Parshas Bechukosai 5757 - '97

Outline # 37

Chodshei Hashanah Following the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

The Torah's Original Script

The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) concludes: "These are the commandments which G-d commanded Moshe for Bnei Yisrael at Mount Sinai." The Toras Kohanim (Bechukosai 13) explains: "`These are the commandments' -- from now on, a prophet will not be entitled to add anything to them." The work, Kli Chemdah, discussed the relationship of this verse to the prohibition of adding to the laws of the Torah in parshas V'eschanan and Re'eh; see Kli Chemdah there.

In Hebrew, there are no capital letters, but there is another form of certain letters: There are five letters which have a different form when occurring at the end of a word. The Talmud in Megilah (2b) initially suggested that the prophets introduced the final letters. However, this assertion was refuted: "'These are the commandments' -- from now on, a prophet will not be entitled to add anything to them." Changing the form of the letters of the Torah is considered an addition, and the Torah cannot be changed. The Talmud concludes that Moshe used the final letters, but they were at one time forgotten, until the prophets re-instituted the original formula.

Elsewhere (Sanhedrin 21b), a tradition is recorded that, in fact, the entire script by which Moshe wrote the Torah was a different one than in use today! (The ancient letters, called Ksav Ivri, are still used by the Kusim [Samaritans]; they appear as stick-like figures and shapes, and can be found in Hebrew dictionaries and ancient coins. The letters used today are called Ksav Ashuris.)

On the basis of the Talmud in Megilah, cited above, Hakoseiv of Ayn Yaakov concludes, again, that Moshe had originally written the Torah as we have it today, but the letters were at one time forgotten by the general populace. That is, just as the word-end letters were forgotten and re-instituted, so was the script. The major difficulty with this explanation is simply that the Talmud never says it. (How peculiar: At the suggestion that the prophets introduced the form of the letters occurring at word-end, the Talmud protested; at the suggestion that the prophets introduced a new script, however, no difficulty was mentioned!) Nonetheless, there is evidence for the answer of Hakoseiv.

Megilah 2b-3a, cited earlier, had shown that Moshe had known of the word-end form of the letters. The tradition stated that two letters, `mem' and `samech,' had hung in the tablets miraculously. The letters engraved in the tablets of stone had been bored completely through. To bore holes completely through stone is not in itself unheard of. The letters `mem' and `samech, though, are rectangular and circular, respectively. if they were bored completely through, how would the `doughnut hole' insert of the letter remain in the stone? Answered the Talmud: The insert had "hovered miraculously." This had been cited as proof that Moshe had used the word-end form of the letters, for only the word-end form is completely four-sided. So, too -- it is proof that Moshe knew of the letters as we use them today. Only the contemporary Ksav Ashuris letters have a `mem' and `samech' which are completely four-sided!

Retraction of Radbaz

The Radbaz, in Responsa part 3, #883, originally concluded in the same way as Hakoseiv did: just as the word-end letters were forgotten, so was the script. The prophets returned the use of the original script -- Ksav Ashuris -- to the masses. Upon further research, however, he was forced to retract. The Jerusalem Talmud explicitly states two opinions as to whether the Torah was given in Ksav Ivri or Ksav Ashuris. According to the version that the Torah was written in Ksav Ivri -- the miracle in the tablets was that a different letter was suspended: `ayin' in Ksav Ashuris is four-sided, not `mem' and `samech!'

Radbaz concludes that the first set of tablets, written by G-d, were certainly written in the contemporary Ksav Ashuris.

We find the same ideas in Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael chapter 64). It is very logical, he writes, that the Torah would be given in the script the people were familiar with. The tablets which G-d wrote, used the beautiful Ashuris script. The debate concerns which letters the Jews themselves used. At that time they were referred to as Hebrews (`Ivri'im') and their script may well have been the Hebrew (`Ivri') script. However, once they went into Babylonian Exile, they are not called `Hebrews.' At this time, the beautiful Ksav Ashuris script was taught by the prophets. This is not a `change' at all, for the language is one and the same; only the script has gone from the popular "Hebrew' to the proper script which had been taught by G-d Himself. See there, for further explanation; Maharal shows how the writing of the Torah in both scripts is indicated by verses in the Torah itself. However, according to all opinions it is no longer permitted to write the Torah in Ksav Ivri (as the Talmud concluded in Sanhedrin, ibid).

Chodshei Hashanah Part Twenty Three

Approaching Shavuos

The days marking the period between Lag B'omer and Shavuos, are of special interest. "Lag" has no meaning; it simply has the numeric value of 33 -- referring to the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The Bnei Yisaschar explained why the 33rd day is a turning point.

In Pirke Avos (Chapter 2, Mishnah 9), it is stated that Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai had five prestigious students. He asked them to examine the best characteristic worthy of acquiring. Rebbe Elazar Ben Aroch had the most comprehensive answer: "Leiv Tov": a good heart. "Leiv" has the numeric value of 32, "Tov" has the value of 17. There are 32 days before "Lag B'omer," and 17 days following. The indication is that we have acquired "heart" during the first 32 days, and the remaining days until Shavuos shall be "good" ones: the final days of preparation for receiving the Torah. These numbers are not coincidental. At the beginning of the Torah, no letter "tes" appears until the word "tov." The word "Tov" occurs after 32 words, the numerical value of "Leiv."

The meaning is as follows: In Egypt, the Divine Presence revealed itself, as the Hagadah states. However, the Jews were not ready; it all occurred too fast. We needed to start over from the beginning. There were 49 days to prepare. The main illumination of this preparation period comes by the 33rd day. By now we have acquired the "heart" for learning Torah, and the remainder of the 49 days are for "good" -- the final preparations for Torah.

For this reason -- that the main illumination of the preparation period occurs by Lag B'omer -- candles are kindled, and bonfires are set on Lag B'omer, the time of illumination.


Haaros -- insights presented in a novel manner -- are meant to stimulate or

provoke, but are by no means conclusive. Readers are encouraged to look up

original sources. Since there are many factors that might be taken into

consideration, actual questions regarding Jewish Practice should be addressed

to the appropriate authorities.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
PC Kollel
1 Babbin Court
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: 914-425-3565
Fax: 914-425-4296
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '97 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



Copyright © '97 Project Genesis, Inc.

[email protected]

3600 Crondall Lane, Suite 106
Owings Mills, MD 21117
(410) 654-1799
Last Revision: January 27, '97