The mystery of the Vav (Pentecost, part 1)

This post is makes extensive use of the Sod level of Interpretation as an illustration. This method is not accepted in all of Judaism (e.g. Karaite Judaism rejects it), but it can reveal some interesting mysteries. It can also be misused for completely wrong interpretations and should therefore be treated with care.

In Hebrew, each letter of the Alphabet has a numerical value. These values were used before numbers were invented, much later. They are still being used for symbolic interpretations of some passages of the bible. Furthermore, some words in the Old Testament Hebrew text are misspelled on purpose. This spelling is not reflected in any translation, as it seemingly does not make sense in other languages.

The letter Vav (ו, sound “O” or “U”) is the object of a number of misspellings in the Bible. It has the numerical value of 6, representing mankind, since humanity was created on the 6th day. In ancient Hebrew, the letters were symbols with meanings. The Vav was a hook or tent peg, like a nail, it symbolises connecting and securing things.2

The missing Vav

The word toledot (תולדות) is usually translated as generations. But the word is only used correctly once in the Torah (תּוֹרָה, the 5 books of Moses).

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
אלה תולדות השמים והארץ בהבראם ביום עשות יהוה אלהים ארץ ושמים
Gen. 2:4
This is the book of the generations of Adam.
זה ספר תולדת אדם ביום
Gen. 5:1a

Here, the first (correct) spelling of the word generations reads toledot (תולדות), while the second spelling reads toledt (תולדת). But why is the letter Vav missing in every occurrence in the Torah (5 books of Moses) after Gen. 2:4, and even some later books like Joshua and Judges? To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning.

The fall of mankind

When God created the first human (אדם, adam), he took the woman (אישה, biblical: אשה, aisha) out of man (איש, aish). God had tasked Man to name everything. So Man and Woman were their names in the beginning, describing their attributes: The word fire (אש, esh) comes from the same root. Where else do we see the fire? When God appeared to Moses on mount Horeb (Sinai), he was a fire on a shrub. This burning bush had one peculiarity: The fire did not consume it. Likewise, when God’s fire was still on humanity, it did not consume us.

However, when Man and Woman tasted of the fruit and fell into sin, the fire of God, his spirit, left them. As a result, they needed new names: Man became Adam (אָדָם, meaning: human), and Woman became Eve (חַוָּה, meaning: source of life). Therefore, their generations (toledot) were not perfect any more: True humanity as it was intended by God, (symbolised by the 6th letter, ו Vav) was lost, and so was their descendance.

At the same time, humans lost their true connection to God (represented by the connecting nail). The word for human in Hebrew is ben-Adam (בן אדם), which literally means son of man. And humanity now needed a true human – an unbroken son of man – to restore the connection to God.

Restoration of the generations

God promised a saviour, a Messiah, as a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, 2 Chronicles 6:16). But before God promised that, he showed it in David’s descendance. After Gen. 2:4, the next correctly spelled occurrence of the word generations (toledot) is in the book of Ruth, David’s family tree.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
Ruth 4:18-22

The name of David’s descendant, Perez (פרץ), means “to breach, to burst forth”. God breached through Adam’s broken descendance and let a man burst forth who would connect Adam’s broken humanity with the restoring Messiah, the faultless, perfect human, a real son of man. The restoration of the connection to God was promised to David, who is the link to Messiah. And therefore, the lost Vav was restored.

Matthew (מַתִּתְיָהוּ, Matityahu ; Greek: Ματταθίας, Matthatias) recognised this important link, when he called Yeshua the son of David before calling him the son of Abraham: He is the one who fixes the entire humanity and its generations, before being the one who brings the promises given to Abraham and the people of Israel:

[This is] the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David,
the son of Abraham.
Matthew 1:1

Similarly to Ruth, people from foreign nations who follow the God of Israel and count themselves to God’s people will play an important part in God’s plan. But we should never forget that Yeshua is a descendant of Jacob (also called Israel). Even his grandfather’s name was Jacob (Mat 1:16), and he was the “son of Joseph”, the suffering servant.

Return of God’s fire

It is through Messiah, the true human whose descendance is perfect and whose generations restore humanity, that the fire of God was restored to his followers: The Spirit of God (רוח הקודש, Ruach haQodesh) came down onto the believers on Shavuot (שבועות, Pentecost) as God’s fire. And that fire consumes what is sinful, but preserves what was made pure by Messiah.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Acts 2.1-4

The broken Vav

The broken VavThe broken Vava

There is an other pecularity in Torah scrolls: In Numbers 25:12, the Vav in the word Shalom (שָׁלוֹם, peace) is broken in two parts.1 In this story, the people of Israel were seduced by the Midianites to worship and sacrifice to Baal. From the account, it becomes obvious that temple prostitution was involved. This angered God. Now one man provoked God even further: While Moses and the judges of Israel were weeping over the the plague God had sent to punish the sinners, he took a Midianite woman and had sex with her in front of the tent of meeting (tabernacle).

When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. [… So God said to Phinehas:] ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’
Numbers 25:7-8 & 12-13

As previously mentioned, the Vav in the word peace (שָׁלוֹם, shalom). This means that while nothing was missing to the peace God brought Israel, it is broken to imply that the word can be interpreted as if there was no Vav, resulting in the word shalem (שלם) meaning perfect.3

Bloodshed was necessary at that moment to redeem Israel. But because of the blood, this first peace was a broken peace. One of God’s names is Shalom, peace. But to truly redeem Israel, an intricate part of one of God’s names would need to be broken: The Vav – symbolising the true human (or son of man) connecting God to humanity like a nail – had to be split. But this breaking of God would bring perfection (שלם, shalem) and restoration. Just like the story of Phinehas, bloodshed was necessary for the atonement of the sins of the humanity. However, the broken Vav also announces another great message: First, that Messiah, the true son of man, would be an intricate part of God like the Vav is an intricate part of the name Shalom. And second, that Messiah would be broken, but the nails securing him would likewise be broken and he would come back to life bringing a restored peace.


1 Prof. Dr. A. E. Brouwer, Language and Typesetting, Special symbols in the Hebrew Bible. Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Netherlands

2 Jeff A. Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center; Ancient Hebrew Alphabet Chart

3 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim, Kiddushin 66b, note 25 (PDF)

a The Broken Vav, Hebrew4Christians

Additional Resources
Video of a sermon by Past. Mark Biltz: Generations Toldot (on Youtube)

Hebrew for Christians, The letter Vav


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