Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Letter Reish


The name of the letter reish is related to the Hebrew word rosh, which means head, and rishon, which means first. In fact, reish is the second letter of the Torah, following the bet of Bereishit (In the beginning).

At the same time, reish is also related to the word rasha, meaning wicked one. Note the similarity in shape between the reish and the daled. It has been said that the roundness of the reish symbolizes the person who bends to the fashions and ways of the times and looks to acher (spelled aleph-chet-reish), the other, for direction. Whereas the daled has a flat top symbolizing the straight path toward the Divine, looking toward Echad (spelled aleph-chet-daled), the One, as God is called in the Shema prayer: Shema Yisrael Ah’doh’nai Eh’loh’hay’nu Ah’doh’nai Echad, Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

The order of the alphabet can also teach a meaningful lesson about life. The letter reish comes one letter after the letter kuf, which begins the word kodesh, holy. Someone who has turned to wickedness (ra’ah) is still only one step away from a place of holiness (kedusha). All that is necessary is to turn around.

The letter reish will sometimes stand alone in front of a name to signify that person’s title of Rabbi--similar to the English abbreviation for Mister (Mr.).

The numeric value of reish is 200.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Mesorah Publications, 1983.

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