Tuesday, October 8, 2013
THE HEBREW LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET: The Channels, the Categories, and the Meanings Part III
In learning the categories the Hebrew letters fall under, we begin to see a picture emerging of how the Letters worked together to do God's bidding, and how they represent differing aspects of God's creative power. We can also see that the meanings of each letter can alter the way we look at the words in the scripture. There begins to emerge a many layered and delicious cake to eat when we ingest the Word of God. It helps us dismiss the short-sighted and childish notion of the four-source theory. There is intention in every letter and in every word in the Torah and throughout all the books of the bible; that one cannot draw a true meaning from those words in the Torah, the first five books of Moses, by believing that they came from a differing source hundreds of years apart. The Torah was written by one hand, Moses, from one source, God, so that we may understand the Oneness of our Creator, and what is expected of us.
There lies an even deeper layer when we realize that each letter also has a number, that gives each letter a wondrous meaning. When I dissected the word Truth in discussing Jesus calling Himself, "I am the Truth . . ." in an earlier post, the position of the letters in the word explained something so profound that a simple or peshat understanding of what Jesus said comes no where near the beauty or His intent.
There Are No Vowels in Hebrew!
Each of the Hebrew letters is a consonant. The vowels are produced by the breath of the reader. Vowels are indicated by symbols above, below or beside each of the consonants. "Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." Matthew 5:18 (New American Bible). In some translations the smallest letter is translated as jot and the smallest part of a letter is translated as tittle.These are the diacritical marks that alter the pronunciation of a letter, just as the accent mark over the Es in my name alter the pronunciation. However, in Hebrew it can make the letter take on a new life, and that new life is expressed as the breath is expelled while reading aloud. This means that Hebrew is an interactive language between God and man. Ancient Hebrew had little diacritical marks, which made the placement of these marks pulse with the energy of the reader. This give an even greater meaning to being created in the image of God. God was the first speaker, God breathed over all He created, God breathed a living soul into the man of mud, Adam. It has been said that because of this simple syntax, Hebrew is a language that "pulses with the energy of elemental human truth," Steven Mitchell. I would venture to say that it is even more that. Hebrew is the language that is the umbilical cord connecting us to God, because every word, every letter is a name of God.
The Rabbinic sages always felt that divination to foretell the future was improper, wrong-headed. Signs or divining meanings was meant to gain a greater understanding of God's intentions, of His thoughts, and what His words mean for our instruction and guidance. Abraham Abulafia wrote that all the letters were signs because the word Letter also means sign. He also believed that they spoke to us, just as a piece of beautiful artwork speaks to our soul, or a hymn or song speaks to our emotions and our experiences, the Hebrew letters are like physical individuals that speak to us about God.
The Garden of Nuts
In the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon, 6:11, the verse is translated, "I descended upon the deceptively simple holiness of the Second Temple to see your moisture laden deeds in the river beds; to see whether your Torah scholars had budded on the vine, whether your merit-laden righteous had flowered like the pomegranates filled with seeds." (Tanakh - Artcroll Edition) However, it is often translated as, "I descended into the garden of nuts . . ." Solomon picked up a nut and saw within its layers and hardness an analogy to the spirits that motivate man's sensual desires and those that can penetrate the hard shell around the soul with righteousness.
Solomon looked to the Torah scholars to crack open the simple people of Israel with their words used to soften that hard outer layer. He visualized them reproducing, flowering on the vine, and filled with seeds that would reproduce themselves and make a holy nation. He knew that teaching the simple masses with the power of the Word was critical to the future of Israel. His imagery laden Song of Songs was quite different from his Proverbs, from his metaphors that taught valuable lessons. His words painted images of lush gardens and romantic lovers, all meant to teach us that our relationship with God, with His Word would deposit us in a beautiful garden of delights, and bring us a never ending love that would never betray us or leave us wanting or hungry. This is remarkable imagery, unparalleled throughout the scripture, and this is the birthplace of the Kabbalistic view of the all of creation. It is in this garden and the lovers that mystics found their true home. Here we can examine the same nut Solomon did, and realize that the only thing that can crack the hard layer around our hearts and souls is the water of the Bible, its words and its letters.
The Letters and their Numerical Values
LETTER NUMERICAL VALUE
Alef 1 or 1,000, or infinity
These are the number and the corresponding letters that created the universe.
The Alphabet Story
The number 1 is primal, is cause because it is the first. Alef, as the first letter, is what makes everything follow. It's number is One to express the Oneness of God, the cause. But why is the first letter in Genesis a Bet? In my novel, The Garden of Souls, I spend a great deal of time drawing attention to the shape of the entrance to what the archaeologists find is the beginning of their journey to their discovery of self. Everything that follows begins with the Bet or Beis. The very reason I did that was to emphasize that all of creation, that the creation of our conscience, our first steps toward our vocation, always begins with a seemingly empty container that we fill with the images and words and experiences of our lives. Buried beneath an obscure dot in the center of that shape, the dagesh, is God's Law. The characters in my novel realize at the same moment that there is something buried underneath the dagesh. They rush toward it and dig out the dirt to reveal a heavy packet containing the shapes that need to be placed on the door to open the entrance of the cave. It is meant that our conscience is never empty. God place His Law there, and we are marked by those fiery letters burned through the stone of our conscience. However, the number Two is the primal force of the letter Bet, and not One.
Rabbi Akiva, the second century Rabbi, is famous for his mystical alphabet stories and for developing Talmudic argument. He is the central character in my novel, the force by which my characters begin their journey. In essence, he reaches from the grave to influence the entire story, to bear witness, to inform, and to provide direction. Akiva, as one of the greatest Rabbinic teachers, told the following story to his students in order to explain why the universe was created with a Bet, but the Alef was chosen to being the alphabet. (Note: When God explains why the letters cannot be used to create the world, He reminds each of them that they are used in words that are also destructive, or should be used elsewhere.)
When the Holy One decided to make the world, all the letters of the alphabet were in spiritual form. The Holy One held these dimensions of life within Himself for a long time. Before the beginning, He organized the letter energy intelligences, and breathed on them, activating their forces. They each presented themselves to Him:
The Tav stepped forward and said, "May it please Thee, O Lord of the universe, to use me first in the creation of the universe. I am the concluding letter of Truth, I am the true Law. Thou art called by these very names. Surely, it is most appropriate for the creation of the world to begin with Tav." The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her, "Though thou art worthy and deserving, but thou formest the realm of deadly sickness, pestilence, destruction, and death. Therefore, it is not appropriate to initiate the creation of the world with thee." The Tav returned to her place.
The letter Shin came forward and said, "O God, may it please Thee to begin the world with me. I am the initial letter of Thy name, the Almighty, and it is most fitting to create the world through that Holy Name, for by this Name the cosmos will have nourishment." The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her, "Thou art indeed worthy. Thou art good and true. But I certainly cannot begin the creation of the world with thee since thou formest the realm of falsehood: false thought, false speech, false action. Existing in your realm are the liars and the slanderers, who work toward destroying truth and good names. Existing in your realm is the hollow, the base, the depressed, the indolent, and the negligent." Having heard this the Shin departed.
The Resh and Qoph came together, but as they approached, the Holy One said to them, "Resh, thou art the realm of godlessness, wickedness, unrighteousness, lawlessness, injustice, and unlawful gain. Qoph, thou art the realm of collapse. I know how thou attachest thyselves to the Shin and formest the realm of conspiracy. Thou art conspirators together. Thy realm is of binding, tying, plotting, conspiring, the knotting. Thou makest it seem good to the man that I will create that he should desire things to be bound and limited, staying to the same. With such a desire, he will not want to aspire to the loftier spiritual heights and grow beyond and transcend wherever he has been. He will become godless and cause collapse. There is no need for thee to say anything. I will not create the world with thee." So they went back to their places.
The Tzadi stepped forward and said, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me, as I am the realm of righteousness and humility." But the Holy One said, "Thy realm is indeed the realm of righteousness and humility. And thou art worthy. But I cannot begin creation of the world with thee, for righteousness and humility must be concealed and not come out in the open, lest thou givest the world a cause for offense." Hearing this the Tzadi returned to her place.
The Pey presented herself, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me as my realm is the realm of speech and freedom. It by speech that your Holiness is communicated and it is by appropriate acts of free choice that redemption, and deliverance can come about." But the Holy One replied, "Thy realm of speech and freedom is indeed a worthy realm. But the very freedom inherent in thy realm permits transgression and blemish, flaw, and loss of value." Pey returned to her place.
Ayin pleaded, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me, as my realm is the realm of insight and consciousness, the hidden meaning of insight." But the Holy One said, "Only thy hidden realm is insight and consciousness. Thy revealed realm is the realm of perverseness, sin guilt, crime, and iniquity. The Ayin departed.
The Samek appeared, "O Lord, may it please Thee to begin the creation of the world through me. My realm is the realm of support. I uphold the fallen." The Holy One replied, "Thou art indeed worthy and playest a crucial role in upholding the fallen. But if thou art involved in the beginning of creation of the world, how can thy energy be devoted to upholding the fallen? What will be the fate of the fallen? Thou must remain in thy place." She returned to her place.
The Nun entered, "May it please the Lord to begin the creation of the world with me, as my realm is the realm of emergence, sprouting, spreading, propagating, shining, and flourishing. My realm is the realm of the wonderful." But the Holy One said, "Dear Nun. Thou art worthy and good. Thy realm is indeed the wonderful realm of emergence. But in thy realm is also the untimely emergence, the untimely birth, abortion. As well thy realm has the action of falling down, falling out, falling away, and sinking. In thy realm are the fallen. And these are the ones for Samek just returned to her place. Go return to thy place so that thy fallen can remain under her support." She immediately returned to her place.
The Mem came forward, saying, "O Lord, may it please Thee to begin the creation of the world through me, for my realm is the realm of perfecting and completing. This is the realm of the King, which is Thy title." The Holy One replied, "It is assuredly so, but I cannot begin the creation of the world though thee, for the world needs a manifest king. The world needs thee, the Lamed, and the Caph, for the world cannot exist without a king. Return, therefore, to thy place along with Lamed and Caph. At this the Mem understood and returned to her place.
The Lamed, following very carefully what had been happening, debated what she should do. She knew that her realm was the realm of learning, teaching, and therefore, purpose. If the world required a manifest king, then it would certainly require purpose, learning, and teaching. So the Lamed did not even venture forward.
Seeing that Lamed stayed in her place, the Caph left her place, descending from her throne of glory, saying, "O Lord, may it please Thee to begin the creation of the world through me. My realm is the realm of your honor, esteem, majesty, abundance, and glory. This is the realm of crowning achievement." As Caph left her place the thousands of the uncreated worlds began to shake. The throne trembled and quivered. The creation process was about to fall into ruins. The Holy One replied, "Caph! Why hast thou left thy place? What doest thou here? Nothing can exist without my abundance and glory. This is what needs your attention. Besides, within your realm is extermination, extinction, annihilation, and destruction. Also, within your realm is the transitory, the temporal, and the ephemeral. Return to thy place and remain there." Caph immediately departed and returned to her place.
The letter Yod presented herself, saying, "May it please Thee O Lord, to begin the creation of the world through me, since my realm is the realm of the creating and forming. Therefore, I, spirituality, stand first in your sacred name, YHWH, your transcendence." The Holy One replied, "It is sufficient for thee that though art engraved and marked in my transcendence. Thou art a channel of My Will. Thou cannot be removed from My Name." Hearing this Yod returned to her place.
Tet stepped forward, saying, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world through me, since my realm is the realm of goodness. Through me Thou art called good and upright." But the Holy One said to her, "I cannot begin the creation of the world through thee, since the goodness that thou representest is hidden and concealed within thyself. It is in concealment that thou runnest around with thy partner Chet. Joined together thou formest the word for sin, transgression, and fault." So Tet returned to her place.
Chet had heard the reply and understood that there was no point in pleading her case, even though hers was the realm of life.
Then Zayin stepped forward, saying, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me, as my realm is the realm of movement. As well, since I am the seventh letter, in my realm is rest and the observance of the Sabbath." But the Holy One replied immediately, "In the realm of movement is also arms and weapons. With arms and weapons I cannot begin the creation."
Then Vav stepped forward, saying, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me, as my realm is the realm of connection. Thy holiness cannot be revealed without connection." The Holy One replied, " Thou and Heh are letters of my Name, part of the mystery of My name, engraved and impressed in My name. Connection in thy realm and power of being in the realm of Heh are necessary for the manifestation of my transcendence. I cannot begin the creation of the world with thou or Heh."
Then Dalet appeared, saying, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world with me, as my realm is the realm of physicality. My realm is the realm of the doorway to the manifestation of your transcendence." But the Holy One replied, "Thy realm is indeed the doorway for the manifestation of My transcendence. But in the realm of physicality is poverty and leaness. This is the poor and deficient aspect of thy realm. Only when physical existence is coupled with the recompense of nourishment of good is physical existence balanced. Thou and Gimel must maintain and balance each other. Return to your place." Upon hearing this Dalet returned to her place and Gimel realized that there was no point in pleading her case.
The Bet entered, saying, "May it please Thee to begin the creation of the world through me, as my realm is the realm of blessing. My realm is the container for blessing. The blessings pouring forth from the man Thou wilt create will be of lasting comfort to creation." Now the Holy One replied differently, "Assuredly, with thee I will begin the creation of the world, for it is with blessings that creation can be appreciated and be meaningful. It is with blessings that the holy is acknowledged."
The letter Alef heard what was just said and just remained in her place. But the Holy One called her forth, asking her, " Wherefore comest thou not before Me like the rest of the letters?" And Alef answered, "But Thou hast already bestowed on Bet the gift of beginning the creation of the world. Wouldst Thou want me to try to take this gift away from Bet?" The Holy One replied, "Although I will begin the creation of the world with Bet, thou wilt remain the first of the letters. My oneness shall not be expressed except through thee, for in thy realm is oneness. Further in thy realm is the master, head, prince, and chief ruler of the unbridled force. It is by this dimension of existence, the dimension of the external dimension of Godliness, that the pulsating unbridled force of my being becomes known."
Then, the Holy One patterned all the letters, uniting the upper and lower worlds with them. Thereby the creation, the creating process, which always is, which always is beginning, and which always will be beginning, was begun with "In the beginning ..." The above story is taken from, The Inner Meaning of the Hebrew Letters, by, Robert M. Haralick.
As each letter steps forward to plead her case, and each case is presented in a logical form, God explains the duality of the letters, the good and the bad. In order for man to have free will, the letters that would spoken to create the universe possessed the duality necessary for man to make his choice, for his free will to flourish. It is also interesting to note that the Alef takes its place as the beginning letter of Deuteronomy. In fact, that particular Alef is made smaller than all the letters throughout the scriptures, than all the other Alefs because it is meant to show that we must possess the character trait of humility when learning about the Law.
I felt it necessary to tell the alphabet story at this juncture, in order for the entire picture to emerge about how each letter was used in the creation of the universe, as well as, man's role in creation. In the following and final part, I will discuss what each number means. Catholics and Protestants are already very aware of the significance of the number One and the number Three in regard to God. Some may know the significance of the number Seven, but I will draw on some Christian and Jewish sources in discussing the significance of all the numbers in Part IV.