Ask The Rabbi

Letter Perfect

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Torah, Vav at Section Beginning

Sol Harris wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

While looking at the Torah scroll, I have noticed that the top of most every section starts with the letter 'vav.' Is there a specific reason for this? I'm sure that this is not a coincidence. All these years I did not realize this until very recently. Shalom


Dear Sol Harris,

It's no coincidence. Starting each column with the letter 'vav' is a custom some scribes follow when writing a Torah scroll. It is mentioned in the Zohar and the Shulchan Aruch.

To jockey a letter 'vav' to the head of each column, scribes would sometimes ignore proper form and spacing, stretching letters or squishing them together. The result was not pretty, invalid, or both. For this reason, the Semak (13th century) and the Mordechai (1240-1298) wrote that they would like to abolish this custom.

Today, some scribes use computers to plan the layout of a beautiful, valid Torah scroll with a 'vav' on top of every column.

This custom is reminiscent of the courtyard surrounding the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Tapestries held in place by little hooks stretched from one upright column to another. The Hebrew word for a 'little hook' is 'vav'; hence, each 'column' had a 'vav' on top.

As a prefix, the letter 'vav' means 'and' - hence it is the letter of 'connection.' The 'vav' on top of each column hints to the Torah's unity. Torah is our 'connection' to the spiritual.

Sources:

  • Yoreh De'ah 273:6, Rema
  • Ibid., Shach, Birkei Yosef
  • Tikunei Zohar Parshat Terumah

 
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