Wednesday, January 11, 2017

At the End of In the Beginning

The Wandering Mem: This Shabbat, at synagogues throughout Albuquerque, we will have the honor of reading Parshat Vayehi, And [Jacob] Lived.

And at one of those synagogues (Abq Jew will explain later), the reading will include Jacob's Blessing of the Children of Israel.

And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. 
Reuben ...Simeon and Levi ... Judah ... Zebulun ... 
Issachar ... Dan ... Gad ... As for Asher ... 
Naphtali ... Joseph ... Benjamin. 
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.
Yes, all the Brothers of Joseph (see Sing Along With Joseph!) we've come to know and love over the many, many, many years. But Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask

Who's this 'As for Asher' Guy?
What happened to Plain Old Asher?

Funny you should ask! As Abq Jew promised (Billy Nader) last week - let's take a look at Gad's verse and at Asher's verse.

Gad, a troop shall troop upon him;
but he shall troop upon their heel.
As for Asher, his bread shall be fat,
and he shall yield royal dainties.

The problem, which Abq Jew has thoughtfully highlighted, is in Gad's verse: their heel. The Hebrew text reads עקב (heel), not עקבם (their heel). Where did the word "their" come from?

By now you have surely noticed that every other blessing that Jacob utters begins with the name of the person (tribe) being blessed. So isn't the wordphrase מאשׁר (As for Asher) just a bit odd?

To understand what has happened to our Biblical text, let us all recall that the Torah scroll is written with no vowels and no punctuation. Moreover, in the days of Eeyore, there were no extra spaces at the ends of sentences.

Oh - one more thing (as Columbo used to say). Way back then there was no ם (final Mem). There was only מ (Mem).

So here is what Biblical scholars say: Over the years, the Mem that was the final letter in עקבם became the Mem that is the first letter in מאשׁר. In other words

A scribal error was made.

Talmudical scholars, of course, will have none of this.

Oh - one more more thing (as Columbo never used to say). At one time, the Torah was written in כּתב עברי (Hebrew script), not the square-letter כּתב אשׁורי (Assyrian script) we use today.

You can read more about this (and the traditional Rabbinic response) here on

Because it is the final parsha in the Book of Genesis, one Albuquerque congregation - Chabad, don't you know - will shout out, at the end of the seventh aliyah (but not after maftir)

Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!

Other Abq congregations may (or may not) shout this out, for those congregations may (or may not) include Jacob's Blessing of the Children of Israel in their Shabbat Torah reading, this being the first year of the Triennial Cycle.

And yet.

In spite of our disagreements over scribal errors, alphabet switcheroos, and reading cycles - every Shabbat, every Yom Tov, every weekday, when we lift the Sefer Torah before replacing it the Ark, all of us Jews all over the world will shout out

This is the Torah
that Moses placed before the Children of Israel!

Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!

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