Learning the |
Many of our readers are interested in learning to use Bible code software, but are intimidated by the difficulty of learning the Hebrew alphabet. The purpose of this series of articles is to introduce our readers to the Hebrew alphabet in a new and easier way.
Hebrew primers tend to hit you with a double challenge all at once – memorizing new words while also struggling to learn an entirely different alphabet. Why not simply tackle the letters first, by using them to spell Hebrew words most people already know?
Also, most Hebrew primers are written by Jewish authors for Jewish students who are used to hearing certain phrases in Hebrew during temple services. This primer was written by Gentiles who want to make learning Hebrew as easy as possible for Gentiles.
We will not be making any effort to teach conversational Hebrew, or to teach the ability to write Hebrew. There are many other courses that are terrific at teaching those skills. We do hope that this series of articles will facilitate learning Hebrew in conjunction with other methods. For additional Hebrew language resources, visit our Hebrew Links and Resources page.
Starting with Five Divine Letters
Most Hebrew words that people already know are from the Bible. Many of these words form the backbone of worship songs. So, at the same time that you learn the Hebrew alphabet, you can also pick up simple phrases for meditation and praise.
Building the Word "Hallelujah"
Everybody knows the Hebrew word that we pronounce in English as hallelujah. But do you know what it means? It simply means, "Praise God." So when you learn how to spell hallelujah in Hebrew, you will learn four Hebrew letters and will already enter in to the realm of praise and worship.
Hallelujah is really two words. Hal-lu means praise, and yah is a shortened form for the most common name for God in the Old Testament that we pronounce as Yahweh or Jehovah. (Note: It is customary among Jews not to pronounce the name of Yahweh out of reverence for God. The name Yahweh is, therefore, pronounced Adonai, which means Lord.)
Here are the first two letters we will learn:
While English is written from left to right, Hebrew is written from right to left. So in Hebrew, the letters for yah appear in reverse order and look like this:
With a little imagination, these two letters look similar to the English word, "Hi." Yet, we could also picture the letter on the right as an elevated J, as in Jehovah.
So yah is spelled with a yod () and a heh (), and we have
Yah = = God
As we mentioned above, yah is a short form for Yahweh. To spell Yahweh, we only need to learn one additional letter, vav (). The shape of the letter vav reminds us of a pole-vaulting rod that is bent over at the top as it propels the athlete over the bar. So when you see a vav, think pole-vault, with emphasis on the letter v in vault.
In Hebrew, Yahweh (Jehovah) is spelled from right to left: yod, heh, vav, heh:
heh, vav, heh, yod
To us the shape of the letter heh is a reminder of the greatest of the commandments, as Jesus summarized it: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27, NKJV) We see the vertical stem of the heh on the left side of the letter symbolizes man's effort to seek upward for God. Yet this search is only complete when it effects how we treat people, represented by the horizontal bar of the heh, and this is the result of our earnest seeking upward for God, symbolized by the taller vertical stroke on the right side of the heh.
In Hebrew, there are no vowels that exist as letters. Various markings, called nikud, are often added to help people learning the language learn the vowel sounds. These marks appear below, above, inside and to the left of Hebrew consonants. After learning the words in Hebrew, the pronunciation of the word is understood without the need for the markings. In this primer, we won't be showing the vowel markings.
Here is a table showing what we have learned so far.
Remember that we were going to learn how to spell hallelujah in Hebrew? To do that we only need to learn one additional Hebrew letter, lamed (). The shape of this letter makes sense as a representation of the letter L. After all, the top half looks like an L and the bottom half looks like an upside-down L. So hal-lu looks like this.
All we need to do is to put together the Hebrew word for praise and the short form for the most common name for God in the Old Testament, and we have hallelujah.
Building Words with El
Next, we will learn the short form (El) of the second most common name for God in the Old Testament (Elohim pronounced eh-loh-heem). To do this, we need to learn one more new letter, alef (). This letter looks quite a bit like an X, except that the lower left leg connects above and to the left of where the right arm connects with the slash. To remember what this letter is, try this chain of hints.
The letter alef actually means ox in Hebrew. Its origin lies in a simple drawing of an ox, where the lower left stem is a leg and the upper right stem is a horn. Once you think of an ox, think of an Angus and then of the letter alef.
To remember what an alef looks like, just reverse the above series of hints.
So, we are now able to spell El.
You may object that neither El or Elohim are Hebrew words that are commonly known to Gentiles. While this is true, El is part of several well-known words. Let's look at one of them, the name Elijah.
Elijah means "He is my God." You may remember Jesus' words on the cross, "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani!" (Matthew 27:46, NKJV) He was quoting Psalm 22:1 and saying, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" (NKJV) When Jesus cried this out, many thought he might be calling out to Elijah for help. So Eli means "My God" and El is a short form for God.
The letter alef, by itself, has no sound. It acts as a placeholder for a vowel sound. It assumes the sound of the vowel marking associated with it. The vowel sounds will vary depending on the word it appears in. In this word, the vowel sound is the "eh" in "el."
In hal-lu-el, the letter vav () sounds like an "oo" and not like a "v" or a "w." The letter vav can have any of these sounds, depending on the context and the surrounding consonants.
Hal-lu-yah and hal-lu-el appear at the beginning of Psalm 150:1.
Names in the Old Testament
El is part of the end of the names of some key books in the Old Testament. Listed below the name and what each name means in Hebrew:
And El is part of the end of the names of some well-known people in the Old Testament:
And El is part of the beginning of the names of some other Old Testament people:
And El is part of another name we often hear as part of the Christmas story: Immanuel. This name means, "God is with us," or in order of the Hebrew, "With us is God."
Yah appears as the ending of the names of several books in the Old Testament. Here are those names:
Yah is also part of the end of the names of a few other well-known Old Testament figures:
Notice something. If you want to say in prayer, "God will strengthen me," just say, Hezekiah! And if you want to say, "He is my God," just say, Elijah!
To review the five letters we have introduced so far:
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Continue to Exercise One
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