ALEPH and BET
Each Hebrew letter is a vessel for ideas and truth that HaShem has given to the world.
~ Reb Nosson of Breslov
Being the Word of G-d, Hebrew is a sacred language. In Jewish tradition it is valued as a multidimensional divine gift, one filled with both clear truth and holy mysteries. The Hebrew word for letter is ot, which also means sign or wonder – a heavenly revelation. It is considered that each letter – its name, pictorial form, position in the AlephBet, and its numerical value is ordained by G-d. Consequently, when a scribe writes a Torah scroll every letter must be perfect or else the entire scroll becomes invalid and cannot be used. In addition, each individual letter must stand alone, without touching another letter. This is seen as a lesson that each child of G-d, like each letter of the Torah, is unique and has a particular purpose in the Creator’s divine plan.
While the Hebrew letter Bet is the first letter of the Torah, the letter Aleph hovers silently and invisibly before it. Interestingly, the Sages consider the white space around a letter as being just as important as the written letter itself. The space around the Bet forms the letter Peh, meant ‘mouth.’ This illustrates the fact that
G-d spoke forth His Word. However, in order to speak we need breath and the silent letter that carries the vowels of breath is the lively, dancing Aleph!
At the wondrous revelation of His Presence to His newly redeemed people at Mount Sinai, the first word G-d thundered was Anochi .See the word that appears at the top in the lovely illustration used as a header for this series. The letters aleph, nun, yod – אני, spell ani – I. And anochi – אנכי says I AM. The first major understanding, the basis of faith – emunah, is the fact that G-d exists. He is who He says He is – the Creator of all and the Father of mankind.
Following Anochi in the picture you can see the next four letters of the AlephBet. Each letter has a numerical value according to its position. Aleph – 1, Bet – 2, Gimmel – 3, Dalet – 4 and Hei – 5, etc. The first five letters therefore represent the first five Words, or commandments, of the ten that He spoke at Sinai.The first five specifically pertain to the relationship between G-d and man. The second five pertain to the relationship between a person and his/her fellow human beings.
THE SHAPE OF THE ALEPH
Each letter, besides the yod, which is unique, consists of multiple parts. The Aleph is comprised of two yods, one above and one below, and a vav that connects them.
The letter Aleph, with its two yods, one above and one below, illustrates how we can feel both close to G-d and yet, at times, distant from Him. We experience both sorrow and joy in our relationship with Him. Our souls yearn to soar heavenward and draw ever closer to Him and yet our bodies seem to distract us and hold us down. The letter vav that both separates them and yet connects them resembles Jacob’s ladder that joined earth and heaven, man and G-d. It also rested on the place where G-d would choose to place His Name forever and where He would have His House built on earth.
A tzaddik – a holy, righteous person, is one who has found the perfect balance between his body and soul and is in perfect accord with the revealed will of G-d. In his/her service to Him, he or she performs good deeds that shine the truth, beauty, grace, and lovingkindness of G-d into the physical world. True joy is to be found in clinging to this spiritual light and enabling it to shine into the darkened world.
THE NAME AND NUMBER OF THE ALEPH
The name Aleph carries the meanings of master or commander – aluf, one thousand – elef, and ox – elef in ancient Hebrew. Pictorially, the two horned ox depicts the lower “animal” part of our being. An ox, when mastered and yoked, however, yields a thousandfold reward as a result of its power and labor.
The positional number of Aleph is one, אחד – echad – 1, the first of all countable numbers. It indicates the beginning of a process or sequence of events. It represents one-ness, and unity.
It appears in the most prayed of all Jewish prayers that expresses the absolute oneness and uniqueness of G-d.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, the LORD is our G-d, The LORD is One.
More beautiful Aleph words:
Amen – ahmen – אמן
אור – light – ohr
אהבה – love – ahavah
אחדות – unity – achdut
THE LETTER BET
Bitachon (secure trust) is the inverse of fear.
Hold tightly with trust of steel to G-d
and nothing in the world can harm you.
The letter Bet is the first written letter of the Torah. Bereisheet. – In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis1:1). Our bitachon – security and trust, is to be found in the knowledge that the universe has a Creator and every living thing, including every human being, is a part of that Creation. The difference between human beings and other creatures is that we are created in “His image and likeness” and we have a G-d breathed soul contained within our physical bodies – a spirit that is in connection with His Spirit of Holiness.
THE SHAPE OF THE BET
The shape of the Bet is an enclosure, a bayit – a home. It also begins the word Bracha – blessing. Our Father promises that He is always present with us in our earthly homes. Clinical psychologist, Edward Hoffman, encourages patients who are feeling uprooted or homesick to meditate on this letter and its connotations. He comments that, particularly when they draw and illustrate it themselves, they are greatly comforted.
Note: I would like to recommend that you invest in a sketch book of sorts and begin to write out, illustrate, do a collage – whatever inspires you, of the Hebrew letters as we go. Here is an example:
Please email me pictures of your letters that I can share on the ‘Being Holy Being Whole’ Facebook page! Email: email@example.com
The letter Bet is comprised of three vavs. It resembles a square but is open on one side. This is like the shape of a sukkah, which, to be kosher, needs to have three walls and an opening. A sukkah is a regular reminder of the fact that G-d is the Creator of the heavens and the earth as one must be able to see the stars through its roof made of natural material, such as branches or woven fibers. The three walls remind us that we are constantly embraced in His loving arms and that, like the tent of Avraham and Sarah, we also need to keep our homes and hearts open to welcome others warmly. They also remind us of the three attributes of our forefather Avraham that we purpose to emulate – modesty, mercy, and lovingkindness. These temporary homes in the wilderness, as we remember at Sukkot and at the Passover Seder, reinforce the understanding that it is not by man’s power but by the power of G-d that Israel is protected and redeemed, and is enabled to conquer her enemies.
THE NAME AND NUMBER OF THE BET
As mentioned above, the name of Bet is a physical house – bayit. It also connotes our metaphysical house – our relationship to the world of reality, including our thoughts, beliefs and feelings. The physical body is a vessel for one’s spiritual soul and our task is to be a vessel that reveals, or shines forth, the light of G-d’s Spirit into Olam HaZeh – this world. Part of this task is to build Him a Bayit –a House, or dwelling place for His Presence here below, whether it be one’s heart, one’s home, or a sanctuary. When it is prepared in love and becomes a reflection of His will as head, or Father, of the house, HIs glory will fill the house.
We see this illustrated in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness, His first communal dwelling place on earth. Once constructed and consecrated it was filled with the glory of G-d, which was so powerful that not even Moses could enter it. Once the Israelites entered the Land promised by G-d, the Beit HaMIkdash – the Holy House or Temple, was ultimately built by King Solomon in G-d’s chosen place, Jerusalem, where He has placed His name forever.
We also learn, sadly, that if the service in His Holy House is corrupted and not in accord with His will, HIs Presence departs and, consequently, the physical house crumbles. However, our consolation remains in the knowledge that His plan of Redemption for Israel and the world continues and His promise still stands – as we see coming to pass in these very days: “My House shall become a House of Prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7-8)
This will be the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose of Creation and great Blessing – Bracha, will extend and encompass all reality.
The number, or value, of Bet is two – 2. Two specifically illustrates the dualistic nature of physical reality – day and night, sun and moon, male and female, etc. Also spiritually – good and evil, pure and impure, holy and profane, joy and sorrow, etc.
There are many names for G-d In the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Merciful Father, El Elyon – G-d Most High, The Holy One. His two essential names appear in the two Creation accounts. In the first account His name Elohim is used and in the second, more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve, both Elohim and LORD (YHVH) appear together. This highlights the reality of the spiritual and physical – the transcendent and infinite G-d and the formation of physical Man – the imminent and finite.
Adam and Eve, were created as one being, then separated and told by G-d, “Now become one.” The goal and intent is to form a relationship born of love. The purpose of duality and separation is to effect a greater unity and harmony. When we connect to our spiritual Source, we discover oneness, wholeness, and harmony in our relationship with our Creator and ever-faithful, loving, and merciful Father.
Beautiful Bet words:
בית המקדש – The Holy House (Temple) – Beit HaMikdash
בית תפילה – House of Prayer – Beit Tefilah
בטחון – security (trust) – bitachon
ברכות – blessings – brachot
בינה – understanding – binah