Filed under: Mesorah, scribal art, sofrit, Torah scroll | Tags: ashrit, Ezra, mesorah, scribes, Torah Scroll
UPDATED April 24thTH 2016
Ezra made it a law that the Torah Scroll should be written is the “Ashrit” Hebrew script. Before this it was most of the time written in the Hebrew stick letter form called “Ruse”, the “Ashrit” form of the letters before this was only know by the wise, such as those in the schools of the prophets. Ezra also divided the words into the structure of the lines we find in the Torah, which are identical in every Torah Scroll. The separation into paragraphs that we have now in the Torah is from Ezra’s rullings. Also the many rulings of “mesora” (traditional rulings on writing the Torah scroll)
Know, When one takes from Keter it is called the crown of the Tiferet, the crown in the head of each “tzadik” (Holy person), the “tag” (crown) on the (letters of the) Torah scroll therefore it says whoever uses the “tag” will be removed from the world.(Zohar Tikunim)
The Ridbaz in, section three, paragraph 442 said, ” In Sanhedrin it says that the Torah was first given to Israel in the Hebrew script and the Holy Tongue, and was given again in the days of Ezra in the Assyrian script and the Aramaic language…It was difficult for those Tanaim and Amoraim that the script in which the Torah was given was reduced to being used on letters and coins and all sorts of things with absolutely no holiness and left for the common people… while the script which was innovated by an angel and in which Ezra wrote the Torah has so much holiness. There is another difficulty in this matter — for great secrets are given from one person to the next about the drawing of letters and the writing of the names, and great mountains are dependent thereon. Many books have been written over the years, all speak of the drawing of Assyrian letters and not Hebrew…The ’Zohar’ by the Rashbi, ’Sefer Elkana’ and many others…But this may be the way things were, that the Ten Commandments were written on the stone. In the Yerushalmi Megillah chapter one, halacha nine it states they were in Assyrian script…and this script none knew but the Heavenly host…and as soon as the Tablets were given they were hidden in the Ark and they were not taken out. And they were filed away in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, so that no man saw them…because the script was so holy Moshe was not allowed to write in the Assyrian script, so he gave it to them in the Hebrew [Ivri] script which had been used by Shem and Ever.
Its written in Tractate Soferim Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: Three scrolls of the Torah were found in the Temple court: The Maon scroll, the Zaatutey scroll, and the Hoo scroll. In one of these they found it written ‘maon,’ and in the other two it was written, ‘Meonah E-lohei kedem’ (Deuteronomy 33:27), so they adopted the reading of the two scrolls and discarded that of the one scroll. In another of the scrolls they found it written ‘Vayishlach zaatutey bney Yisrael,’ and in the other two they found written ‘Vayishlach naarey bney Yisrael,’ (Exodus 24:5) so they retained the reading of the two and abandoned that of the one. In one of the scrolls ‘Achad asar hoo’ was written, but in the other two it was written ‘Achad asar hee’, so they adopted the reading of the two and discarded that of the one.” Three versions were melded this way into a single version. Understand: Reish Lakish was of the second generation of Amoraim and in his days the Temple had already stood in ruins more than two hundred years. He never saw the Temple court and never read the books found there. But From this we learn the sages received a tradition of fixing distortions in the Torah text. They did this based on a written tradition handed down from generation to generation, according to the majority.
The Rambam ruled (Laws of a Torah Scroll, chapter 10) that if a single letter is missing or a single letter is added, the Torah scroll is invalid and it does not have the sanctity of a Torah scroll.
In Isaiah 9:6, The “mem” of “marbeh”, despite being in the middle of a word, is writen in its final form
The upper “Tamim” (cantillation marks), some call the upper system of “Tamim” indicate the division into verses. By them the Ten Commandments are divided into ten verses, each commandment is read as an entire verse. This division creates certain exceptional situations.
Aside from the Ten Commandments, the entire Bible does not have a single verse that consists only of two words. The shortest verses have three words; such as Va-yeshev Yitzhak bi-Gerar (“So Isaac stayed in Gerar,” Gen. 26:6), or U-vnai Dan Hushim (“Dan’s son: Hushim,” Gen. 46:23). The Ten Commandments, however, have three verses each of which consists of two words:
“Lo Tirzah” (You shall not murder), “lo tin’af” (You shall not commit adultery), and lo “tignov” (You shall not steal). The first part of the Decalogue is also exceptional:
A verse of 50 words “You shall have no other…” and a verse of 55 words “Remember the sabbath day,” in Exodus or of 64 words “Keep the sabbath day,” in Deuteronomy.
These are the longest verses in all of Torah.
The second system of “tammim” (cantillation marks), called the “lower cantillation,” divides the commandments into verses of intermediate length, as is more usual in Scripture. The commandment to “Remember the sabbath day…” covers four verses, and the four commandments, “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal” and “You shall not bear false witness…,” are combined into a single verse. According to this system, the Ten Commandments are comprised of twelve verses.
The “tammim” (cantelation notes) are the Neshamah, the vowel points are the ruach, and the letters are the nefesh. These are guided by these, and these after these. The letters are guided by the vowel points, and the vowel points move after the “tammim”. Because “the higher over the higher one watches” (Ecc. 5:7). Furthermore the letters are fire, the vowel points wind, “wherever the wind went they also went” (Eze. 1:12). They are like a fountain of water as it says about it “The one who sends fountains into valleys…to nourish all the animals of the field” (Psalms 104:10-11) these are the letters. (Zohar Tikunim)
Rabbi Zalman Hannau, author of Sha’arei Tefilah, says the upper cantillation (Ta’am Elyon) is “what the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, which is supreme above all,” and the lower cantillation, “what Moses said to Israel, below.”
The earliest source in which they appear is the 16th-century responsa, Mas’at Benyamin (siman 6). Masoretic literature refers to the two systems of cantillation by other names: ta’ma kadma (= “the first cantillation,” corresponding to the “lower cantillation” of today), and ta’ma tenina (“the second cantillation,” corresponding to the “upper cantillation”).
Ancient masoretic manuscripts of the Bible, first and foremost the Aleppo Codex (Keter Aram Zova) of the famous masorete Aaron ben Asher, contain both cantillation systems. These manuscripts do not write out the Decalogue twice, once with each system, but mark both cantillation systems on the same words. The reader must be well-versed in cantillation of the Torah in order to know which markings belong to which system.
The top of every column in the Torah scroll begins with the letter “ן” (vav), the columns in the Torah are like the letter “וױ”, and only in six places the letters at the top of the columns are different. Those letters spells ” בי”ה שמו ” (in the name of Yah) numerical value “המשיח”, “The Mashiach”
The Ar”i teaches in Lecutim there are 16 occurrences in the Torah with different size letters. Ten large letters connect us to the level of Binah and six small letters connect us to Malchut of Z”a.
In ten places in the Torah there are 32 dots above the letters, representing 10 Sefirot and the 22 letters of the לב (HEART) They channel the 32 paths of “Chuchmah” (wisdom).The first letter of the Torah is “ׁב” and the last one is “ל”, together it is “לב” (numerical value 32) which also means “Heart”.
cording to Ezra lits not known whether the words indicated by dots should be included in the Torah text. Only Elijah, when he arrives, will be able to state whether they are needed.
The sages explain the ancient “mesora” concerning the markings as an additional textual layer that could be employed for understanding the text of the Torah.
In the Hebrew Torah text, there is a dot above each letter in the two words “lanu ulevanenu” (unto us and to our children) and also above the first letter (ayin) of the two words “ad olam” (forever). Altogether, there are 11 dots above these letters.
In parashat Nitzavim we read:
הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God [to judge]; but overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity, to carry out all the words of this Torah.
In the Torah scroll, it appears a with dot over the ע of עד, meaning unto. Why is only half the word dotted?
עד is a word that suggests continuity. A dot on only one of the word’s only two letters breaks it up. Maybe this is suggesting we may not know the secret things now, but in the world to come we will ? We simply have to do the best we can now with what we know.
If we don’t read the phrase לנו ולבנינו, us and our children because of the dots on them, which at times denote the marked world is “like” erased. Then the verse would start “Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God, and overt acts also.”
This verse is the longest run of dots in the Torah, eleven of them in all. Immediately before the dots is an eleven-letter phrase – ליהוה אלהינו. There is a tradition that when letters are dotted it is like the words are erased and not read. There can’t be dots on the 11 letters of ליהוה אלהינו as we don’t ever erase God’s name. We wouldn’t even the suggestion, so we wouldn’t put those eleven dots above ליהוה אלהינו. But since are exactly the right number of dots for ליהוה אלהינו . We would read the verse “without God”? as “Concealed acts and overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity…”. The “clippa” nourish from 11 sources.
This is not the only verse where dots appear above the Hebrew letters. Initially, the role of these markings was to indicate words that should be erased from the text; however, since the words were not entirely erased and have only been marked, the sages feel that their presence must be explained. The sages construct a dialogue between Ezra the scribe, who was in charge of writing down the Torah text, and Elijah the prophet: “Ezra said, ‘If Elijah should come and ask me, “Why did you write the text in this manner?” I will answer him, “I have already placed dots above the letters.” If he says to me, “You have done a wonderful job in writing down the Torah text,” I will place dots above the letters’” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan ch. 34).
The sages view such dots in a variety of ways
The Torah states, “If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the Lord; in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Numbers 9:10-11). The letter heh in the Hebrew word rehoka (“afar off”) has a dot above it,
“And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4). There dots above the Hebrew word vayeshakehu (“and [he] kissed him”).
Examples of divergent forms of texts, words and letters, include whole sentences written in alternate spaces and/ or on alternate lines (e.g., Shemot 15; Shemot 20; Devarim 32), letters that are larger than normal (e.g., Devarim 6:4), smaller than normal (e.g., VaYikra 1:1), written in reverse (e.g., BaMidbar 10:35-6), and which are dotted (e.g., in this week’s Parsha, Devarim 29:28).
The Rabbinic interpretation of the dots.
Of the classical commentaries printed in the standard Mikraot Gedolot, only RaShI addresses the dots over the words Lanu U’LeVanainu Ad (to us and to our children until). At first glance, the commentator appears to do no more than paraphrase the relevant Talmudic passage:
Why are the words: “Lanu u-levaneinu, [unto us and to our children] and the ‘ayin’ of the word ‘ad’, [for ever] dotted? — To teach that God did not punish for transgression committed in secret, until the Israelites had crossed the Jordan: this is the view of R. Yehuda. Said R. Nechemia to him; Did God ever Punish [all Israel] for crimes committed in secret? Does not Scripture say (Devarim 29:28) “forever”? But just as God did not punish [all Israel] for secret transgressions [at any time], so too did He not punish them [corporately] for open transgressions until they had crossed the Jordan.
RaShI follows a pattern that appears many times in his writings, when he basically quotes the primary Talmudic source, but also significantly edits the passage.
RaShI on Devarim 29:28
“There are dots on the words “Lanu U’Levanainu’ to suggest that even for the publicly committed sins (by individuals), He Did Not Punish the community until they had crossed the Jordan (R. Nechemia’s position), (specifically) from the moment that they took upon themselves the oath on Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eival and had thereby become responsible for one another.”
RaShI’s understanding of the significance of the dots over the Biblical passage is further clarified when one turns to his Talmudic commentary on the passage in question:
RaShI on Sanhedrin 43b, d.h. Elah:
“The dotted letters are to teach you that when it is written “VeHaNiglot Lanu U’LeVanainu” (the publicly committed sins are our and our children’s responsibility), this attribution of blame did not apply prior to this point in time (i.e., the moment when the people stands poised to cross into Canaan, as opposed to the prior forty years of traveling through the desert following the Exodus from Egypt), but rather only from this point going forward, since all dotted letters are coming to exclude the conclusion that would ordinarily have been drawn from the text, and to state in this case, the collective community will not be punished for the commission of open sins on the part of individuals who are part of the group until after the crossing of the Jordan River into Israel.”
RaShI therefore understands R. Nechemia’s position in Sanhedrin to be, that had dots not appeared over the letters of the words in question, we would have understood Devarim 29:28 as maintaining a truism that had applied from the Exodus, i.e., that from the point that the Jewish people began to be considered a nation, as opposed to merely Yaakov’s extended family, hidden transgressions were God’s Business, whereas sins done publicly even by individuals, have always been the responsibility of the community as a whole to rebuke, bring to trial, and punish. The insertion of the dots over a portion of the verse in question, is designed to limit the scope of the latter clause and exclude from consideration for collective accountability the period prior to the time of Devarim, when Moshe is to pass away and the people are to enter the Promised Land. Consequently, we are forced to conclude that the transition of the Jews from a tribal family to a nation took place gradually, beginning with their redemption from Egypt, and only culminating upon their entry into Israel. Perhaps they can first lay claim to being a true people when they assume total responsibility not only for one another’s transgressions, but also for obtaining food, fighting wars, and settling land, from which they were exempt during their wanderings in the desert.
Focusing upon the lesson of the dotted letters in Devarim 29:28.
Aside from the intriguing technical issue of how the Tora, while devoid of punctuation, nevertheless draws attention to particular parts of its contents by physically altering to various degrees, the appearance of its letters and words, the issue of collective responsibility in general, and the historical point at which it begins vis-à-vis the Jewish people in particular, is of interest. The dichotomy stated in Devarim 29:28 between transgressions which the nation is expected to enforce as opposed to those that are God’s Domain, could be understood to be the culminating verse in a section of the Tora that began with Devarim 27:9, found in last week’s Parashat Ki Tavo.
And Moses and the priests the Levites spoke unto all Israel, saying: ‘Keep silence, and hear, O Israel; this day thou art become a people unto the LORD thy God.
On the one hand, v. 9 contends that the Jews have finally earned the appellation of “nation”, which could be construed as their needing to take collective responsibility for all that takes place in their midst, both public and private. Verses 11-26 are categorized by RaShBaM and Ibn Ezra as sins that take place without public knowledge, as is clearly suggested in v. 15 and 24. By having everyone publicly affirm the curses that will apply to anyone violating any of these rules, in addition to emphasizing to each individual that he will be personally responsible for all of his actions, does this ritual also suggest that the entire nation must ferret out such individual secret perpetrators and bring them to justice? Chapter 28 makes clear that rewards for not transgressing these rules (v. 1-14), as well as the punishments that will be forthcoming as a result of their violation (v. 15-68) will be God-generated, rather than humanly administered. The emphasis upon God’s Readiness to punish those who fail to conform to His Law continues in Chapter 29, with v. 1-14 describing the covenant between God and the people that originally was entered into at Sinai being once again ratified at Arvei Moav, and v. 15-24 placing particular emphasis upon the dire Divine Consequences of a reversion to idolatrous practices on the part of the Jews. Therefore, after so much discussion focusing upon how God Will Be the Enforcer of His Own Law even when it is violated secretly, it is understandable for the people and its leaders to think that they are being exempted from the need of any type of enforcement, and that God Will Take Care of all sinners, public and private. Devarim 29:28 can then be understood as putting such a misconception to rest, and iterating that while God Will Respond to the transgressors “beneath the radar”, the people must bring to justice those who publicly disrespect Tora law.
A Biblical incident that illustrates the expectation that the people will police itself.
The context for the discussion in Sanhedrin cited by RaShI, is the case of Achan, who deliberately violated a Divine Commandment, and took property from the city of Jericho, after it had fallen during the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Yehoshua (see Yehoshua Chapt. 7). The subsequent defeat of the Jewish army at the battle of Ai is attributed to this lone act, raising the question of collective responsibility for an individual’s transgression. Achan’s confession, v. 21 “and behold they are hid in the earth, beneath my tent” suggests that at least the concealment of the contraband, if not also the manner in which it was obtained, was secret. But wasn’t the point of R. Nechemia’s interpretation of Devarim 29:28 that for secret transgressions, the entire people would not be held accountable? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 44a) suggests an intriguing as well as troubling rationale: “Because his (Achan’s) wife and children knew about what he had done.” Apparently, a sin can only be considered private and secretive when it is exclusively Bein Adam LeMakom (between man and God.) (It should be noted that such a conclusion is difficult in light of Devarim 27:20,22,23, the sexual transgressions listed among those that are defined as secret sins, since by definition more than one person is consciously involved in these activities, and therefore assuming that only a single perpetrator is aware of what has transpired is problematic. On the other hand, it could be claimed that each of the partners in his/her own right is secretly transgressing vis-à-vis everyone else, and that these actions are viewed paradoxically as individual secretive actions that are enacted by two people simultaneously.) While emotionally, and even legally (Ishto KeGufo [one’s spouse is like one’s own self] — see e.g., Ketubot 66a) things that happen within an immediate family, would appear to be considered essentially private (the concept that an individual cannot testify against his/her spouse in a court of law because it is tantamount to self-incrimination reflects such an assumption), the case study of Achan is understood to posit that this is not true with respect to Tora transgressions and Divine Accountability. While the rule of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh (all of Israel are guarantors for/inextricably bound up with one another — see e.g., Sanhedrin 27b) applies to the Jewish people en masse, the mutual responsibility for one another’s actions within a family is apparently not lessened, despite being literal blood relatives.
While the above discussion focuses upon how a transgression is to be viewed after the fact in terms of attributing blame and assigning responsibility, it is possible to understand the Tochecha (the sections in the Tora in Parashiot BeChukotai and Ki Tavo) as serving as a deterrent for inappropriate behavior, as well as an incentive for those who anticipate such behavior on the part of individuals, to try to intervene and prevent it from taking place. The potential for a Divine Response that will apply either to an individual or an entire people should serve to give any potential sinners pause, as well as spur on their families, friends and community members to try to nip malfeasance in the bud. A positive spin on Areivut would maintain that we are all responsible for one another to try to assure that appropriate, spiritually uplifting and morally exemplary behavior take place, rather than wrestling with communal blame and soul-searching once individuals have acted unthinkingly and irresponsibly.
 RaShI’s understanding of how dotted letters are exclusionary of the otherwise straightforward implications of a particular Biblical text should be investigated for consistency. Verses that should be scrutinized from this perspective are listed in BaMidbar Rabba 3:13, and are: Beraishit 16:5; 18:9; 19:33; 33:4; 37:12; BaMidbar 9:10; 21:30; and 28:21. It is possible that different implications are to be drawn for dotted sections, but RaShI does not indicate this in his comments to Devarim and Sanhedrin.