In this week's Torah portion, Tazri'a, Va-yiqra/Leviticus 12:1-15:33, we find an enlarged letter. The word "ve-hitgalach" (וְהִתְגַּלָּח), "and he'll shave himself", sports a letter Gimel double the size of its neighbours:
וְהִתְגַּלָּח--וְאֶת-הַנֶּתֶק, לֹא יְגַלֵּחַ; וְהִסְגִּיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הַנֶּתֶק שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, שֵׁנִית.
Ve-hitgalach ve-et ha-neteq, lo yegaley'ach; ve-his'gir ha-koheyn et ha-neteq shiv'at yamim, sheynit.
"Then he shall be shaved, but he won't shave the scall; and the priest shall seclude the scall-bearer seven days more."
So why is this Gimel enlarged? And why in the word "shave"? Various scribal opinions claim it reminds us that this shaving ritual is different in three - Gimel has the numeric value of 3 - ways from other kinds of shavings.
1) This ritual shaving can be done by anyone, not just a kohen, even though a kohen must examine the patient and decide the judgement of the affliction and how to proceed.
2) The shaving can be done not just with a razor, but other devices as is usual.
3) In this case, even a Nazir (who is forbidden to shave) must do so.
A little Midrash: the letter Gimel spans the gap between two individual entities or forces and blends them into one. The word "gamla", found in Talmud tractate Mo'ed Qatan 6b, means a "bridge which unites two areas" and has the same root as Gimel.
According to Kabbalistic writings, Gimal comes to us in the shape of a letter Vav connected to a letter Yud. The Vav, whose name means "hook", makes a bridge or "gamla", between the Divine and the humble Yud, whose name means "hand". So the flow of blessing and wisdom in this ritual comes through the chute into the waiting hand of the receiver.
Kabbalah also teaches us that the number three/letter Gimel symbolizes the world of tiqun (perfection, repair, correction, improvement, rehabilitation, refinement). A base of two legs is not stable, but a third leg provides a firmer foundation.
"Gamal" (גָּמַל), means to detoxify or to ripen. It also means "to wean", and "gamol", from the same root, means "to nourish until completely ripe/mature". It is from here we get the Upshernish, a Yiddish name for the first hair cut a Jewish boy receives, after he turns three years old. The age of three is a time of transition in spiritual consciousness, hence we begin educating our children at this tie, leave the boys' hair uncut until then, we encourage girls to light Shabbat and Yom Tov candles from this age, and we do not harvest the produce of young trees until that time, and only then to bring the produce to G@d at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (and may it be so again bimheyra beyameinu - speedily in our days!).
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Copyright A. Barclay
Many thanks to my dear husband, Marc, who contributed informally to this article :)