Project Genesis




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Mitzvos (Commandments)

Charity

Symbolism of “Chai”, 18

Question: What is the significance of the number 18? What is its importance and what is the meaning of the word Chai? What lessons can it teach us today?

Answer: In Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value. The number 10 is the letter Yud. The number 8 is the letter Ches (Chet). Ches-Yud spells the word Chai, which means “Living” or “Life”. (The word “Chai” also means “raw” as in “uncooked”).

Many Jews have the custom to donate money in multiples of “Chai”, as a good omen for life. There are other numbers that are customary in some communities as well.

One Rabbi I know, when he was making an appeal for his Yeshivah and everyone was making donations in multiples of 18 for Chai, joked, “It’s also OK to make pledges in multiples of ‘met’ (dead)”, which is 440.

According to the Kabalistic “Sefer Yetzirah”, the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are the building blocks of the universe. Later Kabbalistic works explain that there is a connection between objects and ideas that have the same Gematria (numerical equivilant), or other letter connections. Thus in some way, anything that equals 18 has a connection to Chai/Life. This may be one of the reasons that we still call the Amidah prayer “Shemonah Esrei” (18) even though the present weekday Amidah has 19 blessings, as “V’lmalshinim” was added later.

There are both positive and negative words that equal 18.

Ohavi – my beloved = 18

Aivah – a type of hatred = 18

Cheit – sin = 18

Perhaps (I’m just making my own conjecture), this teaches us that we can transform hatred into love, and that through Teshuvah (Repentance) we can transform sin (which is deadly) into life.

Also, the words “Yehi Or, Vahehi Or” “Let there be Light, and there was Light” from Breishis/Genesis 1, have the first letters (roshei teivos) that equal 18.

All the Best.
Rabbi Joe Kolakowski
Richmond, VA

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