Bereshit: The difference a dot makes

Bereshit: The difference a dot makes

Anshei Lubavitch, Fair Lawn, Orthodox

As we once again begin studying the Torah from the very beginning, we should seize the opportunity to reflect on the infinite majesty of the Torah. You see, the Torah is dissimilar to any other book ever written. The Torah is divine. The words written in the Torah are the words of an eternal God. Accordingly, every story told in it is meant to convey a lesson eternally applicable despite the shifting sands of time.

The famous Biblical commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as “Rashi,” explains that every detail in the Torah is significant. Rashi, throughout his commentary on the Torah, gleans much information even from parts of the text that might seem to the casual observer to be unimportant. Similarly, the famous Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva would deduce heaps from each individual letter in the Torah. Indeed, he would elucidate even component parts of letters. For example, a Torah scroll is written in the Ashuri script, which has ornamental crown-like calligraphic designs on the top of some of the letters of the alphabet, and from each of these ornamental crowns in the Torah, he was said to have derived “mountains upon mountains” of lessons. Think about it: There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. Each letter has “mountains upon mountains” of information embedded in it. It is up to us to study carefully each story, each verse, and indeed each letter. In the Ethics of our Fathers, Ben Bag-Bag, a great sage, is quoted as saying about the Torah: “learn it and learn it again, for everything is in it; look deeply into it; grow old and grey over it; do not move from it, for there is nothing more edifying for you than it.”

So let us now focus on just one single letter in this week’s Torah portion, a “yud,” the very smallest of all the letters in the Jewish alphabet, comprising just a tiny dot. The Torah records the story of Cain and Abel, the very first humans born to man. Abel was naturally pious and drawn toward the sacred. Cain, on the other hand, was more of a work in progress. While he too strove for a connection with the Divine, it was more difficult for him than for his brother Abel. We all know the end: Cain gets into a verbal argument with Abel and ends up killing him in a jealous rage, stabbing him over and over again until Abel lay lifeless on the ground.

God rebukes Cain: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!”

The Hebrew word for “blood” in the singular is “dam”, spelled with the Hebrew letters daled and mem. And while one might have expected that the Torah would have used the singular word for “blood”, “dam,” when recounting that God told Cain that his brother’s “blood” was crying out to Him, the Torah actually uses the plural form of the word “blood.” It adds the letter “yud” to the end of the word “dam”, making it “damei”, spelled daled mem yud, rendering a literal translation of the phrase to be, “The voice of your brother’s bloods cries out to Me from the ground!”

Rashi explains the use of the unexpected plural word “bloods” to mean that God held Cain responsible for more than just a single person’s lifeblood. Cain was responsible for the deaths of the billions of would-be descendants that Abel would no doubt have had if Cain hadn’t killed him. In other words, “the bloods” refer to the blood of Abel and the blood of each of his lost descendants. The addition of one little letter “yud” changes everything! Cain goes from being responsible for a single murder to the mass murderer of an untold number of people.

The lesson here is powerful. From God’s perspective, our acts are not viewed merely through the narrow prism of the here and now. Rather God also views the ripple effects of all of our actions. Everything that we do, whether good or bad, affects the world in infinite ways. For every action that we take or do not take, we need to consider the incalculable impact that it will have, not just now, but for all time. Proceed carefully. And remember, even one small good deed may change the world for the better, infinitely!

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