With the exception of a small portion of the book of Daniel the Hebrew Bible – our Old Testament-was written entirely in the Hebrew language. L’shon Hakodesh, or Holy Language, is multi layered and full of depth of meaning.
When we read a translation from this original language we are actually reading a commentary – what the translator believes the original text is meaning. But when we understand the Hebrew we are able to grasp some of those layers and some of that depth.
The Hebrew word for life is Chai. No, it’s not an Indian tea, it’s a word which has so much meaning for the Jewish people.
Chai makes its first appearance in the opening chapter of the Bible:
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” Genesis 1:20
The application of life in this verse clearly is referencing living, breathing creatures but it means so much more than just being alive. It’s also about living a fulfilled life, one which is pleasing to God. King David tells us:
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11
Real living means existing with purpose: connecting to God and to others.
The Jewish tradition and Christian tradition as well means to live life with the principles of kindness, generosity and selflessness. God expects us to live out a biblical morality and ethic. That is what Chai is all about.
Jews will often wear a necklace with the symbol Chai or have it engraved on their rings. This serves as a continuous reminder of the unique calling upon the life of the person who wears this symbol.
A popular song sung in Israel and the Jewish community at large is Am Yisrael Chai! – The Jewish People Lives! The song which contains only six words continues: Od Avinu
Chai – Our Father in Heaven Lives. Truly we can say that the people of Israel live because the God of Israel lives!
How have the Jewish people survived exiles, persecutions, ghettoization, almost annihilation? Because God has looked after them!
Where are the Philistines? Perizzites, Amorites… today? Gone to the history books! However where is Israel today? Can we find this tiny country still on the map? Absolutely!
It’s impossible to explain the existence of the Jewish homeland without Divine intervention. He has preserved them not because of their faithfulness but because of His faithfulness not because of their intrinsic goodness but because of His faithful promises to them.
The Prophet tells us: “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.” Amos 9:15
How can we be sure that God will be faithful to us, as Gentile believers? Because we can look to Israel and see that he has been true to them.
When you give charity or help others, life is given not only to the recipient but to the giver.
I know what you’re thinking, Ray this is interesting but what about the number 18? What does Chai have to do with this number.
Ancient Hebrew did not contain a separate numerical system. Instead each letter had a corresponding number. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet Aleph, for example as the corresponding number 1. The second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Bet; the number 2, and the third letter; Gimel the number 3, etc.
The two letters which comprise the word Chai are: Chet (ח) and Yud (י) which have a numerical values of 8 and 10 which totals 18.
In the Jewish world it’s common to give monetary gifts of $18.00 which means they are giving life. Sometimes they will give you $36.00 which means double life. Or even $54.00, or $180.00. When you give this amount you are symbolically blessing the recipient with the gift of a good long life!