Thursday, September 24, 2009

Parashat Ha'azinu #3 - Diminished Letter Yud (י)


In Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:18 there is a letter Yud which is written very small compared to all the rest of the letters. It's the last letter in the word תֶּשִׁי teshi, meaning neglected or unmindful.

צוּר יְלָדְךָ, תֶּשִׁי; וַתִּשְׁכַּח, אֵל מְחֹלְלֶךָ.
The Rock that birthed you, you neglected; and forgot G@d, who bore you.

Yad, hand, indicates a means of action. Agency. The universe is set in motion by the movement of the Yad Chazaqah - the strong hand of G@D - being the symbol of creative and directive energy.

The Zohar Va-yiqra 147 explains that the letter Yud consists of three parts: a point rising upwards to The Holy One above, a point directed downwards to Earth, and the middle part uniting both. The shape of the Yud is symbolic of a person in prayer. Our eyes are lowered in humility as we stand before The Holy One, while our hearts are turned upward, toward heaven (Talmud Bavli Yevamot 105b). This is how Yud shows us the power of self-nullification.

All three parts of the Yud are of equal importance halakhically, according to Jewish Law. The Talmud notes that it is "obvious - peshita" that a mezuzah q'laf or Torah scroll is invalid if it lacks even a qotzo shel Yud, the point or serif of the Yud (Talmud Bavli Menachot 29a; Rashi).

The letter Yud also represents G@d's thought and hand (yad), which is the seminal origin of all Creation, and the Jewish soul. We see this expressed in the Hebrew Alefbet, as the beginning and end of every letterform reveals G@d's Omnipresence. Each letter is made up of a series of Yuds: some stretched, some diagonal, but they're all Yud. The seed, the sperm, the primordial force initiating the flow of life. The catalyst. Master writing this letter, and you've mastered the Universe.

Yud may be the smallest of the otiyot, letters, but it's the only one capable of suspending itself in mid-air and of birthing All Else. This is why Yud is known as The Little Who Holds Much. And with it's gematrial number of ten, it holds the Aseret Ha-Dibrot, the Ten Commandments, and the Ten Sefirot or Spectrums of the Tree of Life. It powerfully channels G@d's infinite light into a finite, limited reality for us to experience.

This Much refers to how G@d can hide His Infinity within the Yud/iota/jot of Divine Revelation, yet still possess Infinite potential to expand to all finite time and space.

This diminished Yud is written so because of our own failings. G@d had been expansive with us, so therefore we should have returned to Him in expansiveness. Instead, however, we contracted from Him. Contracted our agency, our power, our yad, hand. G@d had opened His hand to us, but we closed our hand to Him. We did not nullify ourselves and cleave to Him. We made a fist.

This tiny Yud also alludes to the Ten Battles of Yehoshu'a/Joshua. If we had responded appropriately to G@d, relaxed and trusted Him, then we wouldn't have had to fight ten battles to gain the Eretz Ha-Qodesh, the Land of Israel. We could've waltzed in and set up house, but instead we had to fight long and hard, relying on G@d's miracles to help us win. All that violence and those miracles wouldn't have been needed had we just...had faith. And not forgotten G@d.

This tiny Yud was listed in Midrash Rabbah Aqim as one of the letter oddities which must be written into a Sefer Torah for it to be considered kosher for ritual use.
R' Chayim David HaLevy, who is a Kabbalist rabbi I quote often, wrote that a letter written in miniscule indicates that a person or people in the narrative have somehow missed the mark; that they could have done better.

Among the many gifts that Ha-Shem has given us is the power of שִׁכְחָה shikh'chah — forgetfulness. Moshe Rabeynu said this to us right before he died. This is the last sheet of parchment in the Torah, people! Our problem is that va-tishkach Keil mecholelekha — we're using our power of forgetfulness to neglect Ha-Shem, Who gives us each breath straight from Divine compassion. Is that any way to act?

It's so hard to be human. & G@d knows just what a hard job we have. That's why we got Torah. But if we forget, then our agency, our yad, is diminished. So here we have a small Yud to remind us...not to forget :)

May we all be blessed with consciousness enough to become good humans this year, with humble hearts and open hands, like the letter Yud.

Copyright © A. Barclay
Based on "A Small Yud in Ha'azinu" originally posted Spetember 2006 at Netivat Sofrut: and cross-posted at Radical Torah

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