Wednesday, January 09, 2008

the big letter "yud"

I can’t copy the entire text of the opening Midrash in VaErainto a post, so have a look at the text here. In a nutshell, the Midrash compares Moshe’s questioning G-d’s (lamah harei’osa…lamah zeh shilachtani) with Shlomo’s questioning the prohibition of lo yarbeh lo nashim. Although the Torah warns that a king who has too many wives will be led astray, Shlomo haMelech thought he was immune to such a possibility. The Midrash relates that the letter “yud” of “yarbeh” complained to G-d that Shlomo was erasing it from the Torah. G-d responded that Shlomo himself would be gone before even one little “yud” from the Torah would be erased. Even the letter “yud” which was subtracted from Sarai’s name (when it was changed to Sarah) was not bateil but was added to Hoshea’s name to form Yehoshua. In the end, Shlomo was led astray. So too, G-d was originally angry at Moshe for questioning the foresight of Providence, which had already revealed that Pharoah would not immediately send the Jews out. However, when Hashem saw that Moshe speech was motivated by his love for the Jewish people, his anger was assuaged and he showed Moshe the deeper revelation of the Shem Havaya.

The textual “hook” for the Midrash is the opening pasuk of Va’Eira – “Vayidaber Elokim el Moshe vayomer eilav…” Dibbur usually connotes harshness, while amira is softness of speech. Which was it – was G-d angry and speaking harshly to Moshe, or was he engaged in a more pleasant dialogue? The end of the Midrash amplifies on the change in voice and its cause.

Moving beyond the hook, we need to understand the body of the Midrash – the lesson it teaches and the way it is conveyed. What does it mean that the “yud” of "yarbeh" complained – why not the entire word, or the entire pasuk (see the Matnos Kehunah and others)? How could Shlomo be mevateil a letter of Torah by disobeying - doesn't the text remain unchanged whether we obey it or not? What is the meaning of the proof from Sarah-Yehoshua that letters are not bateil? And finally, what are we supposed to take away as a lesson?

The key to understanding the significance of the letter “yud” is found in a Rashi on a pasuk we say every morning. “Az yashir Moshe” – Why is the word “yashir” written in future tense when the event occurred already? Rashi explains that the Torah is referring to Moshe’s thought – az alah b’libo yashir – Moshe had the idea to sing, which he then carried out. The “yud” reflects the machshavah which precedes action. One can change a verb to future tense by simply adding a “yud” in front of it – yashir, yidabeir, yarutz, yachalom etc. Future action is always anticipated by the thoughts of the present, the “yud”, which precede it.

Shlomo haMelech thought he could predict the future and not be swayed by his many wives, but the “yud” of “yarbeh”, the Divine foreknowledge of the truth, was far ahead of his plans and came to complain. We find this same idea echoed elsewhere. The word “nesi’im” is written without a “yud” (Shmos 35:27) by the dedication of the Mishkan as a punishment for the Nesi’im letting Bnei Yisrael donate first, figuring they could fill in any shortfall – their future planning did not work out quite as they liked. The Nesi'im lacked foresight, their “yud” was missing. The “yud” from Sarai moved to Yehoshua, who needed the foresight to escape the plan of the Meraglim and lead Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael [K-h represents the sefiros of chochma-binah, "moshiacha m'*atzas* meraglim" (dayka)]. My wife wrote today about the significance of Ashrei which reminded me of the Tiferes Shlomo’s (and Noam Elimelech, I think) reading of “poseich es yadecha” as “poseich as yudecha” (if you read it with the chassidish havara it does sound the same), open your letter “yud”s, i.e. Hashem, reveal your machshava in our reality.

Returning to my earlier post, I think perhaps one can read “netah es yadcha” in this light as well. Moshe, extend your “yud” over the sky of Mitzrayim, step outside the box of your limited thinking and you will see the darkness and choshech of Mitzrayim's narrow vision, and the great ohr possible through geulah.

Bl”n maybe more to come to explain some of the other points….


  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    Just an idea. The letter yud connotes the power of Hashem to create Olam Haba and the letter hei Olam Haze (Rashi to Breishis 2:4). That is why Sori could not have a child until the letter hei was added to her name (same with Avrom/ Avrohom). Perhaps in order to lead klal yisroel Hoshea needed the extra spiritual dimension of the letter yud to be added to his name. I think this could fit with what you say eg "your “yud” over the sky of Mitzrayim, step outside the box of your limited thinking and you will see the darkness and choshech of Mitzrayim's narrow vision, and the great ohr possible through geulah"

  2. Just to add to your addition: see the Tiferes Yisrael (maharal) ch 49 for more on Sarah-Yehoshua, and also the Tiferes Shlomo (
    I will update the post, but K-h represents the sefiros of chochma-binah, moshiacha m'*atzas* meraglim (dayka).