There is an old Kabbalistic idea that God created the world out of a sense of playfulness, to delight Himself. He started to play with oatot u’moftim, the signs and wonders that are now known as the Hebrew alphabet. How did He do it? He gazed at the sparks, probing, forming, engraving, carving, permutating them until they descended like a vibrating river flowing down to earth. He surprised Himself and He discovered Himself in His creation.
Twenty- two sounds of consonants and nine vowels are set in motion as in a dance. Each vowel known as tnu-ah, or movement is a flow of His continuous breath, moving freely in all directions in space. Each consonant known in Hebrew as i’tzur, a stopper, gathers the breath and stops the flow. When a consonant forgets that it is a form for the formless, meaning a container to contain
His free breath, it forgets the meaning of its name and loses its connection to its partner, the vowel. When a vowel forgets itself, it stays in potential, somewhere out there, a no-thing or something without a place. It does not have evidence of its beauty and aim. Eventually, consonants and vowels remember and re-balance themselves since that is in the nature of a dance
As the letters, syllables and words with their numerical value descended to their places, they provided a way to name the essence of God in each creature, small or large, according to its
particular characteristics and mission on earth. God knows his creation by the resonance of its names alone and the path to Him is the path of the names. Since He Himself, is The Name of all Names, we call Him hashem ,The Name, and in blessing, we bless both Him and His name. God has many names but even the holiest one, YHVH or yah , the name that every child knows not to utter, is still only a name of His true unknown Name. That is the closest we can get.
God knows His creation by the power of speech and by the resonance of each vowel and consonant mingling with each other, making a specific name. He also wants His people to bear witness to Him by the power of speech. Some may think that language is not the best way to Him, preferring silence. Still in the way of the names, sound vibrations of the human voice is one of the means which God has asked that we witness Him. “Listen, oh Israel”, Shema Israel, is a core prayer said twice daily. It calls us to listen and see that our God is of us and that He is in all and the unity of all. We are asked to listen to our voice to see if it’s true. Language, in this sense points a unique relation to Truth. Sefat-Emet, meaning lips of truth, is another name for the Hebrew language. Speech is made whole by the lips
The order of the alphabet itself points to the relation of truth to language as well. When we take Alef, the first letter in the alphabet, Mem, the middle letter and tav, the last letter of the alphabet, we can see how all three, standing for the entire alphabet, make the word emet, meaning “truth.” In this word, emet, the Alef which is the first syllable of the word, gives life or charges the Mem and Tav, which together are the second syllable of the word. Mem and Tav, as separate words, mean death in Hebrew. Alef, which numerically equals one, is the absolute unity of God breathes into all the rest of the letters. Without it they are lifeless
The form Alef, is made out of three other letters, two Yods and the letter Vav. The numerical value of these three letters equal twenty- six. Twenty- six is the numerical value of the name of God, YHVH. These simple number gymnastics, known as forms of gematria, give us a hint about the vast possibilities of meaning which the numerology of this alphabet provide
When God created the first human being, who was half male and half female, He did it with the name “Adam”, meaning “I will be like”. He made Adam in His own image. God taught him how to play with the letters and their permutations. Adam was able to know reality by name. He became a Master of the Names. In the calling of names he actually knew the Divine essence in every living creature, and knowing them, he named them all.
Abraham our father was told ”lech lecha”, walk to a new place. Abraham left behind him everything familiar and comfortable. He discarded the idols, masks, and other gods he had known and began again from nothing. He started to gaze, looking, seeing, probing, understanding, engraving, carving, and forming, and he, too, succeeded in creation. Immediately God manifested to him, embracing him, kissing him on the head, calling him “Abraham my beloved”. This special recognition or affirmation of Abraham is described by a specific word in Hebrew, meushar, meaning to be happy. Abraham’s name was changed from Avram to Avraham. The letter Hei, H, which expresses Divine revelation, is inserted into his name. Owning a new name, he had a new mission on earth
When Moses encountered God , how did God know and recognize him? God recognized Moses by his name. When Moses asked God for His name, God answered: ”I Am that I Am”. With these words Moses was filled and was led to the unknown. To be one with something that you cannot grasp, Who is in constant movement and does not have a finite form, was a provocative challenge. Experiencing God as being so close and intimate and yet so far away and hard to reach was a demanding path since it required constant relationship to that which is paradoxical.
God helped by giving specific laws or revelations so that people will not forget or misunderstand. He asked his people to make Him a house, a body, a container to correspond to His vibrations so that He can dwell in it and be close. God can only dwell in a sacred space. The sacred, in us, with the specific feelings of magic and awe is part of our original blueprint. There is a sacred aspect to our name. When it presents itself to us, it is real, surprising, fresh, simple, and brilliant. It is old and new all at once because right there and then, we remember our name. We are told to remember and to pass the memories of our names to our children and to the whole world. To pass by means of speech is to be a nation of teachers and educators, as their essence name, ivrim, indicates. Ivrim is the Hebrew name for the Hebrew people. It comes from the verb to pass, pass on or be a passerby, which puts them in constant motion. Inwardly, they are in transition, moving rung after rung closer to hashem. Outwardly, they are people who cross borders, wanderers, moving from place to place as pursuers of Justice and seekers of Truth.
Each Hebrew letter is represented by a numerical value. Numbers are a universal language and they contain wisdom. The Hebrew word for number, cheshbon, derives from the root to think. Numbers imply the ability to calculate, to assess, and to measure reality. To think in numbers is to recognize the relationships and symmetry in nature.
Most of the Hebrew signs of the vowels, nikud, usually placed under the letters, look like mathematical symbols such as plus, minus, division sign, period, etc. These signs of binary operations and the separate signs of the cantillation have their concealed wisdom.
From the perspective of the path of the names, the seventh day can be understood as a “queen consonant”. It stops usual time and movement and gathers the energy into a sweet stillness with its own special majestic pace, which in return sends, in a very subtle way, some of itself back to the remaining six days. Just as when we watch a comet, moving slowly in the sky, leaving a long white train behind, like that of a bride.
In the beginning, God, Blessed be He and His name, looked at His creation and said that it was good, that it was very good. He loved His creation with all His heart, mind, and soul and decided to betroth it to Him forever. He did it because it was just and compassionate and also as an eternal promise for protection and hope. He combined syllables and numbers to love letters and He sang it to His creation:
“ And I will betroth You to me forever.
And I will betroth You to me in righteousness, in justice, in kindness and in mercy.
And I will betroth You to me in faithfulness.
And And you shall know Yah”.
Poet, teacher, essayist and innovator of Jewish rituals and ceremony, Gilla Nissan will regularly share new insights of the ancient Hebrew Letters with Kol ALEPH readers. Her website is www.TheHebrewLetter.com