Introduction and translation by Yoni Moss
This portfolio is dedicated to my dear mother, Shirley Moss, in love and gratitude.
Among the many Hebrew letter forms which have now largely become defunct, there is a group of strange alphabets which were used exclusively for Kabbalah Maasit - practical Kabbalah, i.e. magic. These bear no apparent relationship to the common Hebrew letters. They were known by various names: angelic alphabets, characters, seals. They appear on ancient Greek magic papyri and on Aramaic incantation bowls; they continued to be used for centuries on amulets and were, until quite recent times, even written on mezuzot...
When I chanced upon the first publication of The Midrash on The Alphabet of Metatron, these strange letters were not unfamiliar to me. I recognized in them the characteristic forms of all of these magical alphabets: simple, straight and curved lines always ending with tiny circles. I had seen such letters in Sefer Raziel - probably the most popular book of Jewish magic. But the discovery of this charming midrash based entirely on this esoteric abecedary delighted me.
These are letters of power. They shine. They radiate. Their energy is almost palpable. Their graphic forms alone would have warranted my attempting an artistic interpretation. I felt that I had to try to convey the vibrancy in these simple, but very dynamic glyphs. Using white paper, black background and primary colors I worked through the letters, one by one, and developed a style I felt somehow captured the power within them.
But it was not only the shapes that interested me. I was equally fascinated by the possible connections between these magical scripts and our original alphabet, the one scholars call the Paleo-Hebrew letters. This alphabet is essentially the original alphabet. It points to the time when this perhaps most important human invention took on its nascent form. It is the alphabet that Moses, David and Isaiah would have used. It is the alphabet found in the few remaining inscriptions and many seals of the first Temple period. To this day the Samaritans have maintained letters very similar to our original Hebrew ones. It is virtually the same as the Phoenecian alphabet which gave birth to the Greek letters which also evolved into this Roman alphabet you are now reading...
Upon our return from the Babylonian exile some two and a half millennia ago, we began using the Aramaic alphabet which gradually replaced the Paleo-Hebrew. This is the alphabet we now commonly refer to as the Hebrew alphabet and currently use for all sacred and secular writing.
There is speculation that these magical alphabets may somehow be connected to our original Hebrew letters. At first glance there certainly does seem to be a general resemblance in the way the letters are formed. Upon careful examination of each individual letter, however, the connections become much more tenuous. Nevertheless, the mere idea that somehow these magical letters might be a lone remnant of the original Hebrew letters intrigued me. Could our ancient letters have gone underground and been transmuted into the wildly diverse variants of magic letters that somehow survived? Whatever their origin, these bizarre characters do seem to have a remarkable longevity and vitality reaching antiquity through to a twenty-first century artistic portfolio!
Had I been asked when I created this series, or even a good bit after, what had been the sources of my fascination with these letters, I would certainly have merely recited the above: the power I sensed in the forms themselves and the fascinating speculation on their possible origins. It was only quite recently, long after I had completed the first sketches of the entire alphabet, and after Bet Alpha had decided to publish this portfolio, that I was sitting in Paul Feinstein's living room and his rather offhanded comment stunned me into recognizing yet another thread. "Don't these letters remind you of STL?" he mused. I had even forgotten the initials we had given nearly thirty years ago to the system of electronic recognition of handwritten characters which I worked on in the early 70's and called Stroke Terminal Logic. Indeed, the diagrams from the unfortunately expired patents bear a striking resemblance to these arcane Hebrew letters. The simple strokes are there, and at the end of each of them, a tiny circle. A dim memory from a previous career.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence that these prints were in process when, out of the blue, a patent attorney from the company that makes the Palm Pilot tracked me down through my co-inventor, Jim Liljenwall in Santa Fe. The attorney explained that he needed our help in a lawsuit over patents held by Xerox but which he believed were anticipated by ours and therefore not valid. Even my intensive search of old business records and my rereading the patents themselves didn't make the connection in my mind.
But I have no doubt that Paul was absolutely right. There is a very close relationship among our patents, the system of electronic data entry now known as graffitiMT, and my fascination with the Alphabet of Metatron.
The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron
Some time between Adam and Noah, between the world's creation and its watery destruction, a man named Enoch walked the earth. He apparently lived a righteous life, an exceptional feat during those long and corrupt generations. We know almost nothing about him. The Bible, in its characteristically terse and enigmatic style, encapsulates his life in four words: "he walked with God." No less enigmatic is the account of the end of Enoch's life in this world: "he was no more, for God took him." Plucked from the earth, disconnected from the rich web of material existence, Enoch apparently was abruptly transported into the incorporeal realms of heaven.
It seems he chose to remain above in his new celestial home, far removed from his former earthly world. We hear no more about Enoch for thousands of years until he eventually appears again in a mystical rabbinic text. According to this midrash, probably redacted in the third century, it was Rabbi Ishmael the High Priest, a colleague of the famed Rabbi Akiva, who finally merited an interview with the long gone, but never forgotten forefather.
Enoch, for reasons Rabbi Ishmael was about to discover, could not indulge in an earthly descent to his interlocutor's dwelling; instead Rabbi Ishmael would have to be lifted up to heaven. The pious sage was able to ascend and enter the first six halls of the celestial palace by his own merit, but at the door to the seventh hall, Kaftsiel and other resentful angels sought to hurl him down from the heavens. This made it necessary for Enoch himself to reach out a helping hand and draw Rabbi Ishmael up to him.
The hand outstretched towards Rabbi Ishmael was not a human hand of flesh and blood, but rather a tremendous wing of flaming fire, large enough to fill the world. Rabbi Ishmael, ignorant of the identity of his celestial guardian, naturally asked to be introduced. The angel presented himself as Metatron, Angel of the Divine Presence. He also had seventy more names, he said, corresponding to the seventy tongues of the world. Metatron then added, somewhat sentimentally, that the King of kings prefers to call him by another name: 'Youth.'
The Rabbi, accustomed Talmudic debater that he was, expressed his puzzlement. How is it that Metatron, the highest ranking angel, the Prince of the Divine Presence, possessing seventy names like the Master Himself, is, nonetheless, called in the high heavens by the seemingly belittling name 'Youth'? Metatron, patiently recalling the limited ways of human reasoning, replied:
The reason for this is that I am Enoch, the son of Yared. When the generation of the flood sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, lifted me up before their very eyes, to be a witness against them for future generations. And the Holy One, blessed be He, made me into a prince and a ruler among the ministering angels. But because I am the youngest of the angels (all the rest have existed from the days of creation) they call me: 'Youth.'
Enoch-Metatron-Youth went on to relate the details of his ascent to heaven and his transformation into an archangel, God's personal servant, prince and ruler of all the children of heaven. He told of the special favor and affection God showed him, seating him on a throne similar to His own Throne of Glory, revealing all mysteries and secrets to him, clothing him in a garment of glory and finally crowning him with the royal title: "The Lesser LORD." We are not told how Rabbi Ishmael was lowered from the heavenly realms back down to earth; we do know, however, that Metatron remained on high.
Yet now, after having granted Rabbi Ishmael a generous view of the heavens, and a detailed review of his personal history, the young angel seems once again to have sequestered himself in the celestial realms, cutting off all contact with his origins. Though rabbis and mystics continued to speculate about him and imaginative midrashim described his various heavenly roles, yet no man received a revelation, a communication, or even an inspiration from the Prince of Presence. Centuries would elapse before Metatron would once again make his own presence felt to a mortal.
It is unclear when it happened. Many are convinced it was around the ninth century in Babylon, though others think it was in Germany in the thirteenth century. This time we are not told directly that the Prince of Presence is revealing himself. But what we can say for certain is that we have in our hands an anonymous text, an imaginative commentary on the twenty-two letters of an ancient alphabet called the Alphabet of the Angel Metatron. It is a short midrash based on the physical form of each of these strange letters and containing one, two, three, or four interpretations of each letter.
Although the author of this enchanting work never explicitly states his source of inspiration he does refer to "a certain angel" who inspires "countless insights." Would it be possible to uncover this angel's influence, to follow the traces he may have left behind? Were this any ordinary angel, tracking him or her down would be simple enough. The sages of the Talmud were able to detect the footprints angels left behind them in their earthly exploits. But they had at their disposal a description of angelic anatomy provided by the prophet Ezekiel, whereas Metatron, as he himself informed Rabbi Ishmael, is made only of fire. He has no corporal anatomy, he leaves no physical footprints. Might the mighty archangel leave, however, some other kind of impression? Let us reflect a bit on the alphabet and its midrash; hopefully something of Metatron's imprint will reveal itself to us.
The letters are all composed of straight and curved lines tipped with ringlets. Although this alphabetic style is not to be found in any conventional scripts, it is by no means unique. There are dozens of other very similar sets of mystical and magical signs and alphabets. This distinctive line and ringlet style (called "The Eye Script" by Jewish Kabbalists and "Eyeglassesletters" by German scholars), crops up over and over again in numerous texts, amulets and incantations. Such characters appear from antiquity to the present in cultures as diverse as Hellenistic Egypt, India, Jewish Palestine, China, medieval Europe, and early Islam. Sometimes channels of influence can be discerned, but often it seems clear that we have before us independent instances of the same phenomenon from around the world. How can we account for this remarkable universality? What is common to people in all quarters of the earth which would cause them to create the same type of characters when they begin to tread the realm of the mystical and magical?
"Look to the skies and see, gaze at the heavens above you" (Job 35:5). Above us is the one uniting factor, the selfsame sky looming over all humanity. Certain scholars trace the origin of our line-and-ringlet scripts to a simplified graphic projection of the constellations. The ringlets are the stars and the lines represent the imaginary connections between them, which allow groups of stars to form constellations. This is not a recent theory. A prolific sixteenth century philosopher and magician by the name of Cornelius Agrippa, in his compendium of occult practices, describes such a script, which he claims the Jews themselves call 'The Celestial Script.' "For these letters," he says, "form the outlines of constellations, just as the astrologers draw images out of the lines connecting the stars."
Metatron's letters are, therefore, one part of a universal phenomenon as expansive as the heavens, and maybe even inspired by them. In this respect, Metatron's alphabet is not unique. For the heavens and the stars are the province of all angels. Indeed Gabriel, Michael and Raziel each has his own very similar script. Metatron certainly shares the celestial qualities of all the other angels, but his uniqueness among the heavenly hosts is his origin - the earth.
Alone in the heavenly hosts, 'Youth,' now grown a little older, gazes down from his glorious throne to the earth below, recalling the landscapes of his former world. He gazes at the earth, very much as we would look up to the heavens. When we peer at the magnificent, remote stars, these majestic specks, we well understand how previous generations could have conceived them as spiritual beings and how they could have inspired our ancestors to connect them into zodiacal shapes. Metatron, child of heaven and man of earth, enjoys a literally upside-down view. Looking down from his realm of pure spirit onto the earth below, he seeks out those physical shapes which were formerly the backdrop of his corporal existence. Dreamily he contemplates the material contours of the simplest objects, the shapes and images that populate every corner of our world. Though we take them for granted as the stage of our existence, the warp and woof of our lives, Metatron, a creature reborn as pure fire, longingly savors every line and contour, every shape and curve of his former material world. He begins to draw resemblances between the images of his contemplation. Like an abstract artist he sees images everywhere, figures become outlines, and outlines become shapes. Grand, mast-filled ships are reduced to stark curves and lines; a household bucket becomes one swift stroke of an imaginary pen. Like a participant in a Rorschach inkblot test, or like a child drawing stick figures, the tremendous angel of fire sees objects everywhere. Bare lines are transformed into people; meaningless scribbles translated into trees. Each physical mark of extended, dimensional space effortlessly represents a definite image of his long-lost world.
His feverish occupation with the earthly forms gradually spills over into the earthly realm itself. The mighty Enoch-Metatron begins to inspire an anonymous Jew living, around the ninth century in Babylon, as many are convinced, though others think it was during the thirteenth century in Germany.
The pious Jew has set out to compose a midrash, an interpretation of the exalted angel's holy letters. He begins his task conventionally. Starting with the Aleph he counts eight ringlets and begins to ponder the significance of this number. Verses, sources and traditions, Talmudic, midrashic and mystical, race through his mind. He weaves them together, incorporating them into consecutive interpretations. He writes one interpretation after the other, moves on to Bet and then to Gimmel.
Then, as if from nowhere, he suddenly begins to view the letters in an entirely different way. As if filled with some other-worldly insight, he starts seeing images where before he was only able to count circles. The Gimmel's simple parabolic line becomes a bow and arrow, Dalet is a house, Vav's two right-angles are obviously steps and Zayin's line in a semi-circle is nothing but a fetus cuddling in its womb. By the time he completes all twenty-two letters of the alphabet our anonymous author has created the most imaginative, most delightfully pictorial midrash on the alphabet ever to be written.
Today we may take this type of seeing for granted. But taken in its proper historical context this midrash is way ahead of its time. The realm of pictorial imagination, the unfettered seeing of things in other things, was considered culturally insignificant for thousands of years. Reason and representation reigned supreme, and even when place was made for the imagination it was restricted to literature and other verbal accounts of reality. Even the wondrous, "unreasonable" and fantastically imaginative word games contained in our classic midrashim are all auditory. The sound of the word, or the letter, is playfully transformed and interpreted by the super-sensitive ear that knows no bounds. But when the classic midrash turns its eye on a letter, when shapes are examined and not sounds, it is unable to break free of the familiar confines of stark symbolic interpretations. Very much as our author began his midrash, counting ringlets, classic midrashim will also generally count the lines or notice the orientation of a letter. The next step, however, taken by an author who set his pictorial imagination free, is nigh absent from all earlier letter interpretations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
The pictorial imagination of the Western mind was to undergo a slow and gradual development. Only in the Renaissance did artists begin to appreciate the wealth of images contained in such everyday objects as clouds and rocks, only then did dramatists begin to exploit the fundamental human propensity for untamed pictorial seeing. The development has culminated in various more recent applications such as Rorschach inkblot tests, the decipherment of Hieroglyphics (along with the realization that all alphabets ultimately stem from pictographs), and certain forms of abstract art.
Could such a tiny but so broad and sustained a monument of the imagination such as The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron have been a precursor, an influence on these later developments? Or was it merely a disconnected phenomenon, an exceptional feat, during those many unimaginative generations?
The question of the author's influence on subsequent generations remains unsolved. But perhaps, at least, we have learned, we have uncovered, a bit of the influences the author himself received. A bit about an angel, a certain angel who provides countless insights.
The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron
1. Celestial Alphabet
2.The Malachim Alphabet
Alef has eight points. The Ten Commandments commence with an Alef - Anochi Hashem Elokecha - I am the Lord, your God. If a man keeps this letter and every other letter of the Torah he will be led upon his death by Metatron, Prince of Presence, into paradise, where Metatron will cloak him with eight dresses of Divine Presence.
Something else: God is Alef - one - and unique. In the six quarters of God's world - East, West, North, South, Above and Below - there is no god besides Him. And there is no god besides Him outside the world, above or below it. So Alef has eight points, just as God is alone in the six points of the world and in the two points outside of the world.
Something else: Alef has eight points because the throne of glory rests on the Holy Creatures. And each creature has four faces and four wings, as it is written, "And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings" (Ezekiel 1:6). So Alef has eight points: four faces and four wings.
Something else: Alef has eight points. Israel proclaim God as one, like Alef which is one, by wearing the T'fillin wherein is written, "Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One" (Deuteronomy 6: 4). So Alef has eight points like the T'fillin which contain eight passages from the Torah. God too wears T''fillin, put on Him by Metatron, which proclaim the oneness of Israel, "And who is like your people Israel, one nation on the earth" (Chronicles I 17:21).
Bet has four points - three face upwards and the fourth faces downwards. God set boundaries to three of the four quarters of the universe - East, West and South. The North quarter he kept boundless so that if some haughty king should ever claim to be a god he will be told, Behold, the Boreh - the creator - completed three of the universe's quarters; prove your power by completing the fourth.
Something else: Bet has four points. For after Israel pronounce the Sh'ma, "Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One," and after they declare God's kingship over the four quarters of the earth - North, South, East and West - they then commence with a Bet, "Baruch - blessed - is the Name of His Glorious Kingship forever and ever." And this is the meaning of the Talmudic passage, "Seeing that he was protracting the Sh'ma, he said to him, 'Once you have declared Him king over all that is above and below, and over the four quarters of the earth, no more is required.'"
"Gadol - great - is our Lord, and of great power" (Ps. 147:5).
Gloriously He sits on His throne of glory. The throne's footstool, which is called Adamdemet, rests on three legs, and three steps lead up from the footstool to the throne.
Their value also equals Zuot - perspiration. For the footstool shakes and trembles with fear of the One sitting on the throne. The footstool's perspiration, along with the perspiration of all the holy creatures, gushes down to Nahar Dinur - the River of Fire.
Something else: Gimmel, which is shaped like a bow and arrow, has three points. After the deluge, God swore never to flood the world again and He fixed the rainbow in heaven as a token of His oath. A bow also contains three images - bow, string, and arrow.
Something else: Gimmel is shaped like a bow and arrow. For our Sages have taught, "Who is Gibor - mighty? One who subdues his evil inclination." Elsewhere we are taught that the sage Pelimo completely subdued his evil inclination by "shooting arrows into the devil's eyes."
"Blessed is He who considers the Dal - the poor" (Psalms 41:2).
Dalet has four points, just like its numerical value, and it has openings both on top and at bottom. A man who earns riches and builds a home must make at least two openings for his house so that the Dalim - the poor - may freely enter.
A line flows down from the upper point to the lower one because God sends down his blessing upon those who sustain the poor. As it is written, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse.....says the Lord of Hosts, I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you blessings immeasurable."
Something else: Dalet has four points, a descending diagonal, and two openings because when one sets mezuzot on the Delatot - doorposts - of his house, God Himself descends from heaven and fills the house with His presence, guarding it from danger. Also, any house with an area of Dalet by Dalet - four by four - cubits requires a mezuza.
The world was created out of a Heh. As the verse says,"These are the generations of the heaven and the earth - beHEHbera'am, when they were created with Heh."
(Genesis 2: 4). For this reason Heh has four points and two openings. Four points like the world's four quarters - East, West, North and South - and two openings like the world's two openings - an upper one and a lower one. A man found worthy upon his death is lead through the upper opening into the Garden of Eden. If, however, he is unworthy, he passes through the bottom opening into Gehenom. For this reason the upper opening is wider than the lower one, for the Talmud tells us that Eden is but one sixtieth of Gehenom. As it is written, "Therefore She'ol has enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure" (Isaiah 5:14).
Something else: Heh is open all around because everything in this world is open to changes. Even if a man grows rich and respectable he should never elevate himself above others. Let him remember that his fortune can be overturned, and that God despises pride.
As it is written, "All the proud in heart are an abomination to God." (Proverbs 16:5).
And God humbles the mighty and elevates the meek, as it is written, "God is the judge, He humbles one, and elevates another." (Psalms 75:8). Or, as another verse states, "Though he raises himself to the heavens, and his head reaches the clouds, yet he shall perish forever like his own dung. They who have seen him shall say, 'Where is he?'" (Job 20:6-7).
Vav is comprised of two sticks, one above the other, in the form of steps leading up to a high mountain. For on Vav - the sixth day - of the month of Sivan, just before giving the Torah to Israel, God suspended Mount Sinai over them like an overturned basin. A voice called down from heaven, saying, "If you, O people of Israel, should choose to accept the Torah all is well; if not, however, here will be your grave." God reasoned, saying, "If you do not accept the Torah here today, on Vav - six - Sivan, the world which I created in Vav - six - days will have been for naught. Did I not create the world only for the sake of the Torah?"
Something else: Vav has four, broadly spaced, points because the Torah which was given on Vav - six - Sivan is many times vaster than the world, despite the world's four broadly spaced points: North, South, East and West. As it is written, "Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Job 11:9).
Zayin is shaped like a fetus in a woman's belly. Just as the fetus eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother drinks so God Zan - feeds - the whole world. All creatures God sustains, from the greatest horned buffalo to the tiniest lice nit. He especially provides for the less fortunate creatures. Because the dog's meals are few, God keeps food in its bowels for three days. Because the mother raven is too cruel to feed her young, God allows the chicks to feed from their own excrement.
Something else: Zayin's top three points surround its fourth point like a man meZuyan - bearing arms. One who diligently studies the Torah which was given on Vav - the sixth - day of Sivan, will be granted the protection of Zayin - a weapon - against all evils. As it is written, "The high praises of God are in their mouths and two-edged swords are in their hands" (Psalms 149:6).
Chet is surrounded by walls.
The wellsprings of Chasidut - piety - are humility and silence. That is why the Chasid - the pious one - shall forever be persecuted, in order to never persecute; forever be humiliated, never to humiliate. Just as this letter is shut tight, so shall the Chasid keep his mouth shut even when he hears himself being slandered. Just as this letter is shut within itself, so shall the Chasid be a tent dweller, like Jacob who shut himself within the house of study. He stays away from the ways of Esau who burst forth to the world outdoors. A man who is worthy of being a tent dweller is called a Chasid. If however, he is unworthy of this, and instead he follows the temptations placed before his eyes he is called Chatzuf - brazen; only repentance can save him.
Tet is a shaped like a jagged wall. At the end of the days, when God presides in judgment, the nations of the world will pass before Him, and He will say to them, "What have you done in this world?" To which they will reply, "We have conquered many cities, we have erected many bridges, we have built many bath-houses, and everything we have done only for Israe's Tova - for their sake - so that they might occupy themselves with the Torah!" And God will retort, "You utter fools! All you have done, you have done for your own benefit alone!" Whereupon, God will swiftly seal their fates, and He will bless Israel with Tov - with Goodness.
Something else: Tet forms two Tet-shaped angles above, and three such angles below. A man's Chasidut (Chet) - humility - is immediately followed by Tov (Tet) - Goodness - his reward. Even his own oppressors will end up rewarding him with goodness. This is why the Talmud says: "It is Tov - good - for a man to hear himself being mocked and then to ignore it, for a hundred ails pass him by. As it is written, 'The beginning of strife is like letting out water.'" (Proverbs 17:14).
Yod is little and shaped like a bench. For anyone who belittles himself in this world merits to sit on a great golden throne in the world to come. He will sit there along with King David and our Father Jacob who also belittled themselves in this world. As it is said, "She dressed her little son Jacob" (Genesis 27:16). "And David was the little one" (Samuel I 17:14). Jacob was rewarded with a part of the throne of glory; David merited his throne to be set before the throne of glory, "And his throne shall be like the sun before me" (Psalms 89:37). The Moon too, when the universe was created, made herself smaller than the sun. "Because you have made yourself small," God said unto her, "I will name future righteous men after you: Little Jacob and Little David."
God Himself chose Yod from all the other letters to begin His Holy Name because she is the smallest.
Kaf stands erect and wears a crown upon its head like a king.
Not one soul of the Kaf - twenty - generations which elapsed between Noah and Abraham praised their Creator or even acknowledged Him until Abraham came and sanctified God. For this reason Abraham was rewarded with the Mitzvah of circumcision, and the secrets of creation were revealed to him.
Something else: Kaf's head strives heavenwards. In the realm of earthly jurisdiction, a man becomes punishable at the age of thirteen, therefore if he sins, he is flogged three sets of thirteen lashes. In the realm of heavenly jurisdiction, however, a man becomes punishable only at the age of Kaf - twenty - but, if he sins he is punished with three sets of twenty lashes. According to the Talmud, Metatron himself was once punished with sixty, that is, three sets of twenty, fiery lashes.
Lamed is shaped like a royal crown. He who is a Lamed - one who studies - the Torah and conquers his sinful desires will be granted a place in paradise, where he will sit with a crown upon his head. Likewise Joseph, by conquering his desire, received kingship and the crown. "And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:46). He was thirty just as the numerical value of Lamed is thirty. For this reason Lamed stands between Caph and Mem, for when read backwards these three letters spell out Melech - king. This kingly letter is also the tallest letter, much as Saul, the king of Israel, was "From his shoulders and upwards taller than any of the people" (Samuel I, 9:2). So that is why it is shaped like a crown.
Mem has the shape of an empty womb because after conception a woman's womb is empty. Only Mem - forty - days later does the fetus begin to assume its shape.
Something else: Mem has the shape of an empty stomach because throughout the Mem - forty - days Moses was in Heaven accepting the Torah, his stomach contained neither food nor drink.
Something else: Why is Mem shaped like a pool? Because a Mikvah is fit for ritual immersion only in a pool which holds Mem - forty - seahs. Even so little as one kortov short of forty seahs disqualifies it.
Something else: Mem has the shape of an empty stomach because one should wait the time it takes to walk one Mile between eating meat and milk.
Nun is shaped like a shield. "Let not the mighty man glory in his might" (Jeremiah 9:22). Rather let him place his trust in God who is Norah - awesome - and terrible.
Something else: Nun is a shield with three points - two above and one below. King David owned an invincible shield inscribed with God's Holy Name; each word of the Name was comprised of three letters. Inscribed on the shield was the verse "Who is like You, O God, among the gods?" (Exodus 15:11), which forms the acronym MaCaBI. And the last inheritor of this shield was Judah the Macabi.
Something else: Nun has two points above and one point below. The two points above are the two pious men whom God protected: Our Father Abraham and King David. Abraham, as it is written: "I am your shield" (Genesis 15:1). David, as it is written: "My shield and the horn of my salvation." (Psalms 18:3).
The point below is Israel who, while praying to God for protection, invoke the merit of these two pious men: "Blessed are you, O God, shield of Abraham," and "Blessed are you, O God, shield of David."
God Samech - upholds - all those who fall. For God upholds Israel in their afflictions. Therefore Samech is shaped like an evergreen tree which spreads out its branches.
Something else: Why does this Samech stand upright, and yet it is pierced by an arrow? Because when Israel left Egypt, Pharaoh chased after them and caught them at the shores of Yam Suf - the Red Sea. Pharaoh began to shoot arrows at Israel, yet all the arrows were absorbed by the clouds, those clouds which protected Israel Saviv Saviv - all around. And that is why the shape of this Samech is round.
'Ayin is made of two rods, one above the other. When Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh to perform God's miracles, the Egyptian sorcerers, by their own sleight of hand, were able to deceive the 'Ayin - the eye. Yet God's wonders prevailed over Egyptian sorcery and Aaron's rod swallowed up the sorcerers' rods. That is why Nun, Samech, 'Ayin form a series: Nes - the miracle - cancelled the deception of the 'Ayin, the eye.
Something else: 'Ayin is made of two rods. The Egyptians subjected our forefathers to 'Avodah kasha - slave labor. When Israel did not produce their daily sum of bricks, Israel's officers were beaten with rods.
Pe is shaped like a pail and it has three points. When Israel wandered in the wilderness God Pirnes - provided - them with three miraculous means of sustenance: Manna, quails, and the well. Pe is therefore shaped like an open pail, ready to accept God's gifts which He pours down from heaven.
Something else: Pe is shaped like a well. When a true scholar sets out to interpret the Torah the holy spirit descends upon him. He has only to open his Pe - his mouth - and thereupon he becomes a spring, a well, surging forth words of Torah. For a certain angel provides him with countless insights.
Tzadik is a fortress approached only through the Petach - entrance - at its side. The Tzadik - the righteous one - is constantly entering, going from Petach to Petach. He leaves the synagogue only to enter the house of study; he leaves the house of study and enters the synagogue. As it is written, "They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Tziyon - Zion" (Psalms 84:8).
Something else: Tzadik is a semicircle. For the Sanhedrin, the High Jewish Court guided only by Tzedek - justice - sat in a semicircle.
Kuf is shaped like a tree. When Abraham bound his son Isaac who was born to him at the age of Kuf - one hundred - years, Heaven took pity on him and Abraham sacrificed a ram caught by its horns in the thicket, the tree. Kuf's bottom part is shaped like a shofar. That is why when we blow the shofar, its Kol - its sound - travels upward. Kuf's top has two points, corresponding to the two days of Rosh Hashana when the Shofar is blown.
Resh is shaped like a boat with a mast. Why? Because during summertime Rahav, the angel of the sea, will often emit an awful stench which settles in the boats and kills its passengers. But if the glorious name 'Adiriron' is invoked, the stench immediately disappears. Also in wintertime when tempests are common, invoke this name and calm the storm.
Something else: Resh is comprised of a small line riding on a large one. For in the days to come small Jacob will trample the mighty but Rasha - evil - Esau.
Shin is shaped like a deep well, overflowing with water. When King David dug Shitin - pits - beneath the altar, the waters of the Deep arose and threatened to flood the world. Only after David wrote the Shem - the Holy Name - and cast it into the pit did the waters subside.
Something else: Shin has five points. Because the outside of our T'fillin is marked with a Shin which stands for God's name Shadai. The Shin's five points are the T'fillin's five compartments: four in the T'fillah worn on the head, and one in the T'fillah worn on the arm.
The last letter of the Torah's alphabet is Tav. Tav has three upright poles. After reading from the Torah scroll, the cantor winds the scroll by its two poles, and wraps it in its mantle. The three poles of the Tav are the cantor and the two poles of the Torah on either side. The pole running across the three is the mantle which covers the scroll.
Something else: Tav has three poles and eight points. Because the Torah is threefold: The Torah, The Prophets, and The Writings. And there are eight books of The Prophets.
God signs the last letter of his own name Emet - Truth - with a Tav, and Israel seals the covenant into their flesh after eight days.
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I have completed the twenty-two letters of Metatron, Angel of the Presence and Heavenly Scribe, according to the tradition passed down to us from the Sages of Israel. They are twenty-two individual letters, none repeat themselves.
10 juin 2006
David Moss, The Alphabet of the Angel Metatron - An Artistic Interpretation of an Ancient Mystical Hebrew Alphabet, (full text)
Introduction and translation by Yoni Moss