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Two recent questions on Christianity Stack have got me thinking about the way some people interpret the divine name. One answer gave this interpretation:

Yod - י Hand
Hey - ה Open Window, to reveal
Vav - ו Nail / Tent peg
Hey - ה Open Window, to reveal

Another answer came up with this interpretation:

Hey = Behold Vav = Nail Yod = Closed Hand

I would like to know if this interpretation of Hebrew letters is accepted within Judaism and also something about the history of ascribing meaning to letters.

This is my first venture into Mi Yodeya so please be kind - I have a genuine interest in this subject and would like to know more. Also, I have no idea which tags to use, so any helpful suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

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    What brought you to the Christianity Stack? And as a follow up to that, what brought you to Mi Yodeya? – Yaacov Deane Apr 8 at 11:44
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    @Yaacov Deane Thanks for your comment. I came to Christianity Stack to ask questions and find answers on Christian theology and to better understand the differences between various denominations. However, C.Stack does not help with understanding Judaism or Hebrew, so I came to Mi Yodeya in the hope of being enlightened. I became a Christian (of the Protestant persuasion) 23 years ago. There is much I do not know and I am not ashamed to admit my ignorance, especially when it comes to Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures. – Lesley Apr 8 at 11:58
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    @Yaacov How is interpretation of the letters of Hashem’s Name off topic? I see some people voted to close as comparative religion, and I’d like to remind such people that that close reason requires that the question require knowledge of other religions, which isn’t applicable here. – DonielF Apr 8 at 15:34
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    @DonielF I take it you are missing the whole idea of being 'nailed to the cross through his hands and feet' (meaning the cruxifiction) and how that is by association relating to G-d (shem Havayah) and revealing that Yushkie is in fact god incarnate. Good Jews, please hear the good news and see the light....Vote to close. – Yaacov Deane Apr 8 at 15:39
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    I don't think this question is off-topic. The asker heard an interpretation (which is wrong and a Christian attempt to inject Jesus into the torah) and came here to ask about the technique being used. I see this as a question about whether we do that kind of alef-bet wordgame interpretation. Answers would be free to debunk the specific example or ignore it and answer the general question. – Monica Cellio Apr 8 at 16:24
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The only example I remember of interpreting the Hebrew letters comes in the Talmud Shabbos 104a. Here is the beginning of the first exposition (please read the rest from the link).

The Sages said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Young students came today to the study hall and said things the likes of which were not said even in the days of Joshua bin Nun. These children who only knew the Hebrew alphabet interpreted the letters homiletically.

Alef beit means learn [elaf] the wisdom [bina] of the Torah. Gimmel dalet means give to the poor [gemol dalim]. Why is the leg of the gimmel extended toward the dalet? Because it is the manner of one who bestows loving-kindness to pursue the poor. And why is the leg of the dalet extended toward the gimmel? It is so that a poor person will make himself available to him who wants to give him charity. And why does the dalet face away from the gimmel? It is to teach that one should give charity discreetly so that the poor person will not be embarrassed by him.

The thought is an understanding of the Hebrew alphabet but not a key to interpreting the letters in different words.

Later on in the same passage, the letters are interpreted in a different way:

The Gemara cites another midrash that also deals with the letters of the alphabet. This one uses a code in which the first letter is paired with the last letter, the second letter with the penultimate one, and so on [alef tav, beit shin]. Alef tav, God said: If he despised Me [oti ti’ev] would I desire [etaveh] him? Beit shin: If he does not desire to worship Me [bi], shall My name [shemi] rest upon him? Gimmel reish: He defiled his body [gufo]; shall I have mercy [araḥem] on him? The word comprised of the letters gimmel and reish in Aramaic means licentiousness. Dalet kuf: He locked My doors [daltotai], shall I not cut off his horns [karnav]? To this point, the Gemara interpreted the letters as referring to the attribute of the wicked.

However, with regard to the attribute of the righteous it is taught differently. Alef tav, beit shin: If you have shame [ata bosh], gimmel reish, dalet kuf: If you do so, you will reside [gur] in the heavens [bedok], as the verse says: “Who stretches out the Heavens like a curtain [dok]” (Isaiah 40:22). Heh tzadi, vav peh: There is a partition [ḥatzitza havei] between you and anger [af]. Zayin ayin, ḥet samekh, tet nun: And you will not be shaken [mizdaze’a] by the Satan. Yod mem, kaf lamed: The minister of Gehenna said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, send the righteous as well into the sea to which all go [yam kol], Gehenna.

(see the link for more examples.) Again this does not provide an interpretative tool for use generally.

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    Also Bereshit Raba 1:11 – b a Apr 8 at 12:05
  • Thank you for your response which I am pleased to accept before this question is closed down as "off topic." – Lesley Apr 8 at 15:44
  • @Lesley That's generous of you. – Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 8 at 15:49
  • You are most welcome. Seems like asking questions on Mi Yodea is even more tricky than asking questions on Christianity Stack. However, if at first you don't succeed... give up? Only joking. Shalom. – Lesley Apr 8 at 15:52

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