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

3 thoughts on “The Alif and The Alef

  1. Your description of Alif and Alef reminded me of that pause just before the words spill out our mouths. That pause where we must ask ourselves if what we are about to say is kind, true, and necessary.

    “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit”
    ― E.E. Cummings

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