Rabbi Elazar of Worms


The Letter 'Alef

This is the Holy Blessed One who is the first and the last, who is the ruler of the universe, and to whom no one can be compared. Just as the 'alef is [at] the head of the letters, so too the Holy Blessed One is [at] the head of the angels [or, the kings]. 'Alef [has a numerical value of] one, the smallest number, beyond which there is nothing less, [while] a myriad is a large number. 'Alef is [at] the head of the word 'echad ('one') and at the end of the word ribo' ('myriad'). [Scripture] says from 'echad [you get] chad ['one' in Aramaic] and from ribo' [you get] rivvan ['myriad' in Aramaic], as it is written: 'and one (chad) spoke to another ('echad)' (Ezekiel 33:30) [and] it is written: 'and a myriad (ribo') of myriads (rivvan) were standing before Him' (Daniel 7:10). That is, the 'alef which is at the head of the number 'echad fell away so that it said chad and the 'alef at the end of the number ribo' fell away so that it said rivvan. This was in order to demonstrate to people that [God] is one, with no second, that [God] is first and last, like the letter 'alef which is at the head of counting and at the end of counting. [A myriad, or ten thousand, is the largest number for which there is a special word in Hebrew and Aramaic.]

The reading of [the name of the letter] 'alef is with three letters: 'alef [itself], a letter [pronounced in] the throat, Lamed, [pronounced] with the tip ('head') of the tongue and the middle of the palate, [and] Fay, a letter [pronounced with] the lips. Thus, [the name of] 'alef is read first the gullet, i.e. the throat, [then] in the middle, the palate and the tongue, and finally, the lips, in order to demonstrate that God is the first, middle and last. 'Alef has its face turned from the rest of the letters, to teach you [that] the One that is in the world, turned [the divine] face from the world when creating it, as it is said: '[God] sees iniquity, but does not consider it' (Job 11:11). For [God] foresaw the destruction of the Temple and said: 'I take no pleasure in My world. I will hide My face from it.' You should know that at the beginning of the world there is a hint of the destruction of the Temple, for the Bet of Bereshit ('in the beginning', Genesis 1:1) is [written] large in order say: Betreshit--[literally, 'first house or temple'], this is the Temple, of which it is written: 'Exalted from the beginning, place of our sanctuary' (Jeremiah 17:12). [Genesis] opens [with]: 'And the earth was formless and empty (tohu vavohu)' (Genesis 1:2). It says in [the midrash] Bereshit Rabbah, (2:5) that this [refers to] the destruction of the Temple. ToHU has a numerical value of 411; the first Temple stood for 410 years, and was destroyed in the 411th. ToHU VaVoHU has a numerical value of 830; the first and second Temples stood for 830 years, the first for 410 and the second for 420. Hence [the verse]: 'And I will dwell (VeSHaCHaNTY) in the midst of the Israelites' (Exodus 29:45)--[meaning] SHaCHaN T-Y ('[God] dwelt [for] 410 [years]'). Alternatively, VeSHaCHaNTY [equals] VeSHayNiY T-CH ('and [the] second [for] 420 [years]'). There is a further hint: 'The earth was formless (HaYTaH ToHU)'--The second Temple was HaYTaH, 420 years and the first Temple was ToHU, 411 years. The destruction of the Temple is [also] hinted at in many [other] places. [Genesis] begins with a Bet to demonstrate to you that at the beginning of the world the destruction of [God's] Temple was mentioned. Bet is an expression [akin to] batah ('a waste'), [as in the verse] 'I will make her a waste (batah)' (Isaiah 5:6) (an expression of cutting off and destruction), for whatever [God] created, [God] may destroy, as it is said: 'GOD alone will be exalted' (Isaiah 2:11, 17).

Now, [God] created everything [in] twos (bet [which has a numerical value of two]). Therefore [Genesis] opens with Bereshit, to demonstrate to you that there are two worlds. For everything has its 'mate': heaven and earth, mountains and hills, seas and rivers, Gehinnom and the Garden of Eden, Leviathan and the Piercing Serpent (cf. Isaiah 27:1), the sun and the moon, male and female, wicked and righteous. Human beings have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two: mouth and tongue, two hands, two feet, ribs on both sides, and the earlobe is divided into two parts, for one sinew divides it. [All this is] in order to demonstrate to you that everything has a 'mate,' except for [God], who is unique in the divine kingdom, may God be blessed.

Therefore, the name [letter] 'alef is at the head of the letters and 'alef is at the head of [God's] appellation 'ADO_NAI, although yod is at the head of the special name YH_VH....to demonstrate to you that [God] created this world with ten sayings filling everything....

R. Elazar ben Judah of Worms (c.1160-1237), Sefer Sodei Razaya (Shalom HaKohen Weiss, ed.) (Jerusalem: Sha'arei Ziv Institute, 1991), pp.11-12.

Let the heart think: The Holy Blessed One created me and is with me throughout my entire existence. [God] awakened me and created ten things in my embryonic state from the drop [provided by] my father and mother: skin and flesh, sinews and bones, brain and blood, hair and fingernails, the black of the eyes and the white of the eyes.

Similarly, the Holy Blessed One gave me ten things of the divine: the soul, facial expressions, the ear's ability to hear, the eyes' ability to see, the nose's ability to smell, the lips' ability to speak, the tongue's ability to enunciate, the hands' ability to touch, the foot's ability to walk, wisdom and understanding. Because [God] gave me all this out of love, I will see [God] in it with all my heart.

The human spirit carries the entire body, like the spirit that carries the entire universe. That is to say that the human being is a microcosm, and there is no air without wind (ruach). Therefore, let a person think: Happy am I! For I have been created in the [divine] form and likeness and I have been given speech that I may serve the glorious Sovereign. And [God] has placed within me the spirit (ruach) and the soul (neshamah), which are in [God's] control. If I should sin, [God] may decide to cast my spirit (ruach) from its sheath, so I will serve [God] with joy and rejoice in [God's] service. And I reject the pleasures of this world for the delicacies that will accrue to us in the world to come.

R. Elazar ben Judah of Worms (c.1160-1237), Sefer Sodei Razaya (Shalom HaKohen Weiss, ed.) (Jerusalem: Sha'arei Ziv Institute, 1991), pp.19-20.

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