The Number One

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


Who knows one?[1]

I know one:

One is Our God[2]

who is in the heavens and on earth.


The number one represents unity and completeness. The Hebrew representation for the number one is the Hebrew letter alef - א. What is an alef?


If it were only a random arrangement of pen strokes de­signed to prompt the reader to say the sound “ah,”[3] this question would be irrelevant. However, every aspect of the alef’s construc­tion has been Divinely designed to teach us something. Contrast this with a child learning to read English for the first time. He is never taught why a capital “A” looks like a teepee and a small “a” looks like a soap bubble stuck to a wall.

But Hebrew is different. The design of an alef is actually made up of three different letters: the letter yud or dot above; a yud or dot below; and a diagonal vav, or line suspended in between.


The yud above represents HaShem, Who is above (or beyond) our comprehension. In com­parison to His true essence, our understanding is a mere dot.


The yud below represents a Yid or Yehudim, Jewish people who dwell here on earth. The only way that we can grasp HaShem’s wisdom, to the extent that a person is capable, is by being humble. When we realize that we are but a dot or a speck compared to the All-Mighty and All-Powerful G-d, we become a vessel to receive His Divine wisdom.


The diagonal vav represents a Jew’s faithfulness,[4] which unites him with HaShem.


There is another teaching[5] that posits that the suspended vav represents the Torah. Since the Torah is what unites a Jew and HaShem, the alef represents this unity between mankind and HaShem. This is the design, or form, of the alef.


We can see that every stroke of the alef (and every other let­ter as well) has a special purpose, and that there is much more to learning the alef-beit than just mastering its sounds.


The alef has three different meanings. One is אלוף, aluf, which means a master or a chief. The second is אולפנה, ulfana,a school of learning[6] or teacher. The third meaning is reached by reading the letters of the word back­wards, פלא, pela (pronounced peleh), wondrous.


The Maharal[7] indicates that one:

1.          Conveys “completeness”. Since one is not divisible, it has no parts and is intrinsically whole.

2.          One may imply “unique”.

3.          One may be used to describe that something is “foremost”, to which all else is mere adjunct.


The Gemara teaches us that the alef is interpreted, by our Sages, as an injunction to study Torah.


Shabbath 104a The Rabbis told R. Joshua b. Levi: Children have come to the Beth Hamidrash and said things the like of which was not said even in the days of Joshua the son of Nun. [Thus:] alef Beth [means] ‘learn wisdom [alef Binah];


The meaning of alef is also found חָכְמָה וַאֲאַלֶּפְךָ, I shall teach you wisdom (Job 33:33).


That the first letter calls for Torah study and simultaneously symbolizes the primacy of HaShem is no coincidence. This, too, is an expression of the principle that HaShem, Torah, and Israel are one: Jews are charged with the study of the Torah that represents the wisdom of HaShem.


The transformation of alef into elef (thousand) applies to all areas of human endeavor inn which persistence and effort are rewarded, but, since the symbolism of the alef-beit has such profound spiritual overtones, the alef-elef relationship must be given particular application to Torah study. Success in Torah understanding and the accumulation of Torah knowledge requires constant review and continuous application, even if a difficult concept must be analyzed a thousand times.[8]


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The Arizal explains that numbers have their origins in the supernal spiritual worlds. Single digit numbers correspond to the physical realm Asiyah, the sefirat Malkhut. Tens correspond to the angelic realm Yetzirah, the sefirat Tiferet. Hundreds correspond to the Neshama realm Beriah, the sefirat Binah, Imma. Being that hundreds emanate from the realm of Imma, they are the source of blessing. Therefore, all offerings are the rectification of 100% of the produce offered.




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This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


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(360) 918-2905


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[1] This famous quesitons comes from the haggada used at the Passover seder.

[2] There is one infinite creator, the cause of causes and the maker of all. He is not one in a numerical sense -- since He is not subject to change, definition or multiplicity. He is one in that the number one signifies an independent unit and is the basis of all numbers; the number one is also contained in all numbers. Similarly, the Creator is actually within everything, and everything is within Him. He is the beginning and cause of everything. The Creator does not change, and therefore one cannot add or subtract from Him.

Moreover, His existence is necessary existence (i.e. it is not contingent upon anything else), in the same way that the number one is a requisite for the existence of any other (whole) number. If the number one would cease to be, every other number would also cease to exist. However, if other numbers disappeared, one would continue to exist. There are properties of the number one; similar qualities apply to the Creator. Even if the act ceased to be, the One who acted remains. Because His being is not contingent upon the existence of anything else, were they to cease being, His existence would continue.

[3] The alef is actually an inarticulated letter whose sound is determined only by its accompanying vowel.

[4] The vertical line of the vav represents hierarchy: the submission of a subject to his king (as explained in the chapter on the letter hei).

[5] See also Likkutei Sichos, vol. 2, p. 616.

[6] Also see Job 33:33—ואאלפך—“And I will ‘teach’ you.”

[7] Maharal: Pirkei Avot, by Rabbi Tuvia Basser, pg. 288

[8] The Sacred Letters As a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought, by Michael L. Munk