For years I have been troubled with understanding the ideas behind Gematria. I have no doubt that my difficulty was compounded by the often-trite application by many who use poetic license in their various speeches. So many bar mitzvah boys had their names twisted into a gematria that amazingly matched up with the numerical value of the parshah they leined just minutes before! Ditto for the chasan and kallah during sheva brachos.
Of course, I am not in any way diminishing the simchah deserving to the families, but undoubtedly, I and others are left scratching our heads about whether gematrias just spoken about were coincidental or real – particularly if the numbers don’t exactly match up.
This past week, I had the opportunity to get a copy of an exciting and creative sefer, Gematrias Refigured. As the title suggests, a new approach to Gematria is presented.
The reader is reminded of the basic difference between the gematrias presented by Chazal and all others. The focus of the sefer, written in English in a very easy and down-to-earth manner, is to help the reader understand the boundless chochmah of Chazal. They couched deep hashkafic and human nature lessons for life in a numerical package that has to be unraveled.
Rabbi Dr. Elie Feder, the author of this interesting book, presents a truly creative approach that deciphers many of the well-known gematrias and unlocks an approach to understanding others. Rabbi Feder is a musmach of and a maggid shiur at Rav Chait’s yeshivah, Yeshiva B’nei Torah in Far Rockaway. His doctorate is in math, and he is a professor of Mathematics at CUNY.
One need not be an expert in math to fully appreciate Rabbi Feder’s work. The focus of the sefer is Chazal’s use of the tool of Gematria to convey to klal Yisrael some fundamental ideas of our mesorah. I think the sefer makes a wonderful addition to our community’s understanding and appreciation of Chazal and, as such, I consider it a must learn/read for every Jewish family.
By Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman