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PARASHAT VA'ERA 5758
THE DEJECTED 'YUD'
The Midrash introduces this week's Parasha with an interesting comparison between Moshe and King Shlomo (Solomon).
"I turned to investigate wisdom [that is actually only] frivolity and foolishness; who is man to come after the king [to contest] what was already done?" (Kohelet 2:12) This verse was said of Shlomo and of Moshe.
Of Shlomo: ...The Torah bids the king, "He shall not amass horses..., nor shall he amass great wealth. He shall not marry many wives, so that his heart shall not be turned away [from Hashem, due to their evil influences] (Devarim 17:16,17)." Shlomo tried to be smarter than the word of Hashem. He said, "Why did Hashem prohibit a king from marrying many wives? Was it not in order to prevent his heart from being turned away? I will marry many wives, but [due to my vast wisdom] my heart will not be turned away!"
Our Sages related: At that moment, the letter 'Yud' of the word 'Yarbeh' (shall not "marry many" wives) went begging before Hashem, saying, "Master of the universe, did you not say that no letter from your Torah will ever be eliminated? Shlomo is trying to eliminate me!" ... Hashem replied, "Shlomo and a thousand others like him will be eliminated, and I will not eliminate even your little point!"....
Of Moshe: Hashem already told Moshe, "I know that Pharaoh will not
let you go until I show him the power of My Hand." (Shemot 4:19)
Yet Moshe... began to complain (Shemot 5:22), "Hashem, why did you
do evil to this nation... ever since I came before Pharaoh to speak
in Your Name, he made things *worse* for this nation, rather than
bringing about a salvation for Your nation!".
Clearly, this Midrash leaves much to be explained. (a) How could Shlomo, and Moshe, have thought to "outsmart" Hashem and ignore His words? Was it not obvious to them that Hashem's word will inevitably be fulfilled? (b) What does it mean that specifically the letter 'Yud' of the word 'Yarbeh' rose to Hashem to complain. What is the significance of particular that letter?
(a) As for the first question, the Midrash itself makes it clear why Shlomo thought that he could get away with marrying many wives. "He said, I will marry many wives, and [due to my vast wisdom] my heart will not be turned away!" Shlomo's understanding was that the verse was not introducing a blanket prohibition. Rather, the verse was given as a *conditional* warning. He read the verse to mean, "If the king sees that he is not extremely firm and unbending, he should refrain from marrying too many wives. Numerous wives are bound to cause his heart to stray." Since Shlomo was very sure of himself, he saw no need to limit the number of wives he would marry.
Why, then, does the Midrash charge him with trying to "eliminate a letter of the Torah?" And where does the Yud of Yarbeh come in?
(b) The answer perhaps lies in a passage in Sanhedrin (22a). The Gemara tells us that King David refused to marry the beautiful Avishag only because he had already reached his quota of wives. Shlomo was saying that the Mitzvah of not "over-marrying" applies only to a king like David, but not to himself.
The letter Yud, when added to the word "Rabah" to make "Yarbeh," changes the word from the past tense to the future tense. Shlomo asserted that the verse prohibiting too many wives only applied in the past (that is, to his father David, as the Gemara in Sanhedrin stated). His father "*did not marry many* wives, lest his heart stray." As for himself, Shlomo thought, due to his Divine grant of wisdom he could marry as many wives as he wanted. This was, of course, a misinterpretation. The Torah indeed foresaw that even the smartest of men can be influenced by his wives. For this reason, Shlomo was charged with trying to do away with one letter from the Torah. (See also Yedei Moshe, Shemot Raba ad loc.)
It is now very clear why the Midrash begins with the verse, "Who is man to come after the king [with regard to] what was already done?" That is, who granted Shlomo the power to say that the verse is referring to something that was *already done*, in the past tense (no 'Yud') and that it does not apply to him?
It may be suggested the Moshe, according to this Midrash, made a similar mistake. Although Hashem had told him, "I know that Pharaoh will not let you go until I show him the power of My Hand," Moshe thought this statement was referring to past events: Pharaoh did not let you go *until now* because he was not shown My Great Hand. At this point, I will show him My Great Hand and he will let you go.
Our suggested interpretation of the Midrash adequately explains the Midrash in its simplest level of meaning. However, the Midrash contains a much deeper, allegorical, meaning as well.
The letter 'Yud' represents wisdom -- especially the wisdom of the Torah. The Kabbalistically grounded poem "Bar Yochai" refers to "the 'Yud' of the wisdom that predated the world." The 'Yud' is the smallest of letters, a simple dot, taking up next to no space at all (Rashi Sanhedrin 95b DH Asarah). This represents wisdom, which is fully spiritual and is not embodied in any physical object, as the verse emphasizes (Iyov 28:12-15). An Agadah (Shabbos 104a) which discusses the significance of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has the letter 'Yud' meaning "Hashem will grant you a 'Yerushah' (= inheritance, that is, the Torah - Maharsha). Interestingly, the Gematria, or combined numerical value of the letters, of the word 'Chochmah' is 10, the numerical value of the letter 'Yud' (8+20+40+5=73; 7+3=10 -- this is referred to as "Gematria b'Mispar Katan").
As the Midrash says, Shlomo tried to be smarter than Hashem's Torah. This is referred to as "eliminating a 'Yud' from the Torah." That is, he said that his 'Yud," or wisdom, outdid that of the Torah. Hashem's response was "Shlomo and 1,000 like him will be eliminated" before a 'Yud' of the Torah will be eliminated. This is an intentional pun; the word for 1,000 -- 'Elef' -- also means "to learn" (as in Iyov 33:33). All the wisdom ('Elef') of Shlomo is as naught, compared to the wisdom of the Torah.
The reason that the Torah's wisdom supersedes all other wisdom is that it has an added element fundamental to 'true' wisdom: it teaches the fear of G-d. "The fear of G-d; that is wisdom" (Iyov 28:28) "That is, each one needs the other; wisdom is not complete without the fear of Hashem" (Rashi, ibid., see Shabbos 31b).
This element of wisdom as well is alluded to by the letter 'Yud.' The trait most basic to the fear of G-d is modesty (Mishlei 22:4; see Rabbeinu Nisim Gaon Berachos 56b). 'Yud,' the smallest letter of the alphabet, alludes to wisdom which stems from *modesty* (see also Parasha-Page, Vayikra 5756).
Why is the 'Yud' the smallest of all the letters? In order to show that one who makes himself *small* will merit a portion in the World to Come, which was created with a 'Yud.' (Midrash Alef-Bet d'Rebbi Akiva, 2nd version, in Otzar Midrashim p. 427 Why is the head of the 'Yud' bent over (i.e. slightly convex above and concave below)? Because the heads of the righteous who merit a place in the World to Come are bent over (each is embarrassed from the next - Rashi) (Menachot 29b)
The 'Yud' is not simply a round drop of ink. It has two tiny extensions descending from its left and right corners, at least one of which is called the "Kotz," or point of the 'Yud' (Menachot 29a, see Tosfot s.v. Kutzo). These give it a 'bent over' look, indicating modesty, the prerequisite for the fear of G-d.
Modesty, and the fear of heaven, is what Shlomo lacked when he wanted to "eliminate" the 'Yud' of 'Yarbeh' from the Torah. Hashem ensured the 'Yud,' "One thousand like Shlomo will be eliminated, but even your point (Kotzah) will not be eliminated." The preservation of the wisdom of the Torah is guaranteed by the 'Kotz' of the 'Yud,' that is, by the fear of G-d which precedes its wisdom. Shlomo may be the wisest man on earth, but his wisdom will not stand up for a minute against wisdom that is imbued with the fear of G-d.
It is revealing to note that the number 10 (the numeric equivalent of the letter 'Yud') is often used to group together items that are related to the wisdom of the Torah, or to the fear of heaven. Just a few examples of this are: 10 utterances with which the world was created (Avot 5:1); 10 Plagues in Egypt (the subject of this week's Parasha); 10 Commandments in the Tablets of the Law; 10 tests of Avraham's fear of G-d, all of which he passed (Avot 5:3); 10 that make up a congregation in prayer; 10 miracles that occurred regularly in the Holy Temple (Avot 5:5); 10 gradations of Holiness in Eretz Yisrael (Mishnah, Kelim 1:1); 10 days of repentance; 10 mentions of Hashem's kingdom, 10 Shofars and 10 remembrances in the Amidah prayer of Rosh Hashanah.
May Hashem open up for us the gates of wisdom, and imbue us with his Torah and with the fear of G-d!