Ask The Rabbi

Varying Vowels

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Letters, Torah, Vowels

Case E. Krell wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Can you answer a question for me? Some friends and I were sitting around yesterday discussing...well, something, and I mentioned - I don't remember why - there were no vowels written down in the Torah. Yet, I was at a loss to explain why. This is something I probably knew at one time, but have forgotten.

So, how come there's no vowels written down in Torah?


Dear Case. E. Krell,

Your question has two answers: A simple one and a Kabbalistic one.

The simple reason the Torah has no vowels is that the Hebrew alphabet doesn't have any. The vowel sounds are sometimes written as dots under the letters. But they aren't necessary. Just as you can read tricky English words like 'psychic' and 'queue' without looking in a dictionary, Hebrew speakers can read Hebrew without the dots.

Hence, the entire Torah, Prophets, and Writings, the Mishna and Talmud, and all the classic commentaries were written without any vowels. Even today, Israelis read menus, soup cans, and street signs with no vowels. That's just how Hebrew is.

But there is another answer to your question:

The Hebrew language is Holy, and the Hebrew alphabet is Holy. Even the shapes of the letters contain many lessons and mysteries. So too, the absence of the vowels has much to teach us. For example:

The letters of a word are like its 'body.' The vowels are like its 'soul.' Just as the soul is the life of the body, yet it is invisible, so the vowels remain unwritten and invisible, yet they breathe 'life' and meaning into every word.

The Torah is not just a book, but an interactive medium. The absence of vowels beckons us to become partners with the Torah, to breathe life into its letters. In return, the Torah breathes life into us, as it says, "It is a Tree of Life to those who uphold it."

Just as one hammer blow shatters a rock into many fragments, so every word in the Torah has many meanings and secrets. Some of the hidden meanings of the Torah are derived by reading the words using various vowel combinations. For example, the words 'In the beginning' can be read to mean that G-d created a single 'stone' - the focal point from which the universe expanded.

According to Kabbalah, the primeval Torah which preceded the creation of the world was written 'black fire upon white fire.' It had no spaces between the words. Rather, it was a long string of letters. This Torah was composed entirely of various 'names' of Hashem. (One of these names has 72 letters.) This was the Torah given to Moses on Mount Sinai, along with the explanation of how to break the letters into the words we have today.

Sources:

  • Tractate Succah 49a, see Jerusalem, Eye of the Universe, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, chapter 8
  • Ramban's Introduction to Chumash

 
Enter Search Phrase:    
Browse By Keyword: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z


Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) and your donation is tax deductable.