Winter Moon of the Long Nights
Kabbalah last night. The first session of Mystical Hebrew Letters. Rabbi Jamie began teaching kabbalah at the Kabbalah Experience with this class several years ago. It moves from the broader conceptual fields of Soul and Space, the first two classes this year, to the particular examination of the Hebrew alphabet.
As with all the kabbalistic material, the subject matter gets complicated fast. We began with an overview of this ancient language. According to recent scholarship Rabbi Jamie says, it is the oldest alphabet in the world. Like most early languages, Chinese for example, it began as pictographs.
Aleph, the first letter, was an ox-head. The word aleph means ox-head, or head of ox, also learning and chieftain. Prior to the use of Arabic numerals each Hebrew letter stood in for numbers with the letter aleph as number one. The word aleph means 1,000. Thus, aleph symbolizes the philosophical notion of the one and the many.
It is silent. Not sure why, but aleph and ayin, though used in the written language, are always silent. As silent and first in the alphabet, it also symbolizes the silence out of which came everything.
(next day) Stopped writing this yesterday when my need for sleep overcame my ability to write a coherent sentence.
The big idea I took away from this class involved aleph and my reimagining/reconstructing emphasis on incarnation rather than transcendence. Jamie introduced the notion of the alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet, as a funnel flowing from aleph in the ein sof (unlimitedness), its silence standing for the space created when the ein sof contracted, the tzimtzum, and filled with ohr, the first light of creation which fractures and travels down through the tree of life with its 22 channels (connecting lines) to the tenth sephirot, or malchut/shekinah, which is this world. Its letter is tav, the 22nd and last letter.
At first I thought, oh this emphasizes transcendence, the physical world developing in a top down fashion from a realm unconnected to it save by the thinnest of conceptual threads. Then Jamie began to introduce the location of the letters on the tree of life and aleph did not appear above the keter (the crown at the top of the tree of life), but on the parallel line of connection between chesed and gevurah, essentially the middle of the tree of life. Huh? How could this be?
These two images represent the two different ways of understanding this idea:
This one shows the first representation of the funnel idea that came to me. It does in fact emphasize transcendence. But, when we remember (difficult to do when material is presented on paper) that the tree of life is three-dimensional and can be seen as a sphere, another possible image presents itself.
As the rabbi likes to say, Aha! The nub of creation, the contraction of the unlimited ein sof, the movement from the quantum world to the Einstenian/Newtonian this world, the shattering of the ur-ohr, the first light of creation, happens in the center of the sphere and radiates outward. Yes. The divine moves from within all to create, in an outward push, the shekinah, the divine manifested in created matter. This is big-bangy. The tzimtzum just proceeds the big bang which radiated outward from an unfathomably concentrated spot in the beforeness of whatever it was, the ein sof, to create literally everything we know.
This puts the sacred neither above nor below but within. In order to access sacred nature we do not need to cast a prayer upward toward the heavens or outward to a religious institution, but inward to the aleph in our own soul, to that silent spot in ourselves where resides our shard of the ohr, the first light.
Here is an image of the tree of life that shows the location of aleph between chesed and gevurah. Remember that the tree is three dimensional like the DNA helix.