There are an estimated 3,000 languages (not counting dialects) and more than 66,000 letters which make up the alphabets for these languages. Only one language and one alphabet is Divinely created, the letters having been formed and shaped by G‑d alone. That language is Lashon HaKodesh, biblical Hebrew.

It is no wonder, then, that the Hebrew letters are multifac­eted. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the alef-beis, are so rich with meaning that even Judaism’s greatest scholars had to engage in lengthy study to understand why G‑d made them as He did. Traditionally, Hebrew letters possess:

1) Design—the specific way each letter is formed. This form represents the Divine energy within each letter.

2) Gematria—each of the letters of the alef-beis represents a certain number, e.g., alef = 1, beis = 2, etc.

3) Meaning—each letter has many meanings, e.g., the letter alef stands for chief, to learn, wondrous, and much more. Beis means house, etc.

4) Nekudos (vowels)—most letters have a vowel that tells us how it is to be pronounced.

5) Crowns—some letters in the Torah have crowns—little lines drawn on the top of Hebrew letters—which add strength to the letters, e.g. . Rabbi Akiva was famous for his expositions upon them. The crowns have their own special meanings beyond the scope of this work.

6) Cantillation—each word in the Torah has a musical note.

In this book we will deal with the first four topics. The rest we will leave for another time and another book.

For grammatical reasons, certain Hebrew letters have two different pronunciations (e.g., beis and veis, kaf and chaf, pei and fei, shin and sin, tav and sav) as you will find throughout this book. Regardless of its pronunciation in a particular word, we will call the letter by its principal name (e.g., beis, kaf, pei, etc.)

It is important to note that many words in Hebrew, as in all Semitic languages,—though they sound phonetically different—share the same root and therefore are interrelated. For exam­ple, alef, aluf and ulfana all share the same common root of א = alef, ל = lamed and ף = pei, and so their meanings are con­nected.

Also, according to Kabbalah, when the same letters are trans­posed to form different words, they retain the common energy of their shared gematria. Because of this, the words maintain a connection in the different forms. We find a classic example of this with the words הצר, hatzar (troubles), רצה, ratzah (a desire to run passionately into the “ark” of Torah and prayer) and צהר, tzohar (a light that shines from within). All three words share the same three letters: tzaddik, reish and hei in different com­binations. The Baal Shem Tov1 explains2 the connection between the words as follows: When one is experiencing trou­bles (hatzar), and one runs to study Torah and pray with great desire (ratzah), one is illuminated with a G‑dly light from within (tzohar) that helps him transform his troubles into blessings.3

Because a Hebrew letter radiates light, insight and clarity, it is called an אות (os), connected to the passage4 אתא בוקר (asa boker—“morning will come”). As such, we have chosen to call our book Letters of Light—the light of wisdom and understand­ing which emanates from the letters of the Torah.

Energy in the Letters

In addition to the light in the letters written on printed matter (e.g., the letters in a Torah scroll), there is intrinsic light within each letter independent of it being written down on paper. These are the letters of Creation.

The Mishnah states:5 “With Ten Utterances G‑d created the world.”

As a carpenter employs tools to build a home, so G‑d utilized the twenty-two letters6 of the alef-beis to form heaven and earth. They are the metaphorical wood, stone and nails, corner­posts and crossbeams of our earthly and spiritual existence.

G‑d created the alef-beis before the creation of the world. The Maggid of Mezritch7 explains8 this on the basis of the first verse in the Book of Genesis: “בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ—In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” The word את, (es) is spelled with an alef, the first letter of the alef-beis, and a tav, which is the last. The fact is, את, es, is generally considered to be a superfluous word. There is no literal translation for it, and its function is primarily as a grammatical device. So why is “es” present twice in the very first line of the Torah? It suggests that in the beginning, it was not the heavens and the earth that were created first. It was literally the alef-beis, alef through tav. Without these letters, the very Utterances with which G‑d formed the universe would have been impossible.

Furthermore, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov explains the verse:9 “Forever the words of G‑d are hanging in the heavens.” The crucial thing to realize is that G‑d did not merely create the world once. His words didn’t just emerge and then evaporate. Rather, G‑d continues to create the world anew each and every moment. His words are there constantly, “hanging in the heav­ens.” And the alef-beis is the foundation of this ongoing process of creation.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, explains10 that the source of the twenty-two letters is even higher than that of the Ten Commandments. As it states:11 “With you (the essence of G‑d), the Jews will be blessed.” בך means “with you.” The beis (which has a gematria of 2) and the kaf (= 20) added together equals 22. Through the twenty-two letters of the alef-beis, the Jewish people are connected to G‑dand receive all of their blessings.

Essence of This Work

The essence of this work—that which makes it both unique and weaves everything together—are the teachings of my holy teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whom we will address throughout this book as simply “the Rebbe.” It is my sincere hope that the ideas con­veyed herein have neither diluted nor misconstrued the Rebbe’s true intention.