Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Shemini

The Chief Rabbi identifies the great significance of both the two words and the single letter that spell out the Torah’s halfway mark in this week’s parasha of Shemini. If we resolve to constantly enquire about the Torah’s underlying meanings and adopt its lessons for living a meaningful life, then our existence will be rich and fulfilled, he explains.  

Sofer is the Hebrew word for a scribe. Sofer literally means someone who counts, and it’s the term that we use for a scribe because our ancient sofrim – our scribes – would count every single word and letter of the Torah. In this way they could guarantee that nothing was left out.

And so we find that already some 2000 years ago, our sofrim could tell us that in this week’s parasha of Shemini, we have the middle words of the Torah, and also the middle letter. There’s an even number of words in the Torah, and the two middle words are featured in Vayikra, Chapter 10, Verse 16. They are ‘darosh, darash’;  he enquired, he asked.

‘at the heart of the Torah we are encouraged to engage in the drasha’

Isn’t this quite remarkable that right at the heart of the Torah, in the very centre of what is presented to us, we are encouraged to engage in the drasha, to ask, to enquire, to dig deep in order to discover the valuable secrets and outstanding lessons that the Torah can present to us.

The middle letter of the Torah is also featured in this week’s parsha, It is the ו (‘vav’) of gachon in Vayikra Chapter 11, Verse 42. Vav is a Hebrew word which means a hook. Indeed, the ו looks like a hook. It combines the first half and the second half of the Torah together, indicating that the entire Torah was given to us by Hashem at Mount Sinai.

‘we can only achieve those aspirations if we put the Torah on our hearts and within our minds’

We now therefore know, the first letter of the Torah is the ב (‘bet’) of Bereshit, the last is the ל (‘Lamed’) at the end of the word Yisroel, and the middle letter is our ו (‘vav’). Together, ב , ו, ל  makes the Hebrew word בול Bul, which means postage stamp. And so I’d like to suggest that in the same way as a letter can only reach its desired destination if you have the right postage stamp on it, from the right country with the right denomination, so too, in our journey of life, as we aspire to enjoy meaningful and happy existences, we can only achieve those aspirations and reach our destination if we put the Torah on our hearts and within our minds.

Thanks to Hashem, we have the ultimate postage stamp to get us to our destination. It is the Torah. And if we embrace it, and learn its ways of life, we will, please God, achieve lives of happiness, of meaning, of joy and fulfilment on this earth. Shabbat Shalom.

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