Shabbat 104aשבת ק״ד א
The William Davidson Talmudתלמוד מהדורת ויליאם דוידסון
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104aק״ד א

עלויי קא מעלי ליה דאמר רב חסדא מם וסמך שבלוחות בנס היו עומדין אלא סתום ועשאו פתוח גרועי קא מגרע ליה דאמר רבי ירמיה ואיתימא רבי חייא בר אבא מנצפך צופים אמרום

he elevates its status, as Rav Ḥisda said: The letters mem and samekh that were in the tablets were standing miraculously. Each letter was chiseled all the way through the tablets. In that case, the segment of the tablets at the center of the samekh and final mem, letters that are completely closed, should have fallen. Miraculously, they remained in place. Consequently, rendering an open mem closed elevates its status. However, if one rendered a closed letter open, he diminishes its status, as Rabbi Yirmeya said, and some say that it was Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba who said: The prophets instituted the difference between the open and closed forms of the letters mem, nun, tzadi, peh, kaf. Since the closed letters date back to the Ten Commandments, apparently the prophets introduced the open versions of the letters, which are therefore less significant.

ותיסברא והכתיב אלה המצות שאין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה אלא מיהוה הואי מידע לא הוה ידעין הי באמצע תיבה הי בסוף תיבה ואתו צופים תקנינהו ואכתי אלה המצות שאין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה אלא שכחום וחזרו ויסדום

The Gemara rejects this: And is that reasonable? Isn’t it written: “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses to tell the children of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34). The word “these” underscores that a prophet is not permitted to introduce any new element related to the Torah and its mitzvot from here on. Rather, the prophets did not innovate these forms. Both the open and closed versions existed before then. However, people did not know which form appeared in the middle of a word and which form at the end of a word. And the prophets came and instituted their set positions. The Gemara asks: And still the question remains: Didn’t the Sages derive from the verse: “These are the commandments,” that a prophet is not permitted to introduce any new element from here on? How could they institute the position of the letters? Rather, over the course of time, the people forgot their positions in the words and the prophets then reestablished their positions. Apparently, closed letters are no more significant than the open ones.

גופא אמר רב חסדא מם וסמך שבלוחות בנס היו עומדין ואמר רב חסדא כתב שבלוחות נקרא מבפנים ונקרא מבחוץ כגון נבוב בובן (רהב בהר) סרו ורס:

The Gemara returns to discuss the matter itself. Rav Ḥisda said: The letters mem and samekh that were in the tablets were standing miraculously. And furthermore, Rav Ḥisda said: The writing on the tablets was read from the inside, from one side of the tablets, and read from the outside, the other side of the tablets, in reverse order. The Gemara cites words that appear elsewhere in the Bible: Nevuv was read as bet, vav, bet, nun; rahav as beit, heh, reish; and saru as vav, reish, samekh.

אמרי ליה רבנן לרבי יהושע בן לוי אתו דרדקי האידנא לבי מדרשא ואמרו מילי דאפילו בימי יהושע בן נון לא איתמר כוותייהו אלף בית אלף בינה גימל דלת גמול דלים מאי טעמא פשוטה כרעיה דגימל לגבי דלת שכן דרכו של גומל חסדים לרוץ אחר דלים ומאי טעמא פשוטה כרעיה דדלת לגבי גימל דלימציה ליה נפשיה ומאי טעמא מהדר אפיה דדלת מגימל דליתן ליה בצינעה כי היכי דלא ליכסיף מיניה

The Sages said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Young students came today to the study hall and said things the likes of which were not said even in the days of Joshua bin Nun. These children who only knew the Hebrew alphabet interpreted the letters homiletically.
Alef beit means learn [elaf] the wisdom [bina] of the Torah.
Gimmel dalet means give to the poor [gemol dalim]. Why is the leg of the gimmel extended toward the dalet? Because it is the manner of one who bestows loving-kindness to pursue the poor. And why is the leg of the dalet extended toward the gimmel? It is so that a poor person will make himself available to him who wants to give him charity. And why does the dalet face away from the gimmel? It is to teach that one should give charity discreetly so that the poor person will not be embarrassed by him.

הו זה שמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא זח טי כל ואם אתה עושה כן הקדוש ברוך הוא זן אותך וחן אותך ומטיב לך ונותן לך ירושה וקושר לך כתר לעולם הבא מם פתוחה מם סתומה מאמר פתוח מאמר סתום נון כפופה נון פשוטה נאמן כפוף נאמן פשוט

The children continued to interpret the letters.
Heh vav: That is the principal name of the Holy One, Blessed be He.
Zayin ḥet, tet yod, kaf lamed: And if you do so, the Holy One, Blessed be He, feeds [zan] you, and shows you favor [ḥan], and bestows goodness [meitiv] upon you, and gives you an inheritance [yerusha], and ties a crown [keter] for you in the World to Come [la’olam haba].
The open mem and closed mem indicate that the Torah contains an open statement, understood by all, and an esoteric statement.
The bent nun and the straight nun at the end of a word refer to a faithful person who is bent [ne’eman kafuf] and is modest now, who will ultimately become a well-known faithful person [ne’eman pashut].

סע סמוך עניים לישנא אחרינא סימנין עשה בתורה וקנה אותה פ׳ כפופה פ׳ פשוטה פה פתוח פה סתום צדי כפופה וצדי פשוטה צדיק כפוף צדיק פשוט היינו נאמן כפוף נאמן פשוט הוסיף לך הכתוב כפיפה על כפיפתו מכאן שנתנה התורה במנוד ראש

Samekh ayin: Support the poor [semokh aniyyim] to prevent them from falling further. Another version: Make mnemonic signs [simanim aseh] to remember the Torah and acquire it.
The bent peh and the straight peh: Sometimes one needs to have an open mouth [peh patuaḥ] and speak, and sometimes one needs to have a closed mouth [peh satum].
The bent tzadi and the straight tzadi indicate that a righteous person who is bent and humble [tzaddik kafuf] now will ultimately become a well-known righteous person [tzaddik pashut] whose righteousness is apparent to all. The Gemara asks: That is identical to the interpretation of the bent and straight nun: Ne’eman kafuf, ne’eman pashut. The Gemara explains: The verse added the bending of the righteous person to the bending of the faithful person. From here it is derived that the Torah was given in an atmosphere of gravity. One must receive the Torah with a sense of awe and extreme humility.

קוף קדוש ריש רשע מאי טעמא מהדר אפיה דקוף מריש אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אין אני יכול להסתכל ברשע ומאי טעמא מהדרה תגיה דקוף לגבי ריש אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אם חוזר בו אני קושר לו כתר כמותי ומאי טעמא כרעיה דקוף תלויה דאי הדר ביה ליעייל

The children continued:
Kuf: Holy [kadosh], referring to God.
Reish: A wicked person [rasha]. Why is the kuf facing away from the reish? This question was phrased euphemistically, as it is the reish that is facing away from the kuf. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I am unable look at a wicked person, i.e., the wicked person does not want to look toward God. And why is the crown of the letter kuf turned toward the reish? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: If the wicked person repents his evil ways I will tie a crown for him like My own. And why is the leg of the kuf suspended and not connected to the roof of the letter? Because if the wicked person repents he can enter through this opening if he so desires.

וליעול בהך מסייע ליה לריש לקיש דאמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב אם ללצים הוא יליץ ולענוים יתן חן בא ליטמא פותחין לו בא ליטהר מסייעים אותו

The Gemara asks: Let him enter through that opening, as the kuf is open on both sides at the bottom.The Gemara answers: This supports the statement of Reish Lakish, as Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “If it concerns the scorners, He scorns them, and unto the humble He gives grace” (Proverbs 3:34)? One who comes in order to become impure, i.e., to sin, they, in Heaven, provide him with an opening to do so, and he is not prevented from sinning. However, if he comes in order to become purified, not only is he allowed to do so, but they, in Heaven, assist him.

שין שקר תיו אמת מאי טעמא שקר מקרבן מיליה אמת מרחקא מיליה שיקרא שכיח קושטא לא שכיח ומאי טעמא שיקרא אחדא כרעיה קאי ואמת מלבן לבוניה קושטא קאי שיקרא לא קאי

They further taught:
Shin: Falsehood [sheker]. Tav: Truth [emet].
Why are the letters of the word sheker adjacent to one another in the alphabet, while the letters of emet are distant from one another? That is because while falsehood is easily found, truth is found only with great difficulty. And why do the letters that comprise the word sheker all stand on one foot, and the letters that comprise the word emet stand on bases that are wide like bricks? Because the truth stands eternal and falsehood does not stand eternal.

את בש אותי תעב אתאוה לו בש בי לא חשק שמי יחול עליו גר גופו טימא ארחם עליו דק דלתותי נעל קרניו לא אגדע עד כאן מדת רשעים

The Gemara cites another midrash that also deals with the letters of the alphabet. This one uses a code in which the first letter is paired with the last letter, the second letter with the penultimate one, and so on [alef tav, beit shin]. Alef tav, God said: If he despised Me [oti ti’ev] would I desire [etaveh] him? Beit shin: If he does not desire to worship Me [bi], shall My name [shemi] rest upon him? Gimmel reish: He defiled his body [gufo]; shall I have mercy [araḥem] on him? The word comprised of the letters gimmel and reish in Aramaic means licentiousness. Dalet kuf: He locked My doors [daltotai], shall I not cut off his horns [karnav]? To this point, the Gemara interpreted the letters as referring to the attribute of the wicked.

אבל מדת צדיקים את בש אם אתה בוש גר דק אם אתה עושה כן גור בדוק הץ וף חציצה הוי בינך לאף זע חס טן ואין אתה מזדעזע מן השטן ים כל אמר [שר של] גיהנם לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם לים כל

However, with regard to the attribute of the righteous it is taught differently. Alef tav, beit shin: If you have shame [ata bosh], gimmel reish, dalet kuf: If you do so, you will reside [gur] in the heavens [bedok], as the verse says: “Who stretches out the Heavens like a curtain [dok]” (Isaiah 40:22). Heh tzadi, vav peh: There is a partition [ḥatzitza havei] between you and anger [af]. Zayin ayin, ḥet samekh, tet nun: And you will not be shaken [mizdaze’a] by the Satan. Yod mem, kaf lamed: The minister of Gehenna said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, send the righteous as well into the sea to which all go [yam kol], Gehenna.

אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא אחס בטע גיף אני חס עליהם מפני שבעטו בגיף דכץ דכים הם כנים הם צדיקים הם הלק אין לך חלק בהן ומרזן שת אמר גיהנם לפניו רבונו של עולם מרי זניני מזרעו של שת

The interpretation of the alphabet continues with other combinations of letters. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Alef ḥet samekh, bet tet ayin, gimmel yod peh: I have mercy on them [Ani ḥas aleihem] because they spurned [ba’atu] adultery [gif]. The Gemara continues with this combination of the letters: Dalet kaf tzadi: They are pure [dakkim], they are honest [kenim], they are righteous [tzaddikim]. Heh lamed kuf: You have no portion [ḥelek] with them, based on the interchange of the letters ḥet and heh. Vav mem reish zayin nun, shin tav: The minister of Gehenna said [amar], based on vav mem reish, before Him: Master of the Universe, my Master [Mari], sustain me [zaneini] with the seed of Seth [Shet], which refers to all humankind, including the Jewish people.

אמר לו אל בם גן דס להיכן אוליכן לגן הדס הע וף אמר גיהנם לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם עיף אנכי זץ חק הללו זרעו של יצחק טר יש כת טר יש לי כיתות כיתות של גוים שאני נותן לך:

The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him using another configuration of the alphabet: Alef lamed, beit mem: Not with them [al bam], i.e., you will have no portion of them. Gimmel nun, dalet samekh: To where will I lead them? I will lead them to the garden of myrtle [gan hadas], i.e., the Garden of Eden. Heh ayin, vav peh: The minister of Gehenna said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, I am tired [ayef anokhi] and thirsty and need people to care for me. The Holy One, Blessed be He, responded: Zayin tzadi, ḥet kuf: These are the descendants [zaro] of Isaac [Yitzḥak]. Tet reish, yod shin, kaf tav: Wait [tar], I have groups upon groups [yesh li kittot kittot] of other nations that I will give you instead.