Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sparks of the Holy Tongue

I rummaged through my father's library and found a fascinating rare book that is currently out of print entitled Sparks of the Holy Tongue. It is by M. Glazerson. My father was good enough to allow me to read the book on the plane back to New York. The Yeshiva University library also has a copy. I have reproduced the introduction below, and have attached links to a few pages. Please read them; the book is utterly compelling; if they had taught me dikduk this way, I would have been an expert by now. If you only have time to read one of the excerpts, I suggest the one on "Sin and Punishment"; that is my favorite. I would love to copy the whole book for you, but that's forbidden. So I must content myself with giving you a taste and hopefully whetting your appetite...


Chapter 1

Letters as Keys to the Knowledge of the Torah

We are prompted to ask why the Torah is written without vowels or punctuation. Was this done for reasons of convenience or because of necessity?

Rabbeinu Bechaye, author of "Duties of the Heart", answers our question stating that the Torah was written in the form in which we know it in order to render it capable of many different interpretations, each, of course, correct. Thus, for example, one may legitimately combine letters, ignoring their separation in two words. (i.e. cutting across their division into words).

It is on this basis that the Vilna Gaon explains the Gemara on the last few verses of the Torah which describe the death of Moses. The obvious question which comes tom ind is how could Moses have recorded his own death? The Gemara's answer is that the whole Torah, which served as a blueprint for the creation of the world, was written by G-d in a jumbled form, one unintelligible to man, and that it was the task of Moses to rearrange the letters and unravel the words to render them intelligible to man. This he did with the exception of the last eight verses which were left to his successor, Joshua, to re-set in a comprehensible form, one which, as it transpired, recorded Moses' death.

The rearrangement of letters into different sets of words is one of the keys to the Torah with which our Sages have revealed great hidden treasures. It is apt, in this connection, to explain the well-known request by the angels to G-d to bestow the Torah upon them instead of upon mortal beings. At first sight such a request appears ludicrous, for does the Torah not speak of, and to man? However, in its untransliterated form, the Torah could conceivably relate to non-human beings.

Letters are keys to our knowledge of the Torah in other ways too. In the introduction to his commentary on the Torah the Ramban records that knowledge of the Torah was conveyed to Moses in several ways, directly; by allusion; by way of computing the quantitative values of (the letters) of words and by interpreting the shape of letters.

Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Josi Haglili, stipulates as two of the thirty-two keys to the knowledge of the Torah, the computation of the quantitative values of letters and the creation of words from the first letters of a series of words.

Another commentator, the Pardes Rimonim, lists among the means of unearthing the secrets of the Torah, the combination of words, the combination of letters of the same sequence in successive words (eg. every second letter), interchanging letters of the same sequence in a series of words and the computation of the qualitative values of letters.

The multifarious ways of learning the Torah bear witness to its depth and to the verse: "The measure thereof (of the Torah) is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." Such analyses should stimulate us to delve further into the well-springs of the Torah.


LINKS TO EXCERPTS (When viewing the image, click the magnifying glass icon to enlarge)

1. Letters as a Source of Different Shades of Meanings, Page 1
2. Letters as a Source of Different Shades of Meanings, Page 2
3. The World is as We View It, Page 1
4. The World is as We View It, Page 2
5. Sin and Punishment, Page 1
6. Sin and Punishment, Page 2


Anonymous said...


That Vilna Gaon is also said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov interestingly enough

duby (the second anonymous on the bas kol thread) :-) said...

if you enjoyed "Sparks of the Holy Tongue" you would almost certainly enjoy the "Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew".

It's based on the Commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

oh, and btw, if you're looking for a comprehensive and thorough discussion-- of "Bas Kol" check out the Encyclopedia Talmudis --Erech Bas Kol-- (I believe it's chelek hei. . .

Chana said...


You're back! Wow! That makes me so happy! Did you like my David & Yonatan post, by any chance?

And thanks for the recommendations!

Anonymous said...

things do get confusing here-anon 2 is duby anon 1 was Columbia Student-2 different people-so things can be clear from now on

duby said...

i read the Dovid/Yonatan post, and of course i enjoyed it . . . like all your Biblical textual insights.

actually, i'm currently reading a book by shmuel Peerless "To Study and To Teach--the Methodology of Nechama Leibowitz" (i'm sure you've encountered her writings). for those interested in the study of Chumash on a textual level, it should provide an interesting read.

ok, no more recommendations from me for the four and a quarter decades!

bl''n :-)