Author Archives: Edward Hoffman

Edward Hoffman

About Edward Hoffman

Edward Hoffman is a New York-based psychologist and author of many books in the fields of Jewish mysticism, spirituality, and psychology, including The Way of Splendor and Opening the Inner Gates.

The Hebrew Alphabet: A Mystical Journey

This article, the second of two parts, looks at the ways Jewish mystics venerated the Hebrew letters. Jewish mystics considered the Hebrew letters to be a sort of Divine DNA, that when studied could reveal secrets of the Cosmos. Reprinted with permission from The Hebrew Alphabet: A Mystical Journey (Chronicle Books).

From the earliest metaphysical text known as the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Formation”), Jewish mystics have extolled the Hebrew alphabet as the man­ifestation of celestial patterns of energy. In a section that has long entranced kabbalistic (mystical) adepts, this ancient treatise vividly declares, “Twenty-two foun­dation letters: He ordained them, He hewed them, He combined them, He weighed them, He interchanged them. And He created with them the whole creation and everything to be created in the future.”

mystical hebrew alphabetThe Secrets of the Hebrew Letters

Based on this provocative notion, later Jewish visionaries stressed that mastery of the Hebrew alphabet in all its varied aspects allows the indi­vidual to gain supreme knowledge about the realm of matter. In particular, they regarded the Names of God as powerful devices in the hands of the knowledgeable. The correct permutation and pronunciation of certain Divine Names was believed to grant the ability to cure the dangerously ill, perceive events far away in time and space, and even to create a golem (a humanoid made from clay).

The 13th-century Zohar(Book of Splendor) is filled with refer­ences to the importance of the Hebrew alphabet as a celestial code or blue­print for the cosmos. Interestingly, modern science can supply an analogy to clarify this evocative concept: Just as we now regard the DNA molecule as a carrier of incredibly condensed information concerning the development of life, so too have kabbalists viewed the Hebrew language of Scripture as a cipher describing the universe. The Zohar relates that, “God looked into [the letters] of the Torah and created the universe.”

The Zohar affirms that every sentence, every phrase, every word, and even every letter of the Bible exists simultaneously on several levels of meaning. This sacred work clearly declares, “Woe unto those who see in the Law nothing but simple narratives and ordinary words! . . . Every word of the Law contains an elevated sense and a sublime mystery.”

The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet

In the Jewish tradition, Hebrew has always been considered to be a holy language. This essay traces the development of Hebrew and its roots as a holy language in Jewish thought. The first part of this essay covers the history of the Hebrew letters and their place in Rabbinic thought. This is Part I of a two-part article; the second part of this essay looks at the role Hebrew letters play in Jewish mysticism. Reprinted with permission from The Hebrew Alphabet: A Mystical Journey (Chronicle Books).The Wisdom of the Hebre Alphabet, Aleph-Bet

Judaism has always regarded Hebrew as a sacred language, the medium of divine communication. For millennia, its sages and mystics have taught that the letters are no ordinary expression. Indeed, the very word for “letter” in Hebrew–Ot–means sign or wonder; that is, a heavenly revelation. It has therefore long been advised: The more we learn about the letters through both study and medita­tion, the greater becomes our inner development. 

Mysterious Origins

The Hebrew alphabet’s origins lie shrouded in the mists of antiquity. Today, scholars believe that a version known as North Semitic arose among northwest Palestine and Syria’s inhabitants more than 3,500 years ago and established permanently the phonetic sound, numerical value, and order of what initially became Early Hebrew. Already used in the time of King Solomon, this was the original script of the Bible.

When–led by Ezra the Scribe in approximately the fifth century B.C.E.–the Jewish people returned from Babylonian Exile, the Square Script, a dis­tinctive descendent from the Jewish Aramaic used in the Holy Land, became the preferred language. It was eventually adopted officially for the writing of Torah scrolls. Yet, Early Hebrew never entirely vanished and was used by the second-century Jewish revolutionary Bar Kochba on his coins in defying Roman rule. Nevertheless, for nearly 2,000 years, the Square Script has been basic to Judaism, and relied upon by our greatest sages for prayer, sacred study, and meditation.

22 Letters, No Vowels