Each of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet is correlated with a specific number. Gematria is the computation of individual letters, words or entire sentences utilizing their numerical equivalence. Some people believe that the words and ideas in the Torah may be connected with or understood from the numerical values and relationships. It is alleged that the numerical word-value is not unintentional, but rather prearranged. This study was first introduced amongst tannaim in the 2nd century C.E.
Many believe there are secret codes to be uncovered by interpreting the numerical values of the letters in the Bible. The kabbalists employ gematria to decipher the Torah and everyday events. Gematria is also used to interpret the Midrash and Talmud. There are many Jews, however, that believe one must be of stable mind to partake in the study of gematria, so as to not go fanatical.
Each letter represents a different number. The letters “א” to “ט” symbolize the numbers one to nine, “י” to “צ” from 10 to 90, and “ק” to “ת” from 100 to 400. Any numbers higher than 400, are designated by dots over the letters.
Over the centuries, scholars have created numerous sophisticated systems of gematria for interpreting the Jewish texts and traditions. For example, the numerical value of each letter in a word may be deciphered separately to indicate something explicit. And each letter in a word really has a hidden meaning or secret behind its mathematical quantity. Many individuals believe there are an unlimiated number of secrets in the Torah that can be unlocked utilizing gematria.
Sources: Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004; Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992; "The Art of Gematria."