“And it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the voice of a horn exceedingly loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled… And Gd spoke all these words, saying… I am the Lord your Gd… And all the people saw the sounds, and the lightning, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking.”

(Exodus 19-20)

Such is the Torah’s awe-inspiring description of the theophany at Mount Sinai.

The Depth of our ‘Aleph-Bet’

According to the Talmud, the words “All the people saw the sounds,” mean that the Jewish People actually saw the sounds of the Ten Commandments; that is, each word spoken by Gd took the form of letters that pierced the sky like lightning.

The ancient Kabbalistic text, Sefer HaYessirah, discusses the spiritual significance of the Hebrew alphabet: In contrast to man-made letters, the Hebrew alphabet was given by the Creator, and represents profound spiritual forces – or, in modern terms, different energies that flow through each letter. For example, the letters of Gd’s commandment: “Va’yehi ohr”, or “Let there be light,” actually convey the infinite varieties of light found in creation. From the visible to the invisible, from the spiritual to the manifest, the statement is all encompassing.

Seeing is Believing

Today, two Israeli scientists, Hayim Yaakov Guggenheim and Hayim Ben-Harav Chai Elbeze, have each made an amazing discovery that illuminates the shape and sound of the Hebrew letters. Guggenheim is an electro-optics engineer at Aircraft Industries of Israel, and part of the team that developed the Lavi Fighter Jet. After grappling with the notion that the Jewish Nation “saw the sounds,” the scientist had an idea.

With the booming advancement of science and technology, highly sophisticated machinery has been created, capable of transforming sound waves into images that can be displayed on a computer monitor. Guggenheim wondered if it was possible to use these instruments to display, in tangible form, the ancient Jewish understanding that the sound of the letters actually corresponds to their shape.

Guggenheim was initially skeptical, particularly over the fact that our present-day pronunciation of the letters differs from the original spoken Hebrew. Yet despite his suspicion, and much to his amazement, he discovered that the sound waves for seventeen out of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet created an
on-screen image very similar to the shape of the written letter itself!

Making History

The following is the translation of an article written by Guggenheim, in which the scientist describes how the experiment was performed:

“When I saw the verse in Exodus: ‘And all the people saw the sounds…’ I asked myself just how it could be possible. What did the People of Israel actually see at Mount Sinai?

Upon seeing Rashi’s commentary, who explains ‘They saw the audible’, I knew it had to be possible to convert sound waves into an image.

The first idea was to find the relationship between the audible frequencies (20 Hz-20 kHz) and the much higher, visible frequencies of color detected by the human eye, at wavelengths from 0.35 micron (violet) to 0.75 micron (red), which encompass all the colors of the spectrum.

According to the Kli Yakar, a vital commentator on the Torah, Gd’s words were grasped as visible letters of the alphabet. Therefore, I knew our conversion must retain the letters’ graphic forms, such as the round shape of the fifteenth letter ‘samech’.

In addition, for the experiment to succeed, the shapes of the letters must appear as images when spoken. This means that they must appear from right to left, as in Hebrew. Thus the graphic timeline must also flow from right to left as the letters appear on the computer monitor. Through a microphone, sounds are expressed as changes in electrical current or voltage along a timeline.

Out of the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, I produced images for seventeen letters. I must emphasize that the images were created directly from speech, through the use of a fixed mathematical conversion and the correct method of display.

To make it possible for anyone to do this experiment and see this amazing phenomenon for themselves, I have produced a CD with the appropriate software. All the seventeen findings are presented on the CD with explanations and the software that makes it possible to repeat the experiment.”

Another scientist who has made a very similar discovery is Chaim Ben-Harav-Chai Elbeze, a physicist who works as an engineer at Israel’s aircraft industry. In 1997, he used software called Gram X to display visually the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters. His amazing findings are displayed in the sidebar on right.

The Revelation of Gd

At Mount Sinai, the People of Israel saw mighty revelations. They saw into the distance, to that which lies beyond the immediate senses. They saw the spiritual with the certainty of seeing the material. They saw the ineffable as tangibly real.

This means that when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, the curtain that normally conceals nature was swept away and they witnessed the essential Name of Gd. It is this very eyewitness account that we, as Jewish People, recall every year on the approaching Holiday of Shavuot. It is an account that has withstood the test of time, infusing us with unwavering belief in the Almighty.

Perhaps by enhancing our understanding of what took place on the awesome day of Matan Torah, we can better ready ourselves to once again receive our beloved Torah this year on Shavuot.

This article was based on an article written by Rabbi Zamir Cohen that appeared in his book, “The Coming Revolution”.