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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Akiba Ben Joseph, Alphabet of

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The title of a Midrash on the names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Two versions or portions of the same exist: Version A, considered by Jellinek to be the older form, by Bloch thought to be of a much more recent origin, introduces the various letters as contending with each other for the honor of forming the beginning of creation ( bereshit ). It is based upon Gen. R. 1: Cant. R. on 5:11, according to which Aleph complained before God that Bet was preferred to it, but was assured that the Torah of Sinai, the object of creation, would begin with Aleph ( Anoki = I am) it, however, varies from the Midrash Rabbot. The letters, beginning with the last, Tav , and ending with Bet , all assert their claim to priority. First Tav , as being the initial letter of Torah: it is told that it will be the mark on the forehead of the wicked (Ezekiel 9:4 , Shab. 55a). Then Shin , as the initial letter of Shem ("the Name") and Shaddai ("Almighty"), puts in its claim: it is told that it is also the first letter of sheḲ er ("falsehood"). Resh as the initial letter of rosh ("the beginning of thy word is truth," Psalm 119:160 ) and of Raḥ um ("the Merciful One") next makes its demands but it is told that rosh or Resh also occurs in evil things ( Numbers 14:4 , Daniel 2:32 , Heb. ) and is the initial also of resh' a ("wickedness"). Next comes ḳ oph , as the beginning of Ḳ adosh ("holy") but it is also the first letter of Ḳ elalah ("curse"). So all the rest complain each having some claim, which is, however, at once refuted, until Beth , the initial letter of berakah ("blessing" and "praise"), is chosen. Whereupon Aleph is asked by the Most High why it alone showed modesty in not complaining and it is assured that it is the chief of all letters, denoting the oneness of God, and that it shall have its place at the beginning of the Sinaitic revelation. This competition is followed by a haggadic explanation of the form of the various letters and by interpretations of the different compositions of the alphabet: AT BSH, AḤ S BṬ ' A, and AL BM.

Version B of "Alphabet."
Version B is a compilation of allegoric and mystic Haggadahs suggested by the names of the various letters, the component consonants being used as acrostics ( notarikon ). Thus Aleph ( , "Thy mouth learned truth") suggests truth, praise of God, faithfulness (emunah ), or the creative Word of God (imrah ) or God Himself as Aleph , Prince and Prime of all existence at this point chapters from mystic lore on Meṭ aṭ ron-Enoch, etc., are inserted. Bet (here named after the Arabic form Be ) suggests house (bayit ), blessing (berakah ), contemplation (binah ), which is prized as superior to the study of the Law. Gimel suggests gemilut ḥ asadim (benevolence), especially God's benevolence, and the rain ( geshem ) of God's mercy and His majesty (gaawah ) in the heavens. Daled (Arabic, instead of the Hebrew form Dalet ) suggests care for the poor (dal ). He recalls God's name, so does Vaw (see Shab. 104a), Zayin the key of sustenance ( zan ) in God's hand (also Shab. 104a ), and a chapter follows on Zerubbabel at the unlocking of the graves for the resurrection. Here follows a chapter on Hell and Paradise continued in Ḥ et = ḥ eṭ = sin Ṭ et suggests ṭ iṭ , the clay of earth, and hence, resurrection Yod ("the hand") suggests the reward of the righteous Kaph ("hollow of the hand"— "palm"), the clapping of hands, and the congregation of Israel ( keneset ) led by Meṭ aṭ ron to Eden. Lamed recalls leb ("the heart") Mem , the mysteries of the merkabah ("the heavenly chariot") and God's kingdom ( malkut ) Nun, ner , "the light (ner ) of God is the soul of man" (Proverbs 20:27 , Heb. ) Samek , "God sustaineth (somek ) the falling" (Psalm 145:14 , Heb. ), or Israel, the Sanctuary or the Torah, inasmuch as the word samek has several different meanings. Ayin ("the eye") suggests the Torah as light for the eye Pe recalls peh , the mouth, as man's holy organ of speech and praise Ẓ ade suggests Moses as Ẓ addiḲ , the righteous ḳ oph , also Moses as the one who circumvented the stratagems of Pharaoh. Resh suggests God as the rosh, the head of all Shin , the breaking of the teeth (shen) of the wicked (Psalm 3:8 , Heb. ) and Tav the insatiable desire of man ( taawah ) unless he devotes himself to the Torah, the Law.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Akiba Ben Joseph, Alphabet of'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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