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Parashat Vayechi - Why is "Yehuda" Special This Week?  by Shamai Leibowitz

01/05/2015 11:43:37 AM


In writing a Sefer Torah, the scribe has has wide latitude on how to place the words in the columns. There is no halachic or mesorah imperative that the columns start or end with any particular word, and the scrolls vary from sefer to sefer. Although some Sifrei Torah start all the columns with a “vav,” this custom is controversial, with sages such as Maimonides opposing it because it caused the scribes to stretch out letters to accommodate this layout, which made the Sefer Torah look deformed.

However, there are 6 exceptions to the “free formatting” rule. Six words in the Torah must appear at the top of the column. As mentioned already by Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri (13th century, France), the scribe must plan his writing so that these six words - spread throughout the Torah -  will appear at the top of a column. These six letters are: 
ב "bet"
י "yud"
ה "hey"
ש "shin"
מ "mem," and
 ו "vav." 
Notice that they form the Hebrew acronym: ביה שמו (pronounced BeYaH SHMO), which, coincidentally, has a nice meaning: "with G-d's name."
​So what do these letters stand for? 
The “bet” of BeYaH SHMO - is obvious: It's the first word of the Torah – “breishit”
​ which naturally comes at the top of the column​

In this week’s parsha, we find the second word that must appear at the top of the column. The “yud” from BeYaH SHMO is the first letter of the name “Yehuda” in the verse:

יְהוּדָה, אַתָּה יוֹדוּךָ אַחֶיךָ

(Breishit 49:8)

Why did Yehuda receive this great honor? 
I didn't find any explanation in the commentaries but my suggestion is that it's because he had the courage to admit his mistakes. 
In the story of his daughter-in-law Tamar, Yehuda admitted publicly that it was he who had sexual relations with her, and canceled his own decree to burn her at the stake (see Genesis ch. 38). 
In the story of the brothers in Egypt, Yehuda stood up for his younger brother Benjamin, and when Benjamin was falsely accused of stealing the goblet, Yehuda made a deeply moving speech, offering to remain as a servant in Egypt as long as Benjamin will be freed. That speech begins with the words "Vayigash Eilav Yehuda" ("Then Yehuda approached him") and the S'fat Emet understands these words to mean, "Yehuda approached himself." He discovered who he really was, not the compromiser who said "Let us sell him . . . " [selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites] causing his father boundless grief, but the advocate for compassion and family harmony.  
​In our shul, Chaim, who received the fourth aliyah on Shabbos, verified that “yehuda” was at the top of the column, and assured the congregation of the validity of our synagogue's Sefer Torah. 

Happy, Healthy & Prosperous New Year!
Wed, August 10 2022 13 Av 5782