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Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Torah is found in this week’s Torah portion – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the last letter of the Hebrew word for “Hear” (Shema) is enlarged in the Torah scroll (Ayin), as is the last letter of the Hebrew word for “One” (the Daled in Echad). Among the many possible explanations, one understanding of the combination of these two letters (Ayin and Daled) may reveal why the text calls specific attention to them: The letters Ayin Daled can be read “ade” which means “to bear witness.” In reading the “Hear O Israel” one is in effect testifying that God exists.

This Shabbat being the first of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, one more thought comes to mind: Maybe the letters are large to teach us that even the smallest of changes could pervert the meaning of the text. For example, if one would read the Shema as having an Aleph as its last letter instead of the Ayin (after all the Aleph and Ayin are both silent letters) the word Shema would mean “perhaps” (sheh-mah). This would change this firm declaration of belief into an _expression of doubt. And if the Daled would be mistaken for a Reish (after all, there is only a slight difference in the writing of a Daled and Reish) – the word echad (One) would be read acher (other). This would change the critical Jewish belief in One God into a belief in two gods. If baseball is a game of inches, the Torah is a guide of millimeters – sometimes the smallest thing makes all the difference. As we move towards Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, all of us ought be careful with every word, every gesture and every action, because you never know where the smallest changes may lead you.

Shlomo Ressler