Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Vayikra #1: A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Tent of Meeting

Parshat Vayikra begins with the statement (Vayikra 1:1):

וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.
"The LORD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying:"

The translation is a bit off - literally, it is "He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him out of the tent of meeting saying."

An interesting thing about the first word, וַיִּקְרָא, is that the aleph is written small. The Baal HaTurim explains that Moshe, being humble, did not wish to write Vayikra, implying that Hashem called to him. Rather he wanted to write Vayekar, implying a chance occurrence. As a compromise, the aleph was written small.

A few parshiyot ago, in Ki Tisa, we read about how Moshe came down from Har Sinai and had a keren or, light emanating from his forehead.

Shemot 34:30,:
וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה, וְהִנֵּה קָרַן, עוֹר פָּנָיו; וַיִּירְאוּ, מִגֶּשֶׁת אֵלָיו.
וַיִּקְרָא אֲלֵהֶם מֹשֶׁה, וַיָּשֻׁבוּ אֵלָיו אַהֲרֹן וְכָל-הַנְּשִׂאִים בָּעֵדָה; וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה, אֲלֵהֶם.
וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן נִגְּשׁוּ, כָּל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיְצַוֵּם--אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה אִתּוֹ, בְּהַר סִינָי.
וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה, מִדַּבֵּר אִתָּם; וַיִּתֵּן עַל-פָּנָיו, מַסְוֶה.
וּבְבֹא מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי ה, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ, יָסִיר אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה, עַד-צֵאתוֹ; וְיָצָא, וְדִבֶּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֵת, אֲשֶׁר יְצֻוֶּה.
וְרָאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה, כִּי קָרַן, עוֹר פְּנֵי מֹשֶׁה; וְהֵשִׁיב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַמַּסְוֶה עַל-פָּנָיו, עַד-בֹּאוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ.

"And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face sent forth beams; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses spoke to them.
And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
And when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.
But when Moses went in before the LORD that He might speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out; and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face sent forth beams; and Moses put the veil back upon his face, until he went in to speak with Him."

The midrash tells us that there was leftover ink in the writing of the Torah which Hashem smeared on Moshe's forehead, which was the source of this light.

Where did this extra ink come from? I would suggest from the smaller aleph, which was rooted in Moshe's humility. Baruch shekivanti - I see others have made the same suggestion.

I searched on the web and found a similar idea from the Or Hachayim. In parshat Bahaalotecha, Hashem defends Moshe saying he is an anav. The word anav is written chaser, without the yud. The Or Hachayim says this was because Moshe could not bring himself to write the full pasuk describing himself as such (the Rosh says the same). This extra ink from the yud was what shone from Moshe's head. This adds the extra twist that the humility was in not wanting to describe himself as humble, and so he gets accorded all this honor.

Without resorting to midrash, perhaps we might say that the aleph was written small to reflect a disagreement, not between Moshe and Hashem, but between variant texts, as to whether the aleph should be present or not. Elsewhere in Torah there are letters with dots over them reflecting Ezra the scribe's dilemma when unsure whether a letter or word should be in there. He wrote the words/letters and put dots over them. If they should be in there, they are in there, and if not, fear not, there are dots over them.

In both instances, the word will surely be Vayikra. The question is merely whether this Vayikra has the "em kriya" (mother of reading) letter aleph to denote the kametz sound.

We know from elsewhere that a kametz ָcan occur without a letter following it at the end of a word. For example, a Chuf Sofit, ך, can have a shva written under it to denote that it is the final sound, or else it can have a kametz. The letter tav, ת, at the end of a word, can have a kametz under it. This "ta" suffix frequently occurs in the perfect (past) masculine 2nd person singular verb. Occuasionally we find a nun sofit, ן, with a kametz written after it.

And here is the secret. We often find a resh at the end of a word with a kametz written under it. Specifically, the word נער, which is read נערה, naarah, young girl. In context where we find it it is clear that a young girl is referred to and not a young boy, a naar. Over and over we have a krei and ktiv notation, that the written consonantal text diverges from the text as it is read. But this can be seen as a matter of convention to convey this information, but in reality there is no dispute, just an archaic way to write resh kametz at the end of the word, and so the word according to both krei and ktiv is naarah.

Here as well, Vayikra has a resh at the end, followed by a kametz. Since the aleph serves as an "em hakriya" to denote the vowel sound, it is not pronounced, and so can elide in the written text as well. On the other hand the aleph is also there for historical reasons, being a root letter of the Hebrew word to call, kr`, קרא. Thus we can have a textual dispute in which the pronunciation is never in doubt.

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