By Rabbi Daniel Travis
…There they buried Yitzchak and his wife Rivka; there I buried Leah. (Bereshith 49:31)
Yaakov’s words require close examination: regarding his father Yitzchak he
said, “they buried Yitzchak,” while in reference to his wife Leah he
said, “I buried Leah.” Although Yaakov himself had buried Yitzchak, since
Esav had accompanied him, it would not have been altogether correct for
him to say, “I buried Yitzchak.” Because he buried Leah himself, he was
careful to use the first person when referring to her burial. Similarly,
although Pharaoh spoke to Moshe in the plural out of respect, Moshe spoke
to Pharaoh about himself in the singular in order to avoid any trace of
We might tend to consider this meticulous attention to every grammatical
nuance a bit unrealistic. After all, human beings are not perfect, and
some mistakes can be expected in the natural order of day-to-day living
and communicating. Why worry about the possibility of making a slight
error in grammar or spelling?
Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt”l once gave his son a letter to deliver to his
daughter Chasya. As his son was on his way out of the house, Rav Chaim
called him back. He then made a correction in the spelling of his
daughter’s name and returned the letter to his son to deliver. Rav Chaim
explained to his son that perhaps one day the Rav in the town where his
daughter lived might need to know the correct spelling of the name Chasya,
and he wanted to make sure that he had spelled it correctly. Several years
later, a bill of divorce had to be written for a woman named Chasya who
lived in the very town where Chasya, the daughter of Rav Chaim, lived.
Indeed, the Rav of the town approached Rav Chaim’s daughter to ask her if
she had in her possession a letter from her father, which would enable him
to verify the spelling of the name Chasya!
The Vilna Gaon once said that, just as we can be sure that we will find no
non-kosher food in the home of a talmid chacham, so we can be sure that we
will find no error in the writings of a talmid chacham.2 The Saba from
Kelm explained that a spelling mistake can be considered a form of
sheker, even if nothing detrimental will result from it.3 Both the words
of the Vilna Gaon and those of the Saba from Kelm endorse a high standard
of truthfulness, and they can teach us a valuable lesson. If we are
careful about the accuracy of details such as the spelling and grammar of
our words, we will learn to be mindful of every word we speak and write,
doing our best to ensure that there is no falsehood there.
1. Ramban, Shemoth 10:17. See also the article entitled “The Meaning Is
Clear” (page 11) on Bereshith 1:1, regarding use of the plural form in
Hebrew as a sign of respect.
2. MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 121.
3. Chovoth HaTov, cited in Titein Emeth L’Yaakov, p. 61.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org