Zach Diamond: A Vav in our Times

  • by

Zach Diamond is a graduate student at Georgia Tech, where he is completing a doctoral degree in Nuclear & Radiological Engineering in Medical Physics. When he isn’t doing math, he enjoys learning about Jewish History & Culture, with a focus on Italian Jewry.

Will this crisis ever end?

Surely, time will tell. As we hunker down in our homes to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, we can only reminisce what our lives were like not too far in the past. In mere weeks, days even, our lives were transformed at a moment’s notice, with our communal institutions we take for granted becoming sought-after dreams.

Is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? Will our lives ever return to normal? It turns out, actually, that this time of year provides a lot of hope towards a better future! Let me explain:

Parshat Shemini, thought most known for the narrative of Nadav & Avihu’s deaths and the laws of kashrut, contains the halfway point of all the Torah’s letters. This is famously seen by the enlarged vav in the pasuk below (Leviticus 11:42):

כֹּל֩ הוֹלֵ֨ךְ עַל־גָּח֜וֹן וְכֹ֣ל ׀ הוֹלֵ֣ךְ עַל־אַרְבַּ֗ע עַ֚ד כָּל־מַרְבֵּ֣ה רַגְלַ֔יִם לְכָל־הַשֶּׁ֖רֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵ֣ץ עַל־

הָאָ֑רֶץ לֹ֥א תֹאכְל֖וּם כִּי־שֶׁ֥קֶץ הֵֽם׃

“You shall not eat, among all things that swarm upon the earth, anything that crawls on its belly, or anything that walks on fours, or anything that has many legs; for they are an abomination.”

The Gemara elaborates on this observation, as well as the mentioning the halfway point of all the words in the Torah (Kiddushin 30a):

לפיכך נקראו ראשונים סופרים שהיו סופרים כל האותיות שבתורה שהיו אומרים וא”ו (ויקרא יא, מב) דגחון חציין של אותיות של ס”ת (ויקרא י, טז) דרש דרש חציין של תיבות (ויקרא יג, לג) “והתגלח” של פסוקים (תהלים פ, יד) יכרסמנה חזיר מיער עי”ן דיער חציין של תהלים (תהלים עח, לח) והוא רחום יכפר עון חציו דפסוקים

Therefore, because they devoted so much time to the Bible, the first Sages were called: Those who count [soferim],because they would count all the letters in the Torah, as they would saythat the letter vav in the word “belly [gaḥon]” (Leviticus 11:42) is the midpoint of the letters in a Torah scroll. The words: “Diligently inquired [darosh darash]” (Leviticus 10:16), are the midpoint of the words in a Torah scroll. And the verse that begins with: “Then he shall be shaven” (Leviticus 13:33), is the midpoint ofthe verses. Similarly, in the expression: “The boar out of the wood [miya’ar] ravages it” (Psalms 80:14), the ayin in the word wood [ya’ar]is the midpoint of Psalms, with regard to its number of letters. The verse: “But He, being full of compassion, forgives iniquity” (Psalms 78:38), is the midpoint of verses in the book of Psalms.

We know in the Torah in situations where letters appear larger, smaller, or have special markings above them that there exists some sort of meaning or reason behind it. But why the enlarged vav?

Although the Gemara above discusses the many soferim who perhaps spend hours on end determining the exact number of letters and words in the Torah, it does not discuss the significance of the vav. However, further insight into the meaning of the vav provides a lot of connections (literally) into this time of the year.

Vav, translated, means hook. Seems fitting. In the formal Hebrew font, the vav is hook-like in nature, it starts above and then curves straight down. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehudah Loew ben Betzalel, describes the vav as “self-contained”. That is, it forms a separation, both literally and spiritually. Literally, the vav is a conjunction, combining two words, thoughts, or expressions together. It is seen as a continuity rather than a separation. Extending this thought into our current time, we can take the Maharal’s approach, and physically adjust to our current state.

Spiritually, the vav offers a larger ray of hope, as it plays an important role in the final days of Pesach. Acharon Shel Pesach, also known as the last day of Pesach, has many interesting themes. One such theme is the connection to the holiday Shavuot, six weeks after. The Jewish people came into existence during the revelation at Mt. Sinai with the receiving of the Ten Commandments. However, another and much larger theme is at play, the final redemption of Mashiach.

The final vav in the name of Eliyahu, the prophet who will bring the final redemption (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim V’Milchamot 12:2), has a few interesting aspects. The Midrash Chaseirot comments that Hashem’s name is present by combining the hey with the vav at the end of Eliyahu’s name. This means that Hashem will know when the time is right for the final redemption to occur.

We are hoping for many vavs in the coming days. One vav will, B”H, take us out of this horrible pandemic, and we will all reunite in happiness, joy, and rejuvenated faith in Hashem. The larger vav, however, will be much larger and more significant, with the ultimate coming of Mashiach, may he do so in our days!

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *