Spiritual Meanings of the Hebrew Alphabet Letters
Hebrew letters are not just ordinary letters. Each letter is a symbol, full of many inner meanings, from literal straightforward meaning, to deeper spiritual meaning. Understanding the letters provides essential insight into the deeper meanings of the Torah or the Bible.
After studying the letters in depth it is not uncommon for many people to feel that the letters express some direct spiritual communication that goes beyond words. In kabbalistic circles, meditation on the letters is commonly practiced to encourage this type of rapport with the letters.
Looking into the deeper meanings of the letters can transform and deepen our learning and can lead us to deeper levels of spiritual experience. Kabbalists will study for many years to realize the great inner spiritual meanings of the letters, so it is important to realize that this article is a tiny entry point into a deeper field of study, which could be followed for a lifetime.
Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and signifies the number one. Aleph indicates the Oneness and Unity of the Creator. It hints that beyond the illusion of separation and duality is underlying Oneness – that nothing is separate and the Creator is the source of everything.
The shape of the Aleph is two Yods י, one above and one below, with a diagonal line, the Vav ו, between them, representing the higher world and the lower world, with the Vav separating and connecting the two.
Aleph represents the creation of something from nothing. It is the essential symbol of beginnings and ultimate reality that cannot be talked about, timeless, spaceless, and present everywhere. It is the One that cannot be divided, representing perfection beyond human comprehension.
Beith is the 2nd letter of the Hebrew alphabet, signifying the number two. Beith is the first letter of the story of creation, starting the entire Torah/Bible –ברא בראשית.
Beith represents the beginning of duality, with the One Creator bringing forth a created world, so that there can be both a giver (the Creator) and a receiver (the created world) for the Creator to bestow upon. This creates a dramatic leap from Absolute Oneness to the ability for there to be two. It also creates the possibility for all duality and opposites – yes and no, hot and cold, man and woman, up and down, etc.
Beith’s literal meaning and form denote a house, and it represents the universal concept of a container or vessel. Thus the created world is meant to house within it the spiritual. The physical world is meant to be a place for the Creator’s glory to manifest. The body is meant to contain the soul, allowing it to act in this world. The dual world actually contains within it the Ultimate Oneness, but concealed. The Beith is the tool, the source of all building, containing and then bringing forth all of the other letters.
After Beith establishes the existence of two opposites, Ghimel is the 3rd principle which arises to resolve and harmonize these opposites. Ghimel links and balances between the Aleph and Beith. It is a dynamic balance between opposing powers, so Ghimel is a letter of constant transformation, change and motion, and translates literally as camel, an animal we associate with motion and travel between faraway places. Ghimel includes the opposites of both giving and receiving, and reward and punishment, creating balance and motion between these opposites.
Ghimel resolves the giver and receiver (Aleph and Beith), so it represents giving and receiving. It represents kindness and cultivation, the organic nurturance that causes things to grow (Hebrew Gamol גמול means nourish until ripe, גמילה – wean child, ripen fruit ). גמול also means giving and the leg of the Ghimel is said to represent the rich man running to give charity to the poor (represented by the 4th letter דלת). It signifies the Creator’s eternal benevolence to all creation, manifested with abundant life and prosperity.
The Ghimel also represents reward and punishment. The word גמול represents the giving of both reward and punishment. The laws of the created world are based on the rule of judgment – blessings are able to flow to those who do good, while wrongdoing blocks the receipt of goodness and abundance. Thus both kindness and justice are maintained in balance.
Dallet דלת is the word for door, gate and indicates resistance and the state of selflessness and humility needed to pass through it. It indicates how to pass through the gates to know one’s own mystery of being and return to the power of the Aleph – the One source of all creation and being. The Dallet is in the shape of a bent over man, signifying the humility and receptiveness. It represents Bitul, the self-nullification, or nullification of the ego, necessary to realize ones inherent connection to the Creator. Also, it is the structure, form and the diligence required to receive.
Dallet is also Dalit דלית, the poor man, who receives from benevolence of the Creator, represented by Gimel. It is the realization that as humans, we having nothing of our own, but are entirely dependent on the creator and that every breath and movement is given to us from Him.
Finally, the Dallet represents structure. Its form of a horizontal and vertical line represents a grid, giving structure to the form. It is shaped like a stair-step, the structure and overcoming of resistance needed to study. When Dallet is in someone’s name it indicates strong will, diligence, perseverance, patience, ability to concentrate, organization, planning, building. It shows us the structure and stability required to receive.
Hei represents divine revelation, the breath of the Creator (Psalm 33:6 – By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.) The world was created with the utterance of the Hei. It represents the gift of life and creates the verb of being (היה Haya – being). It is divinity, the spiritual life that comes about through the first four letters. It represents the life essence in all creation. It symbolizes the effortlessness of the world and is the symbol of divinity, gentility, and specificity. It contains within it the freedom of choice. Hei is one of the letters of the Holy Name, giving it a special significance within the Aleph-beith.
Vav is the power to unite everything that is separated in creation. Literally Vav means hook or peg and the Hebrew letter is a vertical line ו. It represents the Kav, the vertical line extension of the Creator’s perfection into the created world, in order to constantly direct it, guiding the cycle of existence step by step, until eventually the perfect Oneness of the Creator which underlies all of creation is revealed. Vav is related to the Orr Yashar, the direct light of the Creator, entering the world.
As the connector, Vav contains the power to connect heaven and earth. It can be considered like a hose, or a tube, which connects and bestows all the energy of the shefa שפע abundance from above down to the created beings. It represents the ladder of Jacob Yaakov – rooted in earth, with its head in the heavens. It is the extension of the essential dot Yod י, which all of creation comes forth from. The Vav can teach us the state of constant presence needed to connect our own heaven and earth (physical and spiritual aspects).
Vav represents the number 6 and represents the six days of the creation of the world, as well as the six physical dimensions (right left, front and back, up and down). The Vav is also representative of the male phallus, the fertilizing agent, bringing life, abundance, continuity, and addition.
The Zayin is shaped like a sword and is the symbol of spirit, sustenance, and struggle. It represents the 7th day of Shabbat (Sabbath), the day of rest and spirituality, which completes the process of the 6 days of creation. It includes the six days and six directions of physical reality, but also stands as a unique 7th principle or energy, the spirit which activates the physical. The Zayin is the source of all movement. It is an impregnating principle, which activates the creation.
Zayin is drawn with a Vav with a crown on top of it. The Vav is related to the Ohr Yashar, the direct light of the Creator coming down into the created world. The Zayin relates to the Ohr Hozer, the returning light, which follows the path of the vav to return and then spreads out when it reaches the crown. The Zayin impregnates all of life and allows the Vav to spread, opening the field of every possibility
Shaped like a sword, the Zayin represents all movement. It represents the struggle between opposites, the struggle for existence, the struggle for sustenance (מזון). It is the struggle between Yaakov Jacob and the angel. It is the power within a person that causes them to speak, initiate, live. Interestingly, Zayin is also the source of rest. It teaches us to harmonize between the spirit and perfection related to the 7th day of rest, and the matter of the 6 days of work.
Heith is the letter of life חיים. It represents infinite possibilities. It is undifferentiated substance and energy, containing all the possibilities that could come into being. Heith indicates the ability of the human to rise and go beyond nature. It is related to the Neshama, the soul. It represents the power of choice which is given by the soul, as well as the qualities of charm and grace חן which stem from the soul.
Heith is like a revolving gateway, a power to enter a higher level, to enter the mysteries of one’s soul, and then return to worldly consciousness. The ancient form of the letter looks like a ladder , indicating the ability to go above and beyond limitations. And as the letter for 8, it also signifies transcending nature, as represented by the 7 days of creation. It is the essence of the human being to break through nature, to spiritual realization. It is also in the word for prophecy hazon חזון, and wisdom hochmah חוכמה.
Teith, the 9th Hebrew letter has a literal meaning of basket or nest, and is the symbol of the good טוב in all creation. It has to do with purity and impurity, teaching us to choose the good, and also the realization that even within the bad things that happen, there is hidden good. Teith also represents femininity, pregnancy. It includes the kindness and mercy of creation and the principle that everything is eternal and nothing is ever lost.
Teith’s essence is feminine, representing the number 9 for the 9 months of pregnancy, and shaped like a womb, a spiral, a container where things change and transform. It is the field of manifestation, the essence of the feminine that contains all in her. The infinite is contained in Teith and it brings about the finite.
The Teith contains the Hesed (kindness and mercy) of creation. It teaches us to distinguish between the good and the bad, and by choosing the good to clean and purify and thereby to do that which is impossible, to erase the bad deed that was done. It contains the principle that nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, and all is eternal. The Teith is the container that creates the ability of Tikkun – that all souls are attracted to life with one purpose – to restore all to good as at the beginning.
The 10th Hebrew letter Yod is a dot or point. The Yod represents the Creator, the single point from which all of creation emerges, and the Unity within multiplicity. It is the foundation of all foundations, the hidden Divine spark which causes everything to be. It represents the power of the spirit to govern and guide the matter.
Yod is a symbol of the Holy One, the Creator, since the holy name starts with Yod. Small in form, the meaning of the Yod is great. According to kabbalistic tradition, all of creation came forth from a single point – a point which represents God’s infinite presence inside of the finite world.
Yod also represents the idea of Unity within Multiplicity, of one whole that is comprised of parts. Yod as we see is a single point, but its value is 10. It shows us that many grains of sand are used to make one pot, many pages make up one book, many drops of water make up the ocean. There are many occurrences in the world, but they all stem from One God, perfect and indivisible. It also represents the 10 Sefirot. In Yod, the multiplicity returns to unity.
The yod is an infinite dot, the essence of all life. It is the foundation of all foundations. Everything comes from it and returns to it. It is a hidden dot beyond imagination – formless, the source of all thought, beyond all thoughts, beyond time and space. It is the secret hidden principle of the universe that we can’t perceive. It is the Divine spark of life that is in every single being. It cannot be grasped, but is in every cell of your body, causing you to exist. It has no mass or density, time or space. In it is the power of the spirit to govern and guide the matter of the material world.
Khaf, the 11th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, means literally the cupped palm of the hand. It is like a cupped, outstretched palm, ready to receive. The shape of all containers – a bowl, a cup, a jar, is based on that basic curved shape, and Khaf represents the idea of a container. It represents form. A house is a form that contains the goings on of the people inside it; a body is a form which contains the life and energy of the person. The forms of the physical world are where the spiritual essence of life is able to manifest. The Khaf also teaches us to shape ourselves- to bend the ego and shape our character.
The Khaf is what gives form to the matter. It contains all the possibilities of containing, building, and forming all existence. It is the letter of formation, bending the straight line into a curved shape. It also symbolizes the crown of the Torah – Keter כתר.
Khaf teaches us to bend and govern our tendencies, and to shape our character. It teaches us humility, that we must bend our ego and the resistances in our character. It teaches us molding, sorting, comparing. We must bend the matter to the spirit and the spirit to the matter, constantly connecting the thought of wisdom, with the action and doing of it. It is not enough to have a thought to do good, you must find a way to manifest it in reality. The Khaf also teaches us about what we contain. Do we contain worries and negative thoughts? Or do we contain what we most aspire to, in order to make it into a reality?
Lammed, the 12th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet is the symbol of learning. It is translated literally as the word for learning and also staff or goad. It is located at the center of the aleph-beith and represents the heart Lev לב; in kabbalah learning is mostly done with the heart and soul, not just the mind. The Lammed indicates that spiritual learning is the heart of human existence. Man’s course in life is to learn and express spiritual teachings and practice with every breath of life.
Lammed reaches higher than any of the other Hebrew letters, like a lighthouse high in the air. The shape of the lammed is an undulating movement, and the lammed represents constant organic movement, constant change. Lammed is the lightning strike of energy descending down the two sides of the Tree of Life. Lammed teaches us to learn from everything in life. After one has governed their tendencies in Khaf and no longer has the blockages of the ego interfering, they can begin to learn the spiritual perfection of their own self, and to learn the laws, will, and ways of the Creator. This is the process of learning to align with the will of the Creator.
The letter Mem is water mayim מים, the waters of wisdom, knowledge, the Torah. Representing both waters and manifestation, it is the ability to dive deep into the wisdom. It is said that in every person is the thirst for the words of the Creator, which are the waters of life. The open mem refers to the revealed aspects of providence, while the closed mem refers to the concealed part of the celestial rule that nonetheless guides us and all of existence. Mem also represents the time necessary for ripening and indicates to us the importance of balanced emotions and of humility.
Mem corresponds to the number 40 and represents the time necessary for the ripening process that leads to fruition. (40 days for the development of the embryo, 40 years in the desert before reaching the holy land, 40 years development before Moses was prepared to be the leader of Israel).
The mem also teaches us about balanced emotions – balancing the watery motions of our feelings. And it is about humility – water is the substance that always runs downhill to the lowest place.
The Nuun is the symbol of faithfulness (ne’eman נאמן), soul (Neshama נשמה), and emergence. The nuun stands for humility, as it is bent both above and below. It represents the soul Neshama, the heavenly spark housed in the earthly container of the body. In Aramaic, Nuun means fish, so Nuun can be thought of as the fish that swims in the waters of the Torah, represented by Mem מ. It is connected to fertility, continuity and the ability to increase and multiply. Nuun also stands for the 50 Gates of Wisdom of Binah.
Nuun indicates constant presence and the humility of the soul. The soul is silent, bent, and humble constantly giving light but staying hidden. The Nuun shows that to be bound to the Creator’s will, not our own personal egoistic way, we must bend above and below. Nun shows the relationship between the body, which is impermanent, and the soul, which never dies. It can teach us about the nature of time and space.
Nun also represents flow, teaching us to be supple and flexible like the fish instead of resisting change. If we can be aware of the inner guide, the Neshama, we need never fear because the Creator is always present with us.
Samekh is the symbol of support, protection, and memory. It means to lean upon, support, uphold. The perimeter of Samekh denotes the Creator and its interior denotes his creation, who he constantly supports and upholds and protects. It represents the Orr Makif Surrounding Light of Kabbalah, indicating the general providence of the Creator, surrounding and sustaining all of existence, even as we perceive ourselves as separate. The Samekh is the container of all forms.
Samekh teaches us circular thinking. It tells us to think for the good of the whole, not just one’s self (an ability which comes from the Neshama soul), and to be inclusive of everything and everyone. It is the principle that the wisdom is not contained in just one vessel, in just one person, but is distributed in all beings. The Samekh teaches us that in order to know our Creator, we have to get out of our limited selves, out of what we know and the limitations of the physical, so we can get in touch with our essential inner self. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled.
The Samekh teaches us that once we have learned to clean ourselves of all the negativities and distortions, controlled the ego, found true humility and learned to listen to the inner voice of our souls, that we are automatically guarded, supported and helped. The combination of Nun and Samekh נס Nes means miracle. Once we have learned the lessons of these two letters, we can discover what the miracle really is.
The Hebrew letter Ayin means eye and correspondingly, the Ayin has to do with vision and bringing forth lights that are hidden. Ayin teaches us to see beyond and relates to time. It is the aspect of the visionary, to see not just what is happening in front of us, but to envision beyond that – to know one’s direction 5, 10, 100 years ahead and beyond. The pronunciation of the Ayin is also very significant – it is often mispronounced as a silent letter similar to the Aleph, however Ayin’s correct sound is a guttural throat sound which stimulates the thyroid gland.
Ayin is included in a great number of words associated with time (עת – time, שעה – hours, עתיד – future, עבר – past, רגע – moment, עוד – until, עד – eternity) and vision. As an example, my kabbalah teacher told a story once of his grandfather as a very old man, out in the yard of the family house, moving large rocks, clearing the land, creating a garden and planting trees. My teacher asked – “Why was my grandfather planting those trees? He was too old and they would not mature in time to feed him.” It was because he was planting them for the next generation ahead, beyond himself. That is vision. It teaches us to understand the cause and effect in our lives- how past actions lead to future outcomes, and how to think for the future.
Ayin implores us to open our eyes, to see beyond the physical. The Ayin is meant to take us from dark to light. It urges us to break through the walls of limitations in order to see what is not yet visible to us.
For Ayin’s correct sound, check out this video.
The Hebrew letter Peh means mouth and refers to the power of speech. In Kabbalah, speech is actually considered to be a spiritual power, which can cause good or evil depending on how it is used. In a certain way, what one thinks is how one is, and what one speaks has the power to become. Violent words lead to violent actions. The quality of the speech is considered to be the quality of the life’s essence and creative existence. The Peh teaches us to view our words as precious as gold, not to be spilled haphazardly.
The shape of the Peh is a Khaf with a Yod inside of it. This represents the spiritual spark of the Neshama soul, contained inside the physical body. With words and silence we can communicate the essence of our soul and existence. This requires that the inner and outer life match – that the physical existence is fully aligned manifesting the spiritual intentions of the soul within it. As it says in the Talmud Baba Metsiah “Don’t say one thing with the mouth and another with the heart.” The Yod is also the Nekudah SheBaLev, the point in the heart which spiritual awakening begins from. However, alignment of the physical with the spiritual level is no easy task. The normal balance of a human life is perhaps 1% or less spiritual and 99% physical, but the kabbalists say that right balance between these two would actually be the reverse.
The power of the Peh is a double-edged sword. As it says in Proverbs 18:21 “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue.” Because of this, the Peh represents the requirement to govern one’s own nature. Routine speech, speech to manipulate, all the distortions of speech must give way to viewing speech as a miracle, as gold too precious to be spilled. Then speech can be used for its true purpose – to speak one’s destiny and to activate spirit through the thoughts and the speech.
The Tsadde represents the Tsaddik, the person who is just, as well as the righteousness of the Creator. The Tzaddik strives to be true, loving justice and fairness, straight and fully honest with their conscience. The idea is that the world is broken so every person must face their own evil and learn to restore it. The literal meaning of Tsadde is a fishing hook.
Righteousness and humility are the two defining traits of the Tsaddi. The shape of the Tzaddi is a Nuun with a yod riding on top it. This signifies that the Essence of the Creator, who animates all matter, guides and dwells within the one who is humble, as symbolized by the Nuun. Another key trait is hiddenness. The Tzaddik is hidden because they appear as an ordinary person, despite their great spiritual stature.
The letter Khof (also spelled Kuf, or Qof) originally meant the back of the head, or the eye of a needle. Khof also means monkey. It is the symbol of both the sacred Kedushah קדושה, and the profane – the Klipah קליפה, the peel, cover, or husk which represents the negativities in the world. Khof has to do with the requirement of removing the husk of the superficial to reveal the holiness within.
In Hebrew, Khof means monkey, a creature which resembles a human but is purely animalistic, with none of the higher capacities of a human. This indicates the requirement for a human to overcome his purely animalistic nature and to emulate the image of the Creator he is made in, to realize his true spiritual nature beyond just the physical. The Khof is the only letter which extends below the line of the other letters, indicating descent into the lower world, but also the ability to ascend from there.
Kuf is also הקפה – circle, go around. Khof represents all the cycles of nature, changing seasons, monthly and yearly cycles. It is the constant movement, circulation, and change of life. It could also represent that through the cycles of life that we see – evolution, growth, change, suffering, happiness, life experience – we are constantly worked on in order to evolve and realize our true spiritual nature.
The Reish, the 20th Hebrew letter, means head, leader and beginning. It is the symbol of choosing between greatness and degradation. In it is the word for poor רש Rash, but when it is filled the power of the Aleph it becomes Rosh ראש, head or first, expressing the Firstness, Oneness, and Eternity of the Creator, and the qualities of being a leader, not a follower.
Reish is a container, just as Beith(2) and Khaf(20) are containers. But while Khaf represents forms such as a cup or house, Reish(200) represents containing the infinite, exponential growth. It also represents the constant transition, flow and change of life. It is like a constant flow of energy, breaking through, breaking down into pieces, and building anew.
The Reish also relates to the Reshimo רשימו, the spiritual DNA we are meant to explore in life. It contains the secrets of Beresheet בראשית, the beginning. As the word ראש Rosh Head, it also refers to the secrets of the Crown Keter כתר, the highest of the Sephirot.
Shin, the 21st Hebrew letter is the letter of fire and transformation. Shin literally means tooth and its shape is 3 branches of flame. These are the 3 pillars of the tree of life, reaching high like flames, purifying and changing the condition of our lives, teaching us to become aligned with the Whole of Creation. It also represents the right and left extreme opposites and the requirement to balance them by following the central pillar, the middle way.
Both the tooth and fire meanings of Shin refer to it as a process of transformation, breaking down, grinding into particles, building anew, cooking, the firing of a clay pot into a form. The whole process of transformation, healing, breaking and restoring. The fire also represents the unchangeable, the unmovable, and thus is a symbol of divine power. The spirit constantly transforms the matter, yet remains unchanged itself. Matter changes constantly, yet the spirit within does not change, so all of life is a process of learning to align with that unchangeable essence. Shin is the flame of the spirit, which we must keep always burning within us.
Finally, the Shin teaches us balance. It is composed of 3 Vavs, the 3 pillars of the tree of life. The right pillar is of kindness and mercy, the left of strict justice and truth. The world cannot continue without both, so we must balance between the two. In all aspects of life, we must find the middle way between the opposites and extremes.
Tav is the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Meaning mark, sign, omen, or seal, it is the symbol of truth, perfection, and completion. It represents the restoration Tikkun תיקון of all of existence. It is a return to the essence and purpose of one’s life. It represents completion, before beginning again with the original Oneness of the Aleph.
The Tav shows us that the end was set from the beginning, as Tav is the final letter of בראשית Beresheet, “In the Beginning”, the first word of the Torah/Bible. It is the idea that the Creator set in motion all of existence in order to reach a final state of perfection, the fulfillment of all of creation. It is also the completion of Truth אמת Emet.
However, as soon as the Tav is reached, we begin again immediately by going back to the Aleph, the one source of everything. The end is never really the end, but the beginning of something new.
This article was written from notes from Kabbalist Samuel Avital’s Gathering of the Sparks Kabbalah Seminars 2006-2017
How Many Letters in the Hebrew Alphabet?
There are 22 Letters in the Hebrew Alphabet, 27 if the finals are included (5 letters have final forms in which the letter is written differently when it comes at the end of a word).
Hebrew Alphabet PDF
Kabbalist Samuel Avital, Gathering of the Sparks Kabbalah Seminars – 2006 to 2017
- The Hebrew Letters