Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Letter Chet


Many people are familiar with the shape of the letter chet because it is the first letter of the words chai and chaim, both of which mean “life.”

The significant numeric value of chet (eight), is perhaps why chet is part of the Hebrew word for life (chaim). As mentioned in the discussion of the letter zayin, the number seven is related to the concept of wholeness in nature--explained as the count of the walls of a cube plus its inner (empty) mass. Eight, however, represents that which is a step beyond nature. (In fact, this understanding of eight is often associated with brit mila/circumcision, Chanukah and Shemini Atzeret.)

What is the importance of the chet in chai in relationship to the letter eight and its representation of the supernatural? A person must always respect the miracle of life and of the incredible power of “animate” beings.

It is interesting to note that when a scribe writes the letter chet, he combines two zayins with a “roof” attaching one to the other. A human being must recognize God (who is outside of nature) as the provider of all sustenance (the literal meaning of the letter zayin). Without God there is no sustenance, without sustenance there is no chaim / life.


Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah.

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