Hebrew Letters – Aleph

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The Aleph-Tav; I Am The Alpha and The Omega

The first letter of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet (alphabet) is called “Aleph” (pronounced “ah-lef”). Aleph has no sound of its own.

The Letter Aleph

What is an Aleph?
If it were only a random arrangement of pen strokes de­signed to prompt the reader to say the sound “ah,” this question would be irrelevant. Every aspect of the aleph’s construc­tion has been Divinely designed to teach us something. Contrast this with a child learning to read English for the first time. He is never taught why a capital “A” looks like a teepee and a small “a” looks like a soap bubble stuck to a wall.

With a little help from our friends at Hebrew4Christians and Chabad, we learn Aleph is known as the “father” of the Aleph-Bet, whose original pictograph represents an ox, strength, and leader. Aleph therefore is preeminent in its order and alludes to the ineffable mysteries of the oneness of God. Indeed, the word aluph (derived from the very name of this letter) means “Master” or “Lord.” Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet is also assigned a numerical number adding to its heavenly meaning. Aleph’s numerical value is one (and also 1,000).

Mysteries of Aleph
In the classical Hebrew script (ketav Ashurit) used for writing Torah scrolls, Aleph is constructed with two Yods (pronounced “yud,” one to the upper right or dot above; the other to the lower left or dot below) that are joined by a diagonal Vav, or line suspended in between. Ketav Ashurit was the script that Jesus would have read. The yod above represents G‑d, Who is above (or beyond) our comprehension. In com­parison to His true essence, our understanding is a mere dot. The yod below represents a Yid or Yehudim—Jewish people who dwell here on earth. The only way that we can grasp G‑d’s wisdom—to the extent that a person is capable—is by being humble. When we realize that we are but a dot or a speck compared to the All-Mighty and All-Powerful G‑d, we become a vessel to receive His Divine wisdom. The Vav, whose meaning is “hook” and in some translations “nail” or “connecting pin,” shows connectedness between the two realms. Vav is also thought to represent humanity, since Adam was created on the sixth day. Vav is diagonal since it is humbled in the face of G‑d’s mystery and His revelation and can represent our faith – which unites us to G‑d. The two Yods also indicate the paradox of experiencing G‑d as both hidden and close, far and near. 

There is another teaching that posits that the suspended vav represents the Torah. Since the Torah is what unites a Jew and G‑d, the aleph represents this unity between mankind and G‑d. This is the design, or form, of the aleph.

We can see that every stroke of the aleph (and every other let­ter as well) has a special purpose, and that there is much more to learning the Aleph-Bet than just mastering its sounds.

Aleph by the Numbers
The numerical value (gematria) for Aleph is one, indicating the One and only God who is the Master of the universe. However, the gematria for the parts of the letter Aleph add up to 26 (Yod+Yod+Vav). This is the same number as the sacred Name YHVH, also indicating a link between the Aleph and God Himself. This is also demonstrated in Exodus 3:14-15, where the LORD reveals His Name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), “I AM THAT I AM.”

There is a midrash (fable) that asks why Aleph was not selected to be the first letter of the Torah. In the story, all of the letters come before the LORD giving reasons why they should be the first letter – all, that is, except for the letter Aleph. When the LORD asked why, Aleph explained that since he was silent, he had nothing to say. But the LORD honored Aleph’s humility and declared him to be the first of all the letters — and to be honored as the letter of the first word of the Ten Commandments.

In the Beginning — Aleph-Tav
In Or Torah, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, explained first words of Torah: Bereshit Bara Elohim Et – “In the beginning God created et” (Gen 1:1). Note that et is an untranslatable word used to indicate that “a definite direct object is next” (thus there needs to be an et before the heavens and the earth). But Dov Ber points out that et is spelled – Aleph-Tav, an abbreviation for the Aleph-Bet.  Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Tav the last, so, he reasoned, in the beginning God created the Aleph-Bet. Since God did this before creating the heavens and the earth, the letters are considered to be the primordial “building blocks” of all of creation. 

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi stated that if the letters were to depart even for an instant, all of creation would become absolute nothingness (Zalman, Shneur. 1981. “Igeret Hateshuvah.” Likkutie Amarim – Tanya. Brooklyn: Kihot. 289). 

Aleph and the Divine Names
There are a number of divine Names that begin with the letter Aleph, including the following:

  •  – El
  •  – Elohim
  •  – Eloha
  •  – ehyeh asher ehyeh
  •  – Adonai
  •  – Adon Olam
  •  – Adir

Aleph and the Nature of Man
The Hebrew word for “man” is adam (אדם), which is made up of dam (דם), “blood,” and Aleph (א), which represents the LORD, as indicated above… The LORD turns flesh and blood into nefesh chayah (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה), a “living soul.” Yeshua is our Aleph, the One who took on flesh and blood to mediate God’s presence to us: with Him we are made real; we come alive; we are born from above (1 John 5:12).

Aleph is a picture of the God-Man
As One who is composed of both the upper realm of heaven and the lower realm of the earth, connected by the humility of the body, Aleph is a picture of the God-Man unity that is Yeshua HaMashiach, “Who, being in the form of God…took upon himself the form of a servant…as a man…” (Phil 2:6-11). 

Moreover, in Revelation 22:13 Jesus refers to Himself as the Aleph and Tav, the First and the Last, and thereby told us directly that the Hebrew Alphabet would provide revelation about Him:

Revelation 22:13

Note that this phrase is a direct reference to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12, where Adonai Himself says that He is the First and the Last — and explicitly declared that there is no other “god” beside Him.

Aleph is a picture of Messiah’s Intercession
From a Messianic point of view, Aleph represents Yeshua the Mashiach as our Intercessor and Kohen Gadol. The two Yods represent outstretched arms or hands reaching both to mankind and to God. The diagonal Vav represents the sacrifice of Yeshua on our behalf. And since Yeshua is the Aleph and the Tav, the letter represents His divinity, His humility in silence as He opened not His mouth when He was unjustly accused, and so on. 

Aleph is a picture of Oneness in Unity
Aleph also is a picture of three-in-one, or hashilush hakadosh. Just as there are three parts to Aleph, but Aleph is One (echad), so there are three Persons to the Godhead, yet God is absolutely One. The gematria of the word Aleph (אָלֶף) is 111 (Aleph=1, Lamed=30, and Pey=80).

Aleph is Eschatological
Yeshua is called the Aleph and the Tav, and the letter Aleph itself has overtones of the acharit hayamim, or “end of days” spoken of in prophecy. The idea that there are 6,000 years of the Olam Hazeh (the present age before the arrival of the Messiah to set up His kingdom) comes from the fact that there are 6 alephs in the first verse of the Tanakh, and each represents 1,000.

Aleph as Metaphor
In three places in Scripture the LORD is metaphorically identified with something else. In each case, the metaphor begins with an Aleph:

  • Fire – Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24
  • Light – 1 John 1:5; Isaiah 10:17;
  • Love – 1 John 4:16

Textual Oddities
An undersized Aleph appears in Leviticus 1:1 (Vayikra):

The sages reasoned that Moses’ humility (anavah)was such that he waited for the LORD to call him into the ohel mo’ed (Tent of Meeting), despite the fact that God had previously granted him full access to His Presence. The Book of Leviticus begins with vayikra (“and he called”) — spelled with an undersized Aleph — as a scribal token of Moses’ humility.

According to the sages, Moses wanted the word vayikra to be written without the Aleph, as “vayikar” (“and He happened upon,” the same word used to describe how the LORD “happened upon” Balaam in Numbers 23:4).  In his humility, Moses did not want to use a word that implied that the LORD regularly called to him. However, God overruled him and insisted that the Aleph be included, but allowed Moses to use an undersized version, as a token of his modesty before others.

Aleph Pictograph
The pictograph for Aleph is the ox or bull, representing strength:

Note that even though the pictograph may represent the basis for ketav Ivri, it may have pagan overtones (e.g., the “bull” god) derived from ancient Canaanite culture.

Aleph is Alpha
From the Phoenician/Ketav Ivri, the letter Aleph morphed into the Greek letter Alpha , from which came the Latin A:

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The Meaning of Aleph

Words have meaning.

Symbolism in Language
There is a popular YouTube Channel my husband and I like to watch called Logos Made Flesh. I highly recommend his latest video on “Symbolism: Ex Machina and the Key to Reading Other Minds.” The short gist is this: Language is about more than just words, it is about understanding and meaning. The proof lies in the very fact we have so many different languages to describe objects that are universally the same. For example, how many different names do we have for a “pineapple” across the globe even though it remains the same shape no matter which country it is in. Where language gets complicated is when it comes to names for objects which are not physical and therefore are harder to express universally like ‘love’ or ‘God.’

Language becomes complicated when we cannot judge the meaning because the actions which express them differ too widely to discern an absolute. This is the challenge with expressing the Gospel of Christ and why we have so many translations of the Scriptures. And so many confused about what Christianity is truly all about. Christ’s Gospel was first preached by word and works but the Sound of Heaven was Lost in Translation. Only by agreeing on the meaning of Christ’s life do we have a chance to see the Gospel universally recognized. Once we gain understanding the meaning of the Scriptures and the life of Christ becomes so clear to us that words are not always needed to express the Gospel. Learning how to make this distinction in the times ahead is the key to understanding them.

Aleph in Rabbinicle Judaism
The Rebbe explains that the aleph has three different meanings. One is אלוף, aluf, which means a master or a chief. The second is אולפנה, ulfana,a school of learning or teacher. The third meaning is reached by reading the letters of the word back­wards—פלא, pela (pronounced peleh)—wondrous.

Aluf’s definition is “master.” This lets the world know that there is a Creator; that G‑d is the Master of the universe, and that there is an Eye that sees, and an Ear that hears. The uni­verse did not simply emerge by itself; there is an omnipotent Force that actually forged the firmaments ex nihilo, from nothing to something. Thus G‑d is the Aluf, the Master of the universe.

Ulfana means “school” or “teacher.” Not only do we introduce G‑d as the Creator of the universe, but also as the Teacher of all mankind. G‑d’s role as teacher is revealed with His introduction of Torah to the Jewish people. The Torah, with its 613 mitzvos or laws, teaches us what we should do, and what we shouldn’t do. Through the Divine wisdom of His book, G‑d establishes Himself in the world on the level of the ultimate Teacher.

Finally, we have the third meaning of aleph: peleh, “wondrous.” Peleh represents the esoteric or mystical level of Torah—Kab­balah and the teachings of Chassidic thought. Known as the “teachings of Mashiach,” these secrets of Torah comprise its greatest level.

The Baal Shem Tov once entered Mashiach’s heavenly cham­ber and asked, “Mashiach, when are you going to come?” Mashiach responded, “When the wellsprings of your teachings (i.e., the teachings of Chassidus) spread forth throughout the entire world.” Thus, only when the level of peleh—this level of wondrous esoteric thought—has permeated the world, will the arrival of Mashiach be imminent.

This can also be connected to a fundamental concept in the Talmud. The Talmud tells us that G‑d created the world to exist for 6,000 years. The first two thousand years are called Tohu, or chaos. This is followed by two thousand years of Torah. And the final two thousand are the days of Mashiach.

What does this mean? Rashi explains that the first two thousand years began with the first man, Adam. This cor­responds to the first meaning of the letter aleph: aluf—master—for the Midrash states that Adam caused all the animals and beasts to bow down to G‑d, thus acknowledging Him as Master and Creator of the universe. However, that era was qualified as chaos, because the Torah was not yet revealed.

The second two thousand years, Rashi continues, began with Abraham. Abraham introduced the Torah. As the Talmud states, Abraham both learned and fulfilled the entire Torah long before it was physically given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. His embracing of G‑d’s word inaugurated the era of Torah—and thus the second meaning of the word alephulfana, or teaching.

The final two-thousand-year period is considered the days of Mashiach; the concept of peleh. This wondrous era has the po­tential to usher in peace and tranquility throughout the entire world. Here, at this final level of aleph, a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov illuminates an interesting point. The Alter Rebbe suggests that the difference between the words גולה—golah (ex­ile) and גאולה—geulah (redemption), is the presence of the aleph. If one inserts an aleph into the word גולה (go­lah/exile), exile is empowered and transformed into גאולה (geulah/redemption). Thus the final two thousand years of Creation, the era of Mashiach, is represented by the aleph. Hav­ing been given the aleph, the Jewish people are empowered to move from exile to redemption. The stages of G‑d as Master of the universe and as Teacher blossom into the days of Mashiach, when G‑d will be revealed on a wondrous level. All of this is contained in the letter aleph.

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