Our discussion of this week’s Torah portion will include ….
- How to space a Torah scroll
- How to listen to your kid
- How to fight demons with a sword?!
As usual, we pick three interesting and informative tidbits from books we published, to explore the Torah portion this way. Yes, demon-fighting really will be included… But first, spacing a Torah scroll. While we do publish science fiction, this is not in the sense of “ejecting into space”. But rather, how to space the lines of text in the scroll…
We learn about this from TORAH & COMPANY by Judith Z. Abrams. This book matches some Mishna & Gemara to each Torah portion, so that the Mishna and the Gemara will provide some company and the Torah portion won’t be so sad all by itself.
For this week’s Torah portion, one of the Gemara bits picked by Abrams is from the BT Bava Batra 163a. This explains how you should space Hebrew text (not just in the Torah, but also in contracts and the like).
How much space should be between two lines of writing? Rav Yitzhak ben Elazar said: As much, for example, as is required for the writing of lech l’cha (Genesis 12:1 and Genesis 22:2) one above the other.BT Bava Batra 163a
(There are also further opinions in the Gemara, but the alternate solutions don’t have to do with the weekly portion.)
The Gemara here is discussing how much space must be left between lines of text in a document. Note the illustration:
Of all the Hebrew letters, lamed extends the furthest upward and the letter chaf sofit extends the furthest downward. Therefore, scribes are directed to leave enough room to accommodate the possibility of lech l’cha appearing on two lines, one directly above the other.
What do you make of the symbolism that lech l’cha extends in the furthest directions up and down? Can you find any significance in the fact that the words appear identical in the Torah?
Next up, we have a tiny but thought-provoking poem for you, from the upcoming THIRD volume of poetic midrash by Abe Mezrich! You can find the first two books here.
by Abe Mezrich
God names Yishmael, Abraham’s son,
for the act of hearing a cry.
Then God names Abraham Father to All.
To father a world, first you must father listening.
Genesis 16:1 – 17:5
I just really like this – and also it makes one think, how did that work out for Abraham and Yishmael? (Not so well?) What this implies about our own childrearing is an exercise that’s left to the reader.
Now we get to the demon-fighting part (yes, I know you were waiting) (We are here to provide you high-quality demon-fighting content)
This next section is from Rabbi Jill Hammer’s THE JEWISH BOOK OF DAYS. Which has something for each day of the Jewish calendar that relates to that day. It was also a finalist for the Jewish Book Award, and you might see why…
This time around, I picked something from the upcoming week. Cheshvan 11 (check it out in your calendar!) is the anniversary of two famous Biblical figures passing.
(I could call it a yahrtzeit, but that might be SLIGHTLY anachronistic, given that this was before Yiddish was invented…)
Some of you probably know about Rachel’s anniversary, but do you know that this is also Methuselah’s anniversary? Yes, the guy who lived for 969 years. Rabbi Hammer found you a lesser-known midrash about his prowess with a sword.
This is from the Midrash Avkir, which only survives in fragments. (Seeing some of the fragments, the universe probably couldn’t withstand it existing as a whole, I would say.)
Let’s see how Rabbi Hammer summarizes it:
One Jewish legend about Methuselah is that he was the first to learn how to fight demons. By fasting for three days while standing in a river, Methuselah obtains the power to write God’s name on his sword. He then uses the sword to smite the demons who afflict humankind. The eldest demon, Agrimus, comes to Methuselah and asks him to desist killing the demons; in return, Agrimus gives Methuselah the name of every demon. Using the names, Methuselah banishes the demons to the far recesses of the ocean (Midrash Avkir).
The darkening autumn is a time of reflection and, for some, of depression or regret. Yet when we learn the names of our demons, they no longer have power over us. It is interesting that Methuselah uses a body of water as a place to send the demons. Water, a symbol of the unconscious, represents the place we must go at this time of year to discover ourselves.
We wish all of our readers a good occasion to go and discover ourselves, like Avraham went (lech lecha – go to yourself). Hopefully not in the company of demons!
If you liked this, you can check out our other parashah posts too.