Our latest post on the weekly portion is here:
- We mourn Sarah, including with something you might not have noticed in the Bible
- The letter yud gets very upset!!!
- Fall is here in the Northern hemisphere, along with Halloween in Cheshvan (AND A BOOK PRESENT)
Make sure to read it alllll the way to the end, both for the offbeat Torah learning, and also because we found a poem for this exact time of the year, and it’s from a book we haven’t announced yet!
But first, we are going to show you something you might or might not have noticed in your Hebrew Bible. Some Bibles do not have it. Even some online Bibles do not have it, to our consternation… (Sefaria has it, as you’ll see in a moment.)
The excerpt that’s going to tell you about it is from Torah & Company by Judith Z. Abrams. This is a book that has sections of Mishna and Gemara for every Torah portion, and discussion questions to match. (Now is your chance to discuss with us!!)
In the Torah scroll, the word which describes Abraham’s crying, “v’livkotah”, has a small, half-sized Hebrew letter kaf in it:
Here it is on Sefaria and here it is on Mechon Mamre. (Finding major Jewish websites which do not have the small kaf is an exercise left to the reader!)
One commentator suggests that this is because he [Avraham] only cried a bit, since she had reached the good old age of 127. Does this make sense to you? What factors influence how strongly you mourn a death? Can you think of another reason for the small letter?
I was actually proactive this time and looked for another reason. Right now I’m reading the MeAm Lo’ez on Genesis, and this offers a further explanation, listed as “the author’s own”. (Here is the author!)
This is an allusion that when a person mourns another, he should be small and humble, saying to himself, “This good person died because of my sins.”Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
A very different explanation, but there is yet a third one! Rabbi Culi cites a midrash:
“It also teaches us that weeping should be kept “small,” and one should not mourn to too great an extent. (Bereishit Rabbah) […] No matter how close the deceased was, one must accept the loss with forebearance, and not question God’s judgment.”
Kind of similar to the first answer, but with a different emphasis, of accepting what G-d has decided about someone’s lifespan. Our next Torah tidbit, however, is about someone not accepting what G-d has decided. Someone, or some….thing?
This is going to be about the letter yud. The letter yud is very frustrated!
The excerpt is from Rabbi Jill Hammer’s Jewish Book of Days. A companion for all seasons, including this particular season… about the month of Cheshvan.
Autumn is a time of loss, and Heshvan reflects this subtle grief. It is, according to the Yalkut Melachim, the month when Solomon finished the First Temple. It receives no celebration or festival because of this; therefore, it is a sad sort of month. Yet there is a midrashic principle that nothing is ever lost. The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) tells us that when the letter yud is taken out of Sarai’s name so that the Holy One can change her name to Sarah, the yud complains.
(If you click through to the Talmud, you’ll even see that the yud was screaming for YEARS. “עומד וצווח כמה שנים” Gevalt)
Rabbi Hammer continues:
It is put into Hosea ben Nun’s name, and his name becomes Joshua, assistant of Moses. So Heshvan too must be repaid for its loss.
The legend arises that one day, in the world to come, Heshvan will be paid back because of King Solomon’s oversight. Heshvan will become the month when the Third Temple, the temple of peace among all peoples, is built. Like the Messiah, the Third Temple is the legendary culmination of all legends and all generations. Heshvan, though apparently without holidays, holds the promise of a future holiday: the dedication of a new and universal sacred space. This reflects the truth of nature – the decay of autumn will be paid back a hundredfold with growth in the spring.
And now for the surprise! We have a Cheshvan and also Halloween poem from Rodger Kamenetz, from his forthcoming The Missing Jew (with poems from 1976-2021) in our Jewish Poetry Project imprint. Cover reveal and preorders right here:
In a Season of Dreams by Rodger Kamenetz
—Cheshvan, Baton Rouge
At the end of a season of dreams
the sandman sprinkles black sand on the threshold
and closes up his shop. The trees, once a sacred grove
are individual, dead veins. Once every word
was a sky, but now words sound tired and poor
the breath knocked out of them. The mysterious guests
who were spirits or angels, all speak plain English.
They turn out to be strangers in a crowd
their faces in a hurry and the urgent message they came
to deliver is common, like a cry in the street.
Dreams have their seasons and each day
has its distinctive voice. Some quieter than others.
I listen for what speaks through me
learn the patience of seasons slow to turn
as the moon of Cheshvan wanes
toward Halloween. I sit with a cup of coffee
and stare to the bottom, stirring with my spoon.
I hear voices, like dark wives, faint as shadows
coming more and more to light. I will be there
with them when they speak, I will move through
walls fluid as coffee, where heaven dissolves
like sugar till what is sweet in my life
returns at last to my tongue.
Thank you for following along, and if you have an explanation of your own for the small kaf – or someone else’s that you liked -, share it with us! Torah Cat is always glad to hear.
(If you are wondering why davka a cat – when we are not publishing parsha books and/or assorted heresy, we are the publisher of the yearly Jewish Cat Calendars!)
And something what you might have missed on Twitter – this past week (in addition to being Asexual Awareness week!) also included Intersex Awareness Day, and we had some Jewish intersex facts ready. Check them out!