Hebrew Letters

The Hebrew Letters: Kaf

The Power to Actualize Potential

The two letters of the full spelling of the kaf, are the initial letters of the two Hebrew words: koach ("potential") and poel ("actual"). Thus, the kaf hints at the power latent within the spiritual realm of the potential to fully manifest itself in the physical realm of the actual. God must create the world continuously; otherwise Creation would instantaneously vanish. His potential is therefore actualized at each moment. This concept is referred to as "the power to actualize potential ever-present within the actualized." In Chassidut we are taught that this should be one's initial awareness upon awakening. Since the literal meaning of the letter kaf is "palm" – the place in the body where potential is actualized – this awareness is reflected in the custom of placing one palm on the other upon awakening, before reciting the Modeh Ani prayer: "I thank You, living and eternal King, for you have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great."

Placing palm on palm is an act and sign of subjugation, similar to the act of bowing before a king. Whereas in bowing one totally nullifies one's consciousness in the presence of the King, in placing palm on palm one enters into a state of supplication and prayer to the King to reveal new will from His supernal crown (Will) to His subjects.

Kaf is also the root of the word kipah (etymologically, the root of the word "cap" in English), the yarmulke or skullcap. In reference to the creation of man it is said: "You have placed Your Palm [kaf] over me." Our Sages refer to Adam as, "the formation of the Palms [kaf] of the Holy One, Blessed be He." The awareness of the presence of the "Palms" of God over one's head, in His ongoing creation of him, becomes the cap (kipah) on his head. Even higher, the very power to actualize potential manifest in His Palms, as it were, derives ultimately from His crown (the power of will) above His head (i.e. "superrational" Will.)

As a verb, kaf means to "subdue" or "coerce." We are told in the Talmud that at the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, "He suspended the mountain over them as a barrel." In Chassidut it is explained that the Divine motivation manifest in this act was actually one of greatest love for Israel. So much love was revealed by all the tremendous revelations at Sinai that the people were "coerced," as it were, to respond in acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, in love. The mountain itself appeared to forcefully embrace the people. Here the secret of the kaf is the "much" revealed from the "little" point of the yud.


Three connected lines with rounded corners; the crown on the head of a prostrating king.



  • The totality of space surrounding the earth.
  • The outermost sphere of the universe.



  • Three connected properties of the crown: faith, sublime pleasure, and will.
  • The three meanings of keter: "wait," "crown," and "encircle."



  • Three stages of light before God created the world.
  • The ability of the soul to relate to the Essence of God.



Palm; clouds; power to suppress.



  • The power to suppress the forces of nature.
  • The toil of labor.
  • The power to rule.
  • Physical clouds; expression of power.



  • The power to suppress one's evil inclination.
  • The clouds surrounding Mt. Sinai – Jewish identity.
  • Faith despite "dark clouds."
  • Clean palms – observance of the commandments between man and man.



  • The vessel to receive Divine pleasure.
  • "I have engraved you upon My Palms."
  • The Clouds of Glory.






  • Twenty pieces of silver for which Joseph's brothers sold him.
  • Twenty cubits, the maximum height of a Sukkah.



  • Twenty gerah, the full value of a shekel, symbolizing the union of two half-shekels.
  • The age to become a soldier and pursue a livelihood.
  • The twenty years Jacob worked for Laban.



  • The twenty sefirot of the two countenances of the crown.


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