letters. This Hebrew letter is not just a number of abstract linguistic elements that you can use to compile words and sentences, as is the case with the letters in the Dutch language.
Hebrew letters have a special meaning. They all have a name and identity. The Hebrew letters have a symbolic meaning. They have also been given a numerical value that can be used for calculations.
The Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet consists of twenty-two letters. They are all consonants. The letter Alef is also a consonant. The Alef does not have the sound of the ‘a’, as you would expect, but the sound of a hard tap in the throat.
The Hebrew letters form the visible body of the words. The vowels, the soul of language, are invisible. The story of creation is written with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Dutch author Harry Mulisch wrote about these twenty-two Hebrew letters in his book ‘The procedure’.
For do not forget that the world was created in Hebrew; that would not have been possible in another language, least of all in Dutch, whose spelling is not certain until heaven and earth perish. [ ] Twenty-two letters: He (God) designed them, carved them out, weighed them, combined them, and exchanged them, each with all; through them, He formed the entire creation and everything that still had to be created. (H. Mulisch (1998) The Procedure, pp. 13-14)
The symbolic meaning of the Hebrew letters
Each Hebrew letter has a name and identity. The meaning of the Hebrew letters transcends the sound for which they stand. The letters from the heart of the language and of the Hebrew religion. The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet each have a symbolic meaning. Each letter in Hebrew also has a certain number of value.
The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the Alef. The letter has the number value one. Alef refers to unity and in particular, to the unity of God. This letter symbolizes that there is only one God and Creator. This is expressed in the central confession of Israel: “Listen, Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is the only one!” (Deuteronomy 6: 4).
Bet is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Bet is the first letter of the Torah. The letter has a numeric value of two. Because two is the numerical value of this letter, this letter stands for duality in creation. This duality means contradictions created by God, such as day and night, light and darkness, the waters and the dry earth, the sun, and the moon.
The third letter of the alphabet, Gimel, has a number value of three. This letter is seen as the bridge between the opposites that have arisen from the second letter, the Bet. The third letter balances the contradictions. It is about a dynamic balance, a balance that is constantly in motion.
The Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter has a number value of four. The shape of this letter gives it its meaning. Some see a bent man in this letter. The letter then symbolizes humility and responsiveness. Others recognize a step by the horizontal and vertical lines of this letter. That refers to the structure to rise higher, to overcome resistance.
When the Dallet is in someone’s name, it indicates a strong will and perseverance. A biblical example of this is David, who has become king of all Israel through strong will and perseverance.
The fifth letter of the alphabet is the He. The number value of this letter is five. The Hee is associated with being. This letter represents the gift of life. It is the first letter of the Hebrew verb (haya). The letter hee refers to the being, the vital essence of everything created by God.
The sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value of six. This letter, the Waw, is written as a vertical line. This line connects the top with the bottom. This letter symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth between God and people. The patriarch Jacob dreams about this connection between heaven and earth (Genesis 28: 10-22).
Heaven and earth were connected by this so-called Jacob’s Ladder. The letter waw also refers to its numerical value to the six days of creation and to the six directions (left and right, up and down, front and back).
The Zain is the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter stands for the seventh day of creation. That is the day that the Creator has set aside as a day of rest: “On the seventh day, God had finished his work, on that day he rested from the work he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on that day, he rested from all his creative work” (Genesis 2: 2-3). This seventh letter is, therefore, a source of harmony and tranquility.
The letter Chet is the eighth letter of the alphabet. This letter symbolizes life. It is about the life that transcends biological life. This letter is also associated with the soul and spiritual life. After the seven days of creation, a man comes to fruition as he develops beyond wisdom and godliness in the face of natural reality.
The Tet, the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, symbolizes all good things in creation. The essence of the letter Tet is feminine. The literal meaning of this letter is basket or nest. The number value of this letter is nine. That stands for the nine months of pregnancy. This letter has the shape of a womb.
In terms of form, the Jod is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the first letter of the name of the Lord (YHWH). The Jew is thus the symbol for the Holy, for the Creator of heaven and earth. The letter stands for the unity of the Creator, but also for the multiple. The Jew has the numerical value ten, and ten is used in the Bible to indicate multiples.
The eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet set is the Kaf. The literal meaning of this letter is the hollow palm of the hand. This letter is like a bowl-shaped, outstretched palm that is ready to receive. This letter is written as a line with a curved shape. This letter teaches people to bow and adjust their own interests. The number value of this letter is twenty.
The Lamed is the twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter is a symbol of learning. With this learning is meant spiritual learning. It is about learning that leads to spiritual growth. The lamed is written as a wavy movement. This letter stands for the constant movements and changes in nature. This letter stands for number thirty.
The letter Mem stands for water. The water of wisdom and of the Torah is meant by that. The Bible speaks of thirst for the Lord. For example, Psalm 42 verse 3 says: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Men, the thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This refers to the water that God gives. The letter Mem is called a numerical value of forty. Forty is a special number in the Bible. The people of Israel stayed in the wilderness for forty years before they could enter the promised land. This numerical value of this letter is forty.
The Noen is the letter that symbolizes loyalty and the soul. This letter also stands for humility because the Nun is bent both below and above. In Aramaic, the letter Noen means fish. Some people see this letter for the fish that swims in the water of the Torah. The water of the Torah refers to the previous letter, the Mem. The numerical value of the Noen is fifty.
The fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the Samech. This letter symbolizes the protection we receive from God. The circumference of this letter indicates God, the Lord. The interior of the letter then refers to its creation that is safe because it is protected by the Creator himself. The number value of this letter is sixty.
The Hebrew letter Ajien is associated with time. This sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for the future and for eternity. It teaches people to look beyond the current moment. The letter Ajien symbolizes it with open eyes to look beyond our own reality. This letter has a numerical value of seventy.
The letter Peh is the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter symbolizes the mouth. This letter refers to the power of speech. This power is expressed in the Bible Book of Proverbs 18: 21: “Words have power over life and death, whoever cherishes his tongue reaps the benefits.” Or, as James writes in the New Testament: ‘The tongue is also a small organ, but what a grandeur it can produce! Consider how a small flame causes a huge forest fire.
Our tongue is just like a flame” (James 3: 5-6). This letter teaches a man to speak carefully. The letter Pee stands for the number eighty.
The Tsaddie symbolizes the tsaddik. A tsaddik is a man who is righteous before God. It is a devout and religious person. A tsaddik strives to be honest. Justice and doing good are important to him. The eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for everything a tsaddik strives for. The number value of this letter is ninety.
The letter Kuf is the nineteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The meaning of this letter is the back of the head. Other meanings of the letter Kuf are the eye of a needle and ape. The monkey stands for the animal in man. This letter challenges a man to transcend the animal and to live as the Creator intended. This letter has a numerical value of one hundred.
The twentieth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the Reesj. The meaning of this letter is the leader or head. From this meaning, this letter symbolizes greatness. The letter Reesj stands for infinite and exponential growth. The number value of this letter is two hundred.
The Sjien is the twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This letter is connected with fire and transformation. This letter has three teeth in shape. The literal meaning of this letter is, therefore, tooth, but three flames can also be seen in the shape of the three teeth. It is the flames that purify and purify life from iniquity.
This letter can also show that it is good to choose the balance in nature. Of the three teeth that form this letter, the ends are the extremes. The middle tooth balances in between and knows how to find the golden mean. The number value of this letter is three hundred.
The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the Taw. It is the twenty-second letter. This letter is a sign and a seal. The Taw is a symbol of truth and completion. This letter completes the Hebrew alphabet. The dignity of the Torah is written down with this alphabet. The Taw is the last letter of the first word of the Torah” Bereshit,” “in the beginning.” In that beginning, the Creator set in motion the whole of life, the existence of all that is. In that word, commencement and completion are connected. In that word, the completion is never an end, but always a new beginning. The number value of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is four hundred.
The position of the letter determines the meaning
Every Hebrew letter has its own meaning. Some letters have multiple meanings. The position of a letter in a word or sentence also determines what symbolic meaning a letter ultimately gets. Depending on the context of a letter, one interpretation is more appropriate than another. However, there is never any definitive meaning. Giving letters meaning in ancient texts such as in Hebrew is an ongoing process.
Sources and references
- Introduction photo: Robert C , Pixabay
- H. Mulisch (1998). The procedure. Amsterdam: The Busy Bee.
- D. Linesch (2014). Clinical Art Therapy and Hebrew Calligraphy: An Integration of Practices. Journal of Clinical Art Therapy, 2 (1), 5.
- Bible Quotes from the New Bible Translation (2004) (NBV)