The Gemara clearly establishes that the letter Vav of the word "Gachon" is
the middle letter of the Torah. The Beraisa in Sofrim (9:2) states that for
this reason the Vav there is written larger than other letters, which
denotes that it marks a unique position in the Sefer Torah.
However, if one actually counts the letters of the Torah, one will notice
that the Vav of "Gachon" is *not* the middle letter of the Sefer Torah!
There are 304,801 letters in the Torah (according to the count of Rav Yakov
Auerbach, zt'l, or 304,805 according to the traditional listing at the end
of Sefer Devarim in the standard Mikra'os Gedolos). The Vav of "Gachon" is
not located at the midpoint letter (#152,403) but rather it is nearly 5,000
letters later (at letter #157,336! Although Rav Yosef himself said that we
are not expert in knowing the identity of the "Chaseros v'Yeseros," this
does not seem to explain the great discrepancy of 5000 letters. (Among all
of the known traditions for the text of the Sefer Torah that have been
handed down through the generations among the various different Jewish
congregations around the world, there are only nine differences in
How is it, then, that the Gemara says that the Vav of "Gachon" is the
mid-point of the Sefer Torah?
(a) RAV ELIYAHU POSEK (Piskei Eliyahu 3:1) answers that perhaps the Sofrim
who counted the letters meant the following. Many words in the Torah should
be written with a Vav or Yud, and yet the Torah omits those letters for
exegetical purposes (or it adds those letters when the word could have been
written without them). If one were to compile a list of all of the Vavs and
Yuds that the Torah excludes or includes when it should not have,
grammatically, then he would find that the Vav of "Gachon" would be located
at the middle of the list (it is assumed that "Gachon" itself should really
be written without a Vav).
We would then explain the Gemara as follows: Rav Yosef asked whether the Vav
of "Gachon" is the last letter of the first half of this list of letters, or
the first letter of the second half of the list. In order to determine the
answer, it was recommended that they count all the letters that are included
or excluded when they should not have been. Rav Yosef responded that since
they lacked the grammatical expertise necessary to determine in which words
the Vav and Yud would serve as extra letters and in which words they were
part of the actual word, they would not know which letters to count. (See
article by Rav Yitzchak Zilber in "Shma'atsin," volume 43, for a similar
(b) Another question arises with regard to the number of letters in a Sefer
Torah. The ZOHAR CHADASH (Shir ha'Shirim, p. 74) states that there are
600,000 letters in the Sefer Torah, corresponding to the 600,000 souls of
the twelve tribes of the Jewish people. Similarly, the MEGALEH AMUKOT
(Va'eschanan #186) says that the soul of every Jew stems from one of the
600,000 letters in the Torah. The name "Yisrael" itself can be viewed as an
acronym for the words, "*Y*esh *S*hishim *R*ibo *O*siyos *L*a'Torah" ("there
are sixty myriads (i.e. 600,000) letters in the Torah").
How can the Zohar Chadash say that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah,
when our count yields almost half of that number?
The ZOHAR CHADASH (loc. cit.) itself gives an answer and suggests that when
counting the letters of the Torah, we must not count each letter as a single
letter. Rather, we must count each letter according to the number of letters
it comprises when its name is spelled out. For instance, Alef is counted as
Alef, Lamed, and Fei, or three letters. Bet is spelled Bet, Yud, Tav, or
three letters. Gimmel is spelled Gimmel, Yud, Mem, Lamed, or four letters.
If all the letters of the Torah are counted in this manner, explains the
Zohar, there will be six hundred thousand letters in the Torah.
The Zohar's method of counting may also explain how the Vav of "Gachon" is
actually the halfway mark of the Sefer Torah. The number of letters before
that Vav may equal the number of letters following it, if they are counted
in the above manner. Rav Yosef, in pointing out his lack of expertise in
"Chaseros v'Yeseros," might also have been explaining why he was not able to
duplicate the Zohar's method of counting. Many letters of the Alef Bet can
be spelled either with or without supplementary Vavs and Yuds to aid in
their pronunciation. For example, Bet can be spelled Bet, Yud, Tav, or Bet,
Tav. Vav can be spelled Vav, Yud, Vav, or Vav, Vav, and so on As a result,
our ignorance regarding the spelling of many of the Torah's letters prevents
us from properly counting how many letters precede and succeed the Vav of
(c) RAV SHNEUR ZALMAN OF LIADY (the author of the Tanya) provides another
answer (LIKUTEI TORAH, Behar, p. 43). He writes that in order to count
600,000 letters, we must add to every vowel that lacks a supplementary
letter, that supplementary letter. For example, it is possible to add an
Alef or Heh after every Patach or Kamatz vowel that is not followed by a
Alef or Heh (see Rashi, beginning of Kesuvos 69b, and end of Makos 7b). A
Vav can be added after every Cholem or Kubutz vowel, and a Yud after every
Chirik or Tzerei vowel. If all these additions are made, there will be
600,000 letters in the Torah.
This, too, would explain Rav Yosef's statement here in Kidushin. The Vav in
"Gachon" is the middle letter in the Torah after all the vowels lacking
supplementary letters are supplemented. But, explains Rav Yosef, we lack
expertise with regard to which vowels can support an extra letter without
changing the word's meanings and which vowels cannot. As a result, we do not
know which of these unwritten supplementary letters are to be counted.
According to these answers, Rav Yosef's doubts were only in regard to
counting what is *not* written in the Sefer Torah itself. His doubt has no
bearing on what is written in the Sefer Torah.
(d) The above answers are speculative, because if we follow the formula of
the Zohar Chadash and count each letter as either two, three, or even four
letters, then there would be far more than 600,000 letters in the Torah.
There would be at least 800,000 letters. On the other hand, if we follow the
formula of the Likutei Torah and count all of the supplemented letters of
the unsupplemented vowels, then there would be far less than 600,000
letters, since many vowels of the Torah are already written in supplemented
form and thus would not receive additional letters. (See RAV REUVEN
MARGOLIOS in HA'MIKRA V'HA'MESORAH, chapters 4 and 12, for a compilation of
various other answers. Rav Margolios raises difficulties with all of these
other answers and then offers his own answer. See also TORAH SHELEIMAH,
volume 27, pp. 286-9; THE HANDBOOK OF JEWISH THOUGHT by Rav Aryeh Kaplan,
ch. 7, fn. 108; and PERI TZADIK of Rav Tzadok ha'Kohen, beginning of
Perhaps we might suggest a different approach to both the question of the
mid-point Vav and that of the missing 300,000 letters. There is a tradition
that at the beginning of every new Parshah section in the Sefer Torah a
space the width of nine letters must be left blank (RAMBAM, Hilchos Sefer
Torah 8:1). The BEIS YOSEF (YD 275) points out that the letters of the Torah
are of different widths, so the size of a space nine letters wide will
depend on which letter is used as a model. Since the tradition does not
specify which letter to use, the Beis Yosef rules that nine widths of the
smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the Yud, will suffice.
It is now possible to understand how the Vav of "Gachon" is the middle
letter of the Torah and how there are 600,000 letters in the Torah.
According to the Beis Yosef, an unspecified letter does not refer to an
average-sized letter, but rather to the smallest letter. When counting the
letters of the Torah, perhaps we should not count each character as a single
letter. Rather, letters which must [Halachically] be written with the width
of two Yuds count as two "letters." A large letter, such as the Shin, counts
as three letters since its width is as wide as three Yuds (the Shin is
comprised of three Yuds extending from a base). In fact, if we allow another
bit of space to separate each of the Yuds of the top of the Shin from each
other, the Shin is two bits *more* than three Yuds wide.
Simple calculation reveals that there are only 4 letters that are one
Yud-width wide: Vav, Zayin, Yud, and Nun Sofis (final Nun). There are two
letters that are a Yud and a half wide: Gimmel and Nun (due to their bases).
Fifteen letters are two Yud-widths wide, five letters are two plus-a-bit
Yud-widths wide, and one letter is three-plus-two-bits Yud-widths wide. This
nearly doubles the number of letters in the Sefer Torah! Therefore, if each
letter is counted by its Yud-widths, there will be 600,000 letters in the
This suggestion can also explain Rav Yosef's statement that lack of
expertise with regard to "Chaseros v'Yeseros" prevents us from placing the
Vav of "Gachon" at the center of the Torah. Perhaps "Chaseros v'Yeseros"
does not refer to *vowels* and *words* that are lacking or expanded with
supplementary letters. Rather, it refers to *letters* that are lacking or
supplemented in their widths. Masoretically, certain letters in the Sefer
Torah are written in one place either smaller (i.e. lacking) or larger (i.e.
supplemented) than in other places. For example, the Alef in the word
"Vayikra" (Vayikra 1:1) is written smaller than usual, and so is the Yud in
the word "Teshi" (Devarim 32:18). The Beis of the first word in the Torah,
"Bereishis," is written larger than normal, and so is the Vav in "Gachon."
When the Sofrim stated that the Vav of "Gachon" is the midpoint of the
Torah, perhaps they meant that if all the letters of the Torah were to be
counted by their Yud-widths, this Vav would be the center of the Torah. When
Rav Yosef commented that we cannot confirm this statement due to our lack of
expertise in "Chaseros v'Yeseros," he may have meant that we do not know
which letters to enlarge or shrink, and how much to enlarge them or to
shrink them, due to an uncertainty in the Mesorah. Nevertheless, this
uncertainty would not render a doubt as to the validity of today's Sifrei
Torah. The RAMBAM states explicitly (Hilchos Sefer Torah 6:9) that if a
letter is made larger or smaller than its true Masoretic size, it does not
invalidate a Sefer Torah. Our own Sifrei Torah can now be seen as having
600,000 letters, and the Vav of "Gachon" may truly be the central letter of
those 600,000 letters. (The general basis of this approach is suggested by
RAV YAKOV KAMINETZKY zt'l (end of EMES L'YAKOV).)
(The numbers of times that each letter appears in the Torah can be found at
the end of the Torah Temimah Chumash, and in the new Concordance. The
figures in the two sources vary slightly. See also Rav Aryeh Kaplan's
footnote in Menashe ben Yisroel: The Conciliator (Hermon: N.Y.,1972), part
1, p. 250.)