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Toldot: The key to our survival in a missing letter!

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A missing letter provides a clue to the survival of the Jewish people. In Parshat Toldot, we read how Jacob deceived his father Isaac into thinking that he was his twin brother Esau. Isaac declared (Bereishit 27:22),

“Hakol kol Yaakov v’hayadaim yedei Eisav.” – “The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

From here the Midrash teaches as follows. As long as the voice of Jacob is heard in houses of prayer and halls of study, the hands of Esau will not be able to destroy the Jewish people. Now, many of our commentators ask how the Midrash derives this lesson from our verse. After all, Isaac exclaimed, “Hakol kol Yaakov,” – “The voice is the voice of Jacob,” indicating that the voice was heard, “vehayadaim yedei eisav,” – “and the hands are the hands of Esau,” indicating that his hands were there and they were powerful.

‘Malei vechaseir’

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly explains that this has everything to do with ‘malei vechaseir’. What is malei vechaseir? The term literally means ‘complete and incomplete’, and it refers to a phenomenon that we sometimes see in the Torah, wherein some of the words are missing a vowel. Each time this happens, “zeh omer darshaini,” – the word cries out for an explanation.

I cannot think of a better example of this than in the verse that we have quoted. “Hakol kol Yaakov.” The word ‘kol’ is mentioned twice. On the first occasion the ‘kol’, the voice, is spelled kuf-lamed which is ‘chaseir’, missing the vav. On the second occasion just one word later, it’s spelled kuf-vav-lamed which is ‘malei’ – complete – it has the vav in the middle of the word. 

Thanks to the Vilna Gaon we can now understand the Midrash. Because the first word ‘kol’ is missing a vav, it is indicating that something is absent. The voice is not as loud as it might have been. Kol has become ‘kal’ – light. The power of the voice has gone. It is in such circumstances, God forbid, that “hayadaim yedei Eisav” – the hands of Esau can be powerful.  

Authentic Jewish voice

What emerges from here is a timeless and powerful lesson for the Jewish people. Time and again we have needed to fight for our very survival on the battlefield, but in addition to doing that there is another source of great Jewish strength. It lies in the kol Yaakov, the sound of Jacob, our voices in our shuls and in our halls of study. It is the authentic Jewish voice of tradition, and the more it is heard the stronger we, as a nation, are. The better our Jewish education, the more we have a capacity to guarantee our survival.

Yes indeed, a missing letter of the Torah provides us with the key to Jewish survival. 

Shabbat shalom.



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