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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5777

Ein Ayah: The Difference a Letter Makes

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 5:30)

Gemara: [We saw last time how a mark was placed on the foreheads of different levels of people slated for tragedy due to the sins of some and the lack of protest of others. Now we will look at the significance of the word for this mark – tav – which is also the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.]  What is unique about a tav? Tav [is used in] tichyeh” (you shall live); tav [is used in] “tamut” (you shall die).


Ein Ayah: Individuals, from whom the whole is consisted, are always divided in the spirit of a person between good and evil. The difference between good and evil cannot be built on individual occurrences. Sometimes an evil person will do something good and righteous, and sometimes a righteous person will stumble into a sin. If we want to say that we should determine the matter based on the majority of his actions, it is hard to factor in the value of each sin and each merit.

The main factor is whether a person’s existence is beneficial to the world and he thus has merit that justifies his life, or whether his existence causes damage, and he has lost his right to exist. This is something that can be determined only by calculating all of his strengths and weaknesses together. If, in the sum total of all his inclinations and strengths, one leans to the side of good and righteousness, then he is fit for survival. If it is to the side of evil, he is slated for death.

The sign provided by the last letter of the alphabet is that which determines the outcome of the entire “building.” The way this system works, the final decision is not based on something that occurs at that time. Rather, it just gathers all the varied indications from the person’s life and displays them in one “folder.” When they are all in one unit, then if the whole picture is one which warrants life, the weighing system indicates that the decision is to be made for life. If the inclination is toward evil, then there is an indication of death. All that the decision process did is to take the root situation and attach an element that makes it ready to be carried out.

In the case of the tav, if all the actions and emotions the person possesses make him one fitting for life, then the tav is added to “life” and indicates “you shall live.” In the opposite situation, the tav joins with “death” and the result is “you shall die.”

It is not at the time of crucial decisions, when there is anger and despair in the world and people’s fates are determined one way or the other, that a person can start putting together his portfolio of value. Rather, the basis is that which he compiled at quiet times, during his normal life. It is just that at the time of ruckus and danger that the operative decision will be made to finish off the process. It is like the tav in these words, which serves just as an addition to the root that determines how it will be used.

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