A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
16 Av 5758/ August 7-8, 1998
Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Torah is found in this week's Torah portion
--"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Interestingly, the last letter of the Hebrew word for "Hear" - Shema - is
written large (Ayin), as is the last letter of the Hebrew word for "One" - Ehad
(Daled). Different readings of the combined letters Ayin and Daled may reveal why
this is so.
The letters Ayin Daled can be read ade which means "to bear witness." In
reading the "Hear O Israel" one is in effect testifying that God exists.
Note that Ya'akov (Jacob) and Esau make a treaty of peace near a mound of
stones called gal-ade, literally a mound (gal) of testimony (ade). (Genesis 31:46-48)
Alternatively, the letters Ayin Daled can be read ahd, which means "until."
In other words, no matter one's belief in God, it can never be perfect, never
absolutely absolute. One can come until the Lord, but never quite reach Him.
Note the text describing repentance - "and you shall return until (ad) the
Lord your God," (Deuternomy 30:2) as no one can ever return fully to God.
Finally, the letter Ayin Daled can be read ode, meaning "still." This is
perhaps to accentuate that against all odds, Jews throughout history in the darkest of
times still declared belief in God. Note the use of the word ode
when Yosef (Joseph) reveals himself to his brothers when he asked, "ha'ode avi
hai, is my father still alive?" (Genesis 45:3) In amazement Yosef rhetorically
was saying -'having endured so much, is father still alive?'
These three ideas deserve mention during the first of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After all, the High Holidays are days when we proclaim the
kingship of God, creator of the world; when we seek to repent never realizing it fully;
and when we recognize no matter how far we've strayed, against all odds, we can return.
One more thought: Maybe the letters are large to teach us that the smallest of changes
(Aleph for the Ayin, Reish for the Daled) could pervert the meaning of a text. For
example, if one would read the Shema as having an Aleph as its last letter - after all the
Aleph and Ayin are both silent letters - the word Shema would mean "perhaps"
(sheh-mah). This would change a firm declaration of belief into an expression of
And the Daled would be mistaken for a Reish - after all, there is only a slight difference
in the writing of a Daled and Reish - the word ehad (One) would be read aher (other).
This would change belief in One God into a belief in two gods.
It's been noted that baseball is a game of inches. The difference between hitting a
single past the shortstop and hitting into a double play - which of course could translate
into being a hero or a goat - is infinitesimal.
Sometimes the smallest difference makes all the difference; in baseball, and le-havdil in
Torah, in life itself. As we move towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, all of us
ought be careful with every word, every gesture and every action. You never know
where the smallest changes may take you.
Taste of Torah
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© 5758/1998. All
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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