Hebrew Letters

The Hebrew Letters: Reish

Process – The Art of Clarification

Although the letter reish is situated close to the end of the alef-beit,"its primary meaning is "head" or "beginning." There are four "beginnings" in the alef-beit (comparable to the four New Years enumerated in the beginning of the tractate Rosh HaShanah) relative to four different categories of phenomena. The ordinal beginning of the alef-beit is the letter alef. Phonetically, the vapor, the amorphous "matter" from which the pronunciation of every letter is formed, is the secret of the letter hei. In script, every letter begins from a point, the secret of the letter yud. In relation to meaning, cognizant intelligence or wisdom, reish means "beginning." These four letters combine to spell aryeh, "the lion," the first of the four "holy animals" of the Divine chariot of Ezekiel. They further combine to spell yirah, "fear" or "awe."

"The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God." In Chassidut we are taught that the inner experience of the soul which serves as the vessel to arouse and contain ever new flashes of insight, wisdom, is bitul, "selflessness." Fear, the beginning of wisdom, corresponds to the source of this state in the soul. Fear "shocks" ego, breaking the innate coarseness of the heart, that coarseness or egocentricity that prevents one from being truly receptive and perceptive to reality outside oneself in general, and the Divine Essence of all reality in particular.

The two letters that fill the letter reish are yud and shin, spelling yeish, which means "something," in general identified in Chassidut with the consciousness of ego or being a separate, independent entity – a "something." Reish is the only letter "pregnant" with this "filling." In Chassidut we are taught that though the lower "something," the "created something," appears to be totally separate from the consciousness of its Creator and the creative force which continuously brings it into existence, nonetheless its seeming separate "somethingness" serves, in truth, to reflect the Absolute and "True Something" who is truly and uniquely independent, the "Cause of all causes."

The insight of Divine wisdom is the "nothing" between the two states of "something," whose ultimate purpose is to serve to draw the consciousness of the "True Something" into the experience of the lower "something." In the power of the process of rectification, the ego must first be "shaken" by the fear of God, the beginning of wisdom. Thereafter one’s "matter" can be purified and clarified in order to become a fitting "mirror" to reflect the True Something. This process of clarification, dependent upon wisdom and its beginning, fear, is expressed in the verse: "You have made all in wisdom." "Made" refers throughout the Torah to the process of rectification and clarification. The Zohar paraphrases this verse: "You have clarified them all with wisdom." The "art of clarification" is the "beginning of the end"; the three final letters of the alef-beit, are the beginning, middle, and end of the end, respectively. Just as the tzadikconnects to the kuf in its full spelling, so the "reish" "leads in" to the shin, all the clarifications of wisdom ascending upward to their Divine Source in the flame of the love of God and His people Israel.


The profile of a head; a bent over head.


  • A man bent over in poverty and servitude.
  • Conformity to social norms.


  • The mind "bending over" in order to express itself in speech.
  • Devoted service to God.


  • The revelation of God’s thoughts through speech.
  • The union of Kabbalah and halachah.
  • The presence of Shabbat in the weekdays.


Head or beginning; poor man.


  • The state of poverty of this world.
  • The experience of poverty prior to it leading to selflessness.


  • The conscious state of mind.
  • The second day of Rosh HaShanah – conscious beginning.
  • The power to procreate.


  • The superconscious state of mind.
  • "My thoughts are not your thoughts."
  • The first day of Rosh HaShanah – unconscious beginning.


Two hundred.


  • The upper limit of poverty – two hundred zuz.
  • The two hundred lights that shine out of the self.
  • "The sun is charity."


  • Two hundred heads of the Sanhedrin from the tribe of Issachar.
  • Time.


  • The numerical half way point of the alef-beit.
  • Creation begins from the "middle point" of God’s Infinite Light.
  • The evolving of the "Kingdom of the Infinite."
  • The King and His people.

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