Monday, October 12, 2009

Oy gib mir a heym vu di bufloksn geyn - Enlarged Letter Bet in Parashat Be-reyshit


That would be Yiddish for "Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam..."
Thanks to Marie Jaffee for her translation and hat-tip to Rebecca Boggs for her transliteration.

I'd like to talk about home in this post in relation to this week's Parsha, Be-reyshit! Yes, this Shabbat we being the cycle of reading the Torah all over again. We got a preview on Simchat Torah, which was yesterday, Sunday, when we read the very end of the scroll and then rolled it back to the beginning again to read some more! This week we're getting back to The Garden.

Sefer Be-reyshit parashat Be-reyshit/the Book of Genesis 1:1 begins thus:
בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.
Be-reyshit bara Eloqim et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-aretz:
"At the beginning of G@D's creating of the heavens and the earth:"

The first letter, Bet (ב) should sport 4 crowns, called taggin or ketarim (unless you are Yemenite). These represent the Four Winds, the holy breath of G@d with which the entirety of Time and Space were brought into being.

As with many, but not all, sefarim/holy books, the first letter is often enlarged. However, here also is an example of an action taken from the next world, by G@D. The act of creation warrants a large Bet. According to Rabbi Chayim Dovid Halevy, z"l, a great Kabbalist and the former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Tel Aviv, any time we see an enlarged letter anywhere in our canon (TaNa"KH), we are to understand that G@d has disturbed the staus quo with great חסד chesed, kindness, and אהבה ahavah, love.

Because the letter Bet carries the gematrial value of 2, it reveals to us the Divine creative mother-father energy within it, beginning the whole universe.

So, why was the world created with the letter Bet?
Just as Bet is closed on three sides and open only in front, so you are not permitted to investigate what is above (the Heavens) and what is below (the deep), what is before (the six days of creation) and what is (to happen) after (the world’s existence) - you are permitted only from the time the world was created and thereafter (the world we live in) [Genesis Rabbah 1:10. This may refer either to space or to time, or to both space and time. See Tosafot on Talmud Bavli Hag 11b, s.v. yakhol].

Some say that the Torah begins with the letter Bet to make the statement that the force that G@d used to initiate Creation was בינה Binah - with feminine understanding the world was created. . “For you shall call Understanding a Mother.” so says The Bahir. Binah means processed wisdom or deductive reasoning

Binah is in the world of יצירה Yetzirah, the formative dimension of "just Being". IS-ness. The letter Bet also begins בריאה B'riyah, the world of knowledge whose world is creative. Note that בריאה B'riyah and בְּרֵאשִׁית Be-reyshit have the same shoresh, root. For more on this, see

Reish Lakish taught that The Holy One made a deal with the rest of Creation, that if Israel accepts the Torah, you will continue to exist; if not, I will return you to nothingness (Shabbat 88a). How do we know this? Because the first word in the Torah, בְּרֵאשִׁית Be-reyshit, is an acronym: "Ba-rishonah Ra'ah Eloqim Shey'qab'lu Yisra'el Torah" - "From the start, G@D saw that Israel would accept the Torah" (Ba'al Ha-Turim).

In Judaism, G@d has many names, allowing us to attempt to express all the holy qualities of the Creator. One of those names begins with a letter Bet. בת קול Bat Qol, which literally means "Daughter of a Voice", but can also mean "Voice from Heaven", "echo", "Divine inspiration" or even "prophesy".

Just as with a ketubah, the traditional Jewish wedding contract, we begin this with a letter Bet which is often enlarged (but not always - that depends on the calligrapher). But we may have a similar situation here that requires a large Bet in a ketubah for the same reasons as in a Torah.

Many Jewish couples today enter their first marriage without their virginity (both literal and symbolic). There have been intimate relationships and home-building exercises, most often with people who now dwell in the past. Assuming these experiences have been dealt with, grown from and their lessons integrated into wisdom, there is no need to revisit them after the marriage begins.

All that came before, like lovers, homes, experiences, relationships...were only to bring each member of the wedding couple to this point and need only be included in the wedded relationship in their appropriate place. It's not that they get wiped away, or made to magically disappear. But from that large Bet which begins the building of this new, committed home, like the large Bet, the Bayit or "home" for all of Creation, we walk forward together and leave the rest behind.

...where seldom is heard a discouraging word...

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