- Teachings (1)
- Teachings (2)
- Teachings (3)
Rav Kook's Journals
- From My Inner Chambers
- Thirst for the Living God
- The Pangs of the Soul
- Yearning to Speak a Word
- Singer of the Song of Infinity
- Wellspring of Holiness
- I Take Heed
- To Know Each of Your Secrets
- Great is My Desire
- To Serve God
- To Return to God
- Land of Israel
- My Love is Great
- Listen to Me, My People
- Birth Pangs of Redemption
- New Translations
- Lights of Teshuvah
- About the Translator
- Contact Me
Letters of the Alphabet
The Primal Genesis
The letter Alef awakens within us the thought of beginning, of the primal genesis. We gaze on its greatness and we are astounded at the preciousness of its vision. It speaks to us, speaking forever: to pay heed, to learn, to instruct. The Aramaic for “learning” is “ulpan”—a word built from “alef.”
The soul knows that whatever comes through learning is not original. What is original is the inner thought that is not expressed. That will surely be the inheritance of the world on the day “when a man will no longer teach his brother nor his comrade to know God, for all shall know Him, from the smallest to the greatest.”
Learning is a translation. It is the reverse side of the face of thought. It is not the soul’s waking state, but its slumber.
This is the lesson of the word “alef.” It is pronounced similarly to the word “elef”—thousand. “Thousand” indicates the digit in the thousands column: the fourth column. The four columns are the singles, tens, hundreds, thousands. These correspond to the sealed thought, the abstract thought, the verbalized thought, and the thought as heard. Learning belongs in the fourth column: when the thought is heard, when one’s ears are “pierced.”
This fourth level—which, the more it increases, decreases—is the upper point, or “yod” of the alef. It makes us mindful of the wealth and multiplicity expressed in the foundation of number when it increases. From it, we visualize the great glory of the union of multiplicity, and the greatness contained within [unity].
As a result of the wealth of multiplicity that comes from a greatness that in its power supports all multiplicity, all might, all increase, and all the limited-yet-growing that gushes from it, we see multiplicity actualized in the lower point: the lower line, the “yod” of the alef.
There is a firm connection between absolute multiplicity in the secret of elevated total oneness and limited oneness, which sets individualized words in their limits. But they do not directly touch each other. Only from a shining foundation that cannot be pointed out can the finite content touch the supernality that transcends all limits and straits.
And so there comes forth a diagonal line, beginning from the upper left—that is to say, from that very quality of exalted power in pure supernality. [This line’s] purpose is to reduce [the power’s] strength, to darken light, in order that it may be seen and shine in the eyes of all finite beings, that it may be grasped by sight and recognition.
As a result, light flows forth. And whatever descends is more right-sided—that is, the greatness of its might is more revealed in the lower worlds.
Above this diagonal, the upper quality of united multiplicity reaches out with a gentle and soft touch that suffices according to the strength of life in it to fill everything with life and a flow of being. From below, there comes to this diagonal a content that is more refined and fine than increasing multiplicity, which is finite and divides into endless branches that build worlds of worlds without number.
And they unite in one bloc, and there shines the flash of light of the first of the lights: the alef in its written form.
The weak recognition within translation, the Aramaic “ulpan” [corresponding to “alef,” when the word “alef” is spelled out] comes to the letter lamed [the second letter in “alef” when it is spelled out], the holy tongue. The two of them together liberate language. They free the power of speech from its prison. [The third and last letter when “alef” is spelled out is pey.] “He will be for a mouth”—but it nevertheless is still imprisoned in the height of its silent oneness, saying the “pey” with a [silent] alef in place of peh with a pronounced “heh.”
The alef in its pronounced form presents us with the image of the ox [“elef” also means ox], the animal of power and service, which bears the yoke, from whose strength come the life-giving crops. The majority of crops are grown with the power of the ox. All the spiritual strength that comprises the crowd of images that come and diverge is included in the power of the beginning form in which everything is included. The power of its strength is revealed in individual creations, which are ever revealed—“join one to another, to make an account” (Kohelet 7:27).
The letter beit means “house.”
Once there is an existence of content, of initial form, it is “the glory of a man to sit in the house.”
For the forms coming into being, for the multitude of strength streaming forth, we must prepare a container: a beit kibul.
This [comprises] a roof and seal that ensure that the light will not appear in its abstract form. These are antecedents of the material that will be built, the container that will be established, which will have character and utility.
The open side of the beit does not face the alef. [It does not] correspond to the abstract form that includes everything within itself. [Rather, the beit] corresponds to the wealth to come. It grows limited (in some sense of the term, at any rate) so that it can enter [the realm of] description and account.
The [horizontal] walls [of the letter beit] make a division above and below. That which is above is beyond any limitation. [There,] exalted flight pervades, without boundary and constriction.
That which is below all limitation is like that which is above all limitation. There too, exalted flight pervades without limit.
[The terms] “above” and “below” relate to [such] concepts only where limitations rule.
The establishment of a situation where the unlimited light will not penetrate and weaken all character-related, limited forms requires a sturdy structure, a unit strong as concrete.
However, we are also engaged in putting boundaries to its sides.
It is true that the content that provides confinements turns to the broad multitude of those that are finite, which pour forth, arriving like an outpouring of water.
However, not all that is finite is revealed in a form of being. There must still be a thin separation that divides and holds back this weak force, so that it will not penetrate any place where it is not appropriate.
It is fitting that the form that will remain in a hidden manner, in the depth of silence, is held back by a reed fence, a thin separation, without penetrating to the boundaries that must gain image and be revealed—neither above nor below all that are limited.
This is the content that hides in the depth of the secret of being. It stands at the side of and on the level of all that comes into being—but it is held back. A hedge of roses prevents it from breaking through. “Your belly is a heap of wheat enclosed in roses”: the right-hand, thin wall of the beit.