Parashat B'hukotai

Unifying Towards Redemption

We can achieve redemption only when striving for unity, holiness, and justice.

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A careful reader of the Hebrew text can discover a clue to this mysterious lack of "redemption language" in the unusual spelling of Yaakov (Jacob) in this verse. Here, as in only four other locations throughout the entire Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Hebrew letter vav is included in the name to represent the "o" sound of Yaak-o-v.

According to the great medieval commentator Rashi, these five instances of a variant spelling of Yaakov, with the additional vav, correspond to the five times in the Tanakh when the name Eliyahu (Elijah, the prophet who is seen as heralding the messiah's coming) is written without a vav. Rashi explains that these linguistic anomalies suggest that Jacob "took" a letter from Elijah's name as a "collateral," so that Elijah would be sure to come and herald the redemption of Jacob's descendants.

Why is the divine promise of redemption, of an ultimate "sabbatical world" of holiness and justice, suggested by a vav, and not some other letter? In his commentary on the Book of Leviticus, Rav Dovid Feinstein, a contemporary scholar and teacher, reflects on the literal meaning of vav.

In the Torah passage on the building of the mishkan (desert sanctuary), vavim (plural of vav) are the connecting hooks that linked the curtains to the poles that supported them. Thus, the letter vav represents that which connects one thing to another. To put it another way: the vav represents the unity that is achieved when all elements are working together to achieve a common purpose.

In terms of the fate of the Jewish people, the rabbinic sages believed that the Jews' great exile after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE was caused by the senseless hatred that they had felt toward each other. This intra-Jewish divisiveness and rancor can only be fully reversed when we reacquire the type of unity that characterized the Jews, who were "one people with one heart" when they received the Torah on Mount Sinai, the occasion that Shavuot celebrates.

According to a mishnah (passage) in Tractate Eduyot of the Talmud, in heralding the end of the exile, Elijah will also come to bring peace and unity among the Jews. Perhaps this is why God specifically took a vav from Elijah's name. It is as if God were saying that Elijah should hurry to reunite the people of Israel and thereby put an end to our generations of exile.

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David Frankel is the Associate International Director at NCSY. He was previously the director of the Young Leadership Division of UJA-Federation of New York.