The letters are the body; the vowel-points and the accents are aspects of the soul
bereshit(Gen. 1:1) ('In the beginning') In Dikduk uferush al haTorah ('Grammar and commentary on the Torah' a grammatical commentary on the first verses of the Torah, attributed to the Gaon R' Eliyahu of Vilna) it states 'The Torah is divided into three parts, that is to say letters, vowel-points and accents; the letters are like the body of Man, and the marks of the Dagesh, the vowels, and the accents are like three aspects of the soul (nefesh ruach neshama)'. Although no references are given in this work, the idea has a long history. A computer search in the 'Chalamish' program found two passages very similar to this in R' Bachya on the Torah. There we find 'the letters are compared to the body and the vowel-points to the soul, for the vowel-points move the letters like the soul moves the body' (R' Bachya on the Torah, Gen. 18:3). And again 'the letters are the body and the vowel-points the soul and so they said "The vowel-points on the letters of the Torah of Moshe are like the living soul in the body of man", and it is known that the body cannot move without the soul and when the soul moves, the body will move in any direction; similarly so with the vowel-points on the letters of the Torah - with a change in the vowel points the meaning changes, and for this reason it is essential that the Torah should be unpointed, so that the Torah can be interpreted in a number of ways … (ibid Deut. 7:2). The editor, R' Chavel, in notes to each of these passages, provides an even earlier source - Tikunne Zohar - which he quotes as follows 'the vowels are to the letters like the soul to the body, etc' (Tikunne Zohar 5).
bara (Gen. 1:1) ('created') In Dikduk uferush al haTorah we read that this is a past tense verb of the Kal conjugation. It proceeds to explain that there are three classes of verbs: Shelemim ('regular'), Chaserim ('lacking'), and Nachim ('soft'). These are the major classifications. However R' Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Sefer haDikduk ('book on grammar') breaks down verbs into further detail giving 20 divisions. All classes of verbs have three-letter roots - Shelemim are those verbs where the three root letters are always visible in writing and audible in speech in all conjugations. However in bara the Alef is silent and therefore the root Bet Resh Alef belongs to the Nachim as the major classification, and to Nache Lamed Alef ('those with a silent Alef as the third letter of the root') according to the detailed division.
hayeta tohu (Gen. 1:2) ('was amazing') In Dikduk uferush al haTorah it states that the word tohu is of the form po'el and the root is Tav Heh Heh but here the second Heh is changed for a Vav and therefore it has a Malupum ('full mouth' - vowel Shuruk) and the Tav is soft because it comes after one of the letters Alef Heh Vav Yud in their silent state. There is a reference to a Masorah (its location is not given) that lays down 'Whenever Alef Heh Vav Yud (Ehevi) is close to Bet Gimmel Dalet Kaf Peh Tav ('Begad Kefat') the Begad Kefat letters are soft ('fricative') [the four exceptions are then discussed but they do not apply to our case]. Therefore the Tav of tohu coming as it does after a silent Heh, is soft.
vechoshech (Gen. 1:2) ('and darkness') In Dikduk uferush al haTorah we read that the 'right' Shin (i.e. one pronounced 'sh') and the chet read with a Cholam have only one dot between them serving both purposes. It goes on to point out that similarly when a 'left' Sin itself has a Cholam there is also only one dot serving both purposes. These observations describe accurately the practice of printers from the early days of printing till the time of Dikduk uferush al haTorah and indeed until the late 20th century, a period of over 500 years. However, prior to that in the days of manuscripts both dots were written separately. Thus in the reproduction of Keter Aram Zova, (Isaiah 39-40, at the back of the Mossad HaRav Kook Tenach edited by Rabbi M. Breuer), the two dots, one on the Mem and the other on the Shin, can be seen on the word moshela (Isa. 40:10). It would appear that the early printers combined the dots for reasons of convenience. With advances in the technology of printing in the late 20th century many publishers have revived the original system of keeping the two dots separate.
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I will be
pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and