Ki Tisa: When can we read the Torah in reverse?
We don’t just learn from the content of the Torah. We also learn so much from the way in which it is presented. One fine example of this is palindromes, which I love to research and to speak about. Looking at this week’s parsha of Ki Tisa, we find within it what many presume to be the longest palindrome in the Torah. It’s the word ונתנו (venatnu), ‘and they shall give,’ (Shemot 30:12) and it conveys a beautiful message.
In the same way as the palindrome is the same forwards and backwards, so too when you give, you receive in turn.
One of the finest ways to gain fulfilment and satisfaction in life is through giving selflessly to others. However, there is actually a longer palindrome in the Torah although it’s not in one word – it’s in two words. It’s in Parshat Toldot immediately after Yaakov had deceived his father, Eisav arrived with food to give to his father, and the Torah describes this (Bereishit 27:31) as ‘ויבא לאביו’ (vayavei leaviv) – ‘he brought it for his father.’ Here we have nine letters the same forwards and backwards and again it’s all about giving of ourselves to others.
Fascinatingly in modern Hebrew there is a nine letter palindrome in one single word – it’s the word ולכשתשכלו (velichsheteshakeilu) meaning ‘and when they shall become bereaved’. Of course this is a very sad phenomenon and the message here as well is exceptionally powerful. When people endure grief, the regular notion is that the world should come to them to offer them support, but so often people say to me,
“Banu lechazek, yaytzanu mechuzakim,” – “We came to comfort and we emerged comforted.”
Those who were enduring pain were the ones who gave selflessly of their support and encouragement and comfort to all others.
One of the greatest sources of comfort and encouragement for us is Sefer Tehillim, the Book of Psalms, and isn’t’ it extraordinary that the author of so many of the Psalms was דוד בן ישי (David Ben Yishai), palindrome son of palindrome? Indeed King David lived for 70 short years during which he suffered so much in so many ways and yet to this day he remains one of the greatest sources of encouragement and inspiration for us.
Let us therefore take a leaf out of his book and ensure always that regardless of circumstances we can be an inspiration to everyone around us.
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