Daf 30a continued

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 10

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For the past few weeks, we have been studying the gemara's analysis of the mitzva of learning Torah. We concluded last week's shiur with Rav Safra's statement in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania, that one should divide one's learning time between Scripture, Mishna and Talmud. We resume with the continuation of the gemara, at the end of the third medium-size line on 30a. 

Therefore the earlier ones were called soferim (counters)

because they would count all the letters in the Torah,

for they would say: The vav of "gachon" is the halfway point of the letters of a Torah scroll;

"investigated thoroughly" is the halfway point of words;

"and he shall shave himself" [is the halfway point] of verses;

"the boar of the field (ya'ar) ravages it" - the ayin of ya'ar is the halfway point of Tehillim,

"and He is Merciful, He shall grant forgiveness from sin" is the halfway point of verses (of Tehillim).

לפיכך נקראו ראשונים סופרים -

שהיו סופרים כל האותיות שבתורה,

שהיו אומרים: וא"ו דגחון חציין של אותיות של ס"ת (=ספר תורה),

דרש דרש חציין של תיבות,

והתגלח של פסוקים, 

יכרסמנה חזיר מיער - עי"ן דיער חציין של תהלים,

והוא רחום יכפר עון חציו דפסוקים.

The gemara explains why the "early ones," certain sages of antiquity, were known as soferim (as in I Divrei Ha-yamim, 2:55). The word soferim generally connotes scribes, but can also be translated as "counters," and this is the meaning that the gemara ascribes to the word here. These sages were called "counters" because they would count the letters, words and verses of the Torah. It is through such a process that they were able to determine that the letter vav in the word gachon, "belly," in the verse: "Everything that creeps on its belly and everything that walks on four [legs] . . . you shall not eat, for they are an abomination" (Vayikra 11:42), is the halfway point of the letters in the entire Torah. Interestingly, that letter is enlarged in Torah scrolls due to its significance.

The soferim also determined that the words darosh darash, "investigated thoroughly" (Vayikra 10:16), are the middle words of the Torah. The context of this phrase is the inauguration ceremony of the mishkan (Tabernacle), and the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon's sons. The soferim determined as well that the verse that begins "And he shall shave himself" (Vayikra 13:33), which relates to the laws of tzara'at, is the halfway point of all the pesukim in the Torah. 

The soferim also calculated the midway points in the book of Tehillim. The ayin of the word ya'ar, in the verse "The boar of the field ravages it. . ." (80:14), is the middle letter of Tehillim, while "And He is Merciful. . ." (78:38), a verse that is familiar to us due to its use as an introduction to the arvit (evening) prayer, is the middle verse of Tehillim.

One basic question that must be answered is why these pieces of information are significant enough to be presented here in our gemara. One possibility is to suggest that this section compliments what we have learned before regarding the obligation to learn Torah, and particularly Rav Safra's teaching that one must spend time studying Scripture. The soferim are quoted as prime examples of people who were so well-versed in Scripture that they could tell you the middle verse, word or even letter of the entire Torah. This also makes a good introduction for the following statement of the gemara (which we will not get to in today's shiur), which asserts that one must achieve a high level of expertise in his Torah knowledge.

Back to the gemara

The gemara analyzes the statement mentioned above. We are on the seventh medium line of 30a.

Rav Yosef questioned: the vav of "gachon" from this side or from that side?

He said to him: bring a Torah scroll and let us count!

Did not Rabba bar bar Chana say: they did not move from there until they brought a Torah scroll and counted them?


He said to him: they were expert in "missing" and "extra" [letters],

we are not expert.

בעי רב יוסף: וא"ו דגחון מהאי גיסא, או מהאי גיסא?

א"ל (=אמר ליה): ניתי ס"ת ואימנינהו!

מי לא אמר רבה בר בר חנה: לא זזו משם עד שהביאו ספר תורה ומנאום?

א"ל: אינהו בקיאי בחסירות ויתרות,

אנן לא בקיאינן. 

Rav Yosef questions the gemara's statement that the vav of gachon is the halfway point of the letters of the Torah; does this mean that it is the end of the first half of the Torah's letters or the beginning of the second half? Rav Yosef apparently assumes that it is not actually the middle letter, which is possible only if there are an odd number of letters. Rather, he assumes that there are an even number of letters, in which case the vav must be the end of one half or the beginning of the next. Some suggest that Rav Yosef's assumption is based on the wording of the gemara's original statement: the gemara does not say that the vav is the "middle" letter (emtza) but that it is "their half" (chetzyan).

The gemara counters that we should simply count ourselves and figure out the answer. After all, Rabba bar bar Chana did just that when confronted by a similar uncertainty regarding the text of the Torah. Rav Yosef responds that whereas in earlier times they could be confident that their Torah scrolls were completely accurate, we cannot have that same level of certainty. There are many words in the Torah that can be written with or without certain letters. For example, the word Aharon (as in Aharon the priest) can be written with or without a vav: אהרן or אהרון. When such a word is written without the letter, it is called chaser, missing; when it is written with the letter, the word is called malei, full. The letters themselves that can be written in or left out of particular words are referred to here as "missing" or "extra." In earlier times they were expert in how each and every word was supposed to be written, even with regard to letters that do not really impact upon the meaning of a word. Now, however, we lack this expertise, and cannot be certain that our Torahs are written with complete accuracy.

The fact that we cannot be absolutely certain as to the precise way to write a Torah scroll (sefer Torah) has halakhic ramifications:

1) We generally assume that even a mistake in the writing of minute details of a sefer Torah disqualifies the sefer Torah. Thus, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 143:4) rules that if one finds a mistake in a sefer Torah while reading from it in public - even if only one word or letter is written incorrectly - a different sefer Torah must be taken out for the remainder of the reading. The Rama (ibid.) rules that this does not apply if the mistake pertains to the "missing" or "extra" letters mentioned in our gemara. Since they do not change the meaning or pronunciation of the word, and we cannot be absolutely certain that a different sefer Torah, written according to our tradition in this regard, is actually more correct than the Torah currently in use, we do not replace the mistaken sefer Torah for the duration of the reading.

2) There is a mitzva incumbent upon every Jewish man to write a sefer Torah. Nevertheless, common practice for generations has been that most people do not attempt to fulfill this mitzva. The Sha'agat Aryeh (R' Aryeh Leib Ginzburg, 18th century Lithuanian scholar) defends this common practice based on our gemara. A sefer Torah becomes disqualified with even one mistaken letter. Our gemara asserts that we are not certain how to properly write every letter of the sefer Torah. Thus, it is practically impossible to fulfill the mitzva of writing a kosher sefer Torah.

This explanation of the Sha'agat Aryeh is rather controversial. Some authorities assume that since we do have a tradition regarding how to write a sefer Torah, we must trust that it is correct even though we know that it may not be. The Minchat Chinukh argues differently: while it is true that even small mistakes disqualify a sefer Torah, that does not apply to the "missing" or "extra" letters that our gemara mentions. Only letters that change the meaning or pronunciation of a word, or that are used in derashot (exegetical derivations) in the gemara, are absolutely critical to the status of a sefer Torah.

Rav Yosef questioned:

[Is] "And he shall shave himself," from this side or from that side?

Abaye said to him: The verses at least let us count!

We are also not expert in verses,


for when Rav Acha bar Ada came, he said,

in the West they divide this verse into three verses:

"God said to Moshe, behold I am coming to you in the thick of a cloud."

בעי רב יוסף:

והתגלח מהאי גיסא, או מהאי גיסא?

א"ל (=אמר ליה) אביי: פסוקי מיהא ליתו לימנוי'!

בפסוקי נמי לא בקיאינן,

דכי אתא רב אחא בר אדא אמר,

במערבא פסקי ליה להאי קרא לתלתא פסוקי: 

ויאמר ה' אל משה הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן.   

Just as Rav Yosef questioned the details of the middle letter of the Torah, he questions the gemara's teaching regarding the middle verse of the Torah. Previously, we answered that we cannot ascertain for ourselves the exact placement of the middle letter of the Torah because we cannot be certain that we have precisely the right number of letters. However, this answer seemingly does not apply to pesukim; although one may be able to reasonably write certain words with or without a vav or some other letter, it seems difficult to apply such reasoning to entire verses! 

The gemara answers that we are in doubt regarding the number of pesukim in the Torah as well; not because pesukim may have been added or subtracted but because it is not always absolutely clear where one verse ends and the next one begins. The Torah scroll is written without punctuation, which means that there is no marking that sets different verses apart from each other. The division of the text into pesukim is a matter of tradition, and over the course of time uncertainties have arisen regarding some of the details of this issue. As an example, the gemara cites Rav Acha bar Ada, who claimed that a certain verse (Shemot 19:9) was commonly divided "in the West" into three different pesukim, despite the fact that we assume it is one verse. "The West" refers to Eretz Yisrael, which is to the west of Babylonia, where Talmudic discussions took place. There was travel back and forth, and occassionally scholars who were trained in Eretz Yisrael are quoted as testifying in Babylonia as to common halakhic practice or understanding in Eretz Yisrael.

The verse in question, which was taken as one verse in Babylonia but as three in Eretz Yisrael, reads: "And God said to Moshe, 'Behold, I am coming to you in the thick of a cloud so that the nation will hear as I speak to you and also in you they will believe forever;' and Moshe relayed the words of the nation to God." In Eretz Yisrael, the verse was divided into three: 1) "And God said to Moshe, 'Behold, I am coming to you in the thick of a cloud." 2) "So that the nation will hear as I speak to you and also in you they will believe forever." 3) "And Moshe relayed the words of the nation to God."

The gemara thus proves that we are not expert even in the number of pesukim, and cannot count them in order to confirm the precise meaning of the gemara's original teaching.

Back to the gemara

The gemara brings one final teaching regarding the text of the Torah. We are three lines from the bottom of 30a.

The rabbis taught: Five thousand, eight hundred and eighty eight verses

are the verses of a Torah scroll,


Tehillim has eight additional [verses],

Divrei Ha-yamim has eight fewer [verses].

תנו רבנן: חמשת אלפים ושמונה מאות ושמונים ושמונה פסוקים

הוו פסוקי ס"ת (=ספר תורה),

יתר עליו תהלים שמונה,

חסר ממנו דברי הימים שמונה.  

The gemara here quotes a beraita that maintains that there are 5,888 verses in the Torah. Tehillim has eight additional verses for a total of 5,896, and Divrei Ha-yamim has eight fewer, for a total of 5,880.

It should be noted that our current division of the Torah into verses places the total number of pesukim at 5,845; a difference that is presumably based on the consideration the gemara mentioned above regarding uncertainties about how to divide pesukim. The total numbers of pesukim in Tehillim and Divrei Ha-yamim also differ from the totals mentioned in the gemara.