from a Minuscule Letter
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Rabbi Sacks Z”L is no longer with us. He led the ship of Torah right into the hearts of so many people around the world.
And we wanted to dedicate this post to his memory.
This Shabbat we will read the Torah Portion חיי שרה – Chayey Sarah from the book of Genesis.
In the Hebrew alphabet there are no capital or small letters. All the letters are supposed to be equal.
However, according to the tradition, there are 17 places in the Bible where Hebrew the letters are extra-large or extra-small.
The scribal terminology is:
majuscule and minuscule.
In Hebrew the small letters are called – אותיות זעירות (OTIYOT ZE’IROT).
The big letters are called – אותיות רבתי (OTIYOT RABATI).
According to the tradition, in the Torah there are altogether six minuscule letters and eleven majuscule letters.
For example, the first letter in the Torah, the first letter beth in the word Bereshit, is a majuscule).
בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
The most famous majuscules are certainly the final letters of the first and last words of the famous verse “She’ma Yisrael…” – those are larger than all the others in the Torah scroll. (Devarim – Deuteronomy 6:4)
שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד
Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one
One of the many explanations for that is that we enlarge those letters to ensure that they are read properly.
In the book of Leviticus, in the first verse the word Vayikra:
“God Called (to Moses)” ends with a with an aleph zeira – a tiny or subscript aleph.
וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר
Vayikra el Moshe vayidaber Adonai eilav.” (God called to Moses and spoke to him…)
Another instance of a miniscule letter is in this week’s Torah portion “Chayey Sarah”.
וַתָּמָת שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְיַת אַרְבַּע הִוא חֶבְרוֹן–בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַיָּבֹא, אַבְרָהָם, לִסְפֹּד לְשָׂרָה, וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ
And Sarah died in Kiriatharba–the same is Hebron–in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. (Gen. 23:2)
Notice the small minuscule letter כּ in the word וְלִבְכֹּתָהּ (VE’LIVKOTAH) to weep for her.
One of the explanations that is given by the commentator Ba’al Haturim is that Avraham did not cry much after the death of his wife Sarah. He just wept a little…
Therefore, the letter כּ is “little”, to express the brief weeping.
And this connects us to what Rabbi Sacks taught about this Torah Portion.
Our sages considered Abraham to be greater than Noah.
Torah says about Noah that he “walked with God”, while Abraham is described “(The Lord) before Whom I walked”.
Noah required God’s support (WITH God) to uphold him in righteousness, but Abraham strengthened himself (BEFORE God) and walked in his righteousness by himself.
however Noah is the only person in the entire bible, to whom the Torah refers a the “righteous man”.
How then is Abraham greater than Noah?
And maybe the answer lies in the way the two men responded to the tragedy and grief.
After the flood we find Noah making himself drunk, the man who was born to bring comfort to the humanity (as his name alludes) apparently was trying himself to find comfort in wine in escape from the tragedy.
He saw the whole world destroyed and became paralyzed by his grief, seeking oblivion.
His heart is broken, the weight of the past prevents him from turning towards the future.
When we look at Abraham at the beginning of our Torah portion. He just came out from almost sacrificing his son Isaac, who was saved at the last moment by the heavenly voice.
So, this story was about to get a happy ending after all.
But there was a terrible twist to this story, just as Abraham was about to be relieved by his son’s life spared, he discovers that his wife Sarah dies.
The woman who stayed with him for so many years though all his travels the woman who save his life twice, the woman whom he loved so much died on the day his son was saved!
We would surely understood if Abraham grieved to the end of his days, just as we understand Noah’s grief.
But, we read in this week’s portion the following:
Abraham mourns and weeps, but then rises up!
And he does two things to secure the Jewish future:
1. He purchases the first plot in the land of Israel
2. He secures a wife for his son Isaac, so that there will be a
Both men, Noah and Abraham grieve at their huge losses.
Noah grieves and is lost in his grief.
- Abraham grieves, but he promptly rises up to secure the Jewish future.
Abraham bestowed this gift on his descendants. The Jewish people suffered tragedies that would have devastated any other nation:
- The destruction of both temples and the exile and the end of the Jewish independence in the Land of Israel
- The massacres
- The forced conversions
- The pogroms
- And finally the holocaust
And somehow the Jewish people mourned and wept and rose up to build the Jewish future.
This unique strength came from Abraham.
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote:
It requires moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice.
Abraham left this legacy for us – we must turn from yesterday’s loss to the call of the tomorrow,
as the Torah expresses it in this monumental message coming from the minuscular letter כּ.
May Rabbi Sacks’ memory be a blessing
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