The Teachings of an Esoteric Rabbi

I was an undergraduate student and graduate student during the time that the New International Version of the Bible was being translated.  Every Hebrew teacher I had was contributing to the translation work of the NIV.  In my last year as a graduate student studying Hebrew another student  and I were being mentored by a Hebrew scholar who was on the executive committee for the NIV where the final decision as to what renderings went into the NIV was made.

I recall our discussion from Psalms 25:14 where the KJV renders: “ The secrets of God are with those who fear Him.”   Our instructor advised that it was decided by the NIV committee to render the word “secret” as “confide.”   As I held my undergraduate degree in Jewish Studies I voiced a strong objection.  I advised my instructor that the Hebrew word that He wants to render as “confide”  is “sod” and to the Jewish sages that word has a deeper, mystical meaning.  My professor calmly explained the mystical element of “sod” did not come about until the Middle Ages and the word “sod” during the time of David had a less dramatic meaning.

However,  my teacher did encourage me to seek out an orthodox rabbi and get his feel on this word.  This was a much more difficult task than I expected as orthodox rabbis tend to be very suspicious of Christians, especially those studying Hebrew.  However, I did find one rabbi who was quite intrigued over the idea of a new major translation of the Scriptures and gave me an interview.

His first question was: “Do you mean to tell me that just a handful of Christians are going to tell millions of Christians what the Holy Scriptures say from the original Hebrew?”   I advised that I never thought of it that way but I supposed he was right.   He then asked: “These scholars who will tell your people what the Scriptures say, they are setting themselves up as kings are they not?”  Again, I had to admit I never thought of it that way but I supposed he was again correct.  Then the rabbi asked me a question that really surprised me.  He asked what the Hebrew word for “king” was.  I said it was “Melek.”  He then asked what the word for learning was and I said: “Lamed” like in the letter “Lamed.”  Looking me square in the eye he said: “Melek  starts with the letter Mem and Lamed starts with the letter Lamed.  Which letter comes first in the Hebrew Alphabet?”  I said that it was the Lamed or “L” like in English followed by the Mem or “M” like in English.”

Then this  orthodox esoteric rabbi said something that changed my whole thinking about the Hebrew language and how we translate and use the language.  He said;  In the middle of Lamed is a bump which represents your heart, the top of the letter is like a hand reaching up to heaven.  The Lamed shows knowledge from heaven entering your heart.  If you put the Mem or king before the Lamed or the teaching God puts in your heart you are out of order.   What is the last letter of the word for king?”  I said it was a final Kap.   The rabbis said that the Kap is like a vessel that needs to be filled.  The final Kap has not bottom to it or no foundation. If you put the king before  the knowledge God puts in your heart, the Mem before the Lamed, you are out of order and all knowledge you gain is without a foundation.  But if you put the Lamed, learning God puts in your heart before the Mem or the king, you are in proper order and the last letter in Lamed is the Daleth which means what?”   I just sat there with my mouth open shaking my head to indicate I did not know.   The rabbi said the Daleth is a door way to the knowledge of God.

I remember going back to my dorm that day amazed over the fact that after five years of Hebraic study in undergraduate and graduate school, I never heard anything like this.  That was thirty five years ago and I have spent the last thirty five years researching the meanings of the Hebrew letters and how they apply to my translation of the Old Testament.  I found the Old Testament as well as the New Testament to be a well that will never run dry.  Every day I learn something thanks to my old friends the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.

-Chaim Bentorah