Alef (א)

The letter alef, besides being the first letter of the alphabet, also represents the number one, echad (אחד) in Hebrew. The numerical value of echad is thirteen, which is the numerical value of ahavah (אהבה), “love.” The letter alef represents both the oneness of God and His love for His creatures (the attribute of chesed, “goodness”).

Alef represents absolute unity within the plurality of Creation and is therefore the major symbol of Divinity. Many of the names of God begin with this letter: א-ל – El, אלוקים – Elokim, and אדנ-י – Ad-nai. In addition, there are many epithets used to describe God, such as אדיר – Adir (“glorious”) and אדון – Adon (“master”). The Zohar relates that before Creation, each letter of the alphabet came before God, requesting to be chosen to begin the process of creation. The letters presented themselves in reverse order: first was ת – tav, the last letter of the alphabet; next was ש – shin, the second-to-last letter of the alphabet; then ר – resh, and so on, up to ב – bet, second letter of the alphabet, which begins the word ברכה – berachah, “blessing”. Bet pleaded, “Let the world be created with me, so that all beings shall use me to bless God”. And God assented.

Then God asked the א – alef, the first letter of the alphabet, who had not yet uttered a word, why it was silent. The alef replied that in a world of plurality there was no place for her, since the numerical value of alef is one. God reassured alef, saying that even if the world would be created with Bet, alef would still be the queen of the alphabet. He said, “Have no fear, alef, you are one, and I am One. I want to create the world to have my spirit of oneness dwell there through the study of the Torah and the performance of mitzvot (the commandments). The first of the Ten Commandments will begin with alef, the first letter in the word אנכי – Anochi (“I”)—“I am the Lord your God.”

The perception of God’s oneness that alef represents is further suggested by the Hebrew word פלא (“wonder”), a permutation of the word alef: Discovering God as He is disguised in each detail of creation generates feelings of wonder and awe.

Sources: The Secrets of the Hebrew Alphabet

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