The Gemorah in Mesechta Gittin relates of an episode that transpired during the era of the churban Bais Hamikdosh. Rav Yehoshu ben Chananya was in the city of Rome and was told of a good-looking child with a handsome countenance whose locks of hair were arranged meticulously, languishing in jail. He made his way to the jail and called out, paraphrasing the following possuk, “Mi nosan limishisa Yaakov viYisroel libozizim”- “Who caused that the Jewish people should be trampled upon and wantonly robbed”. The response came from the child behind bars, “Halo Hashem zu chatanu lo”- “It is from Hashem whom we sinned against”. Rav Yehoshua was extremely impressed and proclaimed that this child, who eventually became the great Rav Yishmael ben Elisha, would one day become a great man and a great leader of Klal Yisroel. He immediately set out to redeem him at an exorbitant price.

The Meforshim ask: Why does the Gemorah take time to describe the beauty of this child? What bearing does it have on the story? Did Rav Yehoshua redeem him simply because of his outward beauty? One would assume that he was impressed by the response of the child. A young boy at such a tender age to understand that punishment comes from Hashem and the ability to connect the source of tzaros was extraordinary, and that was the source of Rav Yehoshua’s being awestricken!

Under normal circumstances, one who is cast into a difficult and untenable situation, is prone to despair and hopelessness. This is usually apparent when the troubled person begins to neglect his personal hygiene, becomes depressed and wallows in his misery. When Rav Yehoshua was told that the boy maintained his external beauty and his hair locks were arranged perfectly, he understood that the boy had maintained his confidence and bitachon that everything happening to him was yad Hashem. His self-respect and self-dignity remained intact because he had a keen perception of Hashem’s presence and hashgocha. A young boy able to exhibit that staunch emunah and understanding of the ways of Hashem was guaranteed to reach gadol biYisroel status.

In Parshas Vayetzay the possuk describes, “Vayehi eisav ish yodea tzayid ish sadeh viYaakov ish tam yoshev ohalim”- “Eisav was a man of great hunting skill and man of the field, whereas Yaaakov was a man immersed in the tents of Torah”. The question is asked: Why is the word- “ish” used twice to describe Eisav, while Yaakov is described with the word- “ish” only once?

Yaakov was an “ish tam”- a perfect person, no matter the situation that he was thrust into. It mattered not that he was in the Bais Medresh or in the house of Lovon or on the run from Eisav. He was the same great Yaakov come what may! Eisav maintained various personalities depending on the situation. In the field he was a ruthless hunter. When he served his father he role-played a tzaddik. His personality was not genuine. His essence was scrambled.

The essence of a great person is gadlus wherever Hashem places him. This child’s greatness shined even while cast into captivity with no natural chance of liberation. This is genuine greatness.

Can an aleph be written in the form of the letter X?

The letter aleph is formed from three components: a diagonal line, a yud attached on its upper right side, and a yud attached on its lower left side. The upper yud is connected to the central line by its pointed leg and the lower one is connected by a tag on its roof. L’chatchilah, each of the yuds should be attached to the middle of the diagonal line. If the two yuds come out directly across from each other in a way that causes the aleph to look like the letter X, the poskim disagree about whether the letter is kosher. Even according to the lenient opinions, one should not write an aleph in this degrading manner.

אות א, ושעה"צ ס"ק ד; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 3

What is the symbolism of the points on the letter bais?

On the roof of the letter bais, there are two points: one at its right edge pointing rightward and one at its left edge facing leftward. The Gemara explains that the letter bais symbolizes the creation of the world. When the letter is asked “Who created you?”, the left point faces upwards towards heaven. When it is asked “What is His name?”, it points back toward the aleph, which is symbolic of Hashem Echad. A letter without the points is still kosher, but they must be added as soon as possible. Care should be taken not to extend the point in a way that would make the letter look like a lamed.

אות ב; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 4-3

What is the proper way to draw a gimel?

The letter gimel is comprised of a roof and two legs. It is formed by combining a zayin and a nun. The roof is formed like the roof of a zayin, and a leg juts out of its right side. The left leg of the gimel is formed by drawing an upside down yud and connecting it to the middle of the right leg with a slightly thick point. After the left leg is formed, the left side of the gimel looks like the letter nun. The right leg of the gimel should be slightly longer than the left.

אות ג; ביאורים ומוספים דרשו, 5-4
  • If the sofer omitted the tagim, the Rishonim disagree about whether the letters will still be valid. Shulchon Aruch rules according to the lenient view, but many Achronim are stringent.

  • The parshios and the words of the tefillin must be written in sequential order. There is no order required in the writing of individual letters, however. As long as the basic form of a letter is achieved, it may be completed and corrected even after later words are written.

  • If the outer part of a letter was carved out to form its shape, it is pasul. This is known as chok tochos. Chok tochos is an invalid form of writing for Sta”m and also for writing a get.

  • Does the left leg of the hei need to be under the edge of the roof?

  • Where in the Torah is there a unique vav?

  • Which two letters form the letter ches?
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this email is for learning purposes only. Please review the Mishna Berura and Biurim U'Musafim before making a halachic decision. Hebrew words are occasionally transliterated to enable a smoother reading of the text. Common Ashkenazi pronunciation is generally used in these cases.
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