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Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

The official massoretic text lists 16 large letters in the Torah but there was never full agreement on these as many may have just been the initiative of a single scribe. Many printed texts don't make reference to the full 16 and I have seen seen a number of scrolls with additional letters (particularly kabbalistic ones).  Listed here are all the large letters I have come across, together with explanations of why they are to be writ large where one can be found. (Those shown in italics are not generally accepted):

1. The bet in Bereshit (Gen 1:1) 'in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The very first letter of the Torah is made large and carries 4 taggin as opposed to its normal one. Indeed, it is noted in Masechet Sofrim that originally all the letters of Bereshit were a bit larger not just the bet - as shown in this excerpt from a Moroccan scroll below:

moroccan big bet

Kol Hatorah explains that this emphasises that the creation of the Universe is only secondary and instead man's prime concern should be with the first factor - i.e. God, the creator of everything.  However a practical reason given by Rabbi Dr Eric Ray is that when the torah was actually 5 separate scrolls the large bet told people this was the start!

2. The final fey in u'vha'atif (Gen 30:42) 'but when the cattle were feeble he did not put them in’ is large. However this is in dispute.  Mikra’ot G’dolot (Pardes 1951) does include this in its list of large letters.

3. The zayin in hak'zona (Gen 34:31) 'and they said, should we deal with our sister as a 'harlot' In dispute, but again listed in Mikra’ot G’dolot.

Large zayin

4. The chet in chachlili (Gen 49:12) ‘his (Judah’s) eyes will be red with wine and his teeth white with milk’ may be large.  Seen in a kabbalistic scroll in sefardi form with two taggin and right in an Hungarian scroll decorated very oddly indeed.

hungarian large chet

5. The final mem in sh'leshim (Gen:50:23) referring to Joseph living to see Ephraim’s children to the third generation. In dispute.

shloshim opt

6. The enlarged tet in tov (Ex. 2:2) refers to the infant Moses 'When she (Yochaved) saw that he was a goodly child...' leading commentators to remark that Moses was even then perceived as special with a more than natural 'goodness' and Rabbi Meir said that Tov was Moses' real hebrew name. In dispute.

large tet

7. The tsadi in tseh (Ex 11:8) from Pharoah’s exclamation ‘Get out, and all the people who follow you’ is large according to some sources.

large tsadi

8: A possible large tsadi sofit in tsits Ex. 28:36. And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, "Holiness to the Lord" - seen in a kabbalistic torah.

large tsadi sofit

9. Part of the 13 attributes of God the larger nun in notser (Ex. 34:7) keeping mercy for thousands’.

large nun

10. A possible enlarged shin in shamor (Ex 34:11) ‘Observe what I command you this day’.

large shin

11. The enlarged resh in acher (Ex:34:14 'for you will worship no other god' is the exact counterpart to the large dalet in the Shema (see below) to ensure that it is read as acher and not

large resh

accidentally as echad which would, heaven forbid, give the meaning to the sentence of 'and you will not worship the one God'

12. Masechet Sofrim notes that the whole word vayishchat should be writ large, because it is half the verses of the Torah.  However it is unclear whether this

largeb chet

refers to Lev 8:15 ‘and he (Moses) slew it (the bull)’ or Lev 8:23 ‘and he (Moses) slew it (the ram)’ for both verses begin with the same word.  Others say that only the chet is enlarged, the initial letter of chetsi meaning half, but nowadays nothing is enlarged perhaps because of the confusion.

13. Vehaleta'ah (Lev. 11:30) 'and the ferret and the chameleon and the lizard and the snail and the mole' has a large lamed though this is in dispute.

large lamed

14. The simple explanation given to the large vav in gachon (Lev 11:42) 'whatsoever goes upon its belly' is that it is the exact centre of the Sefer Torah in letters, and thus is in the belly

large vav

of the Torah.  However this is difficult to calculate as the exact number of letters in a Torah has changed over time and even the Talmud reports dicrepancies between the Temple Sifrey Torah which had to be reconciled by agreement.  Kashrut is discussed in this section - i.e. matters which concern our bellies!

15. The middle word of the Torah is said to bev'hitgaleach (Lev 13:33) 'and he will be shaven' and thus the gimel is enlarged.

large gimel

16. Duet 32:5 may have a large peh in u’f’taltol. They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation.  Again seen in a kabbalistic torah.

17. The samech in vayahas (Num 13:32) 'and Caleb stilled the people' is in dispute, but shown in Mikra’ot G’dolot.

ptaltel opt
large samech

18. The yud in yigdal (Num 14:17) ‘let the power of my Lord be great’ is the largest yud in scripture.

yigdal opt
large mem

19. Definately at the top of a column as the mem in B'yah Sh'mo (see diary 8) there is also debate as to whether the mem in mah (Num 24:5) (How goodly are your tents O Jacob' should be large.

20. Also in dispute is whether the final nun of mishpatan (Num 27:5) 'and Moses brought their cause before the Lord' is large (or perhaps just written longer - the notation is nun aroch (long nun)).  The cause in question is that of the daughters of Zelofchad and this may be emphasising the Torah bestowing rights to women in equal measure.

mishpat2opt
venachbgopt

21. Another enlarged letter may be the final chaf of vanach (Deut 2:33) ‘and we struck him (i.e. Sichon)’.

22. The sin in eres (Deut 3:11) ‘his (King Og’s) bed was a bed of iron’ may be enlarged.

eres2opt
shemaopt

23. and 24. Definitely large are the ayin and dalet of shema and echad respectively in Deut 6:4 ‘Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’.

25. Deut 18:13 may have a large tav in tamim 'you shall be perfect with the Lord your God'

tamim opt
ken2opt

26. The kuf in kan (Deut 22:6) ‘if a bird’s nest chances to be before you’ could be enlarged.

vhitmchatem opt

27. The kaf in v’hitmacartem (Deut 28:68) ‘ and there [Egypt] you will be sold to your enemies for bondmen and no man shall buy you.

28. The enlarged lamed in vayashlichem Deut 29:27 ‘and he cast them into another land’.  By this the rabbis in Masechet Sofrim argue that this should be read as lachem (to you) implying that God will be a God to you even after casting you out. Rabbi Ray

lichem2opt

explains that lamed in Egyptian hieroglyphics is the symbol for an ox-goad. Thus this is a very relevant image when God is driving Israel out and perhaps the form reverts to its original usage in ancient Egyptian.

haladbopt

29. The tsadi in hatsur (Deut 32:4) ‘he (God) is the rock‘ may be large.

hatsurbopt

30. The heh of haladonai is enlarged as it is almost to be treated as a separate word and not just the prefix of the definite article and should also be spaced (Yerushalmi Megillah 1) 

31. Also seen in the last amud of a number of kabbalistic scrolls is the letter aleph of ashrecha (Deut 34:29) ‘Happy are you, O Israel’ enlarged.

ashrech2opt

32. The last word in the Torah is yisrael and must be spaced to end in the centre of the column. Now not a large letter the final lamed was written so in antiquity but is nowadays made higher than any other lamed written in the Torah.

endkabbopt

If any reader knows of any other midrashim or explanations as to why a letter is large, then please let me know and I’ll build it into the page.

In the meantime click to the right to see a possible explanation for why so many letters other than those in the formal masorah are considered.

Mordechai Pinchas

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