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The Letter Pey / Fey
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Ayin Tsade

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Manual Print (block)

Hebrew Script (cursive)

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Dageshim

Sofit

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Summary

The Letter Pey / Fey

The seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called “Pey” (rhymes with “pay”) and has the sound of “p” as in “park.” 

In modern Hebrew, the letter Pey can appear in three forms:

Forms of Pey

Write the manual print version of Pey as follows:

Pey Block

Most people form this letter using two separate strokes.

And the cursive version:

Pey Script

A single curling stroke is used to form this letter.

Write the letter Pey (from right to left) in both manual print and script several times:

Practice Grid

Note: The sole difference between the letter Pey and the letter Fey is the presence or absence of the dot in the middle of the letter (called a dagesh mark). When you see the dot in the middle of this letter, pronounce it as a "p"; otherwise, pronounce it as "ph" (or “f”).

Fey not Pey

Five Hebrew letters are formed differently when they appear as the last letter of a word (these forms are sometimes called "sofit" (pronounced "so-feet") forms). Fortunately, the five letters sound the same as their non-sofit cousins, so you do not have to learn any new sounds (or transliterations); however, you will need to be able to recognize these letters when you see them.

Fey Sofit  Block
Fey Sofit Script

Note that Fey Sofit resembles the standard letter Fey except that it has a “tail” that descends below the baseline.

The script form of Fey Sofit is a bit difficult, though it somewhat resembles a cursive English letter “J.” Note that it is an ascender letter.

Example of  Fey Sofit

Write the sofit form of Fey in both manual print and script several times:

Practice Grid
Pey Summary

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Advanced Information

The letter Pey is the 17th letter of the Aleph-Bet, having the numeric value of 80. The pictograph for Pey looks something like a mouth, whereas the classical Hebrew script (Ketav Ashurit) is constructed of a Kaf with an inverted Vav (or an ascending Yod):

The Hidden Bet

Notice the “hidden Bet” within the letter Pey. This morphology (shape) of the letter is required when a sofer (Torah scribe) writes Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), tefillin (phylacteries), or mezuzot (mezuzahs). More about the components of the letter Pey follows below.

From the Canaanite pictograph, the letter morphed into the Phoenician/ketav Ivri, to the Greek letter (Pi), which eventually became the Latin letter “P.”

  1. The Meaning of Pey
    The word Peh () means “mouth” and by extension, “word,” “expression,” “vocalization,” “speech,” and “breath.”  In the order of the Hebrew alphabet, Pey follows the letter ‘Ayin, suggesting the priority of the eyes (i.e., understanding, awareness) before verbal expression (negatively, reversing this order results in “blind consumption” or mindless chatter). The chokhmah (wise one) is swift to observe and then to offer an opinion about something.  ‘Ayin gives insight, but it is the peh (mouth) that gives insight expression.

     
  2. The Mystery of Pey
    Many kabbalists claim that the letter Pey is composed of two other letters: Kaf and Yod. Since one of the meanings of Kaf is “container” (i.e., spoon), it is suggested that the letter Pey is a picture of the divine spark (Yod) of God within the soul (Kaf, understood as a container for the soul).

    Since peh (mouth) follows ‘ayin (eye), certain Jewish mystics have maintained that though the ‘ayin is the gateway to reality, the mouth is what brings reality into being. This is alluded to within the Scriptures, especially when God’s creative activity (YHVH’s Word) is considered. In fact, the Onkelos (a well-respected ancient Aramaic targum (translation) that dates back to the first century) rendered the phrase, nefesh chaiyah (“a living soul”) as ruach memalla’ (“a speaking spirit”) in Genesis 2:7. God’s speech creates reality, and since man is made b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), the sages reasoned that it was the power of speech and rationality that distinguished mankind from the lower animals that the LORD God created.

    Since speech is related to memory, the sages have reasoned that the Hebrew word zachor (“remember”) implies the vocalization of what was remembered. Thus the tradition of reciting Kiddush on Shabbat (based on Exodus 20:8) is explained, as is the custom of “remembering Amalek” by public recitation during the Torah reading liturgy.

     
  3. The Hidden Bet in Pey
    The inner space of the letter Pey reveals the letter Bet.  Since the first word of Scripture (bereshit) begins with an enlarged letter Bet (representing the house of creation), it is inferred that the invisible letter Pey (surrounding the Bet) represents the Word of God that created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-3). In other words, the very first letter of the Scriptures is a picture that the ‘Word’ of God is the agency behind the entire universe (Psalm 33:6).

    A drash on the hidden Bet suggests that since Pey means mouth and Bet means home, what is spoken within the home is likewise spoken outside the home. In other words, our private conversation within our homes will reflect itself in our public life. Conversely, what we speak in public will also affect the quality of our life at home.

     
  4. The Gematria of Pey
    The letter Pey represents the (ordinal) number 17 and the mispar (standard number) 80. The number 80 is the same value found in the words yesod (foundation) and gevurah (strength). This is also the age of Moses when he was called to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and seems to be indicative of a sign of strength in human life
    (Psalm 90:10).

     
  5. The Two Forms of Pey
    The letter Pey has both a medial form () and a sofit form (). The medial form is said to be “bent” in humility, suggestive of a “closed mouth.” The sofit form, however, is said to be “open” and “upright.” The midrash is that we must be silent and humble before we straighten ourselves to speak. If the mouth cannot bring forth praise and the truth of Torah, it should remained closed (Prov. 10:19).

     
  6. The Midrash of Moses’ Mouth
    According to midrash (Shemot Rabbah 1:31), as a very young lad Moses was once seen throwing Pharaoh’s gold crown down to the ground.  Upon learning of this apparent act of insolence, Pharaoh devised a test to see if the child understood the implications of his actions. He therefore commanded that a platter with a piece of gold and a glowing piece of coal be brought before Moses and ordered the little boy to choose one. If Moses chose the gold, it would imply that he understood its value, and therefore he would be killed. On the other hand, if Moses chose the burning coal, he would be spared since he was unable to differentiate between gold and a glowing piece of coal.

    Moses began to reach out for the gold when an angel pushed his hand aside and he grabbed the coal instead. Moses then immediately put his hand in his mouth, but that burned his lips and tongue so badly that he had a permanent speech impediment as a consequence.

    Later, when God commissioned Moses to speak to the children of Israel, he protested to the LORD that he was kevad peh - “heavy of mouth” and kevad lashon, “heavy of tongue,” and therefore unable to speak on behalf of the LORD (Ex. 4:10). God reminded him that He was the Creator of the mouth: "Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Ex. 4:11). The LORD was then angry with Moses for his reluctance and decreed that "because of your words" he would not be permitted to be a kohen (priest), but his brother Aaron would.

    Another midrash says that at age 80, Moses was given a “new mouth” to teach the people with, and yet another says that it was a sign to the Israelites in Egypt that Moses, the stutterer, could speak the divine Name perfectly when he stood before the people as God’s mediator.

     

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