Off the 'kaf'

Font change in one of the letters within a word in the Torah scroll is rare.

Torah scroll (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Torah scroll
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Genesis 23 opens with the death of our beloved matriarch, Sarah. Through it all, she stood by Abraham’s side to bring the heathen world to know God.
Despite personal challenges – not conceiving for many years after marrying Abraham; the internal strife with Hagar; being placed in compromising situations with foreign kings – Sarah dedicated her life to the Almighty.
The Bible never records the age of its women when they pass away, but God makes an exception with Sarah to accentuate her life of holiness.
When Abraham learns of his soul mate’s death, the verse says he “came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her” (23:2). This was no ordinary cry, for the Hebrew word describing Abraham’s mourning is stylistically written differently than other terms related to weeping penned in the Torah scroll.
Rarely do you have a font change in one of the letters within a word that appears in the Torah scroll. When it occurs, it is time to learn its lesson.
The first letter font change in the Bible appears in the opening of Genesis: In “In the beginning” – Bereshit – the letter bet appears larger than the other letters. The second typeface alteration is when Abraham mourns for Sarah: v’livkota – to weep for her. The letter kaf in the middle of the word is smaller than the other letters. The question is whether the typography change indicates an excessive wailing or restraint in mourning.
Commentaries advocating that it was a “wailing cry” interpret the size change of the letter kaf as representative of keter – crown (the word keter begins with the letter kaf).
As King Solomon writes in Proverbs, “The woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” With the passing of Sarah, Abraham’s crown (the kaf) was diminished. A committed partner in their shared prophetic mission to the world, confidant and spiritual friend, Sarah was everything to Abraham.
When she died, he lost his better half and a part of him.
Others look at the kaf’s decreased size as an indication that Abraham restrained himself from excessively mourning over his wife. Having just returned from the emotional episode of the Binding of Isaac, Abraham is immediately faced with the death of his partner in life. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his future for God, passing the ultimate test, only to find that the Lord took away his beloved.
At that moment, Abraham could have regretted everything he did for the Lord, for what type of God would play such a cruel trick? In Jewish liturgy, in the Evening Prayer we ask God “to remove Satan from before us and after us.” Satan is always trying to challenge us not to do God’s Will, but he is also looking for ways to undo the effects of obeying God’s commands by getting us to regret our obedience. Abraham restrained his mourning over Sarah to demonstrate that he had no regrets doing God’s Will, thus outsmarting Satan.
Another possible interpretation is to translate v’livkota as “to shed a tear for her.” Indeed, for the righteous person convinced of the immortality of the soul, suffering the death of a loved one means only a temporary separation and does not give way to excessive sadness. Abraham has lost his partner in this world, the human awareness of loss is present, but he knows full well that she is in a better place within the divine presence of God.
The letter kaf represents the aspect of submitting oneself to a greater power, and the literal meaning of the word “kaf” is the “open palm of a hand.” In the Book of Job we read: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Abraham understood that this world is run by a higher power; we are God’s agents to submit to Him and carry out His Will. The grave is not the final destination of a human being, and there will be a time when we will say: “And it shall be said on that day: ‘Behold, this is our God! We have placed our hope in Him, that He might save us; this is the Lord, for Whom we have waited; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).