The Power of Letters

The following is a inspiring passage from David Abram’s ‘The Spell of the Sensuous.’ In this chapter Abrams is exploring how other cultures and intellectual traditions have put an enormous weight to the power of language in changing individual and group perception – and thus effectively changing the world in spectacular or even magical ways.

Here he cites a powerful historical precedent from Jewish mysticism.

“Yet this sense of the written text as an animate, living mystery is nowhere more explicit than in the Kabbalah, the esoteric tradition of Jewish mysticism.  For here it is not just the text as a whole but the very letters that are thought to be alive! 

Each letter of the aleph-beth is assumed by the Kabbalists to have its own personality, its own profound magic, its own way of organizing the whole of existence around itself.

Because the written commandments were ostensibly dictated to Moses directly by God on Mount Sinai, so the written letters comprising that first Hebrew text – the twenty-two letters of the aleph-beth-are assumed to be the visible traces of divine utterance.

Indeed, some Kabbalists claimed that it was by first generating the twenty-two letters, and then combining them into such utterances as “Let there be light,” that God spoke the visible universe itself into existence.

The letters, that is, are sensible concentrations of the powers of creation.”

-(David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous, 245)