The Aleph as the first letter of the Ten Words – Parashat Yitro

The first letter of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet and the the first letter in the first word of the Ten Commandments (lit. “words” – aseret ha-d’varim) is the Aleph (Exodus 20:1).

Commentators find deep meaning in the form and construction of the Aleph. It is made of two yuds, one pointing up (i.e. towards heaven) and the other pointing down (towards earth). The connector between these two yuds is a vav (the sixth letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet). The gematria (the number equivalent for the letters of the aleph-bet) of the three letters yud + yud + vav (10 + 10 + 6) equals 26. 26 is the number equivalent as well for the holiest Hebrew Name of God, known as the four-letter tetragrammaton (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh — 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26). Therefore, the number equivalent of the three internal letters that form the Aleph carries the same number equivalent as the holiest four-letter name of God.

The upper Yud of the aleph represents the absolute and transcendent realm of God. The lower Yud represents the corporeal and physical world of humankind. Moses’ role as  chief among the prophets is represented by the Vav which connects the lower Yud of humankind and the upper Yud of God. Moses therefore connects the lower and upper worlds, the transcendence immanence of God, the spiritual and metaphysical realm as opposed to the material and the physical world.

The number equivalence of the Hebrew vav (6), represents the six directions (north, south, east, west, heaven, and earth) signifying God’s ever-presence.

Thus, in the letter Aleph is the intimation of God’s unity with creation, the joining of the implicate and the physical, the merging of the world to come and the world that is, God’s pathos and Moses’ prophetic empathy.

Sources: I am grateful to Reuven Matheison and his article “The Inner Meaning of the Hebrew Letters” from Visions of the Psalms Through the Gate of Colors, by Moshe Tzvi HaLEvi Berger, p. xix. I am grateful also for the notes of the artist, Moshe Tzvi Berger whose primary sources were The Hebrew Letters by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg; Sparks of the Holy Tongue, by Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson; and Secret of the Holy Letters, by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (z’l)


About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and a past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of 3 books - "From the West to the East - A Memoir of a Liberal American Rabbi" (2024), "Why Israel Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to the Next Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (Revised edition 2023), and “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (2017). All are available at John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has two grandchildren and he lives in Los Angeles.
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