17. Rabbi Amorai sat and expounded: Why is the letter Aleph at the beginning? Because it was before everything, even the Torah .
18. Why does Bet follow it? Because it was first. Why does it have a tail? To point to the place from which it came. Some say, from there the world is sustained.
19. Why is Gimel third. It has three parts, teaching us that it bestows (gomel) kindness. But did Rabbi Akiba not say that Gimel has three parts because it bestows, grows, and sustains. It is thus written (Genesis 21:8), “The lad grew and was bestowed.” He said: He says the same as I do. He grew and bestowed kindness to his neighbours and to those entrusted to him.
20. And why is there a tail at the bottom of the Gimel? He said: The Gimel has a head on top, and is like a pipe. Just like a pipe, the Gimel draws from above through its head, and disperses through its tail. This is the Gimel.
21. Rabbi Yochanan said: The angels were created on the second day. It is therefore written (Psalm 104:3), “He rafters His upper chambers with water [He makes the clouds His chariot, He walks on the wings of the wind].” It is then written (Psalm 104:4), “He makes the winds His angels, His ministers from flaming fire.” [Rabbi Haninah said: The angels were created on the fifth day, as it is written (Genesis 1:20), “And flying things shall fly upon the firmament of heaven.” Regarding the angels it is written (Isaiah 6:2), “With two wings did they fly.”] Rabbi Levatas ben Tavrus said: All agree, even Rabbi Yochanan, that the water already existed [on the first day]. But it was on the second day that “He raftered His upper chambers with water.” [At that time He also created] the one who “makes the clouds his chariot,” and the one who “walks on the wings of the wind.” But His messengers were not created until the fifth day.
22. All agree that none were created on the first day. It should therefore not be said that Michael drew out the heaven at the south, and Gabriel drew it out at the north, while God arranged things in the middle. It is thus written (Isaiah 44:24), “I am God, I make all, I stretch out the heavens alone, the earth is spread out before Me.” [Even though we read the verse “from Me” (May-iti), it can also be read] Mi iti — “Who was with Me? ”
I am the One who planted this tree in order that all the world should delight in it. And in it, I spread All. I called it All because all depend upon it, all emanate from it, and all need it. To it they look, for it they wait, and from it, souls fly in joy.
Alone was I when I made it. Let no angel rise above it and say, “I was before you.” I was also alone when I spread out My earth, in which I planted and rooted this tree. I made them rejoice together, and I rejoiced in them. ”Who was with Me? ” To whom have I revealed this mystery?
23. Rabbi Rahumai said: From your words we could conclude that the needs of this world were created before the heavens. He answered yes. What does this resemble? A king wanted to plant a tree in his garden. He searched the entire garden to find a spring flowing with water that would nourish the tree, but could not find any. He then said, “I will dig for water, and will bring forth a spring to nourish the tree.” He dug and opened a well, flowing with living water. He then planted the tree, and it stood, giving forth fruit. It was successfully rooted, since it was always watered from the well.
24. Rabbi Yanai said: The earth was created first, as it is written (Genesis 2:4), “[On the day that God made} earth and heaven.”
They said to him: Is it not written (Genesis 1:1), “[In the beginning God created] the heaven and the earth”?
He replied: What is this like? A king bought a beautiful object, but since it was not complete, he did not give it a name. He said, “I will complete it, I will prepare its pedestal and attachment, and then I will give it a name.” It is thus written (Psalm 102:26), “From eternity You founded the earth” — and then, “the heavens are the work of Your hands.”
It is furthermore written (Psalm 104:2), “He covered Himself with light like a garment, He spread out the heaven like a curtain, He rafters His upper chambers with water.” It is then written (Psalm 104:4), “He makes the winds His angels, His ministers of flaming fire.” Finally, it is written (Psalm 104:5), “He founded the earth on its pedestals, that it not be removed for the world and forever.”
When He made its pedestal, He strengthened it. It is therefore written, “that it not be moved.” What is its name? “And Forever (VoEd) is its name. And [the name of] its pedestal is “World” (Olam). It is therefore written, “for the World And Forever.”
25. Rabbi Berachiah said: What is the meaning of the verse (Genesis 1:3), And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”? Why does the verse not say, “And it was so”? What is this like? A king had a beautiful object. He puts it away until he had a place for it, and then he put it there. It is therefore written, “Let there be light, and there was light.” This indicates that it already existed.
26. Rabbi Amorai said: What is the meaning of the verse (Exodus 15:3), “God is a man (Ish) of war”? Mar Rahumai said to him: Great master, do not ask about something that is so simple. Listen to me and I will advise you.
He said to him: What is this like? A king had a number of beautiful dwellings, and he gave each one a name. One was better than the other. He said, “I will give my son this dwelling whose name is Aleph. This one whose name is Yod is also good, as is this one whose name is Shin.” What did he do then? He gathered all three together, and out of them he made a single name and a single house. He said: How long will you continue to conceal your meaning? The other replied: My son, Aleph is the head. Y od is second to it. Shin includes all the world. Why does Shin include all the world? Because with it one writes an answer (T’shuvah).
27. The students asked him: What is the letter Daleth. He replied: What is this like? Ten kings were in a certain place. All of them were wealthy, but one was not quite as wealthy as the others. Even though he is still very wealthy, he is poor (Dal) in relation to the others.
28. They said to him: What is the letter Heh. He grew angry and said: Did I not teach you not to ask about a later thing and then about an earlier thing? They said: But Heh comes after [Daleth]. He replied: The order should be Gimel Heh. Why is it Gimel Daleth? Because it must be Daleth Heh. And why is the order Gimel Daleth? He said to them: Gimel is in the place of Daleth, on its head it is in the place of Heh. Daleth with its tail is in place of the Heh.
29. What is the letter Vav. He said: There is an upper Heh and a lower Heh.
30. They said to him: But what is Vav. He said: The world was sealed with six directions. They said: Is not Vav a single letter? He replied: It is written (Psalm 104:2), “He wraps Himself in light as a garment, [he spreads out the heavens like a curtain].”
31. Rabbi Amorai asked: Where is the Garden of Eden? He replied: It is on earth.
32. Rabbi Ishmael expounded to Rabbi Akiba: What is the meaning of the verse (Genesis 1:1), “[In the beginning God created] (et) the heaven and (et) the earth”? [Why is the word et added in both places? ] If the word et (an untranslated preposition that connects a transitive verb to its predicate noun) were absent, we would think that “heaven” and “earth” were gods. [For we could have read the verse, “In the beginning, God, the heaven and the earth created…” taking all three nouns as subjects of the sentence.] He replied: By the Divine Service! You may have reached out for the true meaning, but you have not sorted out, and therefore you speak in this manner. But [in the case of “heaven”] the word et comes to include the sun, moon, stars and constellations, while [in the case of “earth”] it comes to add trees, plants, and the Garden of Eden.
33. They said to him: It is written (Lamentations 2:1), “He threw the beauty of Israel from heaven to earth.” From here we see that it fell. He replied: If you have read, you did not review, and if you reviewed, you did not go over it a third time. What does it resemble? A king had a beautiful crown on his head and a beautiful cloak on his shoulders. When he heard evil tidings, he cast the crown from his head and the cloak from his shoulders.
34. They asked him: Why is the letter Cheth open? And why is its vowel point a small Patach? He said: Because all directions (Ruach-ot) are closed, except for the North, which is opened for good and for evil. They said: How can you say that it is for good? It is not written (Ezekiel 1:4), “And behold, a stormy wind coming from the north, a great cloud and burning fire.” Fire is nothing other than fierce anger, as it is written (Leviticus 10:2), “And fire went out from before God, and it consumed them and killed them.” He said: There is no difficulty. One case is speaking of when Israel does the will of God, while the other is speaking of when they do not do His will. When Israel does not do His will, then the fire comes close [to destroy and punish]. But when they do God’s will, then the Attribute of Mercy encompasses and surrounds it, as it is written (Micah 7:18), “He lifts up sin and passes over rebellion.”
35. What is this like? A king wanted to punish and whip his slaves. One of his governors stood up and asked the reason for this punishment. When the king described the offence, the governor said, “Your slaves never did such a thing. I will be their bondsman until you investigate it more thoroughly.” In the meantime, the king’s anger was calmed.
36. His students asked: Why is the letter Daleth thick on the side? He replied: Because of the Segol which is in the small Patach. It is thus written (Psalm 24:7), “The openings (pitchey) of the World.” There He placed a Patach above and a Segol below. It is for this reason that it is thick.
37. What is the Patach? It is an opening (Petach). What is meant by an opening? This is the direction of north, which is open to all the world. It is the gate from which good and evil emerge. And what is good? He mocked them and said: Did I not tell you that it is a small Patach (opening)? They said: We have forgotten, teach us again. He reviewed it and said: What is this like? A king had a throne. Sometimes he carried it on his arm, and sometimes on his head. They asked why, and he replied: Because it is beautiful and it is a pity to sit on it. They asked: Where did he place it on his head. He replied: In the open Mem. It is thus written (Psalm 85:12), “Truth sprouts up from the earth, and the righteousness looks down from heaven.”
38. Rabbi Amorai sat and expounded: What is the meaning of the verse (Psalm 87:2), “God loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” ”The gates of Zion” are the “openings of the World.” A gate is nothing other than an opening. We thus say, “Open for us the gates of mercy.” God said: I love the “gates of Zion” when they are open. Why? Because they are on the side of evil. But when Israel does good before God and are worthy that good be opened for them, then God loves them — “more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” [“The dwellings of Jacob”] are all peace, as it is written (Genesis 25:27), “Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents.
39. This is like two men, one who is inclined to do evil and does good, and the other who is inclined to do good and does evil.
Who is more praiseworthy? The one who is inclined to do evil and does good, for he may do good again.
It is therefore written (Psalm 87:2), “God loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” These [dwellings] are all peace, as it is written (Genesis 25:27), “Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents.”
40. His students asked: What is Cholem? He replied: It is the soul — and its name is Cholem. If you listen to it, your body will be vigorous (Chalam) in the Ultimate Future. But if you rebel against it, there will be sickness (Choleh) on your head, and diseases (Cholim) on its head.
41. They also said: Every dream (Chalom) is in the Cholem. Every white precious stone is in the Cholem. It is thus written [with regard to the High Priest’s breastplate] (Exodus 28:19), “[And in the third row…] a white stone ( aChLaMah).”
42. He said to them: Come and hear the fine points regarding the vowel points found in the Torah of Moses. He sat and expounded: Chirek hates evildoers and punishes them. Its side includes jealousy, hatred and competition.
It is thus written (Psalm 37:12), “He gnashes (Chorek) his teeth at them.” Do not read chorek (gnashes), but rochek (repels). Repel (rachek) these traits from yourself, and repel yourself from evil. Good will then certainly attach itself to you.
43. Chirek. Do not read ChiRiK but KeRaCh (Ice). Whatever the Chirek touches becomes ice. It is thus written (Exodus 34:7), “and cleanses.”
44. What is the indication that Chirek has the connotation of burning. This is because it is fire that burns all fire. It is thus written (1 Kings 18:38), “And God’s fire fell, and it consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and evaporated the water that was in the trench.”