Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hebrew Letter "א " Aleph

The Hebrew letter א, pronounced “aleph”, like all Hebrew letters holds a meaning in itself. The sages say that the letters contain spiritual lessons and that the Aleph holds a special place at the head of the Hebrew Alphabet. As the head, the Aleph is said to be the “father” of the letters. As a matter of fact, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet form the word “אב”, pronounced “ab or av” which is Hebrew for “father”. The aleph is also the first letter in many of the names of God found in the Jewish scripture such as Elohim and El Shaddai, and as such, the letter aleph is said to represent God.

A cornerstone of Jewish theology is the “shema” found in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It says in part, “Hear O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is One!” According to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the letter Aleph, which represents God, is actually made up of three parts, or three of the other letters. It is made up of two yods (י) separated by a slanted vav(ו). The yod means “hand” and the vav mean “nail” or to “secure”. So in the three components of the aleph, you see a hand above, reaching down, a hand below, reaching up and a nail connecting the two.

Another interesting fact about the Hebrew alphabet is that, unlike English, the letters also represent numbers. The aleph is 1, the beit is 2, the gimel is 3 and so on. When we look at the three letters that make up the Aleph we find that they have a total numeric value of twenty six  ( yod + vav + yod  = 10+6+10=26 ). Then the logical question is, does the number 26 hold any significance?

The single most common name for God in the Hebrew scriptures is יהוה. It is referred to by the Greek term “tetragrammaton”, which means “the four letters”. This name of God which first appears in Genesis chapter two has troubled Bible translators for centuries. The Jewish sages have no pronunciation of this name. When speaking it in public, or reading the scriptures, they will most often substitute the term “HaShem”, which in Hebrew means “The Name”. There is no official translation of this name so in most English bibles beginning with the KJV, it has been translated as “LORD” in all capital letters. You may also find it translated as “Yahweh” and “Jehovah”. The fact is, nobody really knows how it is pronounced because Hebrew has no vowels in its written form and no pronunciation marks are given where the יהוה is written.

In proverbs 25:2 it says “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of Kings to search it out.” So let’s do a little searching and dig into a few interesting facts about this names of God and the letter Aleph. As shown above, the aleph has a numeric value of 1 or 26 when broken down to its component parts. In the name LORD or יהוה we also have a numeric value of 26. (yod + hey + vav + hey = 10+5+6+5=26). So here in a single letter, the Aleph, and in the most common name of God, found in scripture, יהוה, we find the number 26 in both cases.  But what about other names of God in the scriptures? Do they also add up to 26? No, but there is something much more interesting to be found in the text with regard to various names of God. We are going to look at the first five versus of the Bible in the original Hebrew. (see figure 2)

A shortened form of יהוה used in the Hebrew text is יה, pronounced “Yah” and the two most common other names are אל El, as in El Shaddai, and אלוהים Elohim. El has a numeric value of 31, and Elohim is 86 and Yah is 15. (see figure 1) Now look at figure 2 and find the 15th letter, the 26th letter, the 31st letter and the 86th letter. Remember Hebrew is read right to left. What do you find? In all cases we arrive at the letter Aleph! And as we learned from the sages, the Aleph represents God, the head or father. And you can add the Hebrew word for father, אב, to the list. אב has a numeric value of 3 and the third letter of the text in Genesis is an Aleph.

In the original Hebrew text we find many such mysteries beyond our imagination. The LORD, יהוה has given us such richness in His word, the perfect embodiment of Himself. Remember the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 1: MKJV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


NAME , Numeric Value

יה Yah, 10+5=15 The 15th letter of the Torah is א

יהוה LORD 10+5+6+5=26 The 26th letter of the Torah is א

אל El 1+30=31 The 31st letter of the Torah is א

אלוהים Elohim 1+30+5+10+40=86 The 86th letter of the Torah is א

אב av 1+2=3 The 3rd letter of the Torah is א

                                         (Figure 1)


Figure 2

שלום ברוך
Shalom and Be Blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart


  1. Thank you so much for a beautiful entry. I have just begun learning Hebrew, and your description of Aleph is both elegant and thought provoking. I look forward to reading more of your work.


  2. Thank you Jen. So far I have blogs on the Beit and the Gimel as well.


  3. I hope that you will do more.

    Reading the Bible from this new Hebrew language and cultural perspective is a little overwhelming for a beginner. I told a friend that I feel as though I'm trying to drink the ocean with a teaspoon! So, I really appreciate your clear and in depth articles.



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