Dalet (ד)

The dalet is the fourth letter of the alef-beis. The Talmud tells us that the dalet represents the poor person. Thus the phrase gomel dalim: the benefactor who gives to the benefi­ciary.

The Talmud also tells us that when we observe the shape of the dalet, its single leg stretches toward the right—in the direction of the gimmel. This teaches the poor person that he has to make himself available to receive the charity of the benefactor. Similarly, the small extension on the right-hand side of the dalet’s horizontal bar looks like an ear, for the pauper must always be listening for the presence of the wealthy man. However the left side of this bar doesn’t confront the gimmel, the giver, but faces left, toward the letter hei, which represents G‑d. This instructs us that we must give charity discretely and not embarrass the poor person. The pauper must put his faith in G‑d, Who is the ultimate Giver of the universe.

The Mishnah tells us that in the Holy Temple, there was a room called “the Silent Chamber.” One would enter this room alone and close the door directly behind him. In the room was a big box. One had a choice: either to put money into the box or to take some out. Of course, the rich man would put money in. And after him, also alone, would come the poor man, who took money out. It was all done discreetly. The rich man couldn’t see to whom he was giving charity. The poor person didn’t know from whom he was taking it.

A second approach to the form or design of the dalet is that the dalet represents a doorpost and a lintel. The vertical line is the doorpost; the horizontal line is the lintel. What is the con­nection between the door and the poor man? Customarily, a poor man must knock on doors.

There’s also a third interpretation provided by the teachings of Chassidus. This view points out that the dalet is composed of a reish and a yud. What’s the difference between the dalet, ד and the reish, ר? A yud. If one affixes a yud to the upper right-hand corner of the reish, the reish becomes a dalet. The yud, a very small letter, represents humility. That humility is what separates the reish from the dalet. The mezuzah on our door­posts contains the famous paragraph of the prayer known as the Shema. In the Shema we say, “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our L-rd, G‑d is One.” The word echad, one, as in “G‑d is One,” is spelled with the letters alef, ches, dalet, אחד. What happens if the yud is removed from the dalet and it becomes a reish? The word is no longer echad, but acher, אחר—other. If such a mistake were made, this would now translate into, “Hear O Israel, G‑d is our L-rd, G‑d is other (i.e., other gods).” So critical is the aspect of yud, humility, in the belief in G‑d’s oneness that its omission might cause one to reject G‑d and believe in the existence of other omnipotent powers in the universe. The Midrash tells us that if one switches the reish for the dalet, he’s destroying all the worlds.

Source: Secrets of the Hebrew Alphabet

Gimel (ג)

In the Talmud it is said that the Gimmel symbolizes a rich man running after a poor man (the next letter Dalet) to give him tzedakah (charity). (dalut) in Hebrew means impoverished. Gimmel thus represents the free choice to run after the teaching of Torah by practicing acts of chesed (loving kindness).

The גימל – gimel introduces us to the idea of the journey (in the existential sense of life-altering awareness, most often involving a struggle), specifically of riding the camel (גמל – gamal). The letter’s name forms the words גמל – gamel and gomel (“one who performs kind deeds”),57 representing the soul’s ability to give to and nourish others. Thanks to his courage, strength, and desire to help his master, the camel helps human beings to overcome the trial of crossing the parched and dangerous desert.

The spiritual lesson we learn from the camel (so deeply influenced by the shape and the spiritual energy of the gimel) is the ability to reduce our needs to a minimum. When necessary, this marvelous animal can abstain from drinking for thirty days. The camel thus performs a genuine act of self-limitation, forgoing its own needs for the sake of others. This is reminiscent of the primordial tzimtzum (“contraction”) that preceded the Creation of the world: God withdrew His infinite presence into Himself in order to give creation the “space” it needed to exist. A person who strives mightily and makes great sacrifices in order to reach an altruistic goal exhibits this same selflessness.

In the relationship between the letter gimel and the gamal (“camel”), we can see the symbolic teachings that the ancient Hebrews associated with animals. We consistently find throughout ancient cultures, including ancient and modern shamanic practices all over the world, the presence of animals as messengers, helpers, and guides. All shamanic cultures have a system of symbology associated with the animals most closely related to them (for example, the bear and the wolf in some Native American traditions, and the Siberian tiger and the snow leopard in Mongolia). When these animals appear either in nature or in meditative visions, they carry messages related to the symbolism between that animal and the culture that recognizes it as a helper.

The relationship between gimel and the gamal is evidence of how the dialogue with the cosmic soul of animals58 is basic to Judaism.

Source —> Secrets of the Hebrew Alphabet

Bet (ב)

The numerical value of bet is two, representing duality. Since it is the beginning of the word berachah (“blessing”) through which every food and drink is reconnected to its heavenly root, bet is also a link between the material world and the spiritual world of unity, reinforcing the truth that God is One.

Blessings open up our awareness of the bounty we receive and thereby open us up for receiving even more. As we stated earlier, the word ברכה – berachah (“blessing”) also means ברכה – bereichah (“large receptacle”). The more we bless God for the good we have received, the larger is the space we make that only He can fill.

Although we experience duality in this world—light and darkness, Yin and Yang, feminine and masculine, etc.—our spiritual work is to reach beyond the duality and reveal the source of Oneness hiding behind all duality. For example, our ultimate capacity for balancing Yin and Yang requires us to tap into pure essence, the deepest place in our souls that is beyond all time, space, and categories. As we shift our identity to pure essence, we may heal from all imbalances and fragmentation.

While Abraham is associated with the energy of alef, which unifies plurality, Isaac, in contrast, evokes the theme of bet, the perception of the deceptive plurality of creation and the need to overcome this deception. Although God’s creation is made of infinite variety and diversity, everything is endowed with His Spirit. Every event and situation is a manifestation of His will, even those which are most enigmatic.

Sources: Secrets of the Hebrew Alphabet

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

Hebrew Alphabet

Hebrew uses a different alphabet than English. The picture above illustrates the Hebrew alphabet, in Hebrew alphabetical order. Note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English, so Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Tav is the last. The Hebrew alphabet is often called the “alef-bet,” because of its first two letters.

There are two versions of some letters. Kaf, Mem, Nun, Peh and Tzadeh all are written differently when they appear at the end of a word than when they appear in the beginning or middle of the word. The version used at the end of a word is referred to as Final Kaf, Final Mem, etc. The version of the letter on the left is the final version. In all cases except Final Mem, the final version has a long tail.

א Aleph

Aleph is one of two letters in the Hebrew alphabet that are silent. When pronounced, it takes the sound of whatever vowel its accompanied by. 

בּ Bet

Bet is pronounced “b”, just like the letter B in English. 

ב Vet

Vet is just bet without the dot inside, which is called a dagesh. Vet is pronounced “v” like the letter V in English.

ג Gimmel

Gimmel makes a hard G sound, as in “goat”. It may have a dagesh inside like this גּ but it makes the same sound with or without the dagesh.

ד Dalet

Dalet is pronounced “d”, like the letter D in English. It can also carry a dagesh, which doesn’t change its sound like this דּ.

ה Hay

Hay is pronounced “h” like the letter H in English. When it appears at the end of a word, it’s silent. It sometimes has a dot inside of it (הּ), called a mappiq instead of a dagesh that appears in other letters. It indicates that the hay should be pronounced as a consonant, even though it may appear in a place in a word where it would normally be silent.

ו Vav

Vav makes the “v” sound, exactly like the letter vet above. The thing that makes vav interesting is that it can also function as two different vowel sounds as well. When it appears as וֹ (called holem vav), it’s pronounced “oh”, like the sound at the end of “mow” and when you see וּ (called shurek), you’d pronounce it “ooo” like the sound at the end of “blue”.

ז Zayin

Zayin is pronounced “zzz” like the letter Z in English. It can carry a dagesh (זּ), which doesn’t change the pronunciation. 

ח Chet

Chet is one of the guttural letters in Hebrew and, as I said above, is pronounced in the back of your throat and sounds like the “ch” in the name “Bach”.

ט Tet

Tet is pronounced “t” like the letter T in English. It will sometimes appear with a dagesh (טּ), which doesn’t change its pronunciation. 

י Yod

The tiny letter yod sounds like the English letter “y”, as in “yellow”. Like others, it can carry a dagesh (יּ), which doesn’t change its pronunciation. 

כּ Kaf

Kaf is pronounced “k” like the English letter K. It’s always pronounced this way when the dot (dagesh) is present. Without the dagesh, it makes the sound of the next letter on this list, Chaf.

כ Chaf

The “ch” in the name of the letter chaf is pronounced as a guttural, similar to the “ch” in “Bach” like the letter chet above. It makes the same sound as chet also, the “ch” sound. When this letter has a dagesh, it makes the sound “k”, as described above. 

What’s unique about Chaf that I haven’t discussed yet is that it looks different when it appears at the end of a word. Five Hebrew letters do this and this end form of a letter is called the final (or sofit) form. When at the end of a word, chaf will look like this: ך.

ל Lamed

Lamed makes the same “l” sound as the letter L in English. Lamed may have a dagesh and look like this (לּ) but is pronounced the same. 

מ Mem

Mem is pronounced “mmm” like the letter M in English. When it appears with a dagesh (מּ), its sound is not changed. Mem also has a final form, ם, which is almost always found only when a mem is at the end of a word.

נ Nun

Nun (Pronounced both noon and nun), is pronounced “n” like the English letter N. It can have a dagesh, which would look like this (נּ) but the pronunciation remains the same. Nun has a final form for when it’s found at the end of a word, which looks like this: ן.

ס Samech

Samech is pronounced like the English letter S and is pronounced “s”. It can also have a dagesh (סּ) and is pronounced the same if it does.

ע Ayin

Like aleph, ayin is a silent letter. It only makes the sound of the vowel that accompanies it.

פּ Pey

Pey is pronounced “p” like the letter P in the English alphabet. If it has a dagesh, it’s pronounced “p” and if it doesn’t, it’s pronounced “f”, further explained below.

פ Fey

Fey is, like the English letter F, pronounced “f”. This is only when it doesn’t have a dagesh because if it does, it’s pronounced “p”. Fey also has a final form, ף, for when it appears at the end of a word.

צ Tsade

This letter’s name is pronounced tsa-dee, with the “ts” being a consonant blend sound like the sound at the end of the word “nuts”. This is also the way the letter is pronounced. It’s said the same when it contains a dagesh and has a final form (ץ) when it’s at the end of a word.

ק Qof

Qof makes the “q” sound like the English letter Q. It can also appear with a dagesh and it’s pronounced the same then.

ר Resh

Resh is pronounced “rrr” like the English letter R. It’s a guttural so it’s said from the back of your throat and is also rolled like a letter R in Spanish.

שׁ Shin 

Shin is pronounced “sh” like the commonly-used consonant blend in English. It sounds the same when it has a dagesh. Which side the dot on top is on indicates whether it’s pronounced “sh” or “s”.

שׂ Sin 

The name of this letter is pronounced sin or seen. It makes the same sound as the letter S in English, “sss”. This is the same sound as the letter samech and sin makes the same sound when it has a dagesh. Pay careful attention to which side the dot is on, as this is what differentiates between shin and sin. 

ת Tav

Tav, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, is pronounced “t” just like the English letter T. It sounds the same when it has a dagesh in it, like this: תּ.