The Dance of the Hebrew Letters

סלאר די יויוני נופהרBy Gilla  Nissan

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