Terumah III - TRIBUTE TO RABBI JOSEPH B. SOLOVEITCHIK
IN DISCUSSING the script in which the Torah was written, the Talmud records three opinions. Mar Zutra states that the original Torah was written in k'tav ivri --in the ancient Hebrew script. It was changed in the days of Ezra to k'tav Ashurit --the Syrian script, also known as k'tav merubah --the square script. Rabbi Judah says that the Torah was written in the Syrian script. When the Jews sinned they introduced another one, and when they repented they returned to the old alphabet. Rabbi Elazar disagrees with both. He maintains that the Hebrew alphabet never changed its basic character; that the Torah had the same script in the days of Moses as it has today. As proof of this contention he offers a phrase that appears in our sidrah --vavei ha-amudim, "the hooks of the pillars" which held the Tabernacle together (Exod. 26:11). The letter vav shaped like a hook, was used in the Torah to designate the vavei ha-amudim, the hook-like clasps that joined the pillars of the Tabemacle and held them tight. Rabbi Elazar felt that this phrase was definite proof that even in the days of Moses the Syrian script was used in writing the Torah (Sanhedrin 21c-22a).
The question that one may ask is why was the letter vav singled out by Rabbi Elazar to prove that the script of the Torah never changed? Why didn't he present proof from the letter aleph --the first letter of the alphabet-- which introduces the word anokhi in the Ten Commandments, or the letter bet which introduces the entire Torah, or other important letters?
The explanation is that frequently the vav plays a crucial role and determines the meaning and the laws of the Torah. When it appears as a prefix, it is a vav ha-mechaber, a letter that joins, combines and unites. Thus the vav in ve'eleh hamishpatim, "And these are the laws" introduces a new concept and a novel principle in Jewish law. Rashi, in the name of the sages, states that whenever it says eleh --"these"-- it cuts off what was dealt with before. But when it says ve'eleh --"and these"-- with a vav, it implies continuity. In the present instance it teaches that just as the Ten Commandments, mentioned in the previous sidrah, were given at Sinai, so were the civil laws included in Mishpatim given at Sinai (Rashi Exod. 21:1).
The absence of a vav also teaches a fundamental lesson. A word minus "the hook" has a message that varies with the context of the verse or the phrase in which it appears.
Then there is the vav hamehapekh me'avar le-atid --that changes a past tense into a future. When used that way, the vav proclaims that that which was possible in the past may, or will, come true in the future.
You and I look upon our Yeshiva as the Tabernacle of today, and on our revered and beloved mentor, Hagaon Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, better known as the Rav, as the master and Rosh-Yeshiva of this great citadel of learning. He is the true beriach hatikhon l--the central spiritual and intellectual force-- that holds together the amudim of our mishkan. He is the one who has prodded and taught us to be mehapkhim me'aver le-atid --to bring about the dawn of a new day for Torah and Jewish tradition. His talmidim are the cherubim who spread their wings on high (Exod. 25:20).
If that is true, and I sincerely believe that it is, then we of the Rabbinical Alumni are the branches of the Menorah who bring the warmth of ner mitzvah ve-Torah ohr to the American Jewish community. We can also be the vavei ha-amudim, the "hooks" that bring the pillars and supporters of our great institution closer to the spiritual fortress that nurtured and made us what we are.
I enjoy a gathering such as this, for it "hooks" us together. It cements friendship and inspirer us to greater loyalty to one another and to the Yeshiva. When we are in the presence of our great teacher we are reminded of our sacred task to be vavim hamehapkhim me-avar le-atid, to strive to bring back the finest of the past --the learning and piety of bygone days-- and be the builders of a better and nobler atid, of a more glorious future for our people.
We pray that God grant that in the foreseeable future there will be no vavim chaserim in our midst, and that our revered Rabban shel Yisrael will be with us to guide and inspire us until biat goel, Amen.