Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director

        "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the waters." -- (Genesis 1:1-2)

Now, of these opening words of Scripture, Rashi brings down this:

"The throne of glory stands suspended in the air, and hovers over the face of the waters, by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and at his command, like a dove which hovers over the nest." (Bereshit 1:1-2)

In other words, water is the "footstool" of the Throne of Glory and the "skin" as it were, of the Holy Spirit. Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that the "dove," as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, is found in Jewish as well as Christian tradition, particularly insofar as Rashi notes that "the breath" of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, hovered over the waters "like a dove which hovers over the nest." This close association in Jewish Oral Scripture, between water and the Holy Spirit, particularly as symbolized by a dove, was undoubtedly the basis for the passages in the Gospels describing the Baptism of "Jesus":

The Water of Life

        "As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove." (Matt. 3:16)

We see here yet another instance of the lost Jewish origins of what is presumed to be a uniquely Christian belief -- in this case, the belief that there is a close relationship between "water" and the "Breath of the Holy One, Blessed Be He" (i.e., the Holy Spirit) -- and, furthermore, that this Holy Spirit is associated with the symbol of a "dove." Baptism itself, as a regenerator of life, is not, as commonly believed, Christian in origin, but Judaic. Such ritual immersion in "living water" (i.e., the water of rivers and oceans, coming directly from heaven and not through man-made conduits) for the purpose of spiritual cleansing and "rebirth," can be traced as far back as the time of Moses:

"And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the red heifer, and lay them up outside the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin." (Numbers 19:9)

and even more to our point:

"For the man who is unclean must....bathe himself in water, and by evening he will be clean. If an unclean man fails to purify himself in this way, he must be cut off from the community for he will defile the sanctuary of Yahweh. The lustral waters have not flowed over him, and he is unclean." (Numbers 19:17-20)

For this reason, one finds the evidence of ancient Mikvas ("baptismal pools") everywhere in Israel, including the area of the Dead Sea and even at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Indeed, before, during and after the time of "Jesus," conversion to Judaism consisted, and continues to consist, entirely of full immersion in a "baptismal font" (mikva) of Living Water. This conversion by water is so complete that, according to the Oral Law:

"If a gentile was converted to Judaism [by ritual immersion in water].....they are like a newborn child: and every consanguineous relative that they had originally, while a gentile, is no longer a relation of theirs at all. Hence, they are allowed to marry them, even if they are their mother or sister -- this by the law of the Torah. (Sefer HaHinnuch, Feldheim Edition, Vol. 1, Part 2, p. 375)

Thus, according to Jewish Law, the ritual immersion in water of a convert to Judaism is so complete a transformation that it virtually alters his DNA, as it were, and even permits him to marry a former blood-relative, such as a mother or sister, to whom he is no longer related by virtue of the purifying properties of the water itself. But why? What are those properties? And how do they purify what is impure?

The Sheath of Tuma

All of us have experienced the feeling of being re-invigorated -- even "reborn" in a certain sense -- after having taken a shower or bath. We attribute that, for the most part, to washing away accumulated environmental residues from the body or, on a somewhat more spiritual level, to "cleansing the aura." But there is another, less- often considered reason, one far more associated with being "reborn," and that reason deals with the concept of Tuma in Judaism and, particularly, Jewish Kabbalah.

Loosely translated, Tuma is the "energy of death" that pervades and contaminates the world. It comes from the Hebrew word, Tamai, which literally means "impure," and is related to the Hindu concept of Tamas, or "inertness." Now the fact is that the body has a very real sheath of this Tuma surrounding it at all times -- and that sheath is, in actuality, the layer of dead skin constantly accumulating over the epidermis. Thus, the process of "purifying" oneself with water through baptism, as well as by other forms of ritual washing, is to cleanse it of this "Sheath of Tuma," this layer of dead skin, this covering of death. It is for this reason -- and not merely because we have removed environmental residues from the body -- that we feel re-freshed, re-invigorated and even re-born after a tub or shower. We have literally removed the barrier of death from around our bodies and it can now breath "the Breath of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, hovering over the water like a dove hovers above its nest."


        "God said, 'Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.' And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. And God called the vault, heaven." (Genesis 1:6)

So we see from what I have written so far, that the body is not "dirty," in the way the ascetic would have it, but rather encased in death -- or what Kabbalah calls Tuma -- a negative energy-field held in physically by the layer of dead skin covering the epidermis. Now with that in mind, we further propose that it is the alphabetic structure of the Hebrew word for "water" itself that reveals the dynamics of its counteractive effect on this Tuma, this force-field of spiritual inertia, and it is to a discussion of those Kabbalistic alphabetics that we now turn.

*   *   *   *

From the Hebrew spellings of the words for "water" and "heaven" we observe that the former is a derivation of the latter. That is, "heaven" (pronounced, shamayim) is spelled, from right to left:

while the Hebrew word for "water" (pronounced, mayim) is spelled, again from right to left:

Immediately we see that water "comes" from heaven -- in a sense, it is "heaven" with two letters missing: Shamayim becomes Mayim -- which is to say, "water" is equivalent to "heaven" -- but without the latter's first and third letters. Put another way, water is "heaven" without whatever the letters shin and yud represent. Or, conversely, "water" contains whatever the three letters it shares in common with "heaven" symbolize. Thus, the rain that falls from heaven, the "living water", the holy medium of spiritual transformation, is an extraction of heaven yet lacking its full essence.

Now the Kabbalist considers every letter in the Hebrew alphabet a Name of God. One Kabbalistic dictum states that every letter has guf, ruach v'nashamah -- divine "body, spirit and soul." Also in the Talmud we read:

"Bezalel [the builder of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness] knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created. For it is written with regards to him [Exodus 31:3]: I have filled him with a Godly spirit, with Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge; and it is further written with regard to creation [Proverbs 3:19]: The Lord founded the world with Wisdom; He established heaven with Understanding." (Tr. Berachos 55a)

Very much related to our analysis of the relationships between the Hebrew words Shamayim (Heaven) and Mayim (Water), the Talmud also states:

"He who writes two letters, whether, with his right or with his left hand, of the same designation or of two designations, or in two culpable. Said R. Jose: They declared one culpable for writing two letters only because he makes a mark, because thus did they write on each board of the Tabernacle to know which was its companion. R. Judah said: We find a short word forming part of a long word: for example, Shem as part of Shime'on, Noah as part of Nahor, Dan as part of Daniel, Gad as part of Gaddi'el." (Tr. Shabbat 103a)

In like fashion, we find Mayim,, "water," forming part of Shamayim,, "heaven" -- and just as duplicate Hebrew letters on the "boards of the Tabernacle" were used, according to the Talmud, to show how different ones were related to each other, so too the duplicate letters of Mayim in Shamayim also reveal profound correspondences between them.

For example, first consider the word "water," alone. Reading from right to left, we see that it begins with an "open" letter Mem, continues in its middle with the single letter Yud, and ends with a "closed" letter Mem. What does this come to tell us? Come and see: To begin with, the Mem, according to Kabbalah, represents the "Womb of Binah," where God resides as Yud, the Holy Seed. (for example, see R. Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, p. 144, 149). Thus, we see that Heaven "contains" the Womb of God, and this womb "separates" from the Whole to fall as water upon the earth, bringing with it the Holy Seed by which Tuma, or Death, is replaced by Chayim, or Life. Moreover, notice that mayim begins with the "open," and ends with the "closed" forms of the letter Mem. According to Kabbalah, this tells us that the water of heaven brings with it that which is revealed (open) and concealed (closed) -- that what begins as revealed becomes concealed, and must be "broken open" to find God in its center:

"When the upper world was filled and became pregnant, it brought forth two children together, male and female, these being heaven and earth after the supernal pattern. The earth is fed from the waters of heaven which are poured into it. These upper waters, however, are male, whereas the lower are female, and the lower are female, and the lower are fed from the male and the lower waters call to the upper, like a female that receives the male, and pour out water to meet water of the male to produce seed." (Zohar 1:29b-30a)

For this reason we see the double Yud (a masculine letter) in Shamayim, or "Heaven," reduced to a single Yud in Mayim, or "Water." Moreover, the letter Shin which, because it is an aspirant, directly represents the Holy Spirit, appears in the Hebrew word for Heaven but is missing from the one for Water. Because of this, water evaporates -- that is, it returns to Heaven as a vapor, or "breath," to be "inhaled" by the Holy Spirit and then "exhaled" by it as the lustral rain that returns upon the world and washes it clean of Tuma. To repeat the Rashi we quoted at the beginning of this series:

"The throne of glory stands suspended in the air, and hovers over the face of the waters, by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and at his command, like a dove which hovers over the nest." (Bereshit 1:1-2)


In this section, I will do a Gematrial analysis of the hidden structures of water. Preparatory to that, however, it is necessary to discuss, in some detail, the meaning and operations of this uniquely Jewish approach to linguistic hermeneutics. Gematria is the Kabbalistic numerology by which the hidden structures of words, concepts and things are made manifest. Unlike other languages, there are no "numbers" in Hebrew such as 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. Instead, each letter of its alphabet also represents a number, as follows:

Thus, in Hebrew, the number "41" would be written, from right to left, as , or mem-aleph, while "13" would be , or yud-gimmel, and so forth. In this way, every Hebrew word has both a denotative (linguistic) and connotative (numeric) level of meaning, and different words with the same Gematriot, or numeric values, are interpreted as having an underlying occult connection. For example, the words l'goyim ("the Gentiles") and adam'dom ("reddish" or "edom-like") both have the Gematria of 89 -- reflecting -- and, in a certain way, even "proving" by Kabbalistic interpretation -- the Torah dictum that the Gentile nations are descendants of Esau (who was also called Edom, or "red"), while the Jews are descendants of his non-identical, twin brother Jacob.

In addition, there are various rules for computing the Gematria of a word. There is the "simple" Gematria, such as in the case of l'goyim, which would be, from right to left, 89 as follows:

Simple Gematria of L'Goyim = (40) +(10) +(6) + (3) +(30) = 89

On the other hand, we can compute the "complex" Gematria of a word by summing the numeric values of the spelling of each letter of the word. For example, in the case of l'goyim, although its simple Gematria is 89, it's complex Gematria would be computed from the individual Gematriot of its five component letters as follows:

= (30) +(40) (4)     = 74
    = (3) + (40) + (30)   = 73
 = (6) + (6)                     = 12
  = (10) + (6) + (4)      = 20
= (40) + (40)              = 80

Complex Gematria                                 = 259

and this complex Gematria of 259 connects the word l'goyim (the Gentiles) to the word b'zarim ("with strange gods", also with a Gematria of 259), reflecting the fact that Esau, the eponymous father of the Gentiles, even when in the womb went over to strange Gods and did not worship the God of Israel:

"Whenever Rivka passed a place of Torah, there was a jerk and inward motion in that direction. When she came across a temple of idol worship, there was another motion towards it. Even though Yaakov and Aisav, unborn in Rivka's womb, did not yet possess minds of their own, their natural inclinations already manifested themselves even before birth." (The Midrash Says, vol. 1, p. 236)

Thus, this Midrash that the "natural inclinations" of Jacob and Esau went in different directions "even before birth" is reflected in the fact that the complex gematria of l'goyim ("the Gentiles") is exactly the same as the simple Gematria of b'zarim ("with strange gods").

In the next section of this lecture I will apply these rules of Gematria to a Kabbalistic analysis of the hidden structures of water, particularly as they reveal themselves in the Hebrew
words ("water") and ("heaven") as discussed previously.

*   *   *   *

Having given a somewhat detailed explanation of Gematria, we turn now to its application to an understanding of the hidden structures of water. Three Hebrew words are particularly involved here -- shamayim ("heaven"), mayim ("water") and tumah ("impurity") -- and, indeed, these form a hierarchy with shamayim at the top, tumah at the bottom and mayim in the middle, as follows, from right to left:


Mayim ("Water"): (Mem-Yud-Mem)

Tumah ("Impurity"):(Tet-Mem-Aleph-Heh)

Before proceeding, I should point out that there is a variant Hebrew spelling of "Heaven" that uses a single Yud thus making the correspondence between "Heaven" and "Water" even closer. In any case, the Gematriot of these three Hebrew words are as follows:

Heaven  = Shin (300) + Mem (40) + Yud (10) + Yud (10) + Mem (40) = 400
Water    = Mem (40) + Yud (10) + Mem (40) = 90
Impurity = Tet (9) + Mem (40) + Aleph (1) + Heh (5) = 55

Now, if we subtract the Gematria for Mayim/Water (90) from that of Shamayim/Heaven 400) it results in a third Gematria of 310, which corresponds to the Hebrew word Yikupar, meaning "cleansing" or "expiation." Thus, we see in the hidden structures of the Hebrew words themselves what we have discussed in previous lectures: that water falling from heaven brings about a cleansing of and expiation from tumah, or "impurity." Furthermore, when water "falls" upon this tumah it brings about "rebirth" -- as shown by the fact that when the Gematria for water (90) is added to that of tumah (55) it results in the sum of 145, which corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word, hanoladim, or "who were [re-]born." Thus, we see the often overlooked Judaic foundations of Christian scriptures such as:

"Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus saith unto him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'" (John 3:3-5)

By water, the body is literally washed clean of the "sheath of tumah" -- the layer of dead skin -- encasing it, and the Spirit is free to "breathe" again, thereby receiving directly from God the "breath of life" by which a man becomes a living creature. (Genesis 2:5-7)


The residue of what remains after water cleanses tumah is spiritual "mud." Indeed, the Hebrew word "mud" (tait) is strikingly, and significantly, similar to that of "water" (mayim) which is, in turn, as we have pointed out before, a permutation of the word for "Heaven" (Shamayim):

Heaven =
Water   =
Mud       =

Thus, in the very structure of these three words themselves, we see a virtual "Torah" on the hidden structures of water, to which we now turn: First, notice the sequence in which these words occur -- heaven, water and mud -- that is, out of heaven comes water, and from water comes mud. In this regard, also notice that the Hebrew word for "water" is exactly the same as the one for "heaven," but without the letter shin. For many reasons -- not least of which is that it is an aspirant -- shin is counted among the so-called "Sacred Letters" of the Hebrew alphabet, representing God in His transcendent aspect. Also, according to Kabbalah, shin is a "masculine" letter as compared to the "feminine" mem, which symbolizes the Divine Womb. Thus, as I pointed out in an earlier lecture, Water (with a double-mem but no shin) is the "feminine" aspect of Heaven, which comes down to cleanse the "masculine" Earth of its negative Tumah, or spiritual impurity -- and, by doing so, creates a spiritual "mud." We see this relationship between "water" and "mud" in the three letters of the two words; they are, in actual fact, identical. That is, see how the beginning and ending letter tet in "mud" is actually a kind of mem turned upside down:

Thus, we see that the opening of mem points down, to give; while that of tet points up, to get. In a sense, the very letters of the two words tell us that "mud" is the spiritual reverse of "water -- that by mixing with tumah the "pure" mem becomes the "impure" tet -- and this, Kabbalah would tell us, is further illustrated by the fact that the first letter of the Hebrew word for "mud" is, in fact, exactly the same as the first letter of the Hebrew word for tumah -- and that is, the letter tet.

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