The Torah vs. the Computer, Part II
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Chisma said, The laws of the bird-pair
offerings and the beginning of menstrual periods -- these are essential
laws. Astronomy and the numeric values [of the Hebrew letters] are the
spices to wisdom."
Last week we began discussing the concept of "numeric values"
("gematriya") in the Hebrew language -- that the letters of the Hebrew
alphabet each have associated numeric values (alef = 1, bais = 2, gimmel =
3, etc.), and so all Hebrew words and phrases have corresponding values,
sometimes of profound significance. We also introduced the modern
equivalent of the gematriya -- the Torah Codes. The idea is that by
searching through the letters of the Torah at regular intervals (by
selecting e.g. every 50th letter), one will find significant words and
messages hidden within the text.
Last week I also offered my personal disclaimer. I am neither great rabbi
nor great statistician. In writing on this controversial topic, I am not
attempting to convince anyone of the validity of the Codes or to weigh in
with my own two cents. That being said, I'd like to offer a bit of
background to the Codes phenomenon and a few noteworthy illustrations. I
will then suggest what I feel is an important perspective on the Codes --
one which will perhaps provide a valuable handle on the topic, rather than
simply stirring up further controversy.
The concept of hidden information in the letters of the Torah is not a new
one; a number of the classical medieval commentators make reference to it.
The topic, however, became popularized only in the last few decades. The
earliest research was done by R. Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl, (1903-1957,
a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who was instrumental in slowing the
deportation of Jews from Slovakia during the War). He, without the benefit
of computer technology, discovered example after example of fascinating
pattern in the Torah, one of which is illustrated below.
With the advent of computers, researchers have begun exploring the text of
the Torah and in particular of the Book of Genesis with ever more mind-
boggling results. These include such finds as discovering the word "Eden"
encoded 16 times in Genesis 2:4-10 (discussing G-d's creation of the
Garden), as well as tens of tree names encoded in the entire chapter.
Likewise, the name "Aaron" ("Aharon" in Hebrew, brother of Moses and
Israel's first High Priest) was discovered tens of times encoded in the
first chapter of Leviticus (discussing Temple offerings). Many other finds
have indicated hints to such major future events as the Chanukah story and
the Holocaust, as well as the names of great rabbis together with their
Allow me to provide two more substantial examples. Last week we quoted
that R. Eliyahu Kramer (the "Vilna Gaon" of 18th Century Lithuania)
claimed that Exodus 11:9 -- "...in order to magnify My wonders in the Land
of Egypt" -- contains a hint that there would one day exist a scholar
known as Maimonides, great medieval sage who lived much of his life in
Egypt. R. Kramer saw this in the fact that the Hebrew verse -- "re'vos
mofsai b'eretz Mitzrayim" begins with the letters raish - mem - bais - mem
= Rambam, the acronym by which Maimonides is universally known.
R. Weissmandl buttressed this with an additional discovery. If we take an
instance of the letter 'mem' which appears earlier in this same verse, and
count forwards, selecting every 50th letter, we find the word "Mishne".
If, in addition, we count 613 letters from the initial 'mem', we discover
an additional word (at 50 letter intervals) -- "Torah". And the Mishne
Torah was Maimonides' classic work on the 613 Commandments!
Here is another personal favorite of mine, really not a Code at all, but a
related phenomenon -- of the Torah's allusion to future events. (As below,
my goal here is to broaden this subject, rather than tying ourselves down
to the Codes controversy.) In Megillas Esther (the Book of Esther),
towards the end of the story, King Ahasuerus allows the Jews to avenge
themselves of their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. In Shushan, the
capital, the Jews kill 500 men and hang Haman's ten sons on a gallows.
Queen Esther then approaches the King with an additional
request: "...allow the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow as they did
today, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows" (Esther
9:13). It's curious that she would request the hanging of Haman's already
slain sons. Nevertheless, the King complies.
Now, the Hebrew word for "tomorrow" ("machar") often refers to the distant
future. Further, the Midrash states that whenever the word "king" appears
in the Megillah it alludes to the King of kings as well. Thus, the verse
could be understand as a request by Esther to G-d to again hang the ten
sons of Haman at some point in the distant future.
Now, when the Megillah lists the ten sons Haman during their hanging (9:7-
9) there are a number of unusually-sized letters. (We have a tradition to
write certain letters in the Torah larger or smaller than the standard
size.) According to the most accepted tradition, there is a large 'vuv'
(numerical value = 6) and a small 'tuv' (400), 'shin' (300) and 'zayin'
(7). The following suggestion has been made: The large vuv refers to the
sixth millennium (of the Hebrew calendar); the small letters refer to year
707 of that millennium. The meaning, then, is that G-d agreed to hang
Haman's ten sons again in the year 5707 = 1946-7.
On October 1, 1946, a few days before Yom Kippur, the first of the major
Nuremberg trials was concluded. Ten of the chief Nazi masterminds and
instigators were sentenced to hanging. (The actual number was twelve; one
was sentenced in absentia and another committed suicide before his
execution.) The last of them, Julius Streicher, on his way to the gallows
and after his face was covered, cried out, for no apparent reason, "Purim
Fest 1946!" And again, Esther's request was fulfilled.
Before we move on, I again feel obliged to make mention of the controversy
surrounding this topic. The Pentateuch contains over 300,000 characters.
If one searches for anything, starting from any point and selecting any
possible skip distance (including negative ones and values ranging in the
thousands), we would *expect* to find all sorts of nifty results. And
though many seem enormously significant, perhaps for every "gee whiz!"
result researchers have been able to find, they encountered -- and
discarded -- hundreds of misses.
This "fatal flaw" with many of the Codes discoveries has since been
rectified, claim the proponents, by selecting collections of words or word
pairs to search for (using independently-determined spelling conventions)
before beginning their experiments -- and significant finds are continuing
to be discovered. Yet again, it is beyond this writer to arbitrate in this
ongoing debate. I personally am a firm believer in the Codes, and to the
layman, the coincidences are far too many and magnificent to be ignored.
(One also notes a degree of "religious fervor" among the agnostics --
extending far beyond the bounds of mathematical debate.) Yet I am not one
to hold an authoritative position, and my readers will just have to decide
At this point, however, I would like to offer some perspective on this
subject. The following thought is primarily not my own. I heard it was the
reaction of a great rabbi (of uncertain identity), when introduced to the
phenomenon of the Codes.
Of what value truly are the Codes? Say the phenomenon really is too
remarkable to deny. Is this our ticket to proselytizing the world? Should
we attempt to ram the Codes down the throat of every non-believer --
"proving" once and for all that G-d wrote the Torah, that it contains
hidden patterns alluding to future events human beings could have never
foreseen? What are we to make of this phenomenon, supposing it is true?
Why, in fact, would an all-knowledgeable G-d bother putting such patterns
in the Torah to begin with? (It's certainly not to allow us to predict the
future. Even the most serious proponents of the Codes are quick to deny
Well, firstly, I'm not all certain that the Codes would be an effective
means of proselytizing the world in the first place. Would, say, an
unaffiliated Jew begin observing the Torah -- changing his or her
lifestyle -- because of statistical results of a scientific study? It is a
very small class of people who are so intellectually inclined as to be
willing to follow mathematical evidence alone and adjust their personal
lives accordingly. (Look at how many otherwise intelligent people
fervently believe in the notion of creation through uncontrolled
evolution.) Dry facts -- even very compelling ones -- do not create moral
human beings. (The old OJ trial is another telling case in point. People
believe what they want to believe. All else is what we call, "Don't
confuse me with the facts.")
Consider also the generation of the Exodus. A fraction of the men, 40 days
after *seeing* G-d at Sinai, were dancing around a golden calf. Knowledge
alone is a very dangerous thing. If our brains know more than our hearts
are willing to accept -- well, that's the one whose "wisdom is greater
than his deeds" we talked about two weeks ago. We may just rebel against
knowledge we cannot deny but can neither live with, as did the generation
of the Desert. If so, how are we to view the Torah Codes? What are we to
make of them?
Let me illustrate with one more related example, and we'll finally arrive
at our punchline. I apologize for the length of this class, but I feel
this issue must be properly addressed.
In I Kings 7:23, during the construction of Solomon's Temple, the King had
a "molten sea" (a sort of large laver) constructed (of cylindrical shape),
10 cubits in diameter and 30 in circumference, say the Scriptures. Hey,
any calculus majors out there? Isn't pi 3.14159..., not 3, as Scripture
here clearly states? My, the ancient Hebrew authors of the Bible weren't
very sophisticated! Why, even the ancient Greeks had a pretty good idea of
the value of pi! (Pi is a Greek letter, you know. :-) If the Torah truly
is the word of G-d, how could such an archaic blunder slip in?
But let us look closer. When describing the cylinder's circumference,
Scripture writes: "and a line of 30 cubits did circle it..." The
word "line" -- "kav" is spelled "kuf" (100), "vuv" (6), "hai" (5) = 111.
(The "hai" at the end is silent (unusual for the Hebrew language) and
apparently superfluous.) There is a parallel passage in II Chronicles 4:2
describing the exact same structure. There the same phrase appears, but
the word "kav" is spelled in the more standard manner -- "kuf" + "vuv" =
106. Now, if we multiply 3 by 111/106, the result is 3.141509433... --
within 1/10,000th of the true value of pi! (This was told to me by my
father, of blessed memory, as he heard from a mathematician-friend of his.)
G-d has a message for us in all of this. First of all, do you really think
the G-d who created the heavens and earth does not know the value of pi?
But of course, the message is far more profound.
The computer is possibly modern man's greatest invention. Microscopic
processors perform upwards of a billion floating point operations every
second. We can process data and relay information in ways unimaginable
even a few years ago. Microprocessors, fiber optics, wireless technology.
The feats of modern man absolutely boggle the mind.
And the question lingers. Does our technological prowess fail to make us
look backwards, towards our past? Does the Torah seem dated, millennia
ahead of its time for the nomadic tribes of Mesopotamia but not really in
step with modern man? Does the Torah really talk to our generation and our
times? Are its messages wholesome and traditional but unable to elicit
more than nostalgia? Does G-d have anything to say to us?
But what do the Codes tell us? We take our most prized possession, the
indomitable computer, we turn it towards the Torah -- and we find even
*greater* wisdom in the Torah. This, I believe, is why G-d planted the
Codes in the Torah. Let us not feel society has advanced in ways never
anticipated by the Torah, that the world is a changed place, never to
return to the simple, pastoral existence of our ancestors. No, wherever we
reach, however far technology and humankind progress, the Torah is still
there and has something to say to us. The same G-d who appeared to the
ancients when civilization was at its infancy is aware of the feats of
modern man and is again ready to communicate with him. G-d has one message
to man today (or at least the first of many), perhaps encrypted in the
Torah Codes, but in truth ever-present: "I a-m h-e-r-e! I know of the
achievements you will one day make in the sciences, and I am still ready
and waiting to speak to you. The timeless messages of My holy Torah are
still here for you, and I patiently await your return." May our forward-
looking society continue to be conscious of the roots upon which it was
founded. May we look forwards as well as backwards, and ever see our
With this, and with G-d's help, we have finished the third chapter.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.