In my previous essay, Divine Illuminations, we touched on the subject of the 10 spiritual roots of creation. How do these spiritual forces become activated in the physical world? Our sages say that man is a medaber [Hebrew transliteration], a speaker; he has superior intellect and is expected to use this intellect in his service of Hashem through speech. And speech cannot exist without letters.
What is the source in the Torah for this? In Genesis, in the story of creation, the Torah relates,” Hashem said, let there be…”. Since Hashem is beyond the physical, He couldn’t be speaking as we humans speak, so what was going on? Rabbi Akiva Tatz gives a wonderful insight: the Hebrew word davar means both a word and a thing – a Hebrew word describes exactly its essence so when Hashem “spoke” He was actually willing everything into creation, ie there was no separation between His Will and the thing itself. Therefore, Hashem created the Hebrews letters [which exist as a non-physical root in the higher world], and these are the keys that activate everything in this world.
Hebrew letters also have numerical equivalents and again are not random but have intrinsic meaning. For example, the first letter Aleph has the numerical equivalent of one; it is a silent letter [the English word aloof comes from this, meaning distant] and this refers to Hashem Himself who is beyond time and space and who is One, indivisible. The second letter Beis has the numerical value of two; Beis also means bayis, a house, and our sages say we should think of this world as Hashem’s home, which we have the privilege to live in. So why is Beis also two? Because before Hashem created this world, there was just Him, after creation there was the beginning of multiplicity.
Imagine for a moment that you didn’t have access to letters/language. You wouldn’t be able to speak and you wouldn’t be able to think either, because you need language to think as well. There would be nothing to read. There would be no real communication, no meaningful expression of self. So you wouldn’t be able to do anything very productive in the world. You wouldn’t be able to create. We would not be able to fulfil our divine mission, to be b’ztelem Elokim, to be in the image of G-d, to be a miniature creator.
I saw a very interesting science programme a while back; it was something to do with the big bang theory. They interviewed a young astrophysicist and he said the most phenomenal thing. He noticed that mathematics [ie formulae which are composed of letters and numbers] perfectly describe the universe. If that was the case, he surmised, it would mean that “mathematics would have to have been created before the universe and if that was the case that would fundamentally change our view of reality”! You can say that again! Of course he was right although I shouldn’t think it will get much coverage in the scientific world!
So how does all of this affect us in our daily lives?
We are taught that the Torah [which is composed of Hebrew letters and their numerical equivalents] informs reality – it is a spiritual genetic code. We can now understand why the Torah places such emphasis on positive and truthful speech. The laws of loshon hara, evil speech, are extremely difficult to adhere to. In fact, loshon hara really means not speaking negatively about someone even if it is true. Throughout the Torah, in the Prophets and Tehillim [Psalms], negative speech is scorned upon. Why? Because what we say literally creates something positive or negative in the world. Our speech influences the atmosphere we live in, it influences even inanimate objects [see the book The Coming Revolution where Japanese scientists have shown that saying positive words over a petri dish of freezing water forms exquisitely beautiful shapes and, by contrast, negative words causes the opposite effect]. We can either build with our words or, Heaven forbid, destroy.
We all know this really. We all know what being on the receiving end of a hurtful word is like; we all know what the pain is like, it goes very deep and is difficult to uproot. By contrast, when someone encourages us, praises us, our souls soar, we feel good; we feel a sense of connectedness with the other person.
The Hebrew alphabet starts with the letter Aleph, the middle letter is Mem, and the final letter is Tav. These three letters spell EMET [English transliteration – take my word for it!] which means reality or truth. In other words, we are being told that the whole Torah is the true reality. Therefore if we follow the Torah’s guidance, we can look forward to a life of truth, a life of emunah and attachment to the source of reality – Hashem.
It’s enough to make you religious!