Monday, April 06, 2009

Parshat Sh'mini - Enlarged Letters Lamed and Vav


This week's parshat Sh'mini may contain two enlarged letters, depending on whether or not you are using a Chasidic Sefer Torah.

The first can be found in Va-yiqra/Leviticus 11:30 – the enlarged letter Lamed in ve-ha-Leta'ah, "lizard":

וְהָאֲנָקָה וְהַכֹּחַ, וְהַלְּטָאָה; וְהַחֹמֶט, וְהַתִּנְשָׁמֶת

Ve-ha-awnaqah, ve-ha-ko'ach, ve-ha-leta'ah; ve-ha-chomet, ve-ha-tin'shamet.

…and the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon.

This large Lamed was not approved by "Midrash Rabbah Aqim" (a 3rd century CE text of standardized accepted scribal oddities), but was added after by some Kabbalist rabbis. More on this later...


One of my fave odd letters in the Sefer Torah:

Parshat Sh'mini/Sefer Va-yiqra (Leviticus) 11:42 – large Vav in the word gachOn, belly.

כֹּל הוֹלֵךְ עַל-גָּחוֹן וְכֹל הוֹלֵךְ עַל-אַרְבַּע, עַד כָּל-מַרְבֵּה רַגְלַיִם, לְכָל-הַשֶּׁרֶץ, הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל-הָאָרֶץ--לֹא תֹאכְלוּם, כִּי-שֶׁקֶץ הֵם.

Kol holeykh al-gachon ve-khol holeykh al-arba ad kal-marbeyh rag'layim l'khal-ha-sheretz ha-shoreytz al-ha-aretz lo tokh'lum ki-sheqetz heym:

"Anything going about on its belly, anything going about on all fours, up to anything with many legs, among all swarming-creatures that swarm upon the earth: you are not to eat them, for they are detestable-things!:"

Masekhet Sof'rim 9:2 refers to this letter Vav as being "zaquf" (זָקוּף) - erect, straight, vertical, steep or upright. Bi'urey Sofrim interprets this to mean it's an enlarged Vav, but not so much that it could be mistaken for a Nun Sofit. The practice my sofirm taught me when writing this special letter was in keeping with Or Torah, to make the rosh, head, of the Vav entirely above the sirtut (scored guideline – שָׂרַט sawrat means "to scratch"), so the reader will be able to chant this verse with ease.

There is a Midrashic idea that this Vav is written large because it's the middle letter of the Torah, and therefore it has been written large like this since after the 3rd century, CE.
Vav, the hook. The uniter. The letter which, according to TaNa"KH Yeho'ash occurs in the Torah 30,509 times.

Vav has the numerical value of 6. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Betzalel, teaches us that the number six indicates physical completion: The first letter Vav in the Torah begins the sixth word: ve-et / ואת. So Creation, with our world as we know it built to exist for six millenia, is connected to the number six as our world was finished in six days and as each individual object has six sides: above, below, right, left, front and back.

Vav is a conjunction, a link. A device through which our souls can connect with the Divine, and the Divine can connect to us. He comes to us in the shape of a hook, which is the function he fulfills and what his name means ("Waw" in Aramaic). The presence of Vav at the beginning of a verse in the Torah indicates continuity with the previous text ("Ve-eyleh sh'mot b'nai Yisra'el..." - "And these are the names of the children of Israel..."). Vav's absence means we are beginning a new subject. Vav has the power to unite anything.

R' Menachem Mendel Kasher says that according to Ha-Rav Yitzchok Yosef Zilber, if you count all of the miniscules & majuscules in a standard Torah scroll, you'd get 16 of them (not counting the two backwards Nunim in Sefer Be-midbar/Numbers 10:35-36). Of these, the middle one is this Vav of gachOn. Even when you count all the odd letters in a Kabbalist Sefer Torah, which has additional letter oddities according to R' Yosef Tov Elem, there are a total of 32 letters & and the 16th is this same Vav.

So this letter Vav in "gachon" has the very special job of uniting the two halves of the Torah. The first half AND the second half.

Interesting to note that the first half of the word "gachon" is "gach", גָּח, which means to burst out. This Vav is stopping that explosion.

We carried G@d with us in the Mishkan as we wandered through the desert. "Mishkan" – מִשְׁכָּן – comes from the same root as שְׁכִינָה – "Shekhinah", a.k.a G@d's intimate, sheltering, Feminine Presence. The Divine Spirit. That Interior Being.

The silver hooks from which the Mishkan's enclosing curtains, or - יְרִיעָה - yiri'ot, hung from in Sh'mot/Exodus 27:10 were called Vavs. The Vavs connected the yiri'ot to their posts, or amudim - עַמּוּד.

וְעַמֻּדָיו עֶשְׂרִים, וְאַדְנֵיהֶם עֶשְׂרִים נְחֹשֶׁת; וָוֵי הָעַמֻּדִים וַחֲשֻׁקֵיהֶם, כָּסֶף

Ve-amudav esrim, ve-ad'neyhem esrim nechoshet; vavei ha-amudim va-chashuqeyhem kasef

And there shall be twenty posts, and their sockets twenty of brass/bronze; the hooks of the posts and their fastenings, silver.

Even today, in sofrut the sheets of q'laf (parchment) of a Sefer Torah are known as yiri'ot, the columns of text as amudim. Since the mid-1800's a tradition has arisen to write Sifrei Torah "Vavei Ha-Amudim", beginning each amud with a Vav, "hooking" each of these veils of Torah over their supports so we can continue to carry G@d with us. Our Torahs offering a Place for the Presence.

As we walk our journeys as individuals & as a People, may we all learn from this holy letter how to hook ourselves to the most deeply intimate inside of G@d.

Based on article originally published as "So Close" April 2006 at Radical Torah
Also based on article originally published as "A Still, Small Voice...From MySpace" September 2006 at Netivat Sofrut
Cross-posted on Facebook
Copyright A. Barclay

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