1) READING THE LAST EIGHT VERSES OF THE TORAH
OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes Rav who rules that the last eight verses of the Torah are read by a "Yachid" ("Yachid Korei Osan"). What does this mean?
(a) RASHI and RABEINU TAM explain that this means that during the public reading of the Torah, no break may be made in these eight verses. They must be read by one person and cannot be split into two Aliyos, with one person reading four and another reading four.
The reason for this is, as the MACHZOR VITRI (#418) writes, "in order not to make a break in relating the passing of the foundation of the world (i.e. Moshe Rabeinu)." (The authorship of the Machzor Vitri is attributed to Rashi.)
(b) TOSFOS cites RABEINU MESHULAM who explains that "Yachid Korei Osan" means that these verses must be read by one person by himself, and not by the person who has the Aliyah and by the Shali'ach Tzibur simultaneously. RABEINU TAM points out that this explanation is difficult to understand, because the Halachah is that all parts of the Torah must be read by one person and not by two people together, for "two voices together are not heard" (Megilah 21b).
(c) The RI MI'GASH cited by the Shitah Mekubetzes in Bava Basra (15a) explains that "Yachid Korei Osan" means that the person who reads the verses before the last eight verses should not continue and read these verses until the end of the Torah, because he would be reading both the verses that Moshe Rabeinu transcribed and the verses that Yehoshua transcribed. Rather, there should be a separation between the verses of Moshe Rabeinu and those of Yehoshua. A separate reader should read the last eight verses so that it will be evident that they are unique.
(d) The RI MI'GASH there gives another explanation which is the opposite of his first. "Yachid Korei Osan" means that the person who read the verses preceding the last eight verses must continue and read these verses with no interruption, in order not to make it appear as though these verses are different from the rest of the Torah.
(e) The MORDECHAI cited by the DARCHEI MOSHE and PERISHAH (OC 428) writes that a "Yachid" refers to a Talmid Chacham, who is called a "Yachid" in the sense that he is unique, singular, exceptional. The Gemara means that the last eight verses of the Torah must be read by a Talmid Chacham. (This is the practice today of giving a Talmid Chacham the honor of Chasan Torah.)
(f) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Tefilah 13:6) writes that "it is permitted to read the last eight verses of the Torah in the synagogue without a Minyan. Even though it is part of the Torah written by Moshe as he heard it from Hash-m, nevertheless since these verses discuss the time after the death of Moshe, they are to be treated differently. Therefore, a Yachid (without a Minyan) is permitted to read them." The KESEF MISHNEH explains that the Rambam understands that "Yachid Korei Osan" means that a Yachid, a person without a Minyan, is permitted to read these verses from a Sefer Torah, in contrast all other parts of the Torah which may be read only with a Minyan.
(See the RA'AVAD there who rejects the Rambam's explanation, and see the KESEF MISHNEH there and CHASAM SOFER who defend it.) (I. Alsheich)
2) HOW THE LAST EIGHT VERSES OF THE TORAH WERE WRITTEN
QUESTION: Rebbi Shimon in the Beraisa maintains that the last eight verses of the Torah, which describe the death of Moshe Rabeinu, were written by Moshe Rabeinu himself. However, they differ from all other verses in the Torah in that the rest of the Torah was spoken by Hash-m and Moshe repeated the words and wrote them down, while these eight verses were spoken by Hash-m and Moshe did not repeat them, and he wrote them "b'Dema" -- "with tears."
What does Rebbi Shimon mean when he says that Moshe Rabeinu wrote the last eight verses "b'Dema"?
Moreover, how does Rebbi Shimon's words answer the question posed by the Beraisa. The Beraisa is bothered by a question: how could Moshe Rabeinu have written the words, "va'Yamas Sham Moshe" -- "And Moshe died there" (Devarim 34:5), if he was still alive? The first Tana in the Beraisa answers that it was Yehoshua who wrote those verses, after the death of Moshe. Rebbi Shimon answers that Moshe wrote those verses "b'Dema." How does Rebbi Shimon's statement answer the question?
(a) The RITVA in Bava Basra (15a) and the MIZRACHI (on Rashi, Devarim 34:5) explain that Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses in the Torah literally with his tears ("b'Dema"). The MAHARSHA in Bava Basra adds that since these words were written differently from the rest of the Torah, there is no concern that it will look strange that Moshe Rabeinu wrote the verses describing his death. Similarly, the fact that Moshe Rabeinu did not repeat the words when Hash-m spoke them is another difference between these verses and the rest of the Torah, so that there is no concern that it will look strange that Moshe Rabeinu wrote the verses about his death.
(b) The MAHARAL (Gur Aryeh to Devarim 34:5) rejects the Ritva's explanation. He asserts that since a Sefer Torah is invalid if it is written with tears and not with proper ink, it cannot be that Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses with his tears. Had he written these verses in his Sefer Torah with his tears, he would not have been able to say, "Lako'ach Es Sefer ha'Torah ha'Zeh..." (Devarim 31:26), as Rebbi Shimon himself asks on the view of Rebbi Yehoshua.
The Maharal explains instead that "b'Dema" means that Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses "while he was crying." His crying was the beginning of his death, the start of the exit of his Neshamah from his body. Accordingly, Moshe Rabeinu was fully justified in writing, "va'Yamas Sham Moshe" -- "And Moshe died there," since his death had already begun.
(c) The VILNA GA'ON explains that "b'Dema" means "a mixture." Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses with "a mixture." That is, the Torah can be interpreted in many ways, depending on how the words are read, where the letters are divided, and where the pauses are placed. Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses in such a way that they expressed an entirely different message. Only after he died did the actual meaning of the verses become clear; they were a description of Moshe Rabeinu's death.
(d) Another way to understand this Gemara may be derived from the explanation of the BRISKER RAV. The Brisker Rav explains the difference between the rest of the verses of the Torah, which Moshe Rabeinu wrote only after he had repeated the words that Hash-m said, and the last eight verses of the Torah, which Moshe wrote without repeating the words that Hash-m said. The Brisker Rav explains that the concept of "Omer v'Kosev," saying the words and then writing them, means that the Torah was given to Moshe Rabeinu to learn and then to write. The last eight verses of the Torah were given only for Moshe to write, but not for him to learn.
Based on this explanation, the Beraisa's question may be understood in a different way. When the Beraisa asks, "Is it possible that Moshe was still alive and he wrote the words, 'And Moshe died,'" it is asking how Moshe Rabeinu could have learned these verses of the Torah when the events they describe had not yet happened. There is no meaning that one can understand until the event has happened; only once the event has happened is it possible to learn the words that describe that event.
The Beraisa answers that although Moshe Rabeinu was required to learn the rest of the Torah before he wrote it, he was not required to learn the last eight verses before he wrote them. It was Moshe Rabeinu's task to teach the rest of the Torah to the Jewish people. The last eight verses were different. Moshe Rabeinu's task was to write these verses without learning the words.
The Gemara mentions that Moshe Rabeinu wrote these verses "with tears" in his eyes. What is the significance of tears being in his eyes while he wrote these verses? Perhaps the rest of the Torah was recorded not only to have a written record of Hash-m's word, but to enable Moshe Rabeinu to teach Torah to the Jewish people. This purpose did not apply to the last eight verses, since they could not be learned as long as Moshe Rabeinu was alive. Therefore, Moshe Rabeinu wrote them "with tears" to show that he would not have a chance to teach these verses to the Jewish people, and that the only purpose in writing them was to have a written Sefer Torah.
This explains how Moshe Rabeinu could write these words while he was still alive. Moshe Rabeinu was required to write the Sefer Torah exactly in accordance with the words that Hash-m spoke to him. To write whatever Hash-m spoke to him, even though the events described by those words might not yet have occurred, is not a problem (indeed, the entire Torah existed before the world was created). The problem was learning these verses and teaching them; an event that had not yet happened could not be learned, taught, and expounded. Since there was no "speaking" of these words by Moshe Rabeinu, and they were written "with tears," there was no learning or teaching of these verses, and thus Moshe Rabeinu was able to write these verses while he was still alive. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)
3) HALACHAH: WRITING A SIX-LETTER WORD AT THE END OF A LINE
OPINIONS: The Gemara rules that when writing a Sefer Torah, if one nears the end of a line but is left with a word that contains five letters (and there is not enough space to write the entire word within the column), one may write three letters of the word within the column, and two letters outside of the column (in the margin), such that the majority of the word is within the column. He should not write two letters within the column and three letters outside of the column.
What is the proper course of action to take when one needs to write a six-letter word at the end of a line, and there is room to write only three letters within the column?
(a) The ROSH rules that there should never be three or more letters outside of the column, even if a majority of the letters of the word (such as in a seven-letter word) are within the column. The Rosh proves this from the fact that the Gemara does not state as a general rule that one always must write most, or half, of the letters of a word inside the column. It must be that it is not the majority of the letters that determines where the word is written, but rather how many letters will be written outside the column -- two (or less) letters, or three (or more).
(b) The RAMBAM disagrees with the Rosh and maintains that a six-letter word may be written partially outside of the column, with three letters outside of the column. The main point is that there not be a majority of letters of a word outside of the column.
How does the Rambam explain the Rosh's proof? If the Gemara means that the determining factor is whether or not a majority of the letters of a word are written outside of the column, then why does it not say so explicitly?
The BACH writes that the answer is based on another Halachah mentioned in the Gemara. The Gemara says that a two-letter word must not be written outside of the column. What, though, is the Halachah with regard to writing two letters of a three-letter word outside of the column? It is obvious that one letter of a three-letter word may be written outside of the column, with the other two letters written inside the column, since the Gemara says that a five-letter word may be written with the majority of letters inside the column and the rest outside. Perhaps one may not write two letters of a three-letter word outside of the column, since the letters outside of the column constitute a majority of the word. On the other hand, perhaps one may write two letters of a three-letter word outside of the column, since only two letters are outside of the column, and one is permitted to write two letters outside of the column when they are part of a larger word.
The ROSH infers from the Gemara that one is permitted to write two letters of a three-letter word outside of the column. The Gemara says that a two-letter word may not be written outside of the column. This implies that only when those two letters constitute an entire word is it prohibited to write them outside of the column, but when they are part of a larger word (even a word with only three letters), those two letters may be written outside of the column.
According to this ruling, the Bach refutes the Rosh's own proof that three letters of a six-letter word may not be written outside of the column. The Rosh asserts that it must be prohibited to write three letters (of a six-letter word) outside of the column, because if it is permitted, then the Gemara should state a general rule that whenever a majority, or half, of the word is written inside the column, the rest may be written outside of the column. As the Bach points out, the Gemara could not have given such a general rule because it would not be true in the case of a three-letter word! In the case of a three-letter word, one is permitted to write two letters outside of the column, even though a majority of the word is not written inside of the column. Since the Gemara cannot state as a general rule that whenever a majority of the word is written inside the column, the rest may be written outside of the column, it expresses the rule by saying that three letters of a five-letter word may not be written outside of the column. However, three letters of a six-letter or seven-letter word may be written outside of the column, since the majority (or at least half; see following Insight) remains inside the column, as the Rambam rules.
The VILNA GA'ON (Bi'ur ha'Gra OC 32) disagrees with the Bach and writes that, according to the Rambam, there is a general rule that requires half or a majority of the letters to be inside the column, including the letters of a three-letter word. According to this, the Bach's refutation of the Rosh's proof does not apply, because the general rule that the Gemara could have expressed indeed would have applied to a three-letter word as well. Accordingly, the proof of the Rosh remains a question on the opinion of the Rambam. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)
4) WRITING HALF OF A WORD IN THE MARGIN
QUESTION: The Gemara rules that when writing a Sefer Torah, if one nears the end of a line but is left with a word that contains only two letters (and there is not enough space to write the entire word within the column), one may not write the two-letter word outside of the column, but rather he should write the word at the beginning of a new line.
The RAMBAM (see previous Insight) maintains that a word may have some of its letters written outside of the column (in the margin) as long a majority, or at least half, of the letters of the word are written within the column.
The Rambam's source that the majority of a word must be written inside the column is clear. The Gemara says explicitly that a five-letter word must have at least three letters written inside the column. What, though, is the source for the Rambam's opinion that it suffices for half of the word to be written inside the column, with the other half in the margin?
ANSWER: The Rambam infers from the Gemara here that it suffices to write half of a word inside the column and the other half in the margin. The Gemara says that a two-letter word may not be written entirely in the margin. This implies that half of a two-letter word may be written in the margin, with half inside the column.
Not everyone agrees with this inference. The LEVUSH rules that a two-letter word may not be split, with one letter in the column and one in the margin. The Levush apparently understands that when the Gemara says that "one should not cast" ("Lo Yizrekenah") a two-letter word between the columns (into the margin), it means that one should not cast even part of a two letter word between the columns. All of the Acharonim, however, disagree with the Levush's understanding of the Gemara. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)