The early years
The first documented reference to equal distant letter skips is by Rabbi Bachya ben Asher (1255-1340). He writes of a 4 letter 42 letter skip Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) beginning from the first letter of the Torah that relates to the average length of the lunar month. For a complete explanation of how this 4 letter ELS produces an amazingly accurate average length of the lunar month, see the discussion on the first els.
The Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, (1522-1570) served as the Head of the Rabbinical Court ("Av Beit Din") in Tzfat, Israel, during the 16th century. This was a time when Tzfat stood as the worldwide center for Jewish scholarship. His book Pardes Rimonim is a voluminous commentary on the Zohar. He writes in the introduction to Gate 30 that there are several ways that there is hidden information encoded in the Torah.
It was the cryptic comment by Rabbi Bachya that influenced Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl to engage in his study of the Torah codes. Rabbi Weissmandl was the Slovakian rabbi who developed a smuggling operation near the Slovak-Polish border, which enabled thousands of Jews, at a high ransom price, to reach then relatively safe Slovakia or Hungary. Then Germany invaded Hungary and deportations began in the Spring of 1942. After 60,000 had been sent to Auschwitz, Rabbi Weissmandl succeeded in negotiating with Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's assistant, and was able by a $50,000 bribe to halt further deportations. Unfortunately, the deportations were only delayed.
Rabbi Weissmandl was fascinated by Bachya's cryptic comment on the 4 letter ELS. He was certain that there was within the Torah, coded in equidistant letter sequences, divinely ordained information. He wrote out on white cards 10x10 arrays of the entire 304805 letter Torah and studied it for ELSs that were near multiples of 10. After his death in 1957 his Talmud study students edited their notes of Rabbi Weissmandl's teachings, including some of hist Torah codes and published the book Torat Chemed.
In 1976, Rabbi Shmuel Yaniv began working on equidistant letter sequences and associated gematrias, specifically with respect to religious themes. And he began to incorporate this code point of view in his religious lectures. Rabbi Yaniv published his first book צפונות בתורה, Tzefunot Ba'Torah, Volume 1, in 1988, his second book with the title צפונות בתורה,Tzefunot Ba'Torah, Volume 2 in 1989, and his third book with the title צפונות בתורה, Tzefunot Ba'Torah Volume 3,4, in 1990. All his books are in Hebrew. The translation of the title of his 4 volume book is Hidden Things in the Torah.
It was Rabbi Yaniv's teachings in the late 1970's that influenced Professor Eliyahu Rips to examine the Torah from the point of view of codes. It was also Rabbi Yaniv who told Professor Rips about the existence of Rabbi Weissmandl's bookTorat Chemed.
The students of Rabbi Weissmandl wrote in the book that they do not remember some findings that Rabbi Weissmandl told them about. For example, they did not know where was the exact location of the ELS Torah with skip -50 at the end of the book of Numbers. Rabbi Shmuel Yaniv told Professor Rips that Avraham Oren had searched for the forgotten findings of Rabbi Weissmandl and was able to restore some of them.
It did not take long for Professor Rips to meet with Avraham Oren who was delighted to show Rips his archive of findings. Most of Oren's work was done using hand-written tables, but in some instances he utilized the then available Apple II computer. Therefore, Avraham Oren must be credited as the first one who used a computer in the search of Torah Codes.
Looking into the archive of Avraham Oren, Professor Rips noticed that there were several tables located in the beginning of the book of Leviticus that contained an ELS of אהרן, Aaron. He was intrigued and decided to check whether there were some more appearances of Aharon in the same passage Leviticus Chapter 1 Verses 1-13. For this, he needed a computer program. This program was written by the late Dr. Boris Zukerman z"l in the very early eighties. Given the number of the letters א ה ר ן in this passage, and assuming the text to be a random shuffling of its letters, with the maximum absolute skip set to 200, the statistical expectation of the number of ELSs of אהרן in the specified passage is about 8.3 The program of Dr. Boris Zukerman found 25 ELSs of the key word אהרן in this passage. This became known as the cluster of אהרן. Professor Rips then checked what happens if the same search were to be made in a random letter permuted text. He also ran some other statistical tests. All of them were consistent with the calculated value 8.3. Under the assumption that the Poisson distribution is applicable, the probability that this event of 25 ELSs of the key word אהרןwould happen by chance is about 1 to several hundred thousands. This was the first instance of a scientific study of Torah Codes, or, at least, of an application of statistical methods to the study of Torah Codes.
Leviticus Cluster of אהרן showing the skip and starting character position of each ELS
Shortly after Professor Rips first met with Rabbi Yaniv, he met Dr. Moshe Katz who was also aware of Rabbi Weissmandel's findings and planned to study the Torah Codes himself. For some time Rips and Katz worked together.
Professor Rips continued to study the Torah Codes focusing on the beginning of the book of Genesis. He did not have a computerized text of the Torah then, not even of the book of Genesis. He only had the first three thousand letters. He was trying to find some more clusters like the אהרן cluster. It turned out that this passage indeed contains a number of clusters like for the words Makom, Mikve, Eden and some others concentrated near the appearances of these words in the plain text. However, none of them was as statistically impressive as the אהרן cluster. In 1988, the אהרן cluster work was published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, Vol 151, p165.