A Story About the Hebrew Alphabet
By Leslie Schwartz
Here’s a story I’ve always loved. God is sitting down to write the Torah - the Hebrew Bible – and has decided to start by describing the creation of the world. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet come to see God – from the end of the alphabet to the beginning – each to press her case that she should be given the honor of starting off the Torah.
Tav – ת – the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, pronounced like our letter “t” - comes first. She says that the first word in the Torah should start with a tav because the word for Torah itself starts with a tav. Unfortunately, says God, the word for fraud, trumot, also starts with tav. Then, in comes shin – שׁ – the second-to-last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, pronounced like ”sh” - but the words for falseness (shav) and bribery (shohad) both begin with a shin, so God says no to shin as well. The letters continue coming, each trying to convince God that she should be the one to start off the Torah. Every time, God finds a word that is disqualifying.
Finally, in comes bet – בּ - the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, pronounced like our letter “b”. Bet reminds God that the word for blessing, b’rachah, starts with a bet. God is pleased with this answer and decides to use bet to start the first word in the Torah (B’reishit, “In the beginning”). But then God realizes that the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph – א – a letter with no sound – hadn’t come. God asks aleph why she stayed back, and she answers that she is of little value, being a silent letter. God is so impressed by her humbleness that God rewards her by making her the first letter of the Ten Commandments (Anochi, “I am”).
Perhaps this is why I love Hebrew. Even the letters themselves have meaning and teach lessons….
Leslie will be teaching "Introduction to Reading Hebrew" on Tuesday, July 9th from 6:30-8:00pm. Check it out here!