There is this unspoken pressure that comes with the writing of a Sefer Torah. Although completely irrational, I’d like to believe that there is a shared experience of hope, anticipation and yes even a little anxiety when it comes to the incredible honor of “having a letter” in a Sefer Torah. The custom is that both men and women can have a share in the writing of a Sefer Torah. Men may hold the hand of the סופר, (writer) as he inscribes the letter into what will be an eternal gift to Am Yisrael and women have just the same presence by sitting nearby, while the letter is born on to the page.
So now back to that worry. Imagine, you’re sitting next to this incredible person who has just dedicated some, if not majority of their life to articulating the beautiful and enigmatic gift of the five books of Torah onto pages that will be read, sung and studied by entire worlds (i.e., people). Just that is spectacular. But now you are asked for you and your mother’s name—as though this too, is essential to the composition of this Sefer Torah.
The moment arrives. What letter will be painted, carefully and quietly on this page that will echo your name forever?
And of course after this moment, after every letter, word, phrase, promise, prophecy, miracle and covenant is laid upon this parchment—comes a celebration equivalent to a wedding or birth.
A few months ago, in the beautiful city of Jerusalem there was this exact event. With a few friends, I was given the absolute gift to attend. So there I was, for the first time in my life, sitting and receiving a piece of this Torah. A microcosm of our constant prayer “ותן חלקנו בתורתך”. A mini “Har Sinai Moment”.
In all honesty, I was hoping for a “sign”, maybe a certain letter that would reveal something about me or learn that it was a part of a word relevant to my life.
All 22 letters of opportunities that make up 54 parshiyot, 187 prakim, 5,845 pasukim and a total of 79,847 words.
And so out of the 304,805 letters who’s ink was still drying, I received the letter “ל”
A letter which at the time, felt a little random, even irrelevant. Not a letter connected to my name, or age or any answer to a question that felt present to me at the time.
However, with some time passing, some perspective has offered “ל” an essential piece in my heart and mind. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve asked the סופר what word the letter was a part of, if it was the beginning or end of a word, or Pasuk or Parsha. However, all I know is this “ל” alone.
The magic of the letter “ל” is that it connects. It directs us where to go, “לארץ ישראל” and “לך לך” – why we must go there.
The letter “ל” offers the lifetime between royalty – “מלך” and nothingness “כלום”
The letter “ל” gifts us direction of mind, body and soul.
The letter “ל” is the opening heart to embrace creation – “לב”
(Bet being a letter representing Creation – בראשית)
The letter allows our questions, “למה” and “לאן” to roll off our tongues and exist just as eternally as our answers.
If all of that wasn’t miraculous enough; the word that articulates the letter, is “למד” which translates to, “learn”. G!d designed the alphabet with so many hidden messages and lessons. By placing “ל” before the letter “מ” maybe there is the reinforced truth that before teaching – “מלמד”, one must first learn.
This order of letters is essentially another micro expression of our experience in life. As articulated incredibly by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “If you know Aleph, teach Aleph” That yes, we all have within us the capacity to teach, but one must first learn Aleph in order to teach it. Oftentimes teaching feels much easier than learning. Why?
Because learning before teaching demands immense humility.
“The Gematria (numerical value) of lamed is thirty. It states in Ethics of Our Fathers: ‘When one reaches the age of thirty, he reaches the age of full strength.’ We find in the Torah that when the Jewish people were in the desert, the Levites who carried the heavy vessels had to be between the ages of thirty to fifty, for these are the mightiest years of man.” (Chabad.org)
Holding the weight of ego in place of learning, not teaching can sometimes be the strongest thing we do. Also noted in Pirkei Avot, “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.”
So in essence, to be our strongest and wisest, we need to be “ל” Jews.
There is also romance between the “ל” and the “מ”, almost as a cause and effect dynamic.
We see this through the Tefilah of Ashrei, which expresses the joyous relationship between Am Yisrael and Hashem; each stanza beginning with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
לְהוֹדִיעַ לִבְנֵי הָאָדָם גְּבוּרֹתָיו, וּכְבוֹד הֲדַר מַלְכוּתוֹ – In order to announce to all people G!d’s greatness, and the honor and glory of G!d’s sovereignty
מַלְכוּתְךָ מַלְכוּת כָּל עֹלָמִים, וּמֶמְשַׁלְתְּךָ בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדֹר – Your kingdom shall last for ever and ever, and Your rule shall extend into each and every generation.
The artist Matisayhu has a song titled, “King Without a Crown” which articulates this exact dynamic found in Ashrei. The presence of Malchut in this world is intrinsically connected to the world’s awareness and embrace. The relationship between man and G!d, between learning and teaching.
In Torah fashion however, maybe there is a moment that drastically contradicts everything we’ve established until now. Everything that questions “accepting” Torah into one’s life. The “microcosm” of our pre-established micro.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Yitro, we read a portion of the 79,847 words that tell us what it means to have G!d speak to us and what it sounds like to respond.
We have the 9 out of 304,805 letters that comprise a promise that transformed words to lifestyle.
נעשה ונשמע – We Will do, and We Will Hear.
So which one is it? Do we do and then hear or do we learn and then teach? Is learning and then teaching the opposite with doing and then hearing?
It may not be.
The Torah says “We Will Do and We Will Hear” as though to empower us, the readers and Jews of today.
We Will Do: The truth is, that one of the best ways to learn is to do. Learning by doing is our greatest leap of faith…in ourselves. We will do for ourselves what no one else can do for us.
We Will Hear: As we discussed before, learning demands humility. Humility is listening instead of speaking. We will do everything we can, until we recognize that we can’t do it all alone. We open ourselves to hear the word of those who came before us, to teach and guide. We open ourselves to hear the word of G!d when nothing else makes sense.
May we merit to receive the Torah, in every micro and macro way. Through letters, Pasukim and Parshiyot that speak to us and simultaneously remind us that our individual name is essential to its composition. May we anticipate the beauty of receiving something with (and without) knowing what it means to us or what we should do with it.