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
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
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
provoke, but are by no means conclusive. Readers are encouraged to look
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
1 Babbin Court