Ruth Mergi Ketubah Circles Multilayer


Aleph. 25 x 25 x 2 cm. 72 layers hand-cut paper.

"Aleph is the first letter. It has no sound. Only the sound you make when you begin to make every sound. Open your mouth and begin to make a sound. Stop! That is Aleph.

It is the letter beginning the first of God's mysterious seventy names: Elohim. God. It also begins the most important thing about God: echad. One. Know that God is One. The first and the last and the only One.

The name of the first man was Adam. Adam. The first man. And the name of the herald of the last man will be Eliyahu, Elijah.

The name of the first Jew is also Aleph, Avraham Avinu, Abraham, our Father.

Aleph is the letter of fire, aysh. A fire that flames but does not destroy. That is how the Holy One gets your attention. God shows you the primordial fire.

And the very first letter of the first word of the first commandment begins with the first letter, which has no sound: Aleph, anochi, I. "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery."

It is no accident that all these words begin with Aleph. The most basic words there are begin with the most primal sound there is. The almost sound you make before you can make any sound."

Lawrence Kushner, The Book of Letters

I have a bit of a thing for Hebrew letters. I like typography as much as the next girl, sure, but my love for the letters of the Hebrew alphabet goes far beyond mere form. In Jewish tradition, we are taught that the letters are much more than the basic building blocks of sacred words and holy texts: Hebrew letters are imbued with rich layers of meaning. Each is a poem unto itself. Each is a mystery, and a revelation.

Hebrew letterforms are symbols, remnants of divine archetypes, shadowy manifestations of the Infinite in our limited, manifest world. The letters are signposts, pointing us in the direction of the universe's fundamental structures. The Truth itself is perhaps unutterable, but the letters show the way, revealing the Truth in accessible, digestible doses — phonetic, numerical, even metaphysical.

Aleph is my favorite of them all. It’s a form in-tension, believed in Jewish mystical tradition to represent the twin forces of transcendence and imminence, God above and the world below.

The letter is comprised of three elements: the top-right "yud," which sweeps upwards towards the heavens, the middle "vav," the backbone, providing stability and structure, and the bottom-left "yud," stretching downwards, firmly rooting the Aleph to the here and now of our world.

The letter itself is silent. Paired with a vowel, Aleph utters the vowel's sound, but never its own. Its presence allows us to speak; but its presence can never be spoken.

Structurally and conceptually, Aleph is a bit of a paradox -- much like a Zen koan or a yin yang -- presenting opposing concepts in a singular, holistic package.

Unsurprisingly, Aleph is the first letter of the word Emet — Truth. As if to remind us that truth itself is complex and bound up in oppositions and tensions.

And that the Truth is revealed only in silence.

Aleph bears mute testimony to our own potential to hold ourselves in harmony with the sublime, the infinite, the absolute. Aleph quietly reminds us that the truth contains multitudes -- even apparent contradictions -- and humbly breaths it all in, inscrutable, contemplative.

For me, Aleph is a reminder to "say little and do much." Aleph tells me to stop and pay attention to the pauses between the notes. To breathe. To let go.

To be silent.

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