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Lazer Gurkow

Are You a Kosher Letter?

Every Jew is a letter in the Torah; the question is, are you a kosher letter?

The Torah tells us that 603,550 Jews came out of Egypt.[1] Kabbalah proclaimed that there are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah.[2] A prominent kabbalist further suggested that the Hebrew word Yisrael is an acronym for Yesh Shishim Ribu Otiyot Latorah—there are 600,000 letters in the Torah.

The upshot is that there is a letter in the Torah for each Jewish soul. One letter represents you, another letter represents me, and yet another letter represents another Jew. Every Jew has a letter. The question that we must ask ourselves: Am I a kosher letter?

A Kosher Letter
There are two requirements for a letter to be kosher. (A) It must be complete. If it is cracked or erased to the extent that it is not recognizable to a young child, the letter is not kosher. (B) It must be surrounded by empty space on the parchment. If the letter invades or abuts another letter, neither letter is kosher.

That each of us has our own letter tells us that we are each unique. If two of us were precise replicas of each other, we could have shared a letter. Your letter is not mine, and my letter is not yours because G-d made each of us differently. Our sages put it like this: As no two faces are alike, so are no two minds alike.

When G-d created me, He gave me my strengths and with them, my mission. When G-d created you, He did the same. You have your strengths, and I have mine. If I swerve into your lane and start taking care of your responsibilities, if I crowd your space, my letter is not kosher. To be kosher, I need to stay in my lane. Find my signature strengths and devote myself to the things that I am uniquely good at. I must give you your space so you can shine in your area. This way, both our letters are kosher.

I must stay in my lane and not try to occupy yours. But in my lane, I must be complete. Just as no letter is kosher if it invades and abuts another letter, so is no letter complete unless it is whole. Once I identify my signature strengths and my unique mission, I must fill my role completely. I must fulfill my potential and not allow excuses to distract me. It is easy to come up with an excuse, but there is never an excuse for falling back on an excuse.

Just Do It
To be kosher, each letter must be whole, and that includes two requirements. It can’t pretend to be less than it can be, and it can’t pretend to be more than it can be. Sometimes we fail because we don’t believe we measure up to our task. That is rubbish. If G-d placed a task before us, we measure up. We might not know it, but the potential is certainly there. To not believe that is a crime. It makes us less than whole, and a broken letter is not kosher.

Sometimes we fail because we exaggerate the scope of the task. We think it is greater than it actually is. Our task is ours alone. We are not responsible for anything beyond our own task. We only need to mind our own business. Don’t exaggerate the task and, therefore, fail to try. Just put one foot in front of the other and don’t think about the end of the road. Keep going, and you will get there. If you refuse to succeed in your own lane, you are incomplete. An incomplete letter is not kosher.

The Complete Torah
Although my job is to stay in my lane and your job is to stay in your lane, the Torah is only complete when all the letters are kosher. My job is to ensure that my letter is kosher, but a kosher letter in a non-kosher Torah, is still not kosher. This means that we have two rolls to play. We must take care of our own mission; at the same time, we must also help and strengthen others to do theirs. Unless we are all doing our part, the Torah is not kosher. We sink or swim together. We are a single people.

This is one of the reasons the Lubavitcher Rebbe suggested that every Jew purchase a letter in a Unity Torah. To date, nine unity Torahs were written for adults, and eight unity Torahs ere written for children. Each letter in these Torahs is assigned to a particular Jew. Taken together, these Torahs represent millions of Jews. It reminds us that we don’t operate in a vacuum. We are inherently connected. We are one.

So, in preparation for Shavuot, the day we received the Torah, allow me to suggest that you sign up for your letter in one of the Unity Torahs. Adults can purchase a letter at www.chabad.org/409282. Children can purchase a letter at www.kidstorah.org/buyaletter. The cost is nominal; $1.00. The main thing is to collect your letter, fill your role, and be part of this worldwide Jewish unity.

A Story
Reb Shmuel Levitin, a Chabad Chasid from Russia, moved to New York in the 1930s. He once visited Chicago, where he made an appointment to see Mr. Lisner, a local business leader. When he entered the office, Mr. Lisner assumed Reb Shmuel had come for a donation. He removed his checkbook and asked to whom he should make out the check.

Reb Shmuel replied that he did not come to receive; he came to give. He was there to help Mr. Lisner with any Jewish needs he might have. Chabad was still new in the United States, and Mr. Lisner was unfamiliar with this approach. He asked Reb Shmuel why he would come all the way to Chicago to help a Jew he never met.

Reb Shmuel explained that every Jew is a letter in the Torah and that the Torah is only kosher if all the letters are complete. In New York, said Reb Shmuel, there is a Rebbe who is responsible for the entire Torah. He is the sofer—scribe. He sent me to help you ensure your letter is whole. Mr. Lisner was moved, and a lifelong relationship ensued.

When Reb Shmuel returned to New York, he reported his conversation to the then Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. He perceived that the Rebbe was displeased, and he asked if he had erred in his creative response. The Rebbe replied: every Jew is, indeed, a letter, but it is not written with ink on parchment. It is engraved in stone. The difference is that a written letter can erase or crack. An engraved letter can never be erased. It can just be covered over.

So, is your letter kosher? The answer is a resounding yes. It might not be visible on the outside, but with a little cleaning and digging, you will find a beautiful whole kosher letter.

Chag Sameach.

[1] In fact, there were 603550 and that was only the men between the ages of twenty and sixty. Still we go by the number 600,000 because it is on the root souls of the Jewish people. Kabbalah teaches that there are six hundred thousand root Jewish souls from which all individual Jewish souls emerge.

[2]  In fact, there are 304, 805  letters. There are many ways to explain the discrepancy. One is that we count the vowels though we don’t know precisely which vowels we count and which we don’t.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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