Recently I received an email from a older gentleman who was (joyfully) questioning why he was being drawn to study Hebrew at his late stage in life. Was he crazy to expend such energy on such a subject? How would he ever learn this precious language well enough to pray or read the Hebrew Scriptures with some fluency?
"Step by step, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little" (Isa. 28:10). Even a little Hebrew helps, and as you progress you will find it is a spiritual language that will bless your life in many wonderful ways....
A charming Chassidic story might encourage you to press on in your studies of Hebrew, even if you are struggling to learn the most basic words and sounds:
Once there was a boy whose parents had died when he was quite young. The people in the town took pity on him and he was adopted by one of his non-Jewish neighbors. He grew up as their son and for many years the boy was happy. As he got older he had the feeling that something was missing in his life. His adoptive parents saw his misery and finally told him about his past. They gave him a few books they had saved. One of them was his mother's siddur.
Later that year they went to town to buy some provisions before the winter. It happened to be the eve of Yom Kippur. On the way back he was drawn by the strange yet haunting melodies coming from one of the buildings. He slipped out of the wagon and walked into the synagogue. There he saw hundreds of people swaying back and forth, pleading with God.
The young lad turned his eyes upward toward heaven. 'Dear God,' he said. 'I have never learned to pray like others have. All I know is the aleph-bet. I will recite the letters for You, and You put them together to make the proper words." The lad began reciting aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet..." He did this over and over again.
The rabbi leading the prayers overheard the boy and stopped the service. "The lad is now reciting the aleph-bet, and God is busy putting the letters together to form the proper words. We must delay our prayers until the lad is finished with his, at which time God can be attentive to us."
As the Baal Shem Tov said, "God prefers the sincerity of the heart."
Jesus and the Alphabet...
The Hebrew word for "letter" is ot (אוֹת), which can also mean "sign" or "wonder." Each letter of the Aleph-Bet, then, may contain signs that point to wonderful truths about life.
According to the Jewish mystics, the entire cosmos is said to be created from the 22 consonants of the Hebrew Aleph Bet, called otiyot yesod (אוֹתיּוֹת יְסוֹד) or "foundational letters." Through the otiyot yesod God formed substance out of chaos and brought forth existence from nonexistence. In other words, the entire universe is created and sustained by divine language (the Word of God). When the LORD spoke the universe into existence, His words still echo throughout all of creation, sustaining it and preserving it in being.
Rabbi Oshaya taught: When a human king builds a palace, he does not build it with his skill alone; the king employs a builder. Moreover, the builder does not bring it out of his own imagination, but consults a blueprint - a plan and diagram - to know how to arrange the chambers, doors, and passageways of the palace. In the same way, God as both King and Builder consulted Torah and then created the world.
- Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1:1
Yeshua the Mashiach is called devar Elohim (דְּבַר אֱלהִים), the Word of God, and the Aleph and Tav (אָלֶף וְתָו), Who upholds all of the created order by the word of His power. It is the Mashiach Yeshua alone Who is the true yesod (יְסוֹד) or foundation of life itself. Every holy utterance can be traced back to Him, and He is the Source and Origin of all that is good, lasting, and righteous. Indeed, Yeshua is called "the zohar of His glory" (הוּא זהַר כְּבוֹדוֹ), that is, the radiance of the glory of God Himself, who "upholds all things by the word of His power" (נוֹשֵׂא כל בִּדְבַר גְּבוּרָתוֹ) (see Heb. 1:3). Since He is the First and the Last, we can see that the otiyot (letters of the alphabet) will all reveal something wonderful about Him. For more on this, click here.
Hebrew & Honey...
A beautiful Jewish custom developed in the Middle Ages regarding the study of the Hebrew Aleph Bet. After a young child had successfully learned all the Hebrew letters, a "graduation party" would be held in his or her honor. The letters were written on a slate and each was drizzled with honey. The honored child would then lick each letter so that the words of the Scriptures would seem as appealing as honey (Psalm 19:10). An oneg (party) would then follow congratulating the child for entering the world of Jewish learning.