Gematria: A Unique, Creative Cohesion with Geometry Demonstrated (Part 1)
Gematria: A Unique, Creative Cohesion With Geometry Demonstrated (Part 1)
Leonora Leet in her magisterial analysis of Kabbalah has described what I believe is one of the singular most impressive gematric relationships ever discovered, Not by itself, but because of its association with a geometric key inclusive within the gematria. So far as I am aware, no one has ever shown this before, and I have yet discovered more than what Leet had presented which enlarges on her original premise and research.
First, there has been a definitive discussion of why gematria is not just voo doo mystical mumbo jumbo, but an entirely valid precept involving the Hebrew, Greek and other ancient languages from the impressive scholarship of Joseph Dan, the Gershom Scholem scholar of Kabbalah at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and recipient of the 1997 Israel Prize, the highest honor Israel can give to one of its citizens, ignored by most scholars who ought to know better. In his discussion of his paper “The Ashkenazi Hasidic Concept of Language,” Dan describes the over-arching typology of Jewish rabbinical Kabbalistic exegesis of the Hebrew language and its use for getting to the fullest possible meaning, expression, and beauty of the Divine revealed Torah within the Ashkenazi Hasidic Jewish world of late 12th and 13th century European Jewry.
From Dan’s research he has found two main texts explicating “the Ashkenazi Hasidic concept of the esoteric meaning of the Hebrew Language…” He notes they are both authored by the same person, namely, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms. The first text is his “...commentary on the letters of the Alphabet, which constitutes the first treatise in the author’s magnum opus of esoteric theology, Sodey Razaya. The second is the same author’s explanation of the seventy-three “Gates of Wisdom,” the methods of investigation of the esoteric meaning of the biblical verses.”
It is the second of these which Dan discusses in this material. Here is where he describes the various techniques esoteric Jews utilized on the Hebrew language in order to affect the maximum meaning of the sacred Torah. On gematria, Dan succinctly states the reality the Hasidic Jews faced, and why gematria is just one of many approaches possible to deriving deeper meaning from the Torah than its mere historical surface layer. “The Ashkenazi Hasidim were the most intensive users of the method of gematria among early medieval Jewish commentators, and it seems that they had an impact on subsequent Jewish mystical writers in later centuries… they cannot be regarded as its innovators, but they certainly represent a new intensity in its use. Rabbi Judah the Pious and Rabbi Eleazar of Worms not only used gematria for words and phrases, but quite often transformed whole verses into lists of harmonized numbers. It seems that when they looked at a page of scripture (or prayers), they not only saw words and letters; they immediately perceived the long lists of numbers that these words and letters represent.”
These were highly thought of and great spiritual leaders of their communities, who, according to Scholem, emphasized prayer, and exact prayers at that, rather than to the “spontaneous expression for their oceanic feelings,” of the ancient Merkabah mystics, and thereby “Hasidism discovered a multitude of esoteric meanings in a strictly limited number of fixed expressions. And this painstaking loyalty to the fixed term does indeed seem to go hand in hand with a renewed consciousness of the magical power inherent in words.”
So what did they do to gain the maximum benefit of the fixed words and expressions? Here Dan helps us out enormously. “Jewish mysticism is described quite often as a system that bases its biblical hermeneutics on ‘numerology.’ This is basically incorrect: Many central works, from Sefer Yetzirah to the Zohar, neglect or almost ignore it. Throughout the ages, there were Jewish mystics who were inclined to use the method of gematria, and others who were not interested. It should be remembered that there is nothing mystical in rendering Hebrew letters into numbers: Until the last few generations, Hebrew had no alternative but to use letters for numbers. The use of special signs as numerals, which reached Europe from the East in the Early Middle Ages, did not penetrate Jewish culture until modern times. Therefore, every Hebrew word or letter could legitimately be read as either word or number - as was the case in ancient Greece, and partially in Latin, the latter custom surviving in our day and age.
The basic fact that it is possible to ‘play around’ with the numerical value of words and letters is inherent in Jewish culture and does not denote any particularly mystical inclination...gematria is just one more aspect of the variety of ways in which letters convey divine meanings. It is no better and no worse than the method of counting missing letters, or interpreting the full name of letters or their shapes and decorations. One of the many levels of meaning is conveyed by the numerical value of words, phrases, and verses…”
Kieren Barry agrees, but from the Greek end of things by noting “In the ancient world, the attribution of numerical values to letters was unexceptional. There were no separate symbols for numerals such as we now use. Because of this, there are widespread instances of numerical wordplay in ancient writings.’ This was also demonstrated in the more complete (and inspiring) work of David Fideler (he brought in the cosmological numbers and symbols as well as the language usage of letters and words) who noted how the early Christians incorporated this type of numerical and alphabetic, gematric symbolism into their own interpretations of their scriptures and history.
And Gershom Scholem has shown how sporadically some Jewish mystics through the former up to current ages, beginning in ancient times, have used gematria, while others didn’t. It was never an overall systematic approach by all Jews anymore than it was for all the Greeks or all the Christians. It was and is used, and a legitimate way to approach sacred texts for further meaning and ideas and connected precepts by some, but not all. This much is historically clear. There was no single method anymore than there was a singular unified mystical tradition.
With that in mind, we turn to a unique and interesting approach by Leonora Leet, a Kabbalist who has brought into the foray the importance of geometry and number with form and language. It is a multiple approach of multiple disciplines which opens new variations of meaning which demonstrate and open up possibilities that we are nowhere near finished with our knowledge, nor our learning.
I will summarize her full exposition keeping things manageable for this brief look. The Pythagorean geometric proportion which she discovered having Kabbalistic overtones is the exquisite 13:26::26:52. It is to the mediating term 26 that catches our eye, since this is the Tetragrammaton (Yod = 10, Hey = 5, Vav = 6, and Hey = 5). The Tetragrammaton can be said to function as the geometric mean in this proportion.
These numbers give us a special set of connotations in the context of the Sefer Yetzirah with its triple factors of the Teli, the galgal, and Lev. We can see these as three points of space-time where the moon and sun unite in the cosmic heart to mediate the process of spiritual transcendence. The number 13 ties with the moon while 52 ties to the sun when the two bodies are in conjunction with each other. And 13 is tied to the menstrual cycle of women also, which carries the association of the religion of the Great Mother religion. 13 is also the classic Jewish number of attributes of divine mercy.
The number 52 having ties to the sun, also interestingly enough has the gematric value of the Hebrew word for son - ben (Bet = 2, Nun = 50). With 26 being the Tetragrammaton, it nicely mediates with the Kabbalah Tree of Life since the YHVH is assigned to the Sefirah Tiferet, the cosmic heart of Adam Kadmon. “Thus the mediating function ascribed to the heart in the Sefer Yetzirah is at one with the function of the Gematria number of the Tetragrammaton in the geometric progression from 13 to 52.
I shall continue the gematric associations in part 2. This part 1 is giving brief historical background concerning the use of gematria and to introduce the geometric/gematric progression which has incredible in-depth Kabbalastic associations with cosmology and scripture.
1. Leonora Leet, “The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah, Recovering the Key to Hebraic Sacred Science,” Inner Traditions, 1999: 119-129. Hereafter cited as “Secret Doctrine.”
2. Joseph Dan, “The Ashkenazi Hasidic Concept of Language,” in “Jewish Mysticism, The Middle Ages,” (4 Volumes), Jason Aronson Inc., 1998: Vol. 2:67. Hereafter cited as “Concept of Language.”
3. Dan, “Concept of Language,” p. 83.
4. Gershom Scholem, “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism,” Schocken Books, renewed 1974: 101.
5. Dan, “Concept of Language,” p. 83-84.
6. Kieren Barry, “The Greek Qabalah, Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World,” Samuel Weiser, 1999: xv.
7. David Fideler, “Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism,” Quest Books, 1993.
8. Gershom Scholem, “Kabbalah,” Meridian Books, 1974: 337-343.
9. Joseph Dan, “The Dangers of the Mystical Ascension in Ancient Jewish Mystical Texts,” in “Jewish Mysticism, Late Antiquity,” (4 Volumes), Jason Aronson Inc., 1998, Vol. 1: 307.
10. Leet, “Secret Doctrine,” p. 120-121.
11. Leet, “Secret Doctrine,” p. 121.