Hebrew is unique among languages in that, at least in its classical/religious roots, it is deliberate and “engineered”, meant to convey spiritual, in addition to mere semantic, meaning. There is a tradition to analyze the numerical values of letters, words and phrases and also one to generate meaning from the very grammar which determines structure.
For example, in English we use the word “verb” to mean a word that conveys action. Unlike the word “noun” which both literally means and also describes function as “name”, “verb” merely means “word”, as in verbal or verbose. In Hebrew, and this is an ancient tradition, we call this class of words שם הפועל, Shem HaPoel, literally the name of an action.
פועל, Poel, is also used, prominently by the Maharal of Prague and the Ramchal (Luzatto) as two examples (and it’s worth noting that each were considered the master kabbalists of their respective generations), in contrast to the word כח, Koach (which literally means power or strength) to refer to real, kinetic energy, that is “action”. (כח, Koach, referring to potential, not-yet-actualized , energy).
On the surface, then, Shem HaPoel does mean the “name of an action”. On a deeper, but still authentic, level, this teaches us that until an action really begins to take place, we, as actors, lack a name, a real identity. In other words, our holy language teaches us that we acquire a name, a reputation, only for what we actually do in this world.
* * * * * *
A second example struck me this past Shabbat, because this phrase, הן הם, Hen Hem, literally “both these (f) these (m)”, referring to our limbs, our souls, our breath and our tongues which all join together in praise, appears in the נשמת כל חי, Nishmat Kol Chai, “The Soul of All Life”, prayer, the transition from פסוקי דזימרא, Pesukei d’Zimra, the selection of Psalms with which we prepare ourselves to enter the sections of the Shema and then the Amida (referred to as תפילה, Tefilla, literally prayer, but referring specifically to the standing meditation, the centerpiece of each of three daily prayer services). As the Shefa Tal, the 17th century Kabbalah classic by Rabbi Shabtai Sheftal Horowitz of Prague (and first cousin of the famous Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, known for his most famous work, Shnei Luchot HaBrit), points out, the numerical value of these two words, הן and הם equals 100 (50+5=55 and 40+5=45, totaling 100) which is equal to 10 x 10 for the Ten Sefirot (the spiritual forces which combine and interact to generate our universe) each of which contains within it all 10 (10 x 10), a shorthand for the spiritual value of all reality. As I noted, הם is the masculine form, הן the feminine form of “they”. All of which comes to teach us that the full contribution of both the masculine and the feminine are absolutely required to generate complete reality! That this message is, based on the very structure of the Hebrew language, repeated every week in the Shabbat liturgy (and also at every Festival) is, literally awe-inspiring, pointing to the Infinite Wisdom embedded in our Holy Tongue.