Sunday, June 15, 2008

Alef is for One

Today we read and sang Deuteronomy 6:4 under the banner: this lesson is brought to you by the letter א, Alef.

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.

To prepare, I researched some words beginning with א. Which would best express this letter that is head of the alef-bet but is called humble since it declined to be the first letter of the Bible?
In the story, all of the letters come before the LORD giving reasons why they should be the first letter - all, that is, except for the letter Aleph. When the LORD asked why, Aleph explained that since he was silent, he had nothing to say. But the LORD honored Aleph’s humility and declared him to be the first of all the letters -- and to be honored as the letter of the first word of the Ten Commandments.
Look at the letters above to see a very few of the many words with differing starting sounds might be selected for alef.

'Av for father and father's day. 'Eben, a stone.
'Ohel for tent.
'Echad for one.
'Or for light (but it needs the vav as mater). 'Eretz for land.
'Ish for a man.
'Em for mother. 'Emet for truth. 'Et for the object marker (already introduced in lesson 1).

It is quite a boggle game, isn't it? (One could even select verbs in the first person singular imperfect, as if alef were the letter of hope and promise, but we did not discuss that option.)

As it turned out, I did not present any of these words. I only presented the one, 'echad. The children searched the image of the text of Deuteronomy 6:4 for the word 'echad and for the three alefs - ignoring those in the substitute word for the divine name. (Click for a larger image).

It was heard among the students that the lesson was complicated, but after class, one of them could be seen looking up each letter and sounding them out.

So though Alef became A, it is not A and can sound many other vowels. It has more than nothing to say.

I asked them how many strokes would it take to draw an alef. They answered with 7 or 8 - for the letter forms are with serif and they counted the vowel marks. The relation to three strokes: two yods, one looking up to heaven, and the other connecting to earth, crossed by a vav, suggests a three in one image, but even in a humble letter, one must not read in too much theology.

You can read more about alef here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Learning Hebrew

In recent weeks, the children have been learning about the Hebrew language. They began with one word: כּי-טוב

Transliterated this is ki-tov. Written as one word with a maqqep (hyphen), it really is two: the preposition כּי, and the adjective טוֹב.

We have examined two places in the Bible where this phrase occurs. In Genesis 1, it occurs 6 times and is translated into the phrase 'that it was good'.
וירא אלהים את-האור כּי-טוב And God saw the light, that it was good.
We read the words va-yira - he saw. And Elohim, God, and the special word 'et' and the word ha`or, the light.

It all sounds and looks so different from English words in the Latin alphabet. But the children all remembered this word easily so we can say ki-tov - it was good.

In Psalm 34, this word occurs in verse 8, the invitation to taste and see that the LORD is good.
טעמו וראו כּי-טוב יהוה. O taste and see that the LORD is good.
Taste - ta-'amu, and see ure'u, that is good ki-tov the LORD. It's a little hard to recognize the similarity in the words for seeing but God sees (yira) - and (u) you see (re-u). In English, we recognize that 'see' and 'saw' are not very similar either. We see something else here too - there are two different words, as in English, that are used of the one LORD God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:4) - the word אלהים Elohim in Genesis 1:4 and the special name יהוה that you can see in the letters above in Psalm 34. Someone reading in Hebrew does not normally say this name out loud.
The special name of the LORD God is not spoken. Hebrew readers substitute ha-shem (the name) or adonai (the Lord) instead of speaking the name. In the Jewish tradition, the name is spoken once a year by the High Priest at the feast of Atonement.
The children and adults were able to identify the letters in כּי-טוב in this alef-bet page. We talked a little about spelling our own names also.

Our plan is to introduce each letter in turn, perhaps like the Sesame Street, the program is brought to you by the letter alef א. I expect by the end of next year, judging from the speed of absorption already observed, that the children will be able to read a psalm.

For more about the alef-bet listen to this video, not exactly the style of music around St Barnabas - but definitely an effective rock.

For a work in progress that shows each letter and a little about it, see this image of an alef-bet book largely from the text of the psalms.

A Beginning

Welcome to the Sunday School Blog for St Barnabas Church, Victoria, BC.

The St. Barnabas Sunday School uses a program called Godly Play. Godly Play teaches children the art of using religious language - parable, sacred story, silence, and liturgical action. Each week we respond to the stories related to the liturgical year and the lessons of the week.