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Shabbat Shemini 5777


We know where the Torah begins and where it ends. But what is its midpoint? It depends on what tool we use for measurement. The Talmud (Bavli Kiddushin 30a) tells us: “The ‘first ones’ were called sofrim (scribes or counters) because they counted all the letters in the Torah. They said: the vav in the word gahon (belly) is half of the Torah in letters (Leviticus 11:40); Darosh darash (Leviticus 10:16) is half of the words; “And he shall shave himself” (Leviticus 13:33) is half of the verses.

 Since two of these three mid-points appear in this week’s portion, Shemini, let’s explore what it means to locate the epicenter of the Torah. Notice that what the sofrim did had absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of either the letter, word, or verse that they identified. In a precursor to the Bible Codes phenomenon of recent decades, these sofrim, unaided by computer logarithms, had to count carefully to find those midway markers. Impressive in a savant sort of way, but lacking intellectually, right?

 In fact, the Talmud next records a series of questions from Rav Yosef that seem to mock the enterprise: “Is the midpoint before or after the vav of gahon?” Does the Torah have an even or odd number of letters? The Talmud says they brought a Torah to check, but in the generation after the sofrim, when we no longer know the precise spelling of each word, exactly where that mid-point appears.

 So is it at all possible to find the Torah’s center? If not by letters, words or verses, how can it be found? On Shabbat morning, I’ll share some thoughts on this related to my time in Israel over Pesah, when I saw attempts to get to the core of Torah.

 Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise