Hebrew Letters

The Hebrew Letters: Chet

The Life Dynamic of Run and Return

Chet is the letter of life (chaim, from the root chayah, whose most important letter is chet). We are taught in Chassidut that there are two levels of life "essential life" and "life to enliven." God Himself, as it were, is in the state of "Essential life." His creative power, continually permeating all of reality is "life to enliven." So in the Jewish soul: the essence of its root, at one with God, possesses the state of "essential life." The reflection of the light of the soul which shines below to enliven the body and its physical experience is at the level of "life to enliven." The second level of life, life as we know it in general, manifests itself as pulsation, the secret of "run and return."

According to the Ari z"l," the letter chet is constructed by combining the two previous letters, vav and zayin, with a thin bridge-shaped line, referred to as the chatoteret ("hunchback"). The new energy effected by the union of the vavor yashar–and the zayinor chozer–is the secret of "hovering" or "touching yet not touching." The image of "hovering" appears at the very beginning of Creation: "And the spirit of God was 'hovering' over the water." The word "hovering" (merachefet) is the eighteenth word in the Torah. It is the first word in the Torah which is numerically a multiple of twenty-six, the value of the Name Havayah (merachefet = 728 = 26 times 28). Twenty-eight is the numerical value of koach, "power." Thus, the full secret implied by the numerical value of the word "hovering" is "the power of God." In Kabbalah, this word is, in particular, the secret of the Divine power to resurrect the 288 fallen sparks that "died" in the process of the "breaking of the vessels" (merachefet being a permutation of meit rapach, "288 have died"). The Sages teach us that the "Spirit of God" here referred to is in fact the soul of Mashiach (which permutes to shem chai, "the living name").

"Hovering" is symbolized in Torah "as an eagle arouses her nest and hovers over her young," as taught by the Maggid of Mezeritch. In order not to crush her young and their nest, the eagle hovers over her nest when feeding her young, "touching yet not touching." The eagle here is a metaphor for God in relation to His children Israel in particular and to the totality of His Creation in general. Were God to either fully reveal His ultimate Presence or withdraw His power of continuous re-creation, the world would instantaneously cease to exist.

Therefore, by "hovering" over created reality, God continues to sustain and nourish His Creation while simultaneously allowing each creature or, in the terminology of Kabbalah, each vessel, the ability to grow and develop "independently." The letter chet thus hints at the delicate balance between the revelation of God’s Presence to us (the vav of the chet) and the concealment of His creative power from His Creation (the zayin of the chet).

This state of "hovering," "touching yet not touching," is the beginning of the phenomenon of "life to enliven." "Touching yet not touching" from Above thereafter reflects itself as "run and return" in the inner pulsation of every living creature. "And the living creatures [chayot] run and return like the appearance of lightning." Do not read chayot ("living creatures") but chayut, ("lifeforce").

The chatoteret, that sublime thin line that connects the two components or motion of the "life to enliven," itself points upward. It hints at "He who lives at the summit of the world," God’s "Essential Life." In truth, His Essence paradoxically fills and sustains all created reality while simultaneously "hovering" high above the level of the "hovering" lifeforce itself, unfathomable and beyond all human perception.


vav on the right, a zayin on the left, with a thin, hunchback bridge (chatoteret) connecting them above.



  • A gateway: the power to enter a higher energy level and exit therefrom.
  • The ascent of all worlds on Shabbat and their subsequent descent after Shabbat.
  • (At the level of Souls: the power to enter the mysteries of one’s own soul and thereafter return to worldly consciousness.)
  • (At the level of Divinity: the power to enter the mysteries of the Torah and thereafter return to the consciousness of one’s task on earth.)



  • The union of three partners in man: father (vav), mother (zayin), and God (chatoteretchupah).
  • The marital dance.



  • "God lives at the summit of the world"–the chatoteret.
  • God "hovering" over Creation.
  • The union of God's immanence, transcendence, and the Jewish People.



Fear; Life–whose full expression is love.



  • Loving God with one's physical body.
  • Lifeforce of the body.



  • Loving God with one's soul.
  • Lifeforce of the soul.
  • The heartbeat of the tzadik



  • Essential unity with God.
  • Lifeforce of life itself.
  • Resurrection of the dead.






  • Eight vertices of a cube.
  • Three-dimensional plurality.
  • "God is one in the seven heavens and the earth."



  • The eighth day – the day of circumcision.
  • The eight days of Chanukah – "The candle of God is the soul of man."
  • The circumcision of the foreskin of the lips on (ZotChanukah.
  • The circumcision of the foreskin of the ears on the eighth day of Sukkot.
  • The circumcision of the foreskin of the heart on Yom Kippur, the eighth day of the High Priest’s separation.



  • Gateway to infinity.
  • God’s Transcendent Light.
  • Origin of the Jewish soul and its descent through the seven heavens to earth.


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