The Hebrew AlephBet – Caf and La’med – ELUL

 BHBW – THE ALEPH-BET                            ELUL 5783  / 2023

                           CAF- LA’MED  

Who shall ascend the mountain of the LORD? Or who shall stand in His holy place? 

He that has clean hands, and a pure heart.  

Psalms 24:4

THE SHAPE AND MEANING OF THE CAF / CHAF

Caf is the first letter that changes form when at the end of a word. If at the start of a word, such as kapit – כפית(teaspoon) it sounds like a ‘k’. When at the end of a word, like melech – מלך(king), it has a softer, guttural sound, like the ‘ch’ in Bach.

It was exciting to discover, during this series, that the five final letters (otiot sofit)  are also referred to as the “Letters of Redemption.” ‘The crooked shall be made straight’ is well illustrated in the letter Caf (Isaiah 40:4).

The shape of Caf is three straight lines with rounded corners. It resembles a cupped hand and, indeed, the palm of the hand is called kaf –  and palms are kapai’im. A lovely Israeli folk dance, danced at Shavuot, is called Kapai’im; during which one raises one’s hands/palms to G-d to thank Him for the fruitful harvest. Another Caf word is  Kavanah – כוונהmeaning intentionality, focus, presence of mind. In prayer we lift our hearts and hands to our Father in Heaven and pray with kavanah. We praise Him for His faithfulness and pray that He always will keep us sheltered under His hands and that His hand of provision will remain open to us. 

In Jewish writings, G-d’s hands are often metaphorically referred to as the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness. At Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, when we dwell in the fragile, temporary sukkah – which also is three-sided like a Caf, we are reminded of G-d’s faithful Presence and His blessings of protection and provision. 

Hands are raised in blessing, as in the Birkat HaKohanim / Priestly Blessing, or can be cupped over a person’s head, resembling a crown of blessing; as we see in this picture of a Hassidic father blessing his child on Shabbat.

We see, too, how a kippah (yarmulke) –  כיפה is shaped like a cupped palm, signifying the hands, “clouds” of G-d’s blessings and Presence over one.  It also reminds one, like a crown, keter – כתר, that one is a beloved child of the King. 

THREE CAFS

Rabbi Ilai, in the Babylonian Talmud – Eiruvin 65b, said that people can be known by three things, all starting with Caf. 1. Their kos – כוס (cup), meaning how they hold alcohol. 2. Their kis –  (pocket or purse), how they deal with money, and 3. Their ka’as –  כעס (anger). The first two are evident in outer behavior and the third reflects a person’s inner nature. 

Anger has been identified as a basic component of human behavior. We read of occasions in the Bible where even G-d became angry. We are also told, however, that G-d is “..compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). There are times when one can feel “righteous anger,” as we read in the Torah portion ‘Pinchas/Phineas.’ Pinchas took drastic action in his anger against Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, who was brazenly fornicating publicly with the Midianite princess, Kosbi, and he ran a spear through them both. Pinchas was rewarded by G-d with an eternal Brit Shalom ve’Kehuna – a covenant of Peace and Priesthood, meaning that he and his offspring could participate in the service and worship of the kohanim in the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash. 

However, when a person allows ego-driven anger to flare up in his/her heart, the Sages compare it to idolatry. Why?  Because when anger takes over it leaves no place for G-d, or for compassion and kindness, in one’s heart. Anger clouds a person’s mind and prevents us from seeing clearly and rationally. As a result, we cannot respond calmly and effectively. 

To harness and overcome any negative anger, Mussar teachers (in The Mussar Torah Commentary, 250) recommend praying this prayer:

May my heart be cleansed of useless anger. May my eyes see the good in all.

May I give the other the benefit of the doubt. May I be a maker of peace. 

Amen

THE NUMBER OF CAF

The numerical value of Caf is 20. There are many significant references to twenty.

The biblical shekel is worth twenty gerah. The shekel is mentioned four times in the Torah.

  1. The annual donation of the holy Half-shekel, given towards the purchase of sacrifices. Everyone gave only a half-shekel as a reminder that all were equal and needed each other. The inner meaning of the donation was that it was seen as an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf and for the sale of Joseph by his brothers, who sold him for 20 pieces of silver.
  2. The contribution made for Temple service.
  3. The redemption of the first born son.
  4. The redemption of the male offspring of a non-pure animal, such as a donkey.

In the Torah, twenty years is the age at which a young man could be enlisted for war, or, in times of peace, when he would pursue a livelihood. 

Jacob toiled for his uncle Laban for twenty years. After his time of exile and hard physical labor – the “work of his hands,” Jacob/Israel was finally redeemed and he, his wives and children could return to the land of Israel.

More beautiful Caf words:

Kavod –  כבוד – Honor.  When praising someone for an accomplishment we say “Kol ha’Kavod!” Well done! Or, literally, “All honor to you.” 

Ken – כן – Simply…Yes! The opposite of Loh – לאNo.

Ko’ach –  כוח – Strength 

Kalah –  כלה – Bride. A bride is always beautiful. Many writings describe the love of G-d for His bride Israel, and of Israel for the ‘bride’ of Shabbat. 

Kavdei’hu u’chasdei’hu! – כבדי הוא וחשדי הוא – “Respect him and suspect him!” A useful expression for anyone, or anything, that requires a guarded respect. 

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THE LETTER LA’MED  

I have inserted an apostrophe between la and med to aid in the pronunciation, which is lah-med, otherwise the name reads lamed.

The beautiful La’med is the only letter that rises above the script line. It can be compared to the Lulav – לולב. The palm branch that is raised high and waved at Sukkot. The La’med also resembles a flame – lahav – להב, that rises to shed light and warmth. 

At the joyful celebration of Simchat Torah, when we reach the end of the Torah Reading Cycle and roll the Torah scroll back to the beginning to start the new cycle, we have a beautiful reminder that the Torah is G-d’s love letter to His people. 

The very last letter is a La’med, at the end of the word Israel. The first letter as we begin the new cycle is the Bet of Bereisheet. The two letters connect to form the word heart – lev – לב! His Word truly is an expression of His heart and His love for His children. 

The letter begins, as do all the letters, with a Yod, The small suspended letter that indeed holds much as it represents the infinite greatness of G-d as well as unlimited potential. It’s the spark that is the essential starting point of revelation, wisdom and  knowledge of G-d. The base is a Caf that is reaching up in aspiration to connect with the Yod, just as our hearts yearn and reach out to our Creator – the  Source of life.

La’med begins the word lilmod – ללמוד- to learnand le’la’med – ללמד – to teach.

True learning and teaching are not merely cerebral but, in a reflection of the loving heart of our Father, come from the heart. The Sages say that the mitzvah [good deed] of “learning Torah is equal to all the mitzvoth.” Also, “He who learns in order to teach is granted the ability to learn and teach. He who learns in order to do is granted the ability to learn, teach, guard, and do.” 

As we, like the La’med, strive upward in our desire to learn more of our G-d and His Word, we draw down from the Source the blessings of His help, guidance, and inspiration. 

THE NUMBER OF THE LA’MED

The numerical value of the La’med is 30. In the Hebrew calendar a “full month” has thirty days. The word month in Hebrew is chodesh ( חודש ), which has the same letters as the word chadash ( חדש ), meaning new. Indeed a month begins with the appearance of the new moon. 

The first command G-d gave the redeemed Israelites was to establish the order of months, “This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). Beginning with the festival of Passover on the tenth of that month of Nissan, all the major Feasts would be given a set time. 

Jewish history is compared to the waxing and waning of the moon. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in his book The Hebrew Letters, explains that the Midrash describes that there are thirty generations from Abraham to King Josiah (Yoshiyahu) who preceded the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. From Abraham to King Solomon, the builder of the Temple, there are fifteen generations that correspond to the fifteen days of the waxing of the moon. The Sages refer to the generation of Solomon as the “full moon.” The reduced value of the name Solomon/Shlomo – שלמה – is 15. Thus, the ‘waning’ of Israel’s history began from King Solomon’s son Rechovam in whose generation Israel was divided. The waning continued until the reign of King Josiah, a great and righteous king. He was tragically killed in a war and the people of Judah and the prophet Jeremiah mourned deeply for him. (Lamentations 4).

The cycle of the moon thus reflects the cycles of hiddenness and revelation, the exiles and redemption that will continue until the “full moon” of Messiah’s arrival at the Final Redemption. May it be soon and in our days.  

More beautiful La’med words:

Laila –  לילה – night. Wish someone “Laila tov!” Have a good night. 

Lavan –  לבן – white. The gentle, silvery whiteness of moonlight.

Lechem – לחם – bread. The staff of life. 

Le’olam – לעולם – forever. G-d’s goodness and love continues le’olam, forever. 

Lamah? Le’mah? – למה? – Why (is this happening?)? It’s better to ask Le’mah? To what  end?

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