Lessons from the Hebrew Alphabet


<< Previous  |  Contents
of The Seven Commandment Pages >>
By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2012, 2014 
Nathaniel Segal 

With Moral Lessons from the Talmud *

א Alef I shall teach you a'ah leff khah
ב Beit understanding bee nah

ג Gimmel He compensates goh mell
ד Dalet the impoverished dah leem

Why does the left foot of the Gimmel face the Dalet? ג  ד
  It is the nature of the kind to seek out the poor.
Why does the leg of the Dalet stand next to the Gimmel?
  To show how the poor reach out to the helper.
Why does the face of the Dalet turn away from the Gimmel?

To teach that charity should be performed in secret so as not to shame the recipient.

ה Heh Letters in The second, third, and fourth letters of the L-rd's name, which is not to be spoken.
ו Vav the L-rd's Name

ז Zayin He sustains you zahn
ח Chet (ḥet) He grants grace khoh nayn
ט Tet He is good to you tohv
י Yod He gives you an inheritance yoh reesh
ך ,כ Kaf  He places a crown on your head koh tehr
(kett ehr)
ל Lammed in the World to Come l'oh lahm
hah bah

If you behave this way, the Almighty will sustain you, be gracious to you, be good to you, give you an inheritance, and place a crown on your head in the World to Come.

ם ,מ Mem  

One Mem is open at the bottom and one is closed
– to teach you that some commands from G-d are open to understanding and some are closed to understanding.

ן ,נ Nun   (noon) the Fallen  noh fleem

Why is one Nun bent around but one stands? נ  ן

If a person is faithful – ne'eman – to G-d when bent by adversity, they will surely be faithful when relieved.

Samekh  Nun  –   soh mehkh  noh fleem
  Reverse the alphabetical order of the previous and next letters. (a )

Supports the fallen  (a phrase from the Prayer Book).

ס Samekh Supports soh mehkh
ע Ayin the poor ah nee eem

Samekh  Ayin   – see mah neem   ah seh

Another lesson:   Make symbols  /  Make indexes
(to help you study the Torah).

ף ,פ Peh  

One Peh is curved inward and one is open
– pointing to a closed mouth and an open mouth.
There is a time to speak, and there is a time to remain silent.

Peh  Ayin  –   poh kay ahkh  eev reem
  Reverse the alphabetical order of the previous two letters. (b )

G-d opens the eyes of the blind  (a blessing in the Prayer Book).

ץ ,צ Tsadik  § A righteous person tsah deek

Why is one Tsadik curved but one is straight? צ  ץ

If a person is righteous when bent by adversity, they will surely be righteous when relieved.

Koof  Tsadik  –   kayts
  Reverse the alphabetical order of the previous and the next letters. (c )

End of the Exile  (elsewhere in the Talmud).

ק Koof
(Kof, Qoph)
Holy kah dohsh

ר Reish Wicked rah shah

•  Why does the Koof precede the Reish so that the Reish faces away from the Koof?

The Holy One, blessed be He,** says, "I can't look at a wicked person."

ק  ר

•  Why does the Koof have a leg next to the Reish?

The Holy One, blessed be He, says, "If a wicked person repents, I attach (koh shehr) a crown to him similar to mine."

•  Why does the Koof have a detached leg?

A wicked person has an opportunity to bend under and turn towards the letter Koof – a holy person.

•  On the other hand, Koof – holiness – has two openings given that the leg is both detached from the roof of the letter, and also the Koof's leg doesn't seal the bottom of the letter.

A person who decides to slip away from holiness – the Almighty lets him.

ש Shin Falsehood shekker
ת Tav Abandon tah'ah zohv

Shin is the first letter of the Hebrew word 'falsehood'.


Also, the word for falsehood – shekker – consists of three adjacent letters, Shin, Koof, and Reish.

ת Tav Truth eh met

Tav is the last letter of the Hebrew word 'truth' – eh met.

The previous letters of this word are Alef, the first letter of the alphabet, and Mem, a middle letter of the alphabet.

•  Why?

Because falsehood is common, truth is uncommon.  [One has to search the entire Alef-Beit to assemble the letters for truth.]


•  Why do the Hebrew letters for 'falsehood' each rest on one point, but the Hebrew letters for 'truth' each have a firm foundation?

To teach us that lies are shaky, but truth endures.


*  Hebrew is read from right to left.
This first table is based on:  Wikipedia. "Hebrew alphabet."  Retrieved 10 Dec 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_alphabet

*  The lessons in the second table are based on the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat: 104a. ††

  The second character is the form of the letter which is used at the end of a word.

  Reverse the alphabetical order of these pairs of letters.
  a)  Read the Samekh before the Nun.
  b)  Read the Peh before the Ayin.
But reading these two letters in alphabetical order becomes, "His eyes are open"  (eh NAWV p'koo KHOT).  Since G-d's eyes are open, He proceeds to open our eyes as His are.
  c)  Read the Koof before the Tsadik.

§  Ordinarily, you will see the name 'tsadi' associated with this letter.  However, recent generations, living close to Messianic times, have been using the Hebrew word tsadik, which means "righteous person," as the name of this letter.  This letter tsadik is especially associated with the transition from Exile to the state of redemption during the Messianic age (see Tana d'Vei Eliyahu).

**  The Holy One, blessed be He - a typical Hebrew expression for G-d.

††  For another English rendition, see:  Abraham Cohen. 1949, 1995. Everyman's Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages. New York: Schocken Books, 1975, 1995. pp. 177-78.