Sunday, August 30, 2009

Parashat Ki Tavo - Enlarged Letter Khaf in וְהִתְמַכַּרְתֶּם


Parashat Ki Tavo occupies Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8.

In Devarim/Deuteronomy 28:68 some Torah scrolls (but not all!) have an enlarged letter Khaf (כ) written in ve-hit'makartem, "and you shall sell yourselves":

וֶהֱשִׁיבְךָ יְהוָה מִצְרַיִם, בָּאֳנִיּוֹת, בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי לְךָ, לֹא-תֹסִיף עוֹד לִרְאֹתָהּ; וְהִתְמַכַּרְתֶּם שָׁם לְאֹיְבֶיךָ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת, וְאֵין קֹנֶה.

And G@d will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way which I said to you: 'You shall see it no more again'; and there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies as bondmen and as bondwomen, and no-one shall buy you.

Really? No-one? So not only will we be exiled from the Land of Israel, but if we can't even sell ourselves as slaves then we'll be homeless and starving too. What is the enlarged letter Khaf telling us here?

I say "some Torah scrolls (but not all!)" because the enlargement of this particular letter is not agreed upon by all scribal authorities. It isn't approved by "Midrash Rabah Aqim”, and generally no reference can be found to it in our writings except for in "Mishnat Avraham" Sha'ar Alefbet Rabati U-Ze'ira Siman 27. Even there all the author, Avraham ben Tzvi, writes is that this Khaf is to be written enlarged. No rhyme, nor reason. And then, of course, occasionally one will find one actually written into a Torah scroll or two (Figs. 1 and 2)!

So why might this letter be written in this way?
Khaf derives its name from the word כפוף kafuf - "bent". A kafuf in particular means a person bowed down in humility. The form of the letter appears as a prostrator. For example, Talmud Bavli Yoma 35b teaches us that when, in Par'shat Va-yeshev, Yosef refused the advances of Potifar's wife, she threatened him with imprisonment and said, "Ani khofefet qomateykha" - "I will bend your stubbornness", to which Yosef replied, "Ha-Shem zeqeyf kefufim" - "Ha-Shem straightens the bent" (Psalms 146:8).

There is also a diminished letter Khaf in the Torah, to balance this one out, perhaps. After Sarah's death, B'reyshit/Genesis 23:2 reads

וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן--בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַיָּבֹא, אַבְרָהָם, לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה, וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ.

And Sarah died in Qiriyat Arba - the same as Chevron - in the land of Cana'an; and Avraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

The diminished letter Khaf in the word וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ ve-livkotah tells us that Avraham constrained his grief, bearing his pain in his heart and not expressing it publicly (Kol HaTorah). It also is a sign, since the name Khaf literally means "palm of the hand" and is indeed even the shape of a grasp, you can see in the physical text Avraham's great effort to pull in and repress his emotion. What a powerful image one little letter shows us.

But this is a large letter, so even more so!

The letter Khaf represents Tirtzah, one of the daughters of Tzelof'chad. Why? Because her name means "desire". "Will".

The word khaf as spelled in Hebrew, כף, is an acronym. The roshey teyvot, or initials, stand for two Hebrew words: כּוֹחַ ko'ach (ability, authority, energy, force, power, resource, strength) and פֹּעַל po'el (achievements, activities, efforts). Khaf as a verb can also mean to coerce or subdue. Normally we would be able to sell ourselves into slavery, but G@d will put a stop to it. Our sins which will cause the Exile must be totally nullified, completely subjugated, like the shape of the Khaf.

Where did this giant hand/Khaf come from? Is it the hand of G@d?
One of the most moving and beautiful lines from Nevi'im, our Prophets, speaks about just how much G@d loves all the Jewish People:
Yeshayahu/Isaiah 49:16

הֵן עַל-כַּפַּיִם, חַקֹּתִיךְ; חוֹמֹתַיִךְ נֶגְדִּי, תָּמִיד.
Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands; your walls are always before Me.

See that? chaqotiekh...
On the palms of My hands are you engraved.

According to Rabbi Hayim David HaLevi, z"l (1924/5-1998), the former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where a letter appears enlarged in our Holy texts, this is where G@d has gifted us with a deed of extra loving kindness. This is to teach us gratitude, awe, and knowledge of our dependence on the One G@d from Whom everything comes.

This enlarged letter Khaf shows us that it was by G@d's great hand we were bent. The great hand which possesses and moves the universe, all the while cupping each little life in its palm.

We may not have wanted the Exile, but it is for our own good that G@d uses the nations of the world to bring us back home to G@d and Israel.

Copyright A. Barclay ©

No comments:

Post a Comment