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For the week ending 21 May 2022 / 20 Iyar 5782

Parsha Ponders - Ensuring the Redemption

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by Rabbi Rafi Wolfe

“I will remember my covenant with Yaakov; as well, my covenant with Yitzchak, and I’ll remember my covenant with Avraham, and I’ll remember the land.” (Leviticus 26:42)

This Torah portion describes all the devastating things that will happen when the Jews will be exiled from their land. After all these events are described, Hashem assures us that we will not be forgotten. We are assured that we will evade total annihilation despite our enemies’ plans otherwise. Hashem tells us that He will recall the covenant He made with our forefathers: To be an eternal nation, living peacefully in our homeland. When the Torah writes the name of Yaakov, it is written with an extra letter "vav". Rashi points out that this happens five times in Tanach. This is meant to correspond to the five times that Eliyahu the Prophet’s name is written without the final letter “vav.” This teaches that Yaakov, so-to-speak, “took” a letter from Eliyahu’s name as collateral to ensure that Eliyahu will come and announce the imminence of their final redemption to Yaakov’s descendants. Yet, if this is the lesson of the extra letter in Yaakov’s name, why did it need to be demonstrated five times? Would not once have been sufficient?

One suggestion offered is that it is to signify that it was as if Eliyahu took an oath on the five Books of the Torah that he will definitely announce the final redemption of the Jewish nation from exile. The problem with this approach is that once an oath was made, why was there a need for Yaakov to take collateral from Eliyahu? Conversely, if Yaakov took collateral from Eliyahu, why was there a need for an oath? Therefore, another approach is necessary.

Whenever a person takes collateral from another, the custom is to confirm the arrangement with a handshake. The fivetimes Yaakov took a letter from Eliyahu’s name correspond to the five fingers in a person’s hand. As well, the numerical value of the letter vav is six, and five of them make thirty, corresponding to the thirty parts in the human hand (Oholot 1:8). This is to show that it was as if they “shook on it,” so that there would be no doubt that Eliyahu would nnounce the final redemption.

Another answer takes a more numerological approach. The names of our three forefathers contain thirteen letters, as do the names of the four foremothers, which together results in the number twenty-six. This is true using the name Yaakov. Twenty-six carries great significance, as it is the numerical value of Hashem’s name. However, if we use Yaakov’s other name — Yisrael — the total becomes twenty-seven. This corresponds to the twenty-seven letters in the alphabet of the Torah. But, what does all of this have to do with our verse?

The name "Yaakov" represents the masses; those who are not necessarily learned in Torah, but who are in awe of Hashem and spread the message of His Unity. This is why the names of the forefathers and foremothers, using the name Yaakov, correspond to the name of Hashem. On the other hand, the name "Yisrael" represents the Torah scholars. This is evident from a comment of Rashi elsewhere, where he explains a verse which seemingly redundantly says "Yisrael" five times (Numbers 8:19). Rashi says that it corresponds to the five Books of the Torah. Therefore, the combination of the forefathers’ and foremothers’ names, using the name “Yisrael,”, corresponds to the twenty seven letters in the Torah.

However, in the future, Eliyahu will come and will “return the hearts of the fathers due to the sons, and the hearts of the sons due to their fathers” (Malachi 3:24). Meaning, everyone will have perfect knowledge of Hashem and His teachings, from the smallest of minds to the greatest of scholars. Therefore, the masses, represented by the name "Yaakov," will need another letter attached to their name. This will allow the names of the foremothers and forefathers to combine to twenty-seven letters, representing the Torah. Consequently, the letter “vav” was added to Yaakov’s name. This was done five times to represent the five Books of the Torah, which the Jewish People will have then become masters of.

May this happen soon and speedily in our days.

  • *This essay is based on Maharal's Gur Aryeh and Chasam Sofer's Torat Moshe to Leviticus 26:42

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