Why ‘Aleph’?

I have been asked many times over the years where the ‘Aleph’ in the name of our organisation came from.  It’s a good question, and one that you probably won’t guess the answer to.  In fact, when I first heard of Aleph Melbourne and later contacted it, I too wondered where the name came from.  One day I asked Harvey, the then contact for Aleph Melbourne, where the name came from.  He told me it was from a Midrash, a Jewish story about the bible.

I found a children’s version of this Midrash and read it.  The story about the Aleph was positive and happy and conveyed a sense of  hope and optimism.  Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people have been severely persecuted through the ages and society has not often been kind to us.  The story of the Aleph seemed appropriate for this organisation, a safe place for GLBTIQ people in Melbourne’s Jewish community.  Whilst not all quarters of the community offer a truly welcome home to GLBTIQ people, there is actually a growing sense of acceptance and understanding, which is important to acknowledge.

GLBTIQ people are inherently the same as everyone else, in all of our good and bad human ways.  We love and need love.  We have the same emotional and physical needs as everyone else.  Many of us have the desire to have families, and many of us do have children, either biologically or otherwise.  Some of us have come from previous heterosexual marriages.  Many of us are in committed, monogamous, long-term relationships.  Some of us have a Jewish partner and some of us have a partner who is not Jewish.  Some who do have a Jewish partner and have children may raise their family with a sense of Yiddishkeit, or Jewishness, in much the same way as families where the parents are opposite-sex.  The most important factor in our relationships is the love and support the partners give to each other and to any children we may have.

Lastly, it may help to understand what ‘Aleph’ is in order to understand the name.  Aleph, pronounced ‘uh-lef’, is the first letter of the Hebrew “Aleph-Bet” (alphabet), and is equivalent to the ‘Alpha’ of the Greek alphabet.

Below is the story of the Aleph behind the name of our organisation. Take from the story as much or as little as you want.  Aleph Melbourne does not endorse the religious beliefs of the story, but is simply offering the story as an important part of its history.  Hopefully you will enjoy it’s message, like I did when I first read it.

Michael.  June 19 2011.


The Midrash tells us:

The letters compete for a precious opportunity

The letter of the Aleph Bet crowded around God, eager with anticipation and excitement.  One lucky letter would soon be chosen by God to begin the first word of the holy Torah, the world’s most precious treasure.  Which letter would it be?  Each letter hoped that God would choose it above the rest, and together they clamoured for attention.

“Please, Lord, begin the Torah with me!” they all shouted at once.

The letter Tav pushed to the front.  “Lord,” he shouted, “I am the greatest of all letters!  I am Tav, the first letter of the word Torah!  I know that every letter of the Aleph Bet is equal to a number; I am equal to four hundred, the highest number of them all!  Don’t you agree and I belong at the beginning of the Torah?!”

“I am afraid not,” answered God, “because one day I will use you as a bad sign.  Many years from now, when I destroy the Bet Hamikdash, I will use you, Tav, to mark the Jews who deserve to die.”

“At that time,” continued God, “I will order the Angel of Death to fly to Jerusalem and single out the Jews who are tzaddikim (righteous).  On each tzaddik’s forehead he will mark the letter Tav with invisible ink.

“The Tav will stand for the Hebrew word meaning ‘you will live,’ and the Jews so marked will be allowed to live, safe from their enemies.

“Then I will order the Angel of Death, ‘Single out the Jews who are wicked, the reshaim.  Mark on each rasha’s forehead the letter Tav, not with ink – but with blood.  The bloody Tav will stand for the Hebrew meaning, ‘you will die’; and the wicked  Jews so marked will be destroyed by their enemies.

“You see now, Tav, why I don’t want to use you to begin the Torah: because one day you will serve as a mark for Jews who have do die.”

Hearing this the Tav left, deeply disappointed.

The letter Shin came forward confidently.  He bowed down and begged in a loud voice, “Please God, use me as the first letter in your Torah!  After the Tav, I am the highest number of the Aleph Bet, equal to three hundred.  I am even at the beginning of one of your holy names, the name Sha-ddai.”

“Absolutely not,” God replied, “for, although it is true that you are important, Shin, you begin the names of such hateful things as ‘shav’, meaning falsehood, and ‘sheker,’ which means a lie.  I hate lies and falsehood; I have built my world upon truth.’

The Shin left dejectedly.

This did not discourage the Raish from approaching God’s throne.  it felt it had a convincing argument.

“Have mercy on me, God,” it appealed, “and honour me with starting your Torah.  You are known as a merciful God, and I am the first letter of the word ‘rachum’, which means merciful.  I should also mention that I am the beginning of the word ‘refua,’ healing …”  The Raish’s voice trailed off in embarrassment, because he felt the God would refuse his request.

His fears were confirmed, for God explained, “Many years from now Moshe Rabbainu will lead the Jews through the desert.  Some ungrateful Jews will not want to have Moshe as a leader.  In their hearts they will grumble, ‘We would rather serve idols in Egypt than serve God as free men in the desert.’  They will call out, ‘Let us rebel again Moshe, choose another leader which will be called out by the rebellious Jews?

“To make things worse,” God continued, “you are the beginning of the word ‘rah,’ meaning evil, and ‘rasha,’ a wicked person.

The Raish understood that he would not be accepted and agreed reluctantly.

Quick as anything, the letter Kuf seized its chance.

“What about me?” he piped up.  “I am a wonderful letter.  When the Jews will pray, they will use me to being the prayer of kedusha.  The will proclaim, ‘Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh; holy is God.”

“Still,” God persisted, “you cannot be the first letter of the Torah.  You are the beginning of the work ‘kelala,’ a curse.  I don’t want wicked people to say, ‘When God made the world, he cursed it; therefore he began the Torah with a Kuf.’”

One by one, the rest of the letters stepped up to God’s throne, trying to capture for themselves the glory of becoming the beginning of the Torah.  They coaxed, pleaded, begged and argued, but to no avail.  God refused them all.

Finally two letters remained – the Aleph and the Bet.  These two had waited, becoming more tense with each passing moment.  The Bet was so nervous after his long wait that the little dot inside him quivered  like a beating heart.

“Please, God,” he cried out, half sobbing with excitement, “I would so much like to be the Torah’s first letter!  I am at the beginning of a lot of good things.  Your children, the Jews, say your praises in synagogue  ‘Barechu et Adoshem’ – Praise God; and ‘Baruch shem kavod malchuto leolam vaed’ – Praised be God’s great name forever; and ‘Baruch Adoshem leolam amen v’amen’ – Praised be God forever, amen and amen.  All these praises begin with a Bet!”

This time God agreed.  “Yes,” he replied.  “I will start the Torah with you.  Bet is the beginning of ‘beracha’, blessing.  I want all the people on earth to know that I love them and bless them.  Therefore the Torah will begin with a Bet, with the word ‘Beraishit,’ – in the beginning.”

Upon hearing that the Bet had been chosen, the Aleph walked away quietly.

“Aleph,” called God, “don’t you want to ask for yourself as well?”

The Aleph sighed, “I am such an unimportant letter,” he said humbly.  “All the other letters of the Aleph Bet are worth more than I am.  The Bet equals two, the Gimel three, the Dalet four – but I am only a small number, equal to the number one.”

“On the contrary, Aleph!” exclaimed God.  “You, Aleph, are the king of all letters!  You are one, and so am I one, and the Torah is one.

“Therefore, when I will give the Torah at Mt Sinai, I will begin with none other than you.  You will be the beginning of the Ten Commandments: ‘Anochi Hashem’, I am God.”

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