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Irregular Letters

Why are some letters in sifrei Torah and mezuzot large, small, or extended? Which letters can be extended?
Is it permissible to raise the tip of a lamed to the empty area in a dalet? Can the tail of a chof sofit be lowered into a tet in the line below?

An example: We can find a tiny aleph in the first word in sefer Veyikrah: Vayikrah. We can find large letters ending the first and last words of the first verse of the Shema Yisrael: ShemA… EchaD. (It is interesting to discover that the two “capital” letters spell the word “aid,” which means witness. This teaches us that the nation of Israel which says the “Shema Yisrael” is a witness to the kingdom of Hashem (G-d) in this world. We are G-d’s witnesses.

There are also differences for which we do not have explanations, but follow because the tradition is part of the law passed down from Moshe on Sinai. In the portion of Tazria, when speaking about the leprous, the word “vehitgaleiach” (and he shaved) uses a capital gimel:
VehitGaleiach. There is also the phenomenon of a cut-off letter. “Hinneni noten lo et briti shalom.” (Numbers 25:11) In the word “shalom”, in the portion of Pinchas, the vav is cut off. And there are
also letters that have dots above them. For instance, in the portion of the reprimand: “lanu ulevaneinu ad olam” (Deuteronomy 29: 28), there are symbols above every letter of the words “lanu ulevaneinu”. All these are hints that, as noted above, have been passed down to us by Moshe at Sinai, together with other traditions.

In contrast, the “extension” of a letter, is purely technical, stemming from writing constraints.

The letters that keep their shape despite extensions are lamed, heh, reish, and tav. Therefore, when it becomes necessary, these are the letters that are chosen (and sometimes a kuf or an aleph.)

When are the letters extended? The halacha says that there should not be a space larger than the space of one letter between the words. There are situations when the sofer arrives at the end of a line, and finds himself with a space much larger than one letter. In order for the last word on the line to extend to the very end of it, he will look for a letter that he can extend and thus narrow the gap.

The situation is similar when, at the end of a portion or a passage, for example, the sofer can foresee a gap. He can extend several letters on the same line, or even on preceding lines just a bit, rather than creating a longer extension of a single letter.

Another situation that calls for extending letters occurs when the head of a lamed must be raised, and on the line above there is a letter such as chof sofit or dalet. This situation can create a change in the shape of the letter above the lamed and render it invalid, as when the “flag” of the lamed goes into the space of the letter above it.

Alternatively, such a situation is encountered when it is necessary to “lower” the leg of the chof sofit beyond the area of the letter parallel to it.

The Jerusalem Talmud addresses this point in two similar situations in the tractate Megila page yud-aleph. The gemora reads (freely translated): “He mixed up the letters, some say that it is kosher and others that it is invalid, so there is no disagreement here. This is above and this is below.”.

With this in mind, another problem arises: is it possible to write the letter vav in the space of the nun sofit when the base leans toward the left? Here we rule that when the vav does not touch the base of the nun this combination is possible and it is allowed. In order to illustrate this issue, the gemora draws on the phrase “artzeinu tifarteinu.”
Where can we find a similar combination in the Bible? Nowhere. It is not found. So why does the gemora bring an example of something that does not exist?
And furthermore, as the problem persists, the gemora describes an instance where letters from one line enter the line above or the line below. The example is:

“Artzecha tzricha, tifartecha tzricha”, in other words, halachically, when a letter such as a chof sofit invades the space of a letter in the line below it, such as a “tet”, the writing is invalidated, because it changes the shape of the letter tet. Here, too, it is interesting to note that the examples represented in the gemora cannot be found in the Bible. What can we learn from this? What is the message?

To my surprise, I discovered a “pearl”. Instead of bringing one verse where the letters nun and vav are together, such as in the term “lanu uleavoteinu”, for example, the Jerusalem Talmud offers a hidden lesson in Zionism. (???) Artzeinu tifarteinu: regretfully for now, our Eretz (country) still needs us… and our tiferet (glory) is still wanting: it yet has to come to fruition. How will this happen? When all of Am Yisrael gathers together to say with feeling: “artzeinu tifarteinu”. This is the gemora’s method of transmitting its message,( to differentiate, to teach the Hebrew language, as with the sticker), similar to the bumper stickers we read today: “Haam im HaGolan.”

May we have the privilege, together with all of Am Yisrael, to relentlessly proclaim: “Artzeinu tifarteinu”.

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For additional sources:

What is mezuzah and tefillin inspection?

The grandfather, Rabbeinu Tam and tefillin

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Halachic guidelines for tefillin manufacture

The "shin" on the head tefillin

Tefillin on Shabbat and early chidhood education

See "tefillin" in Encyclopedia Judaica on "daat" site

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