3. The Hebrew Aleph Bet – SIVAN – Hei and Vav

BHBW – THE ALEPH-BET                            SIVAN 5783 / 2023

HEI – VAV  

Not with toil and not with struggle, but by the word of His mouth did the One Above create His world.

Not with toil and not with struggle, but with wisdom and kindness does He require we sustain it.

~ Tzvi Freeman

The two Hebrew letters Hei and Vav carry special significance in that they are included in the ineffable Name of G-d – HaShem – Yod Hei Vav Hei. 

Hei – ה – is the letter of emphasis and particularity, and Vav – ו – is the letter of connection.

Hei essentially means ‘the.’ For example, I can say: “I have a dog.” “Yesh li kelev. (כלב).”

However, if I emphasize, “The dog is small and cute.” I say: “Ha’kelev (הכלב) katan ve’chamud.”

Interestingly, all the Hebrew letters are comprised of a variation of the yod, hei, and vav.

                                                           VE’AHAVTA

The beautiful word Ve’ahavta – meaningAnd you shall love,’ illustrated here by noted Jerusalem scribe Raphael Kalman, includes both letters. As we saw previously, the word Love – Ahavah – אהבה – also includes two Heis. 

In the most important Jewish prayer, ‘Hear O Israel – Shema Yisrael’ we pray: Ve’ahavta et Adonai Eloheicha  – And you shall love the LORD your G-d (with all your heart, soul and being.) In Leviticus 19:18 we also are exhorted to love ourselves, and our friend and neighbor. Ve’ahavta LeReicha kamocha – You shall love those close to you as you love yourself. Leviticus also tells us to love the stranger, the “other” in our midst.

We may, then, conclude that there are three particulars in life we should emphasize: 

HaShem – G-d Himself, Ha’Adam – the person  (oneself and the other), and HaOlam – the world in general.To continue to grow personally, and to draw closer to G-d, requires dealing with oneself, with others, and with the world.  When we keep these in balance we come to understand that every detail of life has meaning, and every decision we make and action we take has a purpose. 

THE SHAPE AND NAME OF THE HEI

The Hei is composed of a Dalet – ד and a suspended Yod י – . The two letters together form the word yad – hand. The two Heis in Yod – Hei – Vav – Hei  can therefore depict two hands raised in blessing; as in the beautiful Aaronic or Priestly Blessing in Deuteronomy. Through His Name, G-d’s hands are constantly raised over His children in blessing, provision, and protection.

Hei also depicts a door (delet) through which we can escape the limitations of this world and enter the spiritual realm and delight of His Presence. 

Hei has the sound of breathing, so there is a hei in every word. G-d breathed and spoke Creation into being. He breathed of His Spirit into Adam. Having received the gift of speech, we are reminded of the creative power and importance of the words we speak. We also have the gift of prayer – of speaking to our Father G-d. A means of personal connection and communication with Him. 

The word Hinei – הני – Behold! very often precedes words of revelation in the Bible. When we hear His voice our response should be, Hineini! הינני -Here am I! I am Yours. 

THE NUMBER OF THE HEI

The positional and numerical value of the Hei is 5. Fitting with the letters of the shape connecting to form the word yad – hand, the number can represent the five fingers. 

Especially relevant during this month of Sivan, we can think of the Ten Words, or commandments, spoken by G-d at Sinai, which are divided into two sets of five. The first five pertaining to the relationship between man and G-d and the second set to that between man and man. Then came the five books of Torah. 

The word ohr – light appears five times in the first day of Creation. 

Interestingly, according to the Sages, there are 5 divisions of the human, G-d breathed soul:

  1. Nefesh – one’s physical instincts        
  2. Ruach – the emotions (heart).  
  3. Neshama – the mind (intellect)           
  4. Chaya – transcendental awareness (spiritual life)
  5. Yechidah – oneness and Divine unity

In addition to the 22 natural letters of the AlephBet, there also are five final letters, called Sofit – meaning ending. The letters Mem, Nun, Tzaddik, Peh, and Caf change their form if they are at the end of a word. These are considered redemptive letters – the “endings” of the darkness of exile culminating in the final and full redemption and the full revelation of the absolute Oneness of G-d. There already have been the returns of four exiles and we all eagerly await the final end – which is the Tzaddik (righteous one) in the coming of Mashiach – Messiah! 

More beautiful Hei words:

Ha’Olam Ha’bah– העולם הבא – The World to Come

Ha’Ikar – העיקר – The main thing

Hadas –  הדס  – Myrtle

Haftarah –  הפטרה – Weekly reading from the Prophets, connected with the torah portion

Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu –  הקדוש ברוך הוא  – The Almighty, Blessed be He

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THE LETTER VAV

THE SHAPE AND NAME OF THE VAV

The Vav is a simple letter that stands alone. The shape is an elongated Yod. It resembles a pillar, or a person standing upright  – illustrating that each one is a unique and individual being. Real unity can only be achieved between two independent beings. Only when each person is true to themself can two be joined without one losing oneself in the other. Even while being bound to one another each one remains unique and different. 

The Yod at the top of the letter can represent one’s head and mind, where one develops wisdom (chochma), understanding (binah) and knowledge (da’at). These are the three tools whereby we develop our abilities or character traits, which then are expressed physically. Interestingly, six being the value of the Vav, there are six basic middot – attributes/character traits, each one typically associated with a biblical character.

  1. Chessed – love and kindness          (Avraham – Abraham)
  2. Gevurah – strength and discipline   (Yitzchak – Isaac)
  3. Tiferet – harmony and wholeness.   (Ya’akov – Jacob)
  4. Hod – humility and glory                  (Moshe – Moses)
  5. Yesod – balance and connection.    (Yosef – Joseph)
  6. Malchut – royalty and receptivity.     (Melech David – King David)

The shape of the Vav is also compared to a river that has a source and flows downwards until it reaches the sea. We can compare the Word of G-d flowing from its Source above into the hearts, minds, and souls of His people.

As mentioned, Vav is the letter of connection. The word vav means hook. In the Tabernacle hooks, called vavei ha’amudim, were used to connect the pillars by means of the curtains. The phrase is used six times in the account of the Tabernacle, 

The letter usually is attached as a prefix to another word as it means ‘and’ as in yom ve’laila – day and night. 

Interestingly, in the Tanach – the Hebrew Scriptures, each section of the scroll of Esther begins with a vav – and.

THE NUMBER OF THE VAV

The positional and numerical value of the Vav is 6. Six is recognized as the number of Nature and man as the world and man were created during the first six days of Creation.

The first letter of the Bible  – B’reisheet – בראשית contains six letters and in the first sentence there are six Alephs. One meaning of Aleph is one thousand. The Sages conclude that they correspond to the six millennia of the endurance of Olam HaZeh – the reality of this world.

Three dimensional space is comprised of six directions – right, left, front, back, up, and down, which is the order of the waving of the Lulav and Etrog during Sukkot – indicating that the Presence of G-d, and His glory, are everywhere. 

The fiery angels, or seraphim, in Isaiah’s vision each had six wings. 

And one called to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts.

The whole earth is filled with His glory.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, in his book ‘The Hebrew Letters,’ describes how the two wings that cover the faces of the angels represent the reverence and fear one experiences through gaining knowledge and understanding of G-d in one’s relationship with Him, and one covers one’s face in holy awe. The two wings that cover their feet correspond to the attribute of “walking humbly with your G-d.” The two remaining wings enabling flight are the result of sincerely seeing G-d in humility. With a balance of love and awe one’s soul is enabled to soar Heavenward and reach infinitely higher states of spiritual awareness.

All experience on earth below is temporal and unstable by nature. Spiritual growth and experience is G-d-given, eternal, stable, and truly powerful. 

The dimensions of the tablets given to Moses at Sinai are described as being six handbreadths in ever direction. The beautiful six phrases in Psalm 19:7-9,  beginning with “The Torah of G-d is perfect, restoring the soul,” illustrate the Divine nature and truth of G-d’s Word. We are to engrave the word of G-d on our hearts and then, as a river, allow them to flow in our words and actions. 

Only one Hebrew word begins with a Vav…Vidui, which is central in the Yom Kippur prayersand means confession. Repentance, and confession of the truth where there was a lie or an error, helps bring true connection. 

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