Good Math, Bad Logic: The Final Gematria by David Gertler

Good Math, Bad Logic: The Final Gematria by David Gertler


In Parshat Re’eh the Torah makes us aware that there will be blessing and cursing on Har Gerizim and Har Eival.  However, it is not until Parshat Ki Tavo that we are told which Shevatim will be standing on which mountain.  Obviously the commentators will try to figure out the reason that each Shevet is on a certain mountain.

The Chida quotes Rabbeinu Ephraim, as he often does, to give insight through using Gematria.  Rabbeinu Ephraim writes that the reason that the Shevet of Asher was on Har Eival, which was the mountain for curse, was because Asher was famous for having a daughter (Serach Bat Asher), and the Gematria of הבת “the daughter” is equal to that of ארור “cursed.”

The Chida, having quoted that, gets angry with Rabbeinu Ephraim, and he says: “I, the ordinary person, see praise from what the Gemara says [about women].”  He goes on to say that perhaps one can suggest that Shevet Reuven is on Har Eival due to his sin, to which the Torah alluded to just Pesukim earlier (Devarim 27:20).  However, to say that Asher had a daughter, and “the daughter” is equal, in Gematria, to “cursed,” and therefore they were placed on Har Eival, is not logical for a number of reasons.  The Gemara (Baba Batra 103a, 144b) says that blessing is bestowed on the house from a woman’s presence.  The Chida says that specifically speaking the daughters of Asher were wed to Kings and High Priests.  Additionally, there is a concept of Hakol Talui Baisha, everything is dependent on the woman. 

The Chida started off his comment by saying that one cannot say that the Gematria of “Arur” being equal to that of “Habat” has meaning.  He ends his comments by saying that if one would like to play number games there is another equation, which makes more sense, which one can play.  He quotes the Pasuk from Eishet Chayil (Mishlei 31:39) ואת עלית על כלנה “You rise up above them all,” and says that the Gematria of ואת is equal to that of הבת. 

The Chida seems to be saying that although Gematrias can help one’s purpose, they are not at all perfect and new ideas should not be brought out from them.  Gematrias may be fun and interesting, but truth being told, they can work positively or negatively.  Personally speaking, whenever I find a Gematria I always look to see if that is the only connection between the two ideas.  If there is another connection and the Gematria helps it along, then I use it, but if it is a new idea, only seen through this Gematria, I prefer to leave things as they were.  For example, the Gematria of Tzitzit adding up to 600 plus the five knots and eight strings, to equal 613, to remind us of the Mitzvot is an idea we see in the Pasuk וזכרתם את כל מצות ה' (Bemidbar Sinai 15:39)— Tzitzit should remind one of all 613 Mitzvot.  However the Rabbeinu Ephraim’s idea above has only ideas to contradict it and “although the math is right, the reasoning is wrong.”


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