Since the receiving of the Torah, Jews have been continuously studying, learning, and analyzing its never ending message. Among the many intriguing questions that have been asked about the Torah is: Why does the Torah begin with the letter Beit, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? In seeking answers to this question, Michael J. Alter has gathered a wealth of material drawing on selections from the Oral Law, the Midrash, anonymous kabbalistic texts, and the works of many prominent rabbis, scribes, and writers spanning the past 2,000 years. The first section of "Why The Torah Begins with the Letter Beit" presents a brief overview of several topics: the nature of the Hebrew alphabet; hermeneutics, the rules of scriptural interpretation; and "PaRDeS", the traditional fourfold scheme of Torah interpretation. The author then deals with fundamental kabbalsitic concepts. Included in an overview of the powers attributed to the Hebrew letters and a brief discussion of the "sefirot", "the four-world system," "gematria," and "tagin." This section concludes with a comparison of the mystical view of the Hebrew letters with that of modern science. In section three, the many specific physical components of the letter Beit are identified and analyzed. The major section of "Why The Torah Begins with the Letter Beit" provides excerpts of the writings of almost 100 of the greatest Jewish thinkers on the subject, including the Midrash, the Zohar, the Bahir, Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, Maimonides, Moses Cordovero, David ben Solomon ibn Zimra, Avraham Isaac Kook, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Altogether, 220 excerpts are divided into over sixty themes concerning the letter Beit. Alter concludes his work with a brief epilogue in which he examines a variety of reasons why and how many Jewish teachings were destroyed or disappeared. "Why the Torah Begins with the Letter Beit" is a unique and richly insightful volume.
by Michael J. Alter