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Sefer Binsoa - the book of Binsoa

diary of a sofer - part 22

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer


The second idea for the Megillat Hashoah was, in part obvious too. Scribes often make individual letters large and this was a natural development - but which letters?

The first letters of each of the six sections sprang to mind but would it have any meaning?

'Resh' in 'reshit' (beginning) the first word, 'mem' in 'm'lo' (filled) which spells 'ram' (exalted). .

The next section began with a 'heh' in 'hachoshech' (the darkness), then 'aleph' in 'el' (to) but adding the second letter 'lamed' would be good as that word is a Hebrew homonym and also denotes one of God's holy names, which leads to 'ha-el' (the God).  Moving onwards gave 'bet' in 'bat kol' (heavenly voice), 'ayin' in 'od' (again).  Could I find a 'mem' as that would spell 'b'am' (amongst the people).  Indeed there was a 'mem' in the middle of the penultimate word 'b'damenynu' (in our blood) balanced on either side on the tail.

Putting the seven letters together reads 'ram ha-el b'am' (the Lord is exalted amongst the people) showing that despite the horrors and atrocities people did not lose faith and Judaism survived.

Studying the text one became very aware of the feeling that somehow God was not present during the Shoah, He had 'kivyachol' (as it were) been diminished during that time and faded into the shadows.  One sentence reads, “The Most High abides in secret, God dwells in the shadow of silence” (5:21) and this inspired another visual midrash.  There is a tradition at a 'siyyum' (completion ceremony) that the sofer writes the outlines of the final 18 letters and members of the community fill them in to participate in the 613th mitsvah - to write a Sefer Torah.

In actual fact, outlines of letters as long as they are not broken are technically already kasher.  Thus those people in large part are really only beautifying by making them whole - but that's a whole other debate. Having seen the word 'uv'tsel' and in the shadows', I decided to deliberately leave the word in outline as a hint to the central question of God's shadowy presence or absence.

There is also a very famous visual midrash in the central line of our liturgy - the Shema. To avoid reading the 'dalet' in 'echad' (one) as a 'resh' and spelling 'acher' (another) it is made large. To this is added a large 'ayin' in 'shema' (hear), the two letters together spelling 'ed' (witness) so that we witness as well as hear that God is one.

Megillat Hashoah also carries the words 'shema' and 'echad' as final pleas from those who were sentenced to death under the Nazi regime.  So I made the 'ayin' and the ‘dalet’ small  (though not too small as one has to ensure that the 'dalet' was still very clearly that letter) as another way to reflect on the possible eclipse of God and as a balancing concept to the central verse of the book of Deuteronomy.

Mordechai Pinchas

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