As we approach the time of the giving of our Torah, let us reflect that each and every Jew is said to be connected to an os – a letter – in the Sefer Torah, with both our inner perception and the outer reality in which we live being spun from its spiritual fabric. Since this week we are reading about the giving of the Torah let us try to broaden our understanding what possible additional insight can be culled from the halacas that there must be an adequate space between each os; and yet, on the other hand, all the letters of each word must be close enough so that they are not perceived as separated and apart?
These halachos can perhaps be seen as having the following profound implications: ]
We should always strive to allow the next person the proper distance for maintaining respect and independence, yet without sacrificing the closeness and connectedness that makes us areivim – responsible for one another. This is perhaps alluded to in these halachos between the Torah’s letters and spaces. Just as the letters must be close enough so that meaningful ideas can be communicated, we also need to be close enough to help and interact with one another; yet, just as the letters must be separate enough so that the distinction between them is not blurred or obliterated, so should we always respect our neighbors and acquaintances so as not to diminish anyone’s unique personality and identity.
The Need for Attitudinal Distance
Perhaps the parchment between each letter is analogous to the “attitudinal distance” that exists between each person. Just as the white parchment has no perceivable value, yet is crucial, so also is the need to respect the cultural and individual “space”/differences between people. This “territory” between us and others is the space/ place of opportunity for learning mutual respect, thus allowing each person to maintain his independent integrity. Through this, we will avoid our personal feelings and agendas spilling over into someone else’s borders, thereby allowing us to emulate the halacha of mukafos gevul. (Every letter of a sefer Torah must be surrounded by an area of white parchment – (Menachos 29a) and certainly a Torah scroll that is not in conformity with this requirement cannot be used until it is rectified.)
Moreover, through accomplishing this, we will also be blessed with a greater appreciation of our own unique role and place in this world.
Indeed, so essential is this “space” that the Gemara teaches that Hashem gave Moshe the Torah as white fire and black fire, with the black fire representing the written letters while the white fire represented the spaces in between (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1). We can further see this aspect of the importance of the surrounding area in the teaching that if one, chas veshalom, sees a sefer Torah burning, one must tear one’s garments twice – one time in mourning for the written words and a second time because of the parchment (Moeid Kattan 26a).
[[[In a different context, one commentator offered this profound thought: “Consciousness is always surrounded by a border of unconscious experience that itself gives shape to consciousness.” Perhaps this can be recast as follows: Thought as expressed through the black letters of the Torah is always surrounded by white borders of unconscious experience that helps to give shape to our consciousness.]]]
May this year’s Kabbalas Ha-Torah merit us once again of the miracle of having enough “space” for everyone one of us to prostrate ourselves in the holy Bais HaMigdash – may it be built soon in our days.