Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ECHAD - אחד


January 2005: I write the word meaning "one" in Hebrew. The number of G@d. One, United, Singular, Unique, Joint existence and reality for all. There is no other but G@d and there is no-thing else but G@d. Like the line in "Ana Be-Ko'ach" referring to The Holy One as YACHID, no translation can capture the true essence of The Source.

אֶחָד - one; single; unique; first, former; someone, somebody; only
כאחד - simultaneously, at the same time, at one and the same time
אִחֵד - to join, to unite; to combine, to merge; to unify, to consolidate
אֻחַד - to be united

Alef (א)
Value: 1
Alef is the first letter. It has no sound of its own. Only the sound made when you begin to make every sound. Open your mouth and begin to make a sound. STOP! That is Alef. (courtesy R' Lawrence Kushner from his "Book of Letters")

Drash (homiletic exegesis):
The mystery of G@D's unified multiplicity is alluded to in the word "alef" ("one"), which spelled backwards is "pele" ("mystery" or "wonder").

There is a tiny Alef written at the end of the first word in Leviticus. "Vayiqra El Moshe..." - "And G@D called to Moshe..." Why?

The Midrash tells us that when G@D was dictating the Torah to Moshe on Mount Sinai, He chose the word "vayiqra" to show what an intimate relationship they possessed. Moshe, being so modest, was reluctant, wishing to write instead "vayiqar" - "He happened by" - to indicate coincidence in his relationship to G@D rather than chosen-ness. They came to a compromise, thus the small Alef.

Each Holy Letter of the Alef-Bet serves as a channel, connecting heaven and earth. Alef is a ladder. The upper Yud denotes the celestial while the lower Yud represents the mundane. Linking the two Yuds is a Vav, who connects our physical and spiritual inclinations. Alef teaches us that by infusing our everyday lives with holiness, we may ascend to the Divine.

Kavanah (intention):
Alef is most easily recognizable by its diagonal stroke. The spot where the left leg meets this diagonal must be above where the right arm intersects it.

The next letter - Chet (ח):
Value: 8
The number eight has great significance in Judaism: boys are circumcised on their eighth day of life; Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly, ends the holiday of Sukot; there are eight days of Chanukah; tzitzits are made up of eight threads...

Going beyond seven, the number eight represents our ability to transcend our physical limitations. Eight symbolizes the metaphysical, the Divine.

When Chet is written in a standard Ashkenazi (European) Sefer Torah, it consists of two Zayins joined by a peaked roof. This is where Chet gets its name, from "chat" - "distorted". Our Sages draw a lesson from this construction; when one observes two people fighting, whether using verbal or actual weapons (zayins) against each other, spare no effort to built a bridge and bring them together so they may join once again in friendship (Krias HaTorah).

Make sure the left leg of your Chet stretches from the baseline all the way to the roof, otherwise he could resemble a Hey. Also be careful to not make that leg too long so he isn't mistaken for a Tav.

Final letter - Dalet (ד):
Value: 4
Drash: Dalet is a door (delet). An open door. A door through which we can experience G@D. Why? Because The Holy One took the Four-Letter-Name, Y-H-V-H, and added a metaphysical open delet to give us a name: Yehudah. Jew.

Dalet is used as an abbreviation of Y-H-V-H, indicating the Four-Letter-Name. The same way Alef stands for El@him and Hey for Ha-Shem.

Dalet also represents the poor among us, the dal. The dal is anyone in a state of lack, deprived not necessarily of money, but perhaps of health, strength or knowledge. When any of us are in need, we are the dal.

The top right hand corner of Dalet has a backwards-pointing protuberance like an ear, showing us that the dal pays close attention to the one following him, secretly hoping that help will be offered. Sometimes we are ashamed to ask for help, but would willingly accept it if it were given (Otiyot R' Akiva). In Torah script, Dalet's leg slants backwards toward Gimel's foot in the Alefbet, as though to teach us that the poor (dal) must make themselves available to the rich (gamol), as they can help each other (Shabbos 104a).

The Dalet has a long roof and a short foot, so it won't be confused with the Khaf Sofit (Final Khaf), whose foot drops below the line. It is also important that the back of the Dalet's head - the upper right hand corner - be clearly squared off so it doesn't resemble a Reysh.

"Echad" has the numerical value of 13, which is also the number of "ahavah", love. Thus we are shown that G@d's love is assured through the universal unity with which Creation was birthed. If we add "echad" to "ahavah", we get the number 26, which is the number of G@d's supreme, 4-letter name, Y-H-V-H.

Based on original posting of February 2005 at Netivat Sofrut
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Copyright A. Barclay, all rights reserved.

Saturday, December 27, 2008



לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי...
Lo ve-chayil ve-lo ve-kho'ach, ki im be-ruchi . . .
Not by power, not by might; but by My spirit . . .

Zechariyah 4:6

May all our earthly goals be realised in this way, ameyn selah, netzach, va'ed...

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Copyright A. Barclay

Friday, December 26, 2008

TALMUD BAVLI SHABBAT 104a – תלמוד בבלי שבת קד'א


The Sages said to R’ Joshua ben Levi: Today some young children came to the house of study and told us things [about the Hebrew alphabet, which they had just learned] the likes of which had not been said even in the days of Joshua son of Nun:

Alef-Bet [א-ב] means “Learn wisdom (אִלֵּף בִּינָה- ileyf binah).”

Gimel Dalet [ג-ד] means “Be kind to the poor (גְּמוּל דלים– gemul dallim).” Why is the foot of the Gimel [ג] stretched toward the base of the Dalet [ד]? Because it is the way of the benevolent to run after the poor (to help them out).
And why is the foot of the Dalet stretched toward the Gimel? Because the poor must make himself available to the benevolent.
And why is the face of the Dalet aveted from the Gimel? Because help must be given in secrecy, so that the poor will not be humiliated by the presence of the giver.

Hey [ה] and Vav [ו] are two letters that form (part of) the (Ineffable) Name of the Holy One...

Zayin [ז], Chet [ח], Tet [ט], Yud [י], Khaf [כ], Lamed [ל]: If you act thus (as commanded), the Holy One will sustain (זָן – zan) you, be gracious (חֵן – cheyn) to you, show goodness (מטִיב – meytiv) to you, give you a heritage (יְרֻשָּה - yerushah), and bind a crown (כֶּתֶר - keter) about your head in the world-to-come (לעולם הבא - le-olam ha-ba).

The open Mem [מ] and the closed (final) Mem [ם] signify that one utterance (in Scripture) may be open and another may be closed (esoteric) [and inquiry into it may be forbidden].

The bent Nun [נ] and the upright (final) Nun [ן] mean that those who are faithful (נאמן - ne’eman) when bent with suffering (in this world) will be made upright (in the world-to-come).

Samekh [ס] and Ayin [ע] stand for “Uphold the poor (סמוך עֹנִיים – semokh aniyyim).” (Others say: The two letters stand for “Devise {עשה - aseh} mnemonics {סימנים – simmanim} in Scripture and thus commit it to memory.”)

The bent Peh [פ] and the (final) open Peh [ף] signify that there are times when the mouth (peh) should be open and times when it should stay closed.

The bent Tzaddi [צ] and the erect (final) Tzaddi [ץ] signify that while in this world the righteous (צדיק/צודקת - tzaddiq/tzodeqet) is bent down, in the world-to-come s/he will be enabled to stand erect.

Quf [ק] signifies “holy" (קדוש – qadosh). Reysh [ר] signifies “wicked" (רשע – rasha).
Why is the face of the Quf averted from the Reysh? Because The Holy One says, “I cannot bear looking at the wicked.”
And why is the upper tip on the crown over the Quf turned toward the Reysh? Because the Holy One says: If the wicked/rasha repents, I will bind a crown over his/her head like the crown over the Quf.

Shin [ש] stands for “falsehood (שקר - sheqer),” and Tav [ת] for “truth (אמת - emet)”. Why do the letters of sheqer closely follow one another [in the alphabet], while the letters in emet are far apart [the Alef at the beginning of the alphabet, the Mem in the middle and the Tav at the end]? Because falsehoods follow close upon one another, while truth is encountered only at intervals far apart.

And why does sheqer stand on one leg [the long stroke of Quf, the second letter of sheqer, extends below the line, so the word looks as if it is standing on one leg], while emet is made up of letters which have (solid) bricklike bases [both the Alef and the Tav rest on two legs, while the Mem has a horizontal bar at its base]? Because truth stands firmly; falsehood does not.

Alternative Sources:
Otiyot Shel Rabbi Akiva
The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael Munk

First published March 2005 at Netivat Sofrut
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Copyright A. Barclay, all rights reserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Enlarged and Diminished Letters in Torah: Series Introduction


Rabbi Hayim David HaLevi, z"l (1924/5-1998), the former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, was a Kabbalist who wrote many volumes of wise commentary, including "Mekor Hayim HaShalem" (The Complete Source of Life), a comprehensive code of Jewish Law. He was born in Jerusalem and studied under Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel at Porat Yosef Yeshivah.

In R’ HaLevi’s 9-Volume series of She’elot and Teshuvot (Jewish legal responsa) entitled "Aseh L’khah Rav" (In the Manner of the Rav), in Vol. 5 he begins the book with a section entitled “Quntres Torah Min Hashamaim" (Booklet of Heavenly Torah). In that section beginning on page 58 you will find the piece on the big and small letters.

R’ HaLevi tells us that whenever we encounter a small letter in our writings, that this indicates a person in the narrative has missed the mark. That s/he made a less than ideal choice. Had the right intention, but sinned, perhaps. The diminutive letter is there to draw our attention to it and to ask questions. Ultimately, to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors.

And where a letter appears enlarged in our Holy texts, R' HaLevi teaches us that this is where G@d has gifted us with a deed of extra loving kindness. This is to teach us gratitude, awe, and knowledge of our dependence on the One G@d from Whom everything comes.

Ameyn selah.

Originally begun 2006, from Netivat Sofrut
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