Ari Sacher

‘Rewriting Tradition’ Parashat Teruma 5778

The Rambam enumerates 13 articles of faith upon which Judaism stands. The eighth article states that we believe with perfect faith that our Torah scrolls today contain the exact same words that Hashem gave to Moshe at Sinai more than 3,000 years ago. With these words the Rambam codifies one of the most vital tenets of the Jewish faith, the “mesorah” — tradition. While Judaism contains a certain pliability that enables it to adapt to an ever-changing world, the core of our faith remains rock solid. For this reason we are so pedantic regarding the content of our Torah scrolls. If even one letter is added or left out, the scroll is rendered invalid.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that clear-cut. Parashat Teruma serves as a construction manual for the Mishkan and its various utensils. One of these utensils is the kaporet, a golden cover for the Ark of the Covenant. After Hashem relays the instructions for building the kaporet, He tells Moshe [Shemot 25:22] “There I will meet with you; I will speak with you from above the kaporet… all of the things that I will command you to the Children of Israel”. The kaporet is designed to serve as a conduit from the infinite to our corporeal world, relaying the word of Hashem to mortal man. Rashi’s explanation on the words “all of the things” is a punch in the Masoretic solar plexus[1]. Instead of writing “all of the things (et kol asher atzaveh)” – Rashi writes “and all of the things (v’et kol asher atzaveh)”, adding the letter vav to the word “et”. Rashi explains: “This ‘vav’ is superfluous and there are many similar [examples] in the Torah. You should interpret it thus: ‘and all that I will speak with you there is all that I shall command you pertaining to the Children of Israel’” Huh? There are two major problems with Rashi: [1] Adding the letter vav makes the verse extremely clumsy and difficult to understand, and more important [2] the letter vav that Rashi is trying to interpret does not appear in our Torah scrolls.

Rashi is not the only medieval commentator whose Torah scroll apparently contained an extra vav. It seems that the Torah scrolls of the Hizkuni and the Ibn Ezra also had the extra vav. Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, writing in his “supercommentary” on Rashi, asserts that he has searched high and low for a Torah scroll with an extra vav but has come up empty-handed. Rav David Segal, also known as the Taz, writing in “Divrei David”, his own supercommentary to Rashi, directs us to a verse later on in the Torah [Bemidbar 7:1] in which it is patently obvious that one of the words in Rashi’s Torah scroll was written without the letter vav, whereas in all of our Torah scrolls the vav appears clear as day.

The fact that Rashi’s Torah scroll differs from ours in two locations is room for concern and consternation, questioning the veracity of our mesorah. The problem is that there are far more than just two such locations. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, writing in the Gilyon HaShas on Tractate Shabbat [55b], brings more than a dozen instances in which Rashi’s mesorah diverges from ours.

Where does our mesorah come from? The oldest existing manuscript of the Torah is the Keter Aram Tzova, or the “Aleppo Codex”, written in the tenth century in Tiberias. The Rambam saw the Keter with his own eyes and vouched for its accuracy. The Keter was kept in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria. In 1947, Aleppo Arabs rioted and burnt the synagogue, incinerating nearly half the pages of the Keter. In 1958 the Keter was smuggled into Israel and is currently located in the “Shrine of the Book” at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Keter is our measuring stick against which all other texts are compared and verified. It is clear that Rashi, who lived in northern Europe, had a mesorah that differed from the Keter. Two thousand years of exile have taken a toll and our most secure fortress, our mesorah, has been compromised. How should we entertain the possibility of multiple mesorahs?

Rav Amnon Bazak addresses this question at length in a course given on the Virtual Beit Midrash called “Fundamental Issues in the Study of Tanakh”[2]. In this course Rav Bazak asks difficult questions and answers them with intellectual honesty and fear of Hashem. Here is how Rav Bazak addresses our question: “The fundamental rule here would seem to be set forth by Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann in the introduction to his commentary on Sefer Vayikra: ‘Even if we acknowledge that certain places in the text are not free of error, we lack the necessary means to restore the version [originally] written with Divine inspiration. There is no textual amendment – even if it rests on arguments drawn from exegesis and from history – that can force us to believe that the prophet, or the author of the holy books, wrote the text in the exact form proposed by the amender.’ This approach demands, first and foremost, that we try to understand the version that is before us. Even if we are aware that errors may have crept into the text, we have no way of proving this conclusively. For this reason, our responsibility is always to try to understand the version that we have, with its difficulties, even though we are aware of the theoretical possibility of textual errors.” According to Rav Bazak, each person must believe that the text as it appears in his Torah scroll is identical to the text that Moshe received at Sinai.

We’re not going to solve this problem here. It’s just too big for a two-page shiur. Let’s at least try to understand the Taz. Let’s assume that the Taz knew that Rashi’s Torah scroll differed from his in more than two instances. Why, then, does he direct us specifically to the verse in the Book of Bemidbar and not to any other divergence? Let’s take a closer look at the verse brought by the Taz: “It was that on the day that Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan, he anointed it and sanctified it with all of its vessels…” Rashi makes the following comment: “The word ‘finished’ (kalot) is spelled with a vav[3] [so that it means ‘brides’]. On the day the Mishkan was erected, the Israelites were like a bride entering the nuptial canopy”. Now let’s return to the verse in Parashat Teruma in which Rashi’s mesorah has an additional vav. Rav Yitzchak Horowitz, writing in the “Be’er Yitchak”, yet another supercommentary on Rashi, explains Rashi’s “extremely clumsy and difficult” words as follows: “I shall speak to you… and that which I shall speak to you there is all that I shall command you pertaining to the Children of Israel”. Notice that the Be’er Yitzchak has broken the verse into two parts: [1] Hashem will speak to Moshe via the kaporet, and [2] the words He will speak will include commandments. Rashi’s additional vav has revealed vital information. Hashem tells Moshe “v’dibarti it’cha” – “I will speak with you”. These words are not appropriate for a master-slave relationship. The master does not “speak with” his slave. The master might “speak with” his wife or with his buddies, but he “commands” his slave. He “orders” his slave. He “directs” his slave. Rashi is telling us that Hashem, while He “commands” Am Yisrael, He simultaneously “speaks with” Am Yisrael.[4]

Our relationship with Hashem is typically defined as master-slave or father-child. But there is another kind of relationship that exists between Hashem and His people: a husband-wife relationship. This relationship emphasizes not distance, but, rather, closeness and intimacy. The Taz specifically directs us to the verse in the Book of Bemidbar because only if the vav is removed from the word “kalot”, as in Rashi’s mesorah, does Am Yisrael appear as a bride before Hashem. It is almost as if Rashi removed a vav from one location and moved it to another location in order to make the same point: when Hashem commanded Am Yisrael to build a Mishkan, it was not because He wanted to open up a local office, but because He wanted, as it were, to move in with us. The mesorah of the Keter puts the vav “back where it belongs”, blurring the message but not obscuring it completely. Hashem commands Moshe [Shemot 25:8] “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”. In their midst – as an infinite groom together with His beloved, but finite, bride.


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] I really like this metaphor.

[2] The course is in English, available at

[3] As we stated above, our Torah has the word “kalot” without a vav (K-L-T).

[4] Hashem tells Moshe that He will speak “it’echa” – “with you”, and not “elecha” – “to you”. In this verse Hashem approaches us as equals.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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