Thursday, December 10, 2009



לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי...

Lo ve-hayil ve-lo ve-choah, ki im be-ruhi . . .

Not by power, not by might; but by My spirit . . .

- Zechariyah 4:6

May all our earthly goals be realised in this way, ameyn selah.

Copyright © A. Barclay

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Parshat Va-yeshev: Dotted Letters Alef and Tav


Be-reshit/Genesis 37:12 reads:

וַיֵּלְכוּ, אֶחָיו, לִרְעוֹת אֶת-צֹאן אֲבִיהֶם, בִּשְׁכֶם

And once, his brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shekhem.

Va-yeilekhu, echaiv, lire'ot et-tson avihem, bi-Shekhem

The word את et has two dots, one over each letter, teaching that Joseph's brothers did not go to pasture the flocks in Shekhem but to "pasture" themselves: to eat, drink, and indulge in all pleasures, the "Alef-to-Tav" suggesting they tried everything! From A to Z! (AR"N 30b)

Shekhem is a 4,000 year old city. It was the first Israeli capital and the largest, most central city to our ancestors at that time and place in history, not a pastoral place. The dots appearing over the word for the direct article indicate the boys didn't go to feed and water their sheep, they went to feed and water themselves. They didn't graze their flocks in the big city, they partied.

Shekhem (known as Neopolis later by our Greek invaders and now called Nablus in Arabic) also had another name: Tel Balatah.
The root בִּלָּה means to have a good time, to enjoy life; to spend time hanging out.

So what this verse is really telling us is that Joseph's brothers parked their father's flock outside Shekhem, went inside and had a good time! "Wasting away again in Margaritaville..."

The narrative tells us that Jacob is sending Joseph to check up on his older brothers and report back, and it is on this trip that Joseph's brothers turn on him and he ends up enslaved in Egypt. So what had Jacob heard, and what did Joseph catch them doing in Dotan (דָּת means justice/sentence) that they had to dispose of him?

In the end, Joseph's brothers were sick and tired of the favouritism their dad showed him, and snapped. The Torah refers to Joseph here as a נַעַר na'ar, or youth, and Rashi tells us that his childish behaviour was de rigeur.

Jacob was concerned his elder sons were not properly looking after his sheep (vital investment property he had worked hard for many years over), and Joseph's repeated spying on them finally ended in his catching them at doing something really bad (the dotted letters Alef and Tav), being sold to foreigners and taken away to Egypt.

Rashi tells us that Shekhem is a place of misfortune for the Jewish People: Joseph was sold into slavery there, Dinah was raped there, and the kingdom of the House of David was divided there. STAY AWAY FROM THIS PLACE.

Shekhem history:
Dothan Project:

Copyright A. Barclay, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hebrew Word Gifts


My friend Rory & I did these t-shirt designs together - ok, all I did was the Hebrew script, my own design called "Qeset Ha-Soferet" & first published by MySpace. & I did the writeups on the tags, but everything else was her idea - she's the brainchild.

Anyway, each shirt sports a powerful Hebrew word, as an intention the wearer wishes to put out into the world or carry within themselves. They're meant to be inspirational spiritual gear.

Just in Time for Chanukah at my original blog, Netivat Sofrut: the diary of a Soferet.

Notice that all the shirts are modestly cut so those of us who cover up for religious reasons can wear them! There is a line of baby wear in the making as well...

Chappy Chanukah!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Care and Feeding of Your Torah Scroll


Classic and practical booklet written by Brilliant Sofer Husband, Mordechai Pinchas Sofer ST"M, a few years back to help everyone look after their Sifrei well, and avoid little accidents which cause expensive trips to the sofer/et for repair. Please do have a browse :)

Care of Your Torah by Marc Michaels, Sofer ST"M

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ Dotted Kiss in Parashat Va-yishlach


Be-reyshit/Genesis 33:4, Parshat Va-yishlach has a scribal peculiarity in the word וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ va-yishaqeyhu, "and kissed him". It can be found here in the following Chumashim:
Plaut p.219, Cohen p.201, Hertz p.125, Sforno p.181, JPS p.52, Jerusalem p.38, Stone p.176

Here we have Ya'aqov and Esav reuniting after decades of separation, having spent their lives competing against each other and defining themselves as so different from the other. The last time they saw one another was when Ya'aqov bought Esav's Firstborn Birthright for a bowl of lentils, after which Ya'aqov usurped Esav's blessing from their father Yitz'chaq and then hightailed it back to Paddan-Aram, to his mother Riv'qah's family, about ten miles east of Damascus.

Ya'aqov was returning home from exile to Israel, and to mend his relationship with his only sibling. A sibling with whom he defined what he was not. What am I? I am not him. It took twenty years of being away from each other for the brothers to finally meet as who they were, instead of who they were not. An intense narrative which many of us share.

וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ, וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיִּבְכּוּ.

And Esav ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept.

Va-yaratz Eysav liq'rato va-yechab'qeyhu, va-yipol al tzavarav va-yishaqeyhu; va-yiv'ku.

The word וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ va-yishaqeyhu has six dots, one over each letter. Why?
What does this mean?

We are taught by several sources (Avot deRebbe Natan, Rav Hayim David HaLevi, among others) that where dots appear in our Holy writings that it means we are meant to either erase the word from the text altogether, or to apply its opposite meaning.

For example, perhaps the pasuq, the verse, is meant to read only, "And Esav ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck; and they wept", with no mention of a kiss.

Or, maybe this brotherly kiss was really something else? It is explained by the Rabbis that Esav did not sincerely kiss his brother Ya'aqov, rather he would have preferred to (Ba’al Ha-Turim; Avot deRebbe Natan 30b) give him a נְשִׁיכָה neshikhah, a bite - these two words have a similar sound. This was not a true reconciliation on Esav's part.

The root of the word "kiss", נִשֵּׁק, can also mean just to meet up with someone, or to get together casually (נָשַׁק). However, it can also mean "weapon", נֶשֶׁק, which is a word you'll be familiar with if you've ever entered an Israeli shopping mall, because the security guards with the metal detectors you have to pass through will search your bag and ask you if you have a nesheq, gun. It can also mean "to sting", like a scorpion.

Sibling rivalry is tough! Be-reyshit/Genesis 25:22-23 teaches us that these two boys had been fighting in utero! And now they embrace after so many years, and it stung them...

Alternatively, according to R' Shim'on ben Eleazar, this was the only time Esav was genuinely expressing his affection for his brother, and all other times it had been insincere.

So what do we do with this word? What do you think?

Copyright © A. Barclay.
Cross-posted on Facebook

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This Month, Six Years Ago


This month, six years ago, my Globe And Mail interview with Cori Howard:
(pls note - I'm not the first woman to be a soferet like the article states, as women have been occasionally doing this work for generations)


Fighting for the right to write

Vancouver's Aviel Barclay is the first woman ever to become a Torah scribe. But some authorities say she is violating Jewish law by doing it.

By Cori Howard

There are 4,000 rules to writing a Torah, the holiest book of the Jews. There are rules about spacing and size and at least a dozen on how to write the name of God. And 35-year-old Aviel Barclay is becoming intimately familiar with every single one.

. . .

"I'm carrying the torch because someone stuffed it in my backback," she says, unpacking in her modest Vancouver apartment after a recent trip to Israel. "If I was male, I would have gotten loans and there would have been no question about it. I could've done it 10 years ago. But for me, all I can hope is doing this will educate people about an obscure area of Jewish law and open the way for other women who want to do this."

. . .

"It was all very Zen," she says. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." The rest of her journey was not so peaceful. In Israel, she was also studying at a yeshiva, a Jewish school. After they found out what she was doing, they harassed her, demanded the sofer's name and threatened to kick her out. She left.

At a second yeshiva, she heard people talking about the woman who wanted to write a Torah. They said they were lucky not to have such a heretic. She left before they found out she was there. A third yeshiva told her to deal with her feminist issues or leave. She left.

. . .

"I have not found within our traditional legal sources sufficient grounds to validate women writing Torah," says Rabbi Ross Singer of Vancouver's Shaarey Tefilah synagogue. He has spent more than a year studying this matter and consulting renowned Torah scholars. But he does support women writing a Torah for educational purposes, learning or as a reference.

While that may sound like conditional support, to Ms. Barclay, it's amazing that in the last major area where Jewish women haven't gained equality, she's getting any support at all from an Orthodox rabbi. "I respect difference of opinion," she says.

. . .

For now, Ms. Barclay is preparing herself for that state of higher consciousness. She prays every day. She meditates. She writes in her journal. She gets really excited thinking about going into the world of the letter nun and tackling the challenge of the letter aleph.

"I guess I'm a bit of a nerd that way. But really, I've wanted this honour my whole life, as grave as it is. And it's happening now and I'm ready to do it."

Originally posted at Netivat Sofrut: the Diary of a Soferet