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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

The Significance of Detail: The Elongated Vav and Rashi’s Word Choice

This week’s parsha delves into the intricate laws of kashrut, specifying which animals, fish, birds, and insects are permitted as Kosher (Vayikra 11:42). Amongst many details the Torah states:

כֹּל֩ הֹולֵ֨ךְ עַל־גָּחֹ֜ון וְכֹל ׀ הֹולֵ֣ךְ עַל־אַרְבַּ֗ע עַ֚ד כׇּל־מַרְבֵּ֣ה רַגְלַ֔יִם לְכׇל־הַשֶּׁ֖רֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵ֣ץ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ לֹ֥א תֹאכְל֖וּם כִּי־שֶׁ֥קֶץ הֵֽם׃(*ויקרא י”א:מ”ב)

Every creature that crawls on its belly (גָּחֹון – gachon) and every creature that walks on four legs, up to any creature with many legs, of all the swarming things that swarm on the earth, you shall not eat them, for they are an abomination.

Intriguingly, the Torah uses the word “gachon” for “belly” and elongates the vav (ו) within it. According to the Mesroah this elongation marks the halfway point of the Torah based on the number of its letters.

Rashi, interprets the “creature that crawls” as a snake that slithers and rests on its stomach. Notably, he employs “meyav,” מעיו refers to the intestines, instead of the usual translation for “belly,” “beten.”

A remarkable discussion that took place in the Beis Hamidrash of the Gaon of Vilna is recorded in Sefer   Rashi (R.Y.L Maimon P35 🙂

נשאל אחד מן החבורה שתי שאלות

א. למה חיכה רש”י עד כאן ולא פירש כן בבראשית (ג,יד) על מלת גחונך שם ב. למה לא פירש רשי גחון – בטן, שהיא מילה עברית, והשיב אחד –המיוחד מתוך החבריא ומטו לה בשם הגר”א מווילנה, כי כשם שהתורה רמזה מלת אמת בראש דבריה, וכמ”ש בבראשית רבה פ”א: ראש דברך אמת אר יצחק: מתחילת ברייתו של עולם ראש דברך אמת: בראשית ברא אלקים (ס”ת אמת) כך רצה גם רש”י להטביע חותם האמת על פירושו, והנה במדרש דברים רבה פ”א אמרו: אמת יש בו שלש אותיות: אלף ראשון של אותיות מם אמצעית, תיו סופן ע”ש , וכך רמז רש”י בפירושו לתורה את מלת אמת בראש התורה ובאמצע התורה ובסופה: בראש פירושו לתורה התחיל : אמר ר יצחק, ובמילת גחון שהוא אמצע התורה (ראה קידושין ל”א) פירש רש”י גחון- מעיו, ובסוף התורה חתם את פירושו : אשר שברת, יישר כחך ששברת.(ספר רש”י הר’ י. ל. מימון ע 35.)

One of the group of learners   asked two questions:

  1. Why did Rashi wait until here (Parshas Shemini) and not explain it in Bereshis (3:14) on the word “gachon” that appears there? 
  1. Why didn’t Rashi explain “gachon” as “belly,” בטן which is a Hebrew word?

One of the special members of the group answered, and they attributed the  explanation to the Vilna Gaon:

Just as the Torah hinted at the word אמת,”emet” (truth) at the beginning of its words, as it is said in Bereishit Rabbah 1:1: “The beginning of Your word is truth.   R. Yitzchak said: From the beginning of the creation of the world, the beginning of Your word is truth: “In the beginning, G-d created”. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אלקים (which spells “emet” in Hebrew)

רַבִּי יִצְחָק פָּתַח (תהלים קיט, קס): רֹאשׁ דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת וגו’, אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק מִתְּחִלַּת בְּרִיָּתוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם רֹאשׁ דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אלקים

 so Rashi also wanted to imprint the seal of truth on his commentary.

In the Midrash Devarim Rabbah 1:1, it is said:

“There are three letters in ’emet’: alef, mem, and tav”

Thus, Rashi hinted at the word “emet” in his commentary on the Torah at the beginning, middle, and end of the Torah:

  • At the beginning of his commentary on the Torah, he began with: “R’ Yitzchak said…”: אמר ר’ יצחק
  • In the word “gachon,” which is the middle of the Torah (see Kiddushin 30a), Rashi explained “gachon” as “intestines.” גחון- מעיו
  • At the end of the Torah, Rashi concluded his commentary with: “…who broke the tablets” אשר שברת

Thus Rashi  imprinted אמת in his commentary.

This meticulous attention to detail, exemplified by the elongated vav and Rashi’s word choice, highlights the profound significance even minor nuances hold in the Torah and commentary. It demonstrates how seemingly insignificant details can contribute to a deeper understanding   of the Torah and its commentaries   and reward close examination, revealing layers of meaning for those who delve.

בן בג בג אומר הפוך בה. והפוך בה. דכולה בה. ובה תחזי. וסיב ובלה בה. ומינה לא תזוע. שאין לך מדה טובה הימנה (משנה אבות ה׳:כ״ב)

Ben Bag Bag says: Search in it and search in it, since everything is in it. And in it should you look, and grow old and be worn; and from it do not move, since there is no Middah characteristic greater than it. (Pirkei Avot5:22) 

הפוך בה והפוך בה שהכול בה – Every dot, line, and letter of the Torah is significant, encouraging us to constantly revisit and analyze its intricacies for ever deeper insights.

(Postscript: Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, points out that the first letter of the Ten Commandments is א, the first and last letter of the Mishnah is מ, and the first and last letter of the Gemara is ת. (Lekach David, pp. 12-13) -GS)

 

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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