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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gematria and Chess

     What?! I stumbled on an article on this subject the other day and had no idea what is was. According to Wikipedia Gematria is an Assyro-Babylonian system of numerology later adopted by Jews that assigns numerical value to a word or phrase in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person's age, the calendar year, or the like.
     The best-known example of Gematria is the Hebrew word Chai ("alive"), which is composed of two letters that add up to 18. This has made 18 a "lucky number" among Jews, and gifts in multiples of 18 are very popular.
     Some identify two forms of gematria: the "revealed" form, which is prevalent in many hermeneutic methods found throughout Rabbinic literature and the "mystical" form, a largely Kabbalistic practice.
     Though gematria is most often used to calculate the values of individual words, Biblical verses, Talmudical aphorisms, sentences from the standard Jewish prayers, personal, angelic and Godly names, and other religiously significant material, Kabbalists use them often for arbitrary phrases and, occasionally, for various languages. The primary language for gematria calculations has always been Hebrew and, to a lesser degree, Aramaic.
     Another source described Gematriot as the numerical values of the Holy Hebrew Letters that reveals the deeper meaning of what the Torah wants to convey. Gematriot are mentioned in virtually every section of Jewish literature - Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and Halacha. One thing I was aware of was that the use of gematria was widespread in Judaism at the time the New Testament was written.
     I could be wrong, but this sounds similar to the "Bible Code." The Bible Code, also known as the Torah Code, is a set of secret messages encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah. This hidden code has been described as a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message. Although Bible codes have been postulated and studied for centuries, the subject has been popularized in modern times by Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code and the movie The Omega Code.
     Computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants and it has been published as a "challenging puzzle" in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 1994. While both proponents and skeptics accept that such sequences can arise by chance alone in any text, the proponents argue that the examples found in biblical texts are more numerous or more impressive in some manner than those found in secular texts, to a degree that chance cannot explain. According to the article I read there is a relationship to this Gematroit and chess.
     A chess board consists of 64 squares, eight by eight. The claim is that the word chess is very similar to the name of the Hebrew letter Cheis which is the numerical value of eight.
     Some people considered Bobby Fischer, his protests to the contrary, a Jew and the greatest player of all time. Of course, chess history is full of Jewish players but three examples used in the article were Bobby Fischer, Samuel Herman (Shmuel Chaim) Reshevsky, who was an observant Jew throughout his life and Daniel Abraham (Abe) Yanofsky who passed away at the age of 74 in 2000 and has a street named after him in Jerusalem.
     The article points out that there were major differences between Fischer and Reshevsky and Yanofsky. Fischer was a professional player who never worked at any other profession and his formal education ended when he dropped out of high school at age 16. On the other hand, Reshevsky and Yanofsky didn't let chess be the overriding factor in their lives; both attended college and became professionals and they both accomplished things in their lives other than being successful chess players.
     Fischer didn't have a stable family life and even after his death the courts had a hard time figuring out his estate. On the other hand, Reshevsky and Yanofsky were married and had children and family life was important to them. Reshevsky's son is a Rabbi and one daughter, Shaindel, is a nutritionist. I am not sure about his first daughter, Sylvia. In any case, both Reshevsky and Yanofsky had things in their lives that they deemed more important than chess. Not so for Fischer.
     Fischer craved to be the best player in the world. At some point he became anti-American and anti-Semitic. He never missed a chance to make vulgar rants against Jews. In addition to his rants against Jews he praised the terrorist actions of 9/11 and hated the U.S. Government.
     Hebrew Scripture condemns haughtiness which is defined as having or showing the insulting attitude of people who think they are better, smarter, or more important than other people. Haughtiness, the opposite of humility, has caused the downfall of many people with otherwise good qualities. The author of the article seemed to be making the point that Fischer was haughty while Reshevsky and Yanofsky weren't. It's not clear to me how chess was involved in making Fischer haughty but not Reshevsky and Yanofsky. Maybe I missed something.
     Chess has eight pieces that represent various ranks from the pawn to the king and queen and pawns, if they advance all the way to the other side of the board, can become queens. Supposedly this is based on a concept found in the Torah. The idea is that if people overcome their temptations, urges, and addictions while desiring to be spiritually close to God, they can be on a higher spiritual level than the angels. Angels can be compared to the other pieces between the pawns and the king/queen.
     What's this have to do with chess? As I understand it, according to the article chess, with so many number eights in it, means we can learn something from it. In Gematria, 8 is significant and teaches that as long as we know how to utilize our self worth without letting haughtiness and arrogance get in the way, with God's help one can be successful because it is God's desire that we use our talents to benefit the world. When we forget that our talents are God given and think they are our talents we are doomed to failure.
     Seriously, I still don't know what all that has to do with chess, Fischer, Reshevsky and Yanofsky. The Chabad has an article recounting how Reshevsky’s Rabbi told him he should try to mentor Fischer because Bobby didn’t have an upbringing that was conducive to appreciating his religion. Supposedly at one tournament they were seen walking together and discussing religion. When asked about it Reshevsky said, “He has his views. I have mine.”
     I'm not into Gematria or Bible Codes and the whole concept of numerology in any form is something I personally do not care to pursue. Like Reshevsky, I have my views; its proponents have theirs.

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