Bet (also pronounced Bais) is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet
Numerical value: 2
Sound: "B" with a dagesh (dot) and "v" without a dagesh
Meaning: House

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King Ptolemy II (283-246 bce) wanted a Greek translation of the Torah (the Septuagint). He gathered 72 elders of Israel and sequestered them in 72 different houses.1 He visited each of them and said, “Translate for me the book of Moses your teacher.” Miraculously, each Sage’s translation was identical even though each, independently, had made certain changes in the translation. The Jewish elders felt that if they gave Ptolemy G‑d’s literal words to Moses—Ptolemy might be misled or use it against the Jewish people.

Significantly, the Sages had all altered the first verse of the Torah. Instead of writing בראשית—“Bereishis, (In) the begin­ning, created G‑d...,” they wrote אלקים—“Elokim (G‑d) created, (in) the beginning,” thus beginning the Torah with the letter אalef instead of the letter בbeis.


The design of the beis, the second letter of the alef-beis, com­prises three lines: two horizontal and one vertical. These three lines represent the directions east, south, and west. The hori­zontal line on top represents the east. The vertical line is the south, and the horizontal line below is the west. The design of the beis is similar to the path of the sun, which rises in the east and sets in the west. The Midrash2 states that the letter beis is similar to the construction of the world. A contemporary illustration of this is offered by geologists. When you look at the earth, you see that there are land masses to the east, west, and south. Even beneath the ice cap of the South Pole, one finds the continent of Antarctica. But beneath the frozen mass of the North Pole, there’s nothing. The north is “open.”

The immediate lesson we derive from the beis is that the world was created incomplete. The job of humankind is thus to complete Creation by perfecting it. We do this through our good deeds and by making the world a better place to inhabit.

Furthermore, north represents evil, as it states:3 “From the north the evil will be released upon all the inhabitants of the land.” G‑d’s declaration is in direct response to Jeremiah’s vision of a bubbling pot whose opening is from the north, a vision that portends the destruction of the first Holy Temple. Babylon, the nation that destroyed the First Holy Temple, in fact, attacked from the north.

Understanding that the north represents evil is not enough: we have an obligation to fight to overcome this evil. We also need to recognize that the “open” side, this northern aspect, exists within the individual as well as from without. In a per­son, this is called the yetzer hara—the evil inclination, which tempts and cajoles us to sin. The only antidote is to strive to perfect oneself, which in turn contributes to the perfection of the world. This correction, or tikkun, of oneself—and hence the world—is embodied in the design of the letter beis.


The gematria of beis is two. Two represents duality and plural­ity. Everything in Creation was created in pairs. Man and woman, male and female. This bifurcation informs us that we are not G‑d. Only G‑d can be One. But for mankind to create, to reproduce, two are required. Beis also represents the level of intellect, in contrast to the alef, which represents faith.

The commentaries on the Torah ask,4 “Why does the Torah begin with the letter beis instead of an alef?” particularly when the Zohar states that the alef is the holiest letter (because it is first in the order of the alef-beis).

The Rebbe gives the following explanation: When a person reads the beginning of the Torah, he wonders: “Why does the Torah begin with a beis, the second letter of the alef-beis? Why doesn’t the Torah begin with the first letter, the alef?” And the answer unfolds as follows:

In Jeremiah5 the question is asked: “Why was the land of Israel destroyed?” G‑d answers, “Because the Jewish people have forsaken My Torah.” The Talmud6 counters, “What do you mean they didn’t learn Torah? [The Jewish people were con­stantly studying Torah.]” The Talmud thus deduces that the reason the land was destroyed was that the Jews didn’t make a blessing before they began to study the Torah.

What is the blessing over the Torah? “Blessed are You, G‑d our L-rd, King of the universe, Who has chosen us out of all nations of the world, and given us His Torah [(i.e., not a man-made Torah, but dictated by G‑d to Moses letter by letter; and as such, true and unchanged for all generations)], blessed are You G‑d Who gives the Torah.”7

A person must verbalize this introductory blessing every day before he begins to study Torah. Rabbi Yoel Sirkis8 explains9 that the purpose of Torah study is to “cleave and become one with G‑d through the holiness of His word, and thereby cause the Shechinah, the Divine Presence of G‑d, to dwell amongst us.” Indeed, there are two levels to our relationship with the Torah. The first is to believe with complete faith that the Torah comes from G‑d (and is therefore beyond human intellect); and the second, that it is only because of G‑d’s compassion and love for His people that He allows us to understand the Torah intellectually.

If one denies the divinity of Torah, one cannot properly un­derstand its G‑dly concepts. Our intellect alone is incapable of arriving at the true meaning of the Torah’s contents.

Therefore, the Torah begins with a beis, the second letter of the alef-beis. This is to hint to us that when we endeavor to acquire the understanding of Torah merely with our intellect, we are lacking the primary purpose of Torah: to become one with G‑d—the Alef.

King Ptolemy II could not have understood the message of the beis. He would have said that since beis represents intellect, then intellect must be worshiped. By beginning the Septuagint with an AlefG‑d created”—the Rabbis were reflecting in effect that G‑d—and not man—is the primary force in the world.10

In light of the above, the words of the Jerusalem Talmud become clear. The reason the Torah begins with a beis is that beis stands for berachah—blessing. If one’s Torah study is preceded by the alef, it will be blessed with intellect and under­standing.


The meaning of beis is bayis, which is Hebrew for “home.” Why did G‑d create the world? The Midrash11 tells us that G‑d desired a home. How does one define a home? A home is the place to which you return after finishing with your worldly affairs. You remove your shoes, change to comfortable clothes, and relax. You don’t have to put on a show or “sell” yourself to anyone. It’s a place where the real you comes alive. G‑d also wanted a place where He could be Himself and unite with His bride, the Jewish people. That was the objective of Creation. That is the beis of bayis, the first letter of the Torah, theblueprint of Crea­tion.

With beis signifying Creation, we note that the root of the word Bereishisב-ראש-ית—is rosh, which means head. The pre­fix is a beis. The last two letters of the word are yud and tav. Together, the beis, yud and tav spell bayis—house.12 In the begin­ning, when G‑d created the world, His taavah, תאוה (de­sire), was that the Head (which is G‑d) should dwell in the bayis, His home. And how does one make a home for G‑d? By living the letter beis. The three lines of the beis are often inter­preted as representing the three pillars on which the world stands: Torah, prayer, and charity (including good deeds). When a person prays, studies Torah, and gives charity daily, one builds a home for G‑d. The word תאוה, taavah, has the gematria of 412: tav=400, alef=1, vav=6, hei=5. If you add up the letters of the word bayis: beis=2, yud=10, tav=400, they also equal 412.13

The aforementioned three lines of the beis—the pillars of Torah, prayer, and charity (and good deeds)—also hearken back to the original three directions of its design. Since the beis also contains the open direction, the north, which portends evil, the very structure of the letter embodies an internal tension. Its lack of physical closure poses both an invitation and a poten­tial danger, and they both point to the obligation of the Jewish people to complete G‑d’s creation, to finish His home and to perfect the world. We do this by bringing G‑dliness down into the world and by acting in accordance with the beis, the house. We fulfill our obligations through the study of Torah, prayer, and the giving of charity. Then and only then will G‑d dwell in His home, and will we truly merit a world of berachah, of blessing.