Gematria: Obama and the Arabs?

Tuvia Brodie,

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Tuvia Brodie
Tuvia Brodie has a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh under the name Philip Brodie. He has worked for the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham College and American Express. He and his wife made aliyah in 2010. All of his children have followed. He believes in Israel's right to exist. He believes that the words of Tanach (the Jewish Bible) are meant for us. His blog address is He usually publishes 3-4 times a week on his blog and 1-3 times at Arutz Sheva. Please check the blog regularly for new posts.

This is a far-fetched essay. It suggests an unusual, perhaps startling connection between certain names. The essay may shock you. It may make you laugh—because it appears so ridiculous.

I present it to you for only one reason: your private entertainment.

Within the Jewish religion, there is something called, gematria. Gematria is a study of numbers that purports to show connections between ideas. Gematria compares the total numerical value of the letters within one word (or phrase) with the total numerical value of the letters of another word (or phrase).

We’ll get to gematria in a moment. But first, you should understand that not everyone values this pursuit. Not everyone sees meaning in it. Some say it has the same value as an intellectual parlour game: its insights entertain, but have no lasting meaning. Others say, there might be value, but too often people try (to paraphrase a saying) to push a round idea into a square word.

Others say that the connections revealed by this approach indeed reveal a deeper reality, one not visible on the surface. We would be wise, they argue, to be sensitive to the realities revealed by gematria.

Does gematria contain hidden truths? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Let’s try an exercise. The following derives loosely from an essay on the blog, Tomer Devorah. It’s titled, “Obama and the Evil at the End of Days”. It was posted on July 24, 2014. However, it was originally posted in 2008, before Barack Obama took office for the first time as President of the United States.

The essay begins with a short exercise ‘lesson’. It looks at the total numerical value of the letters of the words (in Hebrew) for the phrase, ‘one heart’ (referring specifically to national unity), and compares that number with the total value of the letters that spell the Hebrew word for ‘Redemption’. The value of both is the same: 45.

A ‘gematria’ lesson from this similarity might be that there is a connection between being united (having ‘one heart’) and reaching Redemption. That is, perhaps this gematria similarity tells us that we can hasten our Redemption if the Jewish people are united; we cannot hasten Redemption if we are dis-united. The gematria similarity between the two concepts (unity and Redemption) simply reinforces the ‘reality’ that we need the one (unity) before we can hasten the other (Redemption).

Now, let’s look at a challenge: is there a connection between President Obama and Yishmaelim, Arab nations who seek ill for Israel and the Jewish people?

The essayist here makes a connection between Obama and the Arab nations in the following way. First, consider the Jewish Passover Seder. At the Seder, we read the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We read about the ten plagues inflicted upon Egypt by G-d in the months leading up to that First Redemption. As we read of these plagues, we do two things. First, we name each plague individually. Then, we read an acrostic—in this case, three words made up of letters from the ten plagues.

An example of such an acrostic at work would be to identify individual plagues called Frogs, Wind, Boils, Locusts, Hail and Darkness; the acrostic might be, ‘fwb’ and ‘lhd’--by using the first letters of each plague.

The plagues were horrible. They were destructive. They seem a punishment that befell Egypt for the tyranny it had inflicted upon the Jewish nation.

The three acrostic words of the Seder story were established thousands of years ago. We repeat them every year. The numerical value of the letters in that three-word acrostic is 501. That’s what those horrible plagues were—501.

Yishmaelim are Arabs. We all know how Arabs feel about Israel. For example, we know that Hamas has just announced its desire to kill all Jews of Israel (“Hamas Spells it Out: Our Aim is the Extermination of the Jews”, Arutz Sheva, July 29, 2014).

The numerical value of the word, ‘Yishmaelim’ (Arabs) is 501.

This numerical similarity suggests a connection between the Arabs of today who hate Israel and the ancient Egyptians who had enslaved the Jews. Could the gematria similarity suggest that the fate of the Arab nations who hate Israel will be similar to fate of those ancient Egyptians who had tyrannized ancient Jews?

Gematria doesn’t give you an answer. You’ll have to figure that out yourself.

The essayist then looks at the numerical value of the name, Barack Hussein Obama, when written in Hebrew. The gematria of that name is also 501.

The plagues which befell the Egypt that tormented us, the Arabs who want to kill us and the US President Obama who seems not to want to support Israel all share the same total numerical (gematria) value—501.

Does that similarity suggest anything to you?

Gematria: it’s either a game, fakery or a way to uncover hidden truths. If these examples above represent how gematria works, what do you think it is?