All learning begins with Alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in The Book of Letters writes about the letter Alef:
“It has no sound. Only the sound you make when you begin to make every sound. Open your mouth and begin to make a sound. STOP! That is Alef.”
Rabbi Kushner also tells the story of the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the special role of the Alef: “Rabbi Elazar bar Abina said in Rabbi Aha’s name: For 26 generations the Alef complained before G-d: I am the first of the letters yet You didn’t create Your world with me! Don’t worry, said G-d, the world and all its fullness was created for the Torah alone. Tomorrow when I come to give My Torah at Sinai the first word I say will begin with you.”
Rabbi Kushner continues:
“The name of the first Jew also began with Alef, Avraham Ahveenu, Abraham our Father. Alef is the letter of fire, Aysh. A fire which flames but does not destroy. That is how the Holy One gets your attention. He [sic] shows you primordial fire.
And the very first letter of the first word of the first commandment begins with the first letter which has no sound: Alef, Anochi, I. “I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery.
It is no accident that all these words begin with Alef. The most basic words there are begin with the most primal sound there is. The almost sound you make before you can make any sound.”
To this day, all learning begins with Alef, the sound which precedes every other, the sound of the moment before speech; caused by the intake of breath. It is a moment free of the past with infinite possibility for the future.
But there is more.
When we take the time to learn together, miracles, like that moment at Sinai, are still possible. If the participants are willing, if the text is open, and if the Divine Presence attends, we find the spark of true wisdom. In that space, as we take a breath to speak, we may realize that our long and arduous journey has returned us to the beginning. To a place where we can only start to understand the first breath of connection at Sinai. Yet we are satisfied. And still, we yearn for more.