In this week's Torah portion - Sh'mot parshat Ki Tisa – there are two letters which must be written very large in proportion to the rest, otherwise that particular Sefer Torah is considered pasul – unfit for public use - according to most authorities. Rabbi Chayim Dovid Halevy z"l, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, writes that each case of an enlarged letter anywhere in TaNa"Kh (the Hebrew Bible) indicates to us an instance of G@d making an extra effort of chesed – kindness - for the sake of the universe.
There is a third enlarged letter appearing in this Parshah only to be found in scrolls written by Jewish Mystics schooled in traditional Kabbalah. As this letter is not universally accepted, I'll write more about it later.
The first is the very large letter Nun found in Sh'mot/Exodus 34:7, and is part of the liturgy we chant during the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe and one of the 13 attributes of G@d: "Notzeyr chesed la'alafim nosey avon vafesha v'chata'ah v'naqeyh y'naqeh poqeyd avon avot al-banim v'al-b'ney vanim al-shileyshim v'al-ribey'im:"
נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה--פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים.
"Maintaining mercy to the thousandth (generation), forgiving iniquity, rebellion & sin, yet not clearing, clearing (the guilty), calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon children's children, to the third and fourth (generation)!:"
The enlarged Nun at the beginning of the word natzar/maintaining (נָצַר) - is to remind us that the letter Nun also begins another word, "ne'eman" (נֶאֱמָן), which means "faithful". This is to assure us that we can rely on G@D's chesed/kindnesses.
Ne'eman,"faithful", is spelled with a Nun Kefuf, bent (נ), at the beginning and a Nun Sofit, straight (ן), at the end. The bent Nun denotes reliability while the straight Nun stands for continuity. Sometimes our souls, our neshamahs, are withdrawn and resigned, in a state of contraction like the resting Nun, while at other times it is active and exuberant like the erect Nun. When someone is inactive and immobile, his/her soul lies fallow, but when this person feels vibrant and motivated, his/her neshamah draws itself up to its full height.
The letter Nun has a gematrial value of 50. There are fifty Gates of Binah (בִּינָה - understanding, sense or wisdom) in our tradition. The same gates which we pass through as we count the Omer between the second day of Pesach and Shavu'ot, invoking the presence of each S'firah as we walk the Tree of Life. Each Gate refers to the nature of each of the fifty references to our Exodus in the Sefer Torah, fifty queries into the nature of Creation which G@d poses Iyov (Job), the cycle of fifty years culminating in the Yovel - Jubilee year, and to the Fifty thousand Jubilees of the World to Come.
Traditionally, Moshiach has four names: Menachem, Shiloh, Yenon and Chaninah. The initials of these four names spells the word "Moshiach" (מָשִׁיחַ). Our Sages teach us that one of these names, Yenon (which means "shall rule"), is associated with the letter Nun. The Messiah is "nistar" – a hidden secret revealed to us by this large letter in its bowed position, the humbled vessel of true insight.
Among many other things, the letter Nun symbolizes downfall with simultaneous salvation, fruitfulness, and faithfulness leading to Moshiach.
This represents the selflessness inherent in "Previous World consciousness", the rectified state of the World to Come & The Shekhinah, G@D's sheltering, Divine Feminine Presence.
The second standard enlarged letter in Parshat Ki Tisa is the letter Reysh (ר) ending the word "acheyR" in "Ki lo tishtachaveh l'eyl acheyR ki Y-H-V-H qana sh'mo QEyl qana hu."
כִּי לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה, לְאֵל אַחֵר: כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ, אֵל קַנָּא הוּא.
"For: you will not bow down to any other god! For Ha-Shem, Jealous-One is His name, a jealous G@D is He!"
Since if a scribe is not careful in his/her work, the letters Dalet & Reysh could be confused, this enlargement is to distinguish "echad" (אֶחָד - "one") from "acheyr" (אַחֵר - "another") in order that by error one should not utter the blasphemy "lo tishtachaveh le-qeyl echad" - "you are not to bow down to the One G@D". Hence one reason for the enlarged Dalet in the Sh'ma. But that's for another article.
The letter Reysh's gematrial value is 200, which also stands for the word "qadmon" (קַדְמוֹן) – primeval archetype. Reysh symbolizes this super-conscious state of mind.
We are the archetypal Reysh, seeking to do teshuvah, return to G@D, the Quf (ק). In its place in the Alefbet, the returning Reysh faces away from but leans towards G@d. This letter represents process - the "art of clarification". This art is the "beginning of the end", ie the three last letters of the Alefbet – Reysh, Shin (שׁ) and Tav (ת) - are the beginning of the end, middle of the end, and end of the end.
Just as the Tzadi (צ) connects to the Quf in its full spelling of tzadiq (צַדִּיק) or tzodeqet (upright man or woman), so the Reysh guides us to the Shin and on to the Tav.
All the ascending levels of revealed wisdom leading us back to their Divine Source in the ShalhevetYah, the holy flame of non-consuming love of G@d for the people Israel.
Based on article originally posted on March 16th, 2006 by Soferet Avielah Barclay at Radical Torah
Copyright A. Barclay