Why the Torah begins with the letter Bet

The Torah, which begins with letter bet,

does not begin with aleph, I suggest,

in order to make sure we don’t forget

that being second sometimes comes out best.

 

Bet did not take for granted it would be

the first, and therefore surely was most grateful

that it comes first in Torah scrolls, quite free

of pushiness, which can be rather hateful.

 

I’ve also found a second reason why.

The letter aleph cannot be pronounced.

It’s just a vehicle for vowels, too shy

to make a sound without them, and was trounced

 

by bet, which became proud, a consonant

that can be heard when vowelless, as in

breishit, first consonant that we all chant

as vowel-less it does not make a din,

 

but demonstrates it does not then depend

on vowels like aleph, which we see without

the help of vowels has no way to defend

itself from silence, and therefore from doubt

 

regarding its intended sound. The choice

God made was of a letter that shows in-

dependence, demonstrated by its voice,

and, lacking that, poor aleph couldn’t win

 

the honor to start Genesis, although

the starter’s gun for anokhi, big “I”,

that leads the Ten Commandments, helps us know

that in the sermon on a mount, Sinai,

 

no man, but God, spoke clearly to us Jews,

an aleph, First Cause — not a beit, like Moses,

or someone else who later would confuse

with words that he on God’s superimposes.

 

I, God, am speaking: message of this aleph,

a message that most sadly is ignored

by those who choose a prophet or a caliph

to act the role of alpha male adored.

 

Gershon Hepner

2/4/2021

Gershonhepner@gmail.com

Inspired in part by an article by Kenneth Seeskin, Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, “What Did the People Hear at Mount Sinai? The answer, or lack thereof, teaches us something important about the meaning and limits of divine revelation,”: (2/4/21):

https://www.thetorah.com/article/what-did-the-people-hear-at-mount-sinai

Immediately following the presentation of the Decalogue in Exodus, the text continues:

שמות כ:יד וְכָלהָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָרעָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק. כ:טו וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶלמֹשֶׁה דַּבֵּר אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ וְנִשְׁמָעָה וְאַל יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ אֱלֹהִיםפֶּן נָמוּת. Exod 20:14 All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. 20:15 “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”

The discussion between the fine point between a and b based on the literary conceit that anthropomorphizes the letter of every word in the Torah.   The rabbis imagine them as living beings who compete for the privilege of being the first letter in the Torah. The first letter in Genesis is bet, the second letter of the alphabet, and the poem and endnote explain why bet manages in the First Commandment to trump the first letter of the alphabet, aleph, thereby redeeming its failure to be the first letter in the Torah.  Hiddushim is a Hebrew word for novellae, and in my poem I propose a hiddush, a novel new explanation, implying that aleph has no reason to complain about being superseded by aleph as the first letter in the Torah since it is the first letter in the Ten Commandments, where aleph is the first letter of anokhi in the First Commandment, which states:

ב  אָנֹכִי יְהוָהאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים,עַל-פָּנָי.            2 I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.
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