Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Monthly Message

 

June, 2023

Dear Coalition Community,

Given that during the month of June we celebrate Shavuot, the holiday
commemorating the receiving of Torah at Sinai, I thought I might share with you
one of my favorite stories about the creation of the world through the letters of the
Torah. It is a famous story in the Zohar (a medieval book of Jewish mysticism) that
explains how the world is created through the power of God’s words. This version is
adapted from the book “Garments of Light.”

One by one, in reverse order, the letters of the Torah approach God making their
case to be the first letter in the creation of the world. “…when the Holy One desired
to create the world, the letters of the alphabet appeared before Him (in reverse
order). First came Tav and said: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will that You
create the universe with me, for I am Your seal of Truth [emet], and You are called
Truth. It would therefore be fitting for the King to start His Creation with the letter
of Truth.” God replies, “You are right and worthy, but I shall not create the universe
with you, for you will be the mark upon the foreheads of the faithful, who fulfil the
Torah from Aleph to Tav…

The Shin arose next and said: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will to create
the universe with me, for with me begins Your name Shaddai, and it would be
appropriate to begin Creation with a holy name.” God replied: “You are right and
worthy and true. However, you are also the beginning of falsehood [sheker],
therefore I will not create the universe with you…”

Then came Mem, Lamed, and Kaf. They argued that they make up the letters
of melekh, “king”, so it is fitting that the universe be created with them. God replied
that the universe has a King! Nonetheless, Kaf persisted with another argument,
saying that it stands for kavod, the glory of God. It is also the kise, God’s Throne.
Nonetheless, God said that Kaf is also klayah, “destruction”, so He refused to create
with Kaf.

Each letter comes with their own reasoning why it should be the first. Then came
the second letter of the Alef Bet – Bet: “Master of the Universe, may it be Your will to
create the universe with me, because through me you are blessed [berakhah] Above
and below. The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “Of course, it is with you that I
shall create the universe, and you shall stand at the beginning of the universe’s
creation.” But what about Aleph?

We are told that the letter Alef does not approach God with any request, because it
knows that each letter tried and failed to convince God that it was worthy of being
the first letter that creates the world. In recognition of this silence, Alef is left as a
silent letter, and is given a place of honor as the first letter of the Alef-Bet and the
first letter of the Ten Commandments.

My own personal learning from this story is that words matter and in fact have the
power to create and destroy. It is an invitation for us to reflect on our own use of
speech. As we approach Shavuot, I hope that you will take a moment to reflect on
this story and think about how you want your words to matter this year. How do
you want to show up, speak your truth, and be the blessing that makes creative
change?

Kol Tuv (Be Well),

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Rabbi James