Contact Us

WhY the LargE LetterS?

WhY the LargE LetterS?



Why are the final letters of the first and last words of the Shema larger than all the others in the Torah scroll?


One of the many explanations is that we enlarge those letters to ensure that they are read properly.

If the word shema, שמע, would be read with an aleph—which sounds very similar to the ayin—the meaning of the word would change from “hear” to “maybe,” changing a firm declaration of belief into an expression of doubt.

Similarly, if the ד (dalet) of the word echad, אחד, would be mistaken for a ר (reish)—as the two look almost identical—then echad (“one”) would be read acher (“other”). This would make our belief in one G‑d look like a belief in two gods.

Another explanation the commentaries cite is these two letters together spell עד (eid), the Hebrew word for “witness.” When we recite the Shema, we attest to His primacy. This reflects the words of Isaiah (43:10), “You are my witnesses . . .”

Vayikra Rabbah 19:2; Baal Haturim and Kli Yakar to Deuteronomy 6:4.
Rabbi Chaim Vogel is a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous December 24, 2013

To Anon in Winnipeg Reading the shema accurately is very important, Speech has a life of its own, affecting how we feel about things, and can lead to action.

Far from being contrived, it's a way to preserve the meaning and the spirit of a fundamental Jewish truth. In a world where there were/are detractors from monotheism, the rabbis sought methods to emphasize the eternal unity of G-d. Reply

ruth housma marshfield hills, ma August 12, 2011

the Hebrew Letters I find that wherever I am, certainly in Nature, I see them everywhere. Maybe it's a deepening of perception.

For example, YOD YOD, our quotation marks. For example, the branching candelabras of trees and their limbs, also in myriad plants... the SHIN, a Menorah.

Maybe it's just the eye of this poet, but it's what I see. As in the letters arising out of the flames of fire, and the rose itself.

How beautiful there is in the English "shine" the Hebrew word for the letter, SHIN, and how awesome that shin to me is a menorah, and that is for shining.

Who wrote this script? Is language, Divine?
Are the letters sparks of fire? Are they holy, and then, if they are, use them wisely and well, for LOVE. Reply

Graham Rael-Brook Los Alamitos, CA/USA August 12, 2011

The Shemah I feel the first explanation is contrived but accept and like the second. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 9, 2011

a beautiful explication We learn something new and beautiful each day, and often, many things. It seems a process of discovery for us all.

When you wrote EID, there was an echo for me, of the Moslem word EID that I think refers to their time of fasting. It could be a meaning that is transcendent, as Witness. And I find this beautiful!

I love reading these pages of Chabad, because there is just so much to learn and to share. Thank you! Reply

e Harlem, NY November 16, 2009

I lovE thE titlE very cute. Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada November 3, 2009

Joel and Brooklyn Thank you for expanding on this. Much appreciated. Reply

M H Brooklyn, NY United States November 2, 2009

to anonymous in winnipeg the topic can be viewed from the opposite angle. the big letters and small letters and all the other textual variations have myriad levels of explanations and inner meanings. the Talmud says that Rabbi Akiva would create mountains of halachos, jewish law, based on the tagin, the crowns that are written on some of the letters in the torah scroll. Rabbi Vogel and others are giving you glimpses of their hidden depth. Reply

Joel Català Barcelona, Catalonia/Spain November 2, 2009

A witness must also know Also: if you read the two larger letters from left to right it spells the word "dah", which means "know": the proper manner of being a reliable witness ("ed") is to know. (Learned from from Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb.) Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada October 30, 2009

other reasons Can you give a few other reasons ? Like something kabbalistic as opposed to reading errors. Reply

Steven Calascione Malta October 28, 2009

Wonderful, beyond words And the Lord shall become King over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one.

Zechariah 14:9 Reply

Anonymous PGH, PA October 28, 2009

Beautiful Beautiful answer to a most basic question I have always been wondering! Reply

Anonymous oak pArk, Detroit October 28, 2009

Thank you Nice, short and to the point. Reply

Related Topics