It had been a great morning at Joseph’s sleep-away camp. Chocolate milk for breakfast, water skiing, and archery. As he returned to his cabin, his counselor passed him a piece of mail. Joseph looked at the return address on the envelope and saw that his grandfather had written it.
He excitedly opened it and saw his grandfather’s trademark comments. Sometimes the letter that Joseph received from his grandfather was a letter that Joseph had written himself! In order to teach his grandson, Joseph’s grandfather would often mark it like a teacher (but without a grade or mark). There would be circles around the spelling mistakes, smiley faces by parts were written well, “LOL” marks near comments that were particularly funny, and short answers to the questions that Joseph had asked in his letter. Joseph felt as if he was having a conversation with his grandfather!
Joseph scanned through the letter and saw a red arrow pointing to a space near the “Dear Zaidy” part of his letter. There was a question mark and “BH” written in. Joseph was confused and showed it to his bunkmate. “What’s the problem here? Did I forget to write something?”
His friend looked at it, “BH means B’ezras Hashem. By starting your letter with a BH, you are showing respect to God”.
Joseph giggled. “Hmmm maybe I’ll respond that I didn’t want to put Hashem’s name on it or else I’d have to put the letter in sheymos afterwards!” He scribbled down this excuse on the letter.
“Maybe you’re right” said his friend. “Maybe the letter would need to be put in a sheymos box?”.
Q: What is the connection between our story and the parasha?
A: In parshas Re’eh, Bnei Yisrael are commanded to destroy all idols and to destroy the names of those idols (Devarim 12:4). The next pasuk states “You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d”(Devarim 12:4). This means that we are forbidden to destroy (erase) the name of G-d(Sifri, Devarim 61; Makkos 22a).
Q: What is a sheymos box?
A: God’s name cannot be destroyed and must be treated with respect. If God’s name is written on a piece of paper then we cannot throw it into the garbage. We place it into a special box, called a sheymos box. When the box is full, the paper inside is buried in the ground in a respectful way.
Q: Where did the tradition of honoring G-d in our letters come from?
A: During the time of Chanuka. The Yevanim made a rule that the Jews were not allowed to even mention the name of G-d. The Hasmoneans were very upset about this and made a rule that every letter that the Jews wrote should have the name of G-d (Rosh Hashana 18b).
Q: Does the halacha require us to still include God’s name in our letters?
A: No. The chachamim at the time of the Hasmoneans were not happy about their rule. They worried that it would lead to the letters with God’s name being placed in the garbage. They cancelled the Hasmoneans rule (Rosh Hashana 18b). When Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about this issue, he answered that if the letter does not relate to a topic of kedusha, then there is no good reason to add God’s name (Iggros Moshe, Vol. 2, Yoreh De’ah, no. 138).
Q: Would Joseph have to put the letter in a sheymos box if it had a “BH”?
A: If the “BH” was written in Hebrew (“Beis Hei”) then there might be an issue involved, depending on what we mean when we write the “Hei” in the “Beis Hei”:
If the intention of the Hei is an abbreviation of the word “Hashem,” it follows that the letters have no kedusha. The word “Hashem” is not holy, and it just means “The Name.” There is no problem of throwing out or destroying a paper that has the words “The Name” on it (though the reference is to the Name of Hashem), and there is likewise no problem destroying a piece of paper that his the word “Hashem” on it.
So why would it be a problem if Beis Hei is written on the letter? Because some poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Vol. 2, Yoreh De’ah, no. 138), understand that that the Hei in Beis Hei is not being used to abbreviate the word Hashem. Rather, it is being used as an abbreviation of the actual holy 4-letter Name of G-d (which has two letter Hei’s). In this case the Hei would have kedusha it should not be thrown away.
Due to this issue, some poskim recommend that we write Beis Dalet instead of Beis Hei so that there is no concern of writing any letter of G-d’s name (Maratz Chajes, no. 11). Another “safe” alternative is to write “Beis Samech Dalet” which means B’ siyata d’shmaya, “with the help of Heaven.”
If the “BH” was written in English, there there is certainly no problem. There is no letter “H” in the holy 4-letter Name. In this case it is obvious that the “H” is written as an abbreviation of the word Hashem. This was Joseph’s grandfathers suggestion. Therefore, Joseph does not have to put the letter in a sheymos box.
Sidenote: As a sign of respect we have written the word G-d with a dash and not with the full letter “o.” This practice is related to the question of writing Beis Hei – but we will leave the details for another opportunity.
(Written by Josh and Tammy Kruger, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, and based on his article: http://www.dinonline.org/2013/08/01/writeing-hashems-name/)