What’s the longest word in the Torah?
There is only one ten letter word in the Torah, uvmisharotecha meaning ‘and in your kneading troughs. It’s a description in the book of Shemot of the extent to which the plague of frogs affected the Egyptian nation, coming into all parts of their existence.
Now, what is the shortest word in the Torah? You might say ‘come on… there are many two letter words: ‘al’, ‘el’, ‘kol’. But actually there is one single letter word. It’s in Devarim, chapter 32, verse 6. at the beginning of parshat Ha’azinu. Moshe, who is about to pass away, wants to give us a critically important message for our lives and he says: “Ha Lashem tigmalu zot” – “Is this how you’re repaying Hashem your God?” “Am naval vlo chacham” – “a vile nation that is not wise”.
Usually, we would say ‘HaLashem’, as one word, but if you have a look in the Torah – it is in bold and it is a separate word. And indeed the masoretic note in every Chumash indicates that this is a single lettered word. So why do we have this extraordinary phenomenon?
The theme is a most important one: how do we repay Hashem’s kindness? He has created us. He has created this word. He gives us of his chesed continuously – as a nation, as individuals and as families and keeps us going against the odds. And if we behave in a vile manner then it is ‘lo chacham’ – we are simply not being clever. I find this to be very special because the Torah could have said ‘you’re being foolish’ – but actually ‘lo chacham’ really means something important to us because as a people, we strive to be ‘chachamim’, we try our best to be wise. We study. We educate others. We utilise the information that we learn in order to enhance our lives and our environment. And here Moshe is telling us we’re not wise when we don’t respect the existence of Hashem and we don’t repay his kindness in an appropriate way.
Moshe Rabeinu wants us to know that there may be many paths to an appreciation of the existence and the greatness of the almighty. Of course we feel his presence emotionally, through great moments of spirituality, we feel his presence in our hearts. But ultimately, one must achieve an appreciation of the almighty through ‘chachma’ – ‘wisdom’. Some of the greatest minds, some of the most brilliant people in this world, know about the truth of the concept of a creator and the existence of Hashem and the truth of every single word, indeed every letter, in our Torah.
Three times a day in the amidah prayer, we declare ‘ata chonein ladam da’at’ – ‘thank you God for giving us knowledge’. It is with that knowledge that we must thank Hashem for what he has done, is doing and will always do for us. And all of this we learn from the shortest word in the Torah.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis