Kohelet scroll, wrappedIn Little Letters in Eicha, parts one and two, I talked about lamed, ayin, and tet.

The little lamed was serving as a reminder-flag, telling you to recall other, relevant, words beginning with lamed. The little ayin had to do with numerical symbolism.

The little tet had numerical symbolism and reminder-flagging, all of it connected to the destruction of the Temple in various ways.

That recap over, let's move to Kohelet, pictured here in a festive green wrapping (you recall Eicha was wrapped in bodacious black...Megillot are fun like this, you can dress them up in seasonal clothes).

Eicha, if you remember, had a lot of white space. Kohelet has barely any. There's one break right at the beginning, a good deal in the Song of Times (I'll do a picture of that later), and then it's just a Text Wall of...well, I was going to use internet parlance and say a Text Wall of Doom, but it's not really Doom. A Text Wall of Gloom, perhaps? A Text Wall of Gloom Tempered With Hedonistic Pragmatism?

We digress. The point is that Kohelet has basically no section breaks; one at the beginning, none in the middle, and none at the end either.

Big Tet in KoheletWhat it does have, at the end, is a Big Tet.

(The writing's not great. I was rushing rather, to get it finished before yom tov - I only had ten days, and it's not a short book.)

So, the big tet? Quite possibly just a way of saying "New section, chaps!"

But that's far too prosaic.

Back to Tzvi Ron and his Sefer Katan v-Gadol (and G. Wasserman's translation).

The Big Tet is in the phrase טוב שם משמן טוב - a Good name is better than good oil.
The Rokeiach (חסידי אשכנז) says: טוב שם משמן טוב -- the tet is large, because a good name has a LOT of good.

There's another large tet in Tanakh, in Job: יסר מעלי שבטו- "Let him take his rod away from me."
Job is complaining about his great suffering, being beaten by God's staff. מסורת הברית הגדול, section 1518, says that that big tet links to our big tet here in Kohelet, and demonstrates that suffering is ultimately good.

On the other hand, Rav Dovid Tevele (17th- or early 18th-century Hamburg) says that the large tet in טוב שם משמן טוב is a hyperlink to the small tet in Ekha, טבעו בארץ שעריה‬, with a popup from the Midrash.

Remember the bit when Tamar was going to be burned for whoring around?

According to the Targum Yerushalmi, she lost Judah's pledge (his seal and staff and cord), and she prayed to God to let her find it, and thus rescue herself from being burnt, so that she might ultimately be the ancestor of three tzaddikim who would be untouched by fire - namely, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the book of Daniel.

According to Shemot Rabba 48:1, our verse טוב שם משמן טוב -- a good name is better than good oil -- means that the "good name" of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah was better than the "good oil" with which Nadav and Avihu were anointed, when they first became priests.

So, R' Tevele comments:
When the temple was destroyed (טבעו בארץ שעריה, with a small tet) and the anointing-oil of the priests was no more -- nevertheless, in that cold exile, three tzaddikim arose, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and their good name (large tet) overwhelmed the destruction of the temple (small tet).

So, God paid us back for the loss of the Temple, by giving us tzaddikim, who were even greater. And hopefully, in the merit of further tzaddikim like them, נזכה למלך המשיח ויעלה השערים הנטבע בעו"ה ויקים סוכת דוד הנופלת במהרה אמן‬, may God send the Messiah, who will bring up the gates of the Temple, which had sunk (טבעו, with small tet) deep into the ground, at the time of the Destruction.

Little Letters in Eicha, part 1

Little Ayin in Eicha
לעות אדם בריבו אדני לא ראה To subvert a man in his cause, the LORD approveth not.

Tzvi Ron in Sefer Katan u-Gadol again (trans. G. Wasserman): “The small ‘ayin in the word לעות (verse 3:36) is explained as a reference to the numerical value of the letter, namely seventy. This verse says that God did not agree with the perversion of justice, and the number 70 is associated with this if we relate it to the seventy judges of the Sanhedrin, or the seventy years of Babylonian exile which God’s justice decreed for the Jewish people.”

Now call me a sceptic, but this sounds a bit forced to me. Surely there’s more to it than that? But if so, we’ve forgotten what it ever was (or Tzvi Ron didn’t find it yet, anyway). By way of compensation, someone more recent (like, in the last 1000 years) came up with this one. Numerical symbolism is a tool in the interpretative toolbox.

Little Tet in Eicha
טבעו בארץ שעריה אבד ושבר בריחיה מלכה ושריה בגוים אין תורה גם נביאיה לא מצאו חזון מיקוק Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the LORD.

The numerical symbolism here is a date – Tet is 9, and “In Midrash Haseroth Vi-yetheroth, it says the allusion is to the destruction of the Temple, which took place on the date 9 (i.e., ט) Av; this explanation appears also in the Minhath Shai and in the book Yesod Ohel Mo‘ed.” Okay, very nice, but it gets much better.

A whole big collection of mouseover interpretations follows. Choose your mouseover, really.

Other commentators have explained the small teth as being a reference to some particular smallness in the sinking of the gates. Thus, in Mesoreth Ha-berith Ha-gadol, it says: “The reference here means that they did not sink very deeply, but only a small sinking.”

In the book Em La-miqra ve-la-Masoreth, it says that the small teth is an allusion to the word טוב, good: “It hints that their sinking was not to their disadvantage, but for their own good – it was so that the enemy’s hands would not have control over them.” In the same book, it lists a number of allusions associated with the word טוב – the goodness which was decreased at the time of the Destruction, the good Torah which the Jews had abandoned, and more.

In Sefer Elyashiv, it says that the reference is to טוב רואי, the one good in appearance, i.e., the handsome King David, in whose merit the gates were not destroyed, but merely sank into the ground. In the book Yesod Ohel Mo‘ed, the same connection to טוב רואי is mentioned, except that here, it is explained as referring to the fact that the gates, which now sank, had originally been made by King David.

So – a small letter tet, with all kinds of allusions about the destruction of the temple floating around it. In the next post, we’ll see how this isn’t just a mouseover tet, it’s actually a hyperlink tet, connected to a tet in Kohelet.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I’ve not posted much on the Big and Little Letters in Torah, have I? And now I’m posting on the Little Letters in Eicha – well, I’m between Torahs at the moment, and indulging in a spate of megillot, Eicha amongst them, which has something to do with it.

Little Lamed in Eicha
(Sofer Boyfriend wrote this one.)
לוא אליכם כל עברי דרך הביטו וראו אם יש מכאוב כמכאבי אשר עולל לי אשר הוגה יקוק ביום חרון אפו Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

There’s a whole tradition of interpreting the Big and Small letters. A few of them are in the Gemara, where the context is Explaining Something Everyone Knows more than Telling You How To Do This New Thing; the rest of them have been around for something like a thousand years but mostly we didn’t write down explanations, so they’ve suffered the usual fates of verbal explanations — ambition, distraction, uglification and derision — as you might imagine.

Anyway. Sometimes a Little Letter is interpreted as suggesting a particular Littleness. You may be familar with one from Torah, explained thus: “The conceits of the Cabalistic writers are most curious; for instance, they suppose that Abraham wept but little for Sarah, because a remarkably small letter — “Caph” — is used in the Hebrew word which describes Abraham’s tears, thus evincing that his grief was also small.” (That’s a footnote in a book from 1862 about anagrams; don’t take it too strongly to heart. I just liked the style.)

What would be the Littleness here? I’m going to quote from a book by one Tzvi Ron, ספר קטן וגדול, Gush Etzion, 2006, translated by G. Wasserman:

R. Shelomo Alqabes explains that the allusion is to the smallness of the Jews’ prayer to be spared from punishment: “Their prayer was not offered בעין טובה [generously], for there is no goodness for the wicked.” In Sefer Elyashiv, it explains the smallness as being the smallness of learning a lesson, for the gentile nations did not learn a lesson from seeing that God had punished the Jewish people for their sins.

Tzvi Ron also says “According to Midrash R. ‘Aqiva, it is a hint to words which begin with lamed, for the Jewish people had once been לראש, and now were לזנב.”

You might reasonably point out that lots of words begin with lamed and this concept cannot be uniformly applied, yes. So you might reasonably conclude either that there’s more to it than that but we’ve lost the tradition, or that you should go read the Midrash R. ‘Aqiva and see if it addresses that point.

What I want to take away from this particular point is the idea that a Little Letter is not just a mouseover interpretation, it’s a sort of ambiguation — like a Wikipedia disambiguation, but the other way over — the suggestion that there are vague links here to other instances of that letter. This point to be developed in part 2, coming soon.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Sep. 15th, 2010 08:11 pm)

Tisha b’Av seems a long time ago, now that Yom Kippur is on us, but I am finally posting those pictures of Megillat Eicha I promised you all those weeks ago.

First – Eicha scroll, bodaciously swathed in black.

Eicha scroll

Next – reading from the scroll, mostly backlit by candlelight. The candles were very atmospheric, but very HOT.

Eicha scroll

Now, a picture with the light on, so that you can see the most interesting part of the layout – the third chapter. In this tikkun, the verses are arranged in a sort of descending staircase form, which I find rather powerful. We have psalms which start “Shir haMaalot” – “A Song of Ascent” – associated (so tour guides always tell you) with the ascents of the Temple steps. This is the scroll of the destruction, and here the stairs go down.

Eicha scroll

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I was going to take pictures of my Megillat Eicha for your edification this evening, and write you a chirpy little post about the interesting layout, but I went and left the Eicha down in Washington Heights.

I was also going to write a post about the reading we had, and the kinot afterwards, but I really REALLY want to illustrate that with a picture of "reading Eicha scroll by candlelight," for which I need the Eicha scroll and the bag of candles, which are ALSO in Washington Heights. That's the post where I'll talk about What Masekhet Soferim Says You Should Do With Your Scrolls On Tisha B'Av.

So it'll have to wait. I'll retrieve the Eicha and the candles in the next few days and take pictures when it gets dark, and then you'll hear all about it.


hatam_soferet: (Default)

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