Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi #110

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

22 June 1996; Issue #110

  • Letter Perfect
  • Happy Birthday to Germs
  • Yiddle Riddle
  • Subscription Information
  • Back issues are indexed both by issue no. and by subject
  • Ohr Somayach Home Page

  • Letter Perfect

    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.


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

    Happy Birthday to Germs

    Dr. Robert E. Braitman wrote:

    In Ask the Rabbi Issue #106, Brian Connack wrote:

    "I was at a birthday party recently and the hostess insisted that the birthday boy not blow out the candles, rather she put them out by hand. Is there any basis to this custom (not to blow out a candle)?

    Perhaps the most common reason is that parents don't want their children spreading infection by blowing on the cake. More often than not there is more saliva than air expended in the act of blowing out a candle!


    President, NE Region, Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs

    Yiddle Riddle

    Raphael N. Levi wrote:

    Here is a Yiddle Riddle for you:
    Which ONE verse (NOT different verses with the same words) is read publicly from the Torah most frequently?

    PS I enjoy your comments (even though I'm FFB).

    Dear Raphael N. Levi,

    Thanks for the riddle. By the term FFB, you mean 'Frum (Torah observant) From Birth.' That reminds me of a story:

    Once, a young man studying in Ohr Somayach - a yeshiva where many students are newly observant - went to see the famous Chassidic Rebbe of Gur.

    "In which yeshiva do you study?" the Rebbe asked.

    "Ohr Somayach," he answered. "But I'm not a Ba'al Teshuva (newly observant)," the young man hastened to add.

    "You're not a Ba'al Teshuva?" asked the Rebbe in surprise. "Why aren't you?"

    (The Rebbe meant to say that everyone needs to make a personal commitment to the Torah, to become 'newly observant' every day.)

    © 1995 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.

    This publication is available via E-Mail
    Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students.

    The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.

    Ohr Somayach's Web site is hosted by TeamGenesis

    Copyright © 1995 Ohr Somayach International. Send us Feedback.
    Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
    Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.