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The Uniqueness of Lamed The letter Lamed is unique in the Hebrew alphabet since it is the tallest letter (it is the only letter that rises above the baseline) and, as the 12th letter, it is considered the central letter (or "heart") of the Hebrew alphabet:
The Meaning of Lamed The original meaning of Lamed probably was "to prick, sting, incite, goad," as a shepherd might prod cattle to perform some action. Hence the ancient pictograph was that of a staff or goad, representing authority.
The Hebrew name of the letter itself, lamed, comes from the root lamad meaning to learn or teach, which first occurs in Deuteronomy 4:1 Lamed and Heart Knowledge Rabbi Akiva (50-135) is said to have noted that the spelling of Lamed can be seen as an acronym for the phrase lev meivin da'at, meaning "a heart that understands knowledge"
The letter Vav is the sixth letter of the Aleph-Bet, having the numeric value of six. The pictograph for Vav looks like a tent peg, whereas the classical Hebrew script (ketav Ashurit) is constructed of a vertical line and conjoined Yod.
The meaning of the word vav is "hook," as a connecting hook used when the mishkan (tabernacle) was assembled.
The Mystery of Vav Since it occurs as the 22nd letter in the Torah attached to the sixth word, (et), it alludes to the creative connection between all of the letters. Vav is therefore the connecting force of the God, the divine "hook" that binds together heaven and earth.
"The story he told me is very old and dates from the time of the prophet Issiah. It is the legend of the Lamed-Vov. In this story, God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is part of the human condition. These thirty-six are are called the Lamed-Vov. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people alive, the world will come to an end.
"Do you know who these people are, Grandpa?" I asked, certain that he would say "Yes." But he shook his head. "No, Neshume-le," he told me. "Only God knows who the Lamed-Vovniks are. Even the Lamed-Vovniks themselves do not know for sure the role they have in the continuation of the world, and no one else knows it either. They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them."
It turned out that Lamed-Vovniks could be tailors or college professors, millionaires or paupers, powerful leaders or powerless victims. These things were not important. What mattered was only their capacity to feel the collective suffering of the human race and respond to the suffering around them. "And because no one knows who they are, Neshume-le, anyone you meet might be one of the thirty-six for whom God preserves the world," my grandfather said. "It is important to treat everyone as if this might be so."
I sat and thought about this story for a long time. It was different than Noah's Ark. The rainbow meant that there would be a happily-ever-after, just as in the stories my father read to me at bedtime. But Grandpa's story made no such promises. God asked something of people in return for the gift of life, and He was asking it still.
Suddenly, I realized I had no idea what it was. If so much depended on it, it must be something very hard, something that required a great sacrifice. What if the Lamed-Vovniks could not do it? What then?" "How do the Lamed-Vovniks respond to suffering, Grandpa?" I asked, suddenly anxious. "What do they have to do?" My grandfather smiled at me very tenderly. "Ah Neshume-li," he told me. "They do not have to do anything. They respond to all suffering with compassion. Without compassion the world cannot continue. Our compassion blesses and sustains the world." "
"There are in the world, and have always been, 36 righteous men whose mission is to justify the world to God. They are very poor, and do not know one another. If one of them reaches the realization that he is a Lamed Vovnik, he dies immediately and is replaced by someone else, perhaps in another part of the world. They constitute the secret pillars of the universe. Were it not for them, the Lord would annihilate the human race. They are our saviours and they know it not."
Basically, no one knows who these people are. In some variations of the story, even a lamed vovnik does not realize who he is. They are compassionate for the sake of being compassionate, so they would not recognize themselves as special.