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.


Jane said...

I wonder if you know Claude Vigee's book Dans le Silence de l'Aleph?
I't a wonderful set of essays, don't think it's been translated into English yet though

Bob MacDonald said...

Jane - I think you must be the first to notice this blog and comment - thanks for the feedback. I will keep an eye out for this book - a lovely name. will check the Ottawa libraries while I am in the east.