The Alif and The Alef


The first letter of the Arabic alphabet is the “Alif,” which makes a “short-a” sound and, of it, a Muslim mystic named Shams Tabriz said:

“Of all the divine mysteries, we have been given only an alif,
a single stroke down.
Everything else is meant to explain that one stroke.
We talk about what’s written on the tablet, on the earth,
on the heart, but tell me about that alif,
and I’ll explain the rest of the alphabet.”

Excerpt from “The Sayings of Shams Tabriz.” Coleman Barks (2014) “Rumi: Soul Fury.” iBooks. HarperCollinsPublishers.

When I read what Shams said, I was reminded of something that Jewish mystics said of the “Alef,” which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and makes only the sound of opening your mouth to begin to make a sound.

The Jewish mystics said that, when the Israelites were assembled at the base of Mt. Sinai, G-d spoke only the Alef that is the first letter of the first word of the very first of the Ten Commandments, because:

“Alef . . . contains the whole Torah.”

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, The Book of Miracles, p. 30 (1987 UAHC Press) (citing Zohar II:85b).

After putting those two texts next to one another, I began to wonder . . .

What is it that the mystics are trying to tell us through these letters that:
– come at the beginning of lists,
– make little or no sound,
and, nevertheless,
– contain all of the information we need to explain everything else?

. . . so I thought I would invite you to join me in pondering . . .

shavua tov, jen

in the silent stillness




Enveloped at daybreak
in the silent stillness of
softly falling snow,
I whisper Your name.
“Please,” I plead
in the silent stillness of
that holy moment,
“please let me know You.
Walk with me
in the silent stillness of
this eternal present,
and never go away.”


. . .  jen

“living inside”




Your existence and your nonexistence
are entirely that.
What makes you happy, what makes you cry,
all this is the friend.
But your eyes do not see the beauty.
Otherwise, you would realize that,
head to foot, you are living inside
the one you ask about.

Excerpt From: Barks, Coleman. “Rumi: Soul Fury.” HarperCollinsPublishers. iBooks.  (emphases in original).



praying we all practice looking with our hearts, rather than our eyes, jen

Thought for the New Year



“The days themselves are talking to you, saying,
Don’t look for blessings from us.
We are hoping that you will instead bless us,
so that our day will lose its dayness, this hour
its hourliness, so that an inanimate object here
might come to life, into the animation that leads to
a consciousness that grows into God.”

Barks, Coleman. “Rumi: Soul Fury. Rumi and Shams Tabriz on Friendship.”  pp. 243-244 of 429. iBooks. HarperCollinsPublishers.