First Hebrew Letter Aleph and Meaning in Kabbalah

The letter Aleph, is the first of the Hebrew Alphabet letters. The Aleph letter meaning in Kabbalah describes its construction as Hebrew letter “Yud” above, a “Yud” below and a slanted Hebrew letter “Vav” simultaneously connecting and separating it.

We were told that Aleph, as the first letter is a very godly letter. That is why of all the names of God more names begin with the letter Aleph than any other letter.

Interestingly enough, the name for a human being Adam also begins with an Aleph. Therefore we’re told in Kabbalah that the letter Aleph stands for the paradox of God and man.

In this picture of the Aleph, God represents the upper “Yud”,  man represents the lower “Yud”, and the slanting “Vav” represents the Torah that is connecting us together.

The idea of paradox runs throughout the Aleph, and one way we can see this is, not only in the physical form of the Aleph, but also in the fact that the number of Aleph equals one, yet the meaning of the word is “Eleph”- a thousand (1000).

So, here we have what’s called the paradox of unity within plurality. The level of the world’s one represents the beginning of all process, what we will call cause and effect, everything starts from one.

An important example of this is, what’s called the binary system on which all computers are based. All computers are based on a practically endless series of zero and one. Even though, the computer seems very complicated, it actually is based on a process of zero and one. So one represents the beginning of all earthly action all cause and effect. On the level of souls one represents the oneness of the Jewish people.

We have been told that, even though we all have individual souls, and these souls are connected to larger and larger soul roots, ultimately all Jewish souls are conceived of is one big unified soul.

In the “Shabbat Mincha prayer” (the afternoon prayer in Judaism), we say: “…you are one, and your name is one, and who is like the people of Israel one nation in the earth…”.

The power of the Jewish people comes from the unification of all the individual souls, when they come together to form the great soul of all of Israel.

The level of divinity, number one equals the idea of God being one and not just God being one but, everything that he is created being one.

The Cardinal statement of faith and Judaism is “Shma Israel”- “…God is our God, God is one”, and we’re taught the oneness of God is not the oneness of a number. Because the oneness of God is unique, it’s not just one two three, but the unity of God pervades everything.

So, the basic meaning of the Aleph is the infinite God relating to a finite world and especially man, and searching for the oneness within plurality.

Aleph letter symbol

Aleph 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: אל – El, אלוקים – Elokim, and אדוני – Adonai.

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”.

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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 – aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, who had not yet uttered a word, why it was silent. The aleph replied that in a world of plurality there was no place for her, since the numerical value of aleph is one.

God reassured aleph, saying that even if the world would be created with Bet, aleph would still be the queen of the alphabet. He said, “Have no fear, aleph, 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 aleph, the first letter in the word אנכי – Anochi (“I”)—“I am the Lord your God.”

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

God’s light and mercy are chiefly poured into creation through air, the main vehicle that God uses to keep creation alive. It is common knowledge that a human being can survive for days without drinking or eating, but only for a few minutes without breathing.

For this reason, Sefer Yetzirah associates aleph (which is categorized as one of the three “mother letters”) with air.

The word אויר – avir (“air”) is comprised of all the letters found in the word אור – or (“light”) plus the letter yud, whose numerical value is 10, alluding to the 10 sefirot (“Divine emanations”) of Creation, sourced in One.

Emotional imbalances cause us to lose our objective vision of reality. Breathing deeply brings us back to our center as we reclaim our natural, healthy state of enlightenment. Sefer Yetzirah states:

Three Mothers (letters): Aleph Mem Shin in the year are the hot, the cold, and the temperate.

The hot (shin) is created from fire

The cold (mem) is created from water

And the temperate (aleph) from breath, which decides between them.

Three Mothers in the soul, male and female, are the head, belly, and chest.

The head is created from fire

The belly is created from water,

And the chest from breath, which decides between them.

This passage reveals some of the many parallels between the Kabbalistic view of the world, and that of the Ancient Chinese. The aleph is associated with oneness, balance, the temperate (as opposed to the extremes of hot and cold), rooted in the breath and the chest.

The aleph also relates to the element of metal, which is associated with the breath and higher perceptions of Divine Oneness.

In fact, TCM designates metal to the heavenly realms, the spirit beyond the body, and pure consciousness. Metal is also related to autumn, the pivotal “temperate” season between the hot summer and the cold winter.

Another parallel between TCM and Sefer Yetzirah is that the metal element, like the aleph, is related to the physical organ of the lungs, and therefore to the breath. In Chinese thought, the breath is also seen as our connection to the original, undivided, pure Divine.

Correct breathing maintains our balance and supports our righteous and ethical choices between fire and water. As we inhale, we draw inspiration and nourishment from the air and the heavens. When we exhale, we release that which is no longer needed.

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According to numerous Jewish sources, deep breathing is seen as a key instrument for coming into contact with the Divine within us. It is also no accident that the Book of Psalms—the Biblical poems that express King David’s constant striving to live in God’s presence—ends with the verse Kol ha’neshamah tehallel Kah: (“Every soul shall praise God”).

The Midrash invites us to read this verse not as “Every soul shall praise God—kol ha’neshamah הנשמה—but as הנשימה : “Every breath shall praise God”—kol ha’neshimah.

Indeed one of God’s Names is Arich Apayim, literally meaning “Long Breath” (even though it is usually translated as “patient,” “slow to anger”). By emulating God with deep breathing, we allow the element of air to temper between the excess of water and fire (our out-of-control emotions) and restore balance.

By analyzing the word Adam we find out that the first human being was created directly from אדמה – adamah, the earth. As his descendants we should be aware of our essential need to be in contact with the earth from which our vitality derives. The Oral Tradition clearly states that “a man who does not possess a field is not a man.”

The survival of humanity especially depends on our ability to follow God’s commandment, originally given to Adam, regarding the preservation and protection of the land that he was meant to cultivate.

The Midrash comments: “When God created Adam, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and then said to him, ‘Look at the perfection of My work! I created it for you, so remember it and do not corrupt it, making My world desolate.

Because if you corrupt it, there will be none other to repair it.’”. If we continue to work the earth without taking measures to preserve it, ecological catastrophe will be unavoidable.

The Torah and the Talmud’s profound integrative spiritual and physical wisdom provides precious instructions concerning protecting the environment. Some of the Torah’s commandments are based on ecological principles, such as the obligation to give the land a year of rest every seven years (the sabbatical year).

When we recycle wastes and maintain the purity of the water and the air, etc., we are fulfilling the commandment to protect and preserve the environment. It is clearly stated in the Book of Genesis that we are the caretakers of the garden. God tells Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and exercise your dominion over the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea, and over every living creature that moves upon the earth.” A few verses later, God addresses Adam’s possible illusion that he is on this planet to dominate and exploit the earth. Scripture makes it very clear that man was placed in the Garden of Eden to “preserve it and guard it.” The Midrash explains that God is telling Adam: “Everything was created for your sake. Take heed that you should not ruin or destroy My world, for there is nobody to rectify it after you”.

Within these passages are God’s warning and calling to mankind to practice the role of caretaker. The Oral Tradition clearly directs us to preserve the natural environment and not to use it wastefully or wantonly. The Torah, for example, discusses the concept of Bal Tashchit. When an army lays siege to a city, it may not carelessly cut down trees as an act of terrorism. Rabbi Hirsch explains, “The prohibition against the wanton destruction of trees in a siege is to be interpreted as a prohibition against the purposeless, wasteful destruction of any object.

Thus the concept of Bal Tashchit becomes an all-encompassing warning to man not to misuse his assigned station in the world by destroying the things of earth capriciously.” Today this concept can be applied to all forms of energy conservation.

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A beautiful and ancient practice that should inspire modern city planning is that of maintaining greenbelts around developed urban areas. Torah law explicitly states that if the whole city votes for changes in city planning, the preservation of greenbelts cannot be altered. They are considered the “inheritance of future generations,” and thus no particular generation has the right to disturb or alter them.

Greenbelts are a beautiful method of nature preservation, assuring that natural plant and animal life can continue to flourish even in the presence of human development. What is very interesting to note is that greenbelts were given to the Levites—the musicians, teachers, and cantors of Israel—who, unlike the other twelve tribes, did not have a territory of their own in the Land of Israel. Through their music, the Levites inspire others to respect and contemplate the Shechinah, the immanent aspect of God: Mother Nature.

Another concept related to the word אדם – adam is דמיון – dimayon (“imagination”). Dimayon embraces the capacity to make associations, deductions, analogies, and hypotheses, i.e., to engage in abstract thinking. The word Kabbalah itself has a similar meaning: from its root, which is קבל – kabel, the word מקביל – makbil (“parallel”) is derived.

Most of the Kabbalistic discipline is based on our ability to make associations. When we “translate” the material world into symbols and metaphors, we are able to carry on a steady dialogue with the Divine.

The search for affinities between physical and spiritual reality, and between the lower and higher worlds, is the best protection we can give our consciousness against being deceived by the world’s façade of plurality, and the attraction of materialism or any other form of idol worship.

Within God’s creation we are, so to speak “the apple of God’s eye.” As such, we have the distinctly human power to translate and elevate the physical world to its spiritual roots, through the various artistic expressions inspired by our imagination.

When God said, “Let us create man in our image,” He possibly meant that human beings would have the ability to re-create the world, through their own unique way of expressing appreciation for the wonders of creation. Even every blade of grass is aware of and grateful to God for its life, but only a human being can respond to the call to “sing a new song,” to creatively express his feelings of awe to the Master of the Universe.

The spiritual mission of Adam and, therefore, of all humanity, is to rediscover the aleph, the profound teaching found in every phenomenon of creation, and to give it expression.

In Genesis, we learn that God tested Adam’s maturity by asking him to contact the spiritual essence of the animals in order to intuitively name each one of them. The Hebrew word שם – shem, meaning “name,” is the center of the word נשמה – neshamah (“soul”). In other words, a name, rather than being an external label, reveals essence.

By calling every animal by its name, Adam showed how he could use his imagination to extract the soul from its external shell. For example, the word for “dog,” כלב – kelev is a contraction of the words kol lev – “all heart,” expressing how a dog is “all heart,” or “all sentiment.”

In the same way, King Solomon was called “the wisest of all men” because he could invent three thousand parables to explain any concept. Because of his ability to ascend from material to existential phenomena, proceeding backwards along the path of Creation from matter to spirit, King Solomon could make any concept understandable for all possible levels of comprehension.