In Praise Of “Vav”

Our nusach, liturgy, both weekday, Shabbat, Chaggim (Festivals) and the Yomim Noraim (High Holy Days), includes many acrostics (prayers/praises based on the Aleph-Bet (the Hebrew alphabet)). Although not included in the liturgy, the longest of the Psalms, 119, is an acrostic composed of eight verses each for each letter!

It’s not easy to write an acrostic, at least to write one that’s not trivial. To use the entire alphabet, and in order (occasionally in reverse order, too!), or in these cases the Aleph Bet, requires twenty-two verses (Ashrei, the 145th Psalm, leaves out one letter, נ (Nun), but that is also part of the design), exponentially increasing the difficulty.

One letter, however, ו (Vav) is almost always easy to work in since it can, and usually is, used as a prefix which means “and” (it can also mean “or”) so it can come before just about any word you want. On the one hand, it can seem a “cheap” letter, but its ubiquity and the very fact that it provides such ease is part of its power.

Of course, “Vav” is also one of only three letters which make up the Divine Name Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh, the holiest of these names, the one that represents (among other things) God’s quality of Chesed, Divine Love. Here, also, it forms the “glue”, joining the first, or upper Heh with the final, lower Heh. Likewise, it joins the upper worlds with our material world. In the realm of Sephirot (Divine emanations of the holy light/energy which provides for and animates all existence), it represents Yesod, Foundation, which joins the higher Sephirot to Malchut, the Shechina (Feminine aspect of Divine Existence), also our world of actions. It represents the Tzaddik, the Righteous Man, and holy, controlled sexuality. Within the Lurianic system of Partzufim (Personalities, but also groupings of the Sephirot) it represents Zeir Anpin, the “small face” (young adult), which is comprised of the first six (numerically, Vav stands for six) of the seven “lower” Sephirot (Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod), the prototypical Male (Malchut, the seventh Sephira, represents the prototypical Female). Vav also represents the six days of the workweek which lead to the Kedusha, holiness, of Shabbat.

Interconnectedness, which is really the essence of Vav, is what distinguishes a random, purposeless and chaotic universe from the one we occupy. Hashgacha Pratit, the infinitely complex, completely unknowable Divine Oversight manifests by bringing people and events together. Our values, reflected in Halacha (religious law), join opposites by obligating us to perform the positive and forbids us from the negative expression of our actions. It truly joins the upper worlds of pure, non-empirical, light (energy) to our material realms of experience.

When we recite the Sh’ma, Adonay (י-ה-ו-ה) Echad (א-ח-ד), One, we reveal another secret of Vav. א Aleph, the first letter of the Aleph Bet, with the numerical value of one, represents the Divine Unity, the אחד (Echad) Oneness. If you look closely, you’ll see that Aleph, א, contains three strokes, and examining them even more carefully you’ll notice that they are י-ו-י (Yud-Vav-Yud) (a diagonal Vav with an Yud on the right (Chesed, Love) pointing up, the other Yud on the left (Gevura/Din, Strict Judgement) pointing down). Two Yuds, each representing 10, with Vav, 6, equals 26 using the technique of Gematria. The rules of Gematria tell us that two words with the same Gematria, numerical equivalent, are also equivalent in other ways. י-10, ה-5, ו- 6, ה-5 also equals 26. י-ה-ו-ה is, indeed One, a secret revealed by Vav, our great connector.

איש ואשה (Ish v’Isha) Man and Woman, חתן וכלה (Chatan v’Kalla) Groom and Bride. Ultimately, Vav joins man and woman, bride and groom, Allness and Oneness, God and Creation in love, A Love Supreme* (אהבה רבה (Ahava Raba), from the blessing before the morning Sh’ma on Shabbat and Chaggim, Holidays).

* Link to John Coltrane’s seminal composition, A Love Supreme

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One Response to In Praise Of “Vav”

  1. Pingback: A Purim Thought | Rabbi Zeitlin

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