Day 073: Seriously Geeking Out on Hebrew (Deuteronomy 8-10)

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
Isaiah 43:10

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the mezuzah–the scroll of the shema that is rolled up and placed in a box on the doorpost of every Jewish home. And if there’s anyone who just wants to geek out a little on Hebrew and Jewish culture, here’s another fun fact:

The first line of the scroll is Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Shema Israel, adonai elihenu, adonai echad.) You can see this going from right to left (because Hebrew reads from right to left).

This shema scroll has two letters that are disproportionately larger than the others: the ayin of the first word, shema, and the dalet of the last word, echad. (I circled them in red on the image above). I thought at first that this might have just been a mistake on the part of the scribe, but, oh, no. If you watched these guys work, you would know that they don’t make mistakes. If they do, the parchment and the pen are both destroyed. It turns out that EVERY Shema scroll has these two letters larger.

So how come?

Here’s what I found on another great Jewish learning site ( One explanation is that it makes sure no one makes pronunciation errors that would change the entire meaning of the prayer:

If the word shema, שמע, would be read with an aleph—which sounds very similar to the ayin—the meaning of the word would change from “hear” to “maybe,” changing a firm declaration of belief into an expression of doubt.

In other words, the meaning would change from “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God” to “Maybe, O Israel…”

Which is not what you are going for.

The article goes on:

Similarly, if the ד (dalet) of the word echad, אחד, would be mistaken for a ר (reish)—as the two look almost identical—then echad (“one”) would be read acher (“other”). This would make our belief in one God look like a belief in two gods.

Again, the scribes wanted two make certain no poor kid accidentally read “Maybe, O Israel, the Lord our God is other” on his bar mitzvah.

That would be bad.

There is yet another reason given for emphasizing these two letters. Together, these two letters together spell עד (eid), the Hebrew word for “witness.” When we recite the Shema, we attest to His primacy. This reflects the words of Isaiah 43:10:

 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.

I’m in awe of the reverence the Jewish people have for the Torah. And beloved, as you continue this Bible Recap journey this year, the Lord is growing you in your reverence for His word. Stay with it!

Day 070: The Grace of Repeating Yourself (Deuteronomy 1-2)

3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them, (Deuteronomy 1:3)

The very fact that Deuteronomy exists is a testimony to the grace of God. The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” And as we heard in the Bible Recap podcast this morning, there’s a lot of repetition in the book. It’s Moses’ farewell speech, his own Bible Recap, in which he stands on the edge of the Promised Land and lays down the law for a new generation.

Some people might think it’s unnecessary. The people had the law. Why did Moses need to repeat it? Some of us might have groaned a little when we heard Tara-Leigh introduce the book we are starting today. We’ve just slogged through two books of nothing but law. Can’t we skip “second law” and get back to the action?

And there are some people who think having to repeat yourself is a sign of bad leadership. “I told you once, and I don’t stutter” is their mantra. And if their instructions aren’t followed to a T the first time, they lose it.

For several years, I was a coordinator for a Christian summer camp. At the beginning of the summer, I helped train the young adults who would be running the camp for the rest of the summer. Then I would come back to the camp midsummer to evaluate how they were doing.

I will never forget coming back to one of my locations and talking with the Recreation Director, the staffer who was in charge of teaching the Bible study leaders the games and activities they would use to reinforce the Bible study. He was struggling. His team wasn’t following his leadership well.

I rode with him in his truck one day during recreation. The rec field was kind of a big bowl, with a road running around the rim. We stopped at a couple of places, and he would call out corrections to the Bible study leaders with his megaphone.

“This is the worst rec staff I’ve ever worked with,” he complained. “They don’t listen. They make up their own rules. They’ve forgotten everything I told them at training week.”

I looked at his truck. I looked at where we were up on the hill, compared to where the staff were, down on the rec field. I looked at the megaphone. I said, “Man, if that’s the case, what are we doing up here?”

“I stay up here so I can keep an eye on everything they’re doing wrong.” he said.

“Why aren’t you down there with them?” I asked. “You know, helping them remember?”

“Why should I have to?” he defended. “We’ve been through these games. Everything is written down. They just don’t read it.”

I told them once. And I don’t stutter.

Oh, the grace of Deuteronomy. The grace of hearing the Law a second time, and a third, a fourth, and a ten millionth. The grace of God giving the Israelites a leader who literally did stutter (Exodus 4:10). Moses probably had to repeat himself a lot. And that’s a good thing, because for forty years, the people needed to be told the same things, over and over.

The fact of Deuteronomy is a testimony to God’s patience and long-suffering. His slow-to-angerness. His abounding in steadfast love to a thousand generations. The fact of Deuteronomy points to the Incarnation itself: when God knew He couldn’t just stay at the top of the hill, keeping an eye on everything we were doing wrong, shouting His corrections to us with a megaphone.

He came down to the field and walked alongside us. Teaching. Correcting.


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