The Extra Large “BET” in the First Letter of the Hebrew Bible

When the Hebrew Torah is printed (by modern print or by scribes), there are seventeen occasions in which a letter is printed either larger or smaller than the surrounding letters. Hebrew doesn’t have upper or lower case letters, and this is not just a printer’s “trick”. This actually occurs in the first word, “BERESHIT” which means “In the beginning [of]”.

Scholars have identified three approaches on how interpretation of a verse can be impacted by these extra large or extra small letters. First is “Letter Interpretation” – based on the meaning of the letter itself. The second is “Magnification/Diminuation” – how the size of the letters increases or diminishes the meaning of the word. The third method is “Addition/Omission” – interpreting a large letter as doubled, or a small letter as omitted.

The first book of the Hebrew Bible is named “BERESHIT” after it’s first word (not the Greek word “Genesis”). This first word begins with an extra large letter “BEIT” (BEIS for ashkenazi pronunication). The Ba’al HaTurim (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher of the 1300s), teaches that the Torah wanted to start on a pleasant note, as Proverbs 3:17 states: “Its way are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” So why the second letter “BEIT” instead of the first letter “ALEPH”? The letter “B” (BEIT) because it is associated with “BRACHA” (blessing), whereas the first letter of the alphabet, “A” (ALEPH) can be associated with the word “ARUR” (curse).

Can you see here, how the Rabbi was using the “Letter Interpretation” method here? He uses the meaning of the letter to interpret the verse. He further tells us that the letter “BEIT” has the numeric value of two. (In Hebrew school, children quickly learn that each letter has a numerical value, the first 10 letters based on the sequence of the alphabet). The number two is associated with duality. If we use our imaginations, to what duality could the first verse of the Bible be referring? Perhaps of heaven and earth, or the physical world verses the spiritual world (the seen as opposed to the unseen).

It could also suggest that the creation of the physical world depends on the male and female, duality of all species. It could also allude to the positive and negative charges of protons/electrons, or the magnetic fields which complement and balance each other.

Hebrew students also know that “BEIT” is not just a letter, it is also the word for “house”. The tabernacle is called the “BEIT HA-MISHKAN” (place of dwelling), and the temple is called the “BEIT HA-MIKDASH” (place of holiness). Thus, the large “BEIT” at the beginning of Gensis can also allude to the first and second temple, which represents God dwelling among men.

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