“Your hand is broken”, the doctor told him as he lay in the ER, head reeling, his vision blurred and dim, his hands useless at his sides on the pale hospital blanket.

Thus was told a friend of mine, Keiko, an artist and kindred spirit, whose hands were recently injured in an auto accident. He was understandably devastated.

Unwilling to accept the fractious decree, however, he decided to seek out the best hand surgeon he could find for a second opinion. He made the appointment and waited anxiously for the day to arrive when he could see the doctor, his hands on ice.

This week is parshat Re’eh, and in studying it from the Hertz Chumash1 I noticed a single Masoretic note on Dev. 12.21 that recontextualized the entire parsha for me:

“כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ”

“as I have commanded thee”

and the footnote reads: חסר יו“ד

In Masorah, any note that reads חסר / “Ḥaser” indicates a lack of some kind in that word.

So in this case, חסר יו“ד / “Ḥaser Yud” simply means “Lacking the letter Yud”.

This note refers specifically to the word צִוִּיתִךָ / Tzivitikha, “I have commanded thee”.

Therefore, the Masorah teaches us that whereas we might expect צִוִּיתִךָ to be written with two Yuds (as is the case when this word appears elsewhere in the Torah) according to our tradition, it is written here with just one.

In short, the second Yud of the word “Tzivitikha” is missing.


The absence of this single, smallest letter, combined with concern for my friend’s plight, reminded me of the true meaning of the letter Yud, and its profound symbolic significance in Hebrew.

Yud comes from the word Yad, meaning ‘hand’. Upon closer examination, I realized that the word “Yad” appears no fewer than sixteen times in Re’eh.

Yad appears in many orientations: Yadkha (‘your hand’, first person singular), Yadkhem (‘your hand’, first person plural), B’yadekha (‘In your hand’, first person singular), and more.

Parshat Re’eh hereby points to Yad, the human hand, within itself like a divine musical baton, calling our attention to the functions of our arms and fingers and palms as we go through life. 2

The missing Yud sensitized me to a leitmotif in our parsha: that of the metaphor of the human hand, and how the use of our hands on a daily basis reflects each of our characters, personalities, and free willed choices.


The phrase containing Yad that appears most frequently in our Torah portion is “Terumat Yadeikhem”, ‘The offering of your hand’.

Look closely for yourselves through Re’eh with a real Torah in your hands…

Teaches the Yad:

what and how to offer divine offerings with your hands

which animals are kosher, and how to humanely prepare them with your hands

which animals are not kosher and how not to touch them with your hand

what tzedakah to give and how to give it (with an open hand)

and whom to give it to (to your brother’s hand)

and where to give it (in your own land)

If we are still in any doubt as to the Torah’s emphasis of this theme in Re’eh, look to the doubled verse in our Parsha that teaches:

פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת-יָדְךָ

 ‘Open, open up thy hand’

Here are the psukim in full, Dev. 15.8 and 11:

ח  כִּי-פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת-יָדְךָ לוֹ וְהַעֲבֵט תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ 8 Rather open, open up thy thine hand unto him / and thou shalt surely lend him enough / for his want for which he is wanting.


יא  כִּי לֹא-יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ עַל-כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת-יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ  {ס} 11 For paupers shall never cease from within the land / therefore I command thee, saying / ‘Open, open up thy thine hand / Unto thy brother, your impoverished and your needful, in thy land.’ {S}

(translations mine)

And if one takes into consideration the doubled letter Pei in the root of the words “open, open” at the heart of these verses, then the emphasis here on giving to others in need is quadrupled at least (see Teaching Otiot Meshunot).

Doubled Peis in “Open, open up thy hand”, Czech Torah, c. 1790. Photo by Devorah

Furthermore, a Setumah occurs after the repetition of the second “open, open” verse. This closed space in the text of the Torah scroll invites the reader to reflect on what s/he has just read on the theme of giving with an open hand (and the Baal HaTurim teaches, an open mouth with words of kindness) to those in need.

My friend Keiko arrived at the hand specialist’s office, sitting stiffly, waiting to be seen.

The Japanese hand surgeon entered the room and took my friend’s hands in his. His fingers were slender and cool as he examined the artist’s hot, painfilled fingers. He tapped one elbow and asked what he felt. Keiko told the doctor that pain radiated to his fingertips. “Does this hurt?” — he asked, and firmly pressed my friend’s palm. Keiko doubled over in pain, his breath catching in his throat. The doctor frowned.

Scaphoid Fracture, John Erickson, MD

The hand doctor had seen the four X-rays from the ER.

He pronounced a likely a fracture in Keiko’s scaphoid, a bone in the palm of the hand where it meets the wrist that is notoriously responsible for painful fractures. To be certain, three further X-rays were taken of Keiko’s hand in different poses, which the doctor studied in silence. Then, he ordered three more.

The hand expert examined the final X-rays with great care, bringing his eyes very close to the monitor. Keiko, biting back a million questions, was silent.

Finally, the doctor folded his glasses and spoke in soft surprise to my friend.

“I have looked very carefully and in my opinion there is no break to your scaphoid bone after all. Your hand is not broken, though it is extremely sensitive and badly sprained. There is some stress on your nerves from swelling, which explains the pain and tingling, but that should resolve in time.”

The doctor proscribed physical therapy. When asked about using his hands, about whether it is safe to paint, the doctor told him that not only was it permissible, it was essential.

“The best way to heal your hands now is to use them,” he said.

My friend is now recuperating. With a shaky and painful hand, he is practicing painting the Japanese kanji, Kan-Sha. The two characters of Kansha literally mean “To feel a sense of appreciation”; and express that one’s heart has been moved in gratitude.

When his hands have fully healed, Keiko’s brush will be steady, his hand will once again fly over the paper with ease, and he told me that the first thing he will do is send his best kansha calligraphy to the good doctor.

Japanese Shodo Calligraphy Art 感謝 KANSHA image 1
Japanese Shodo Calligraphy Art – 感謝 KANSHA “Gratitude”

Re’eh closes with a verse that speaks to this theme in such eloquence: (Dev. 16.17)

יז  אִישׁ כְּמַתְּנַת יָדוֹ כְּבִרְכַּת ה אֱלֹקיךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ  {ס} 17 every human shall give of the gifts of their hand / according to the blessing of HaShem thy G!d / which hath been given thee . {Setumah}

Whether one stretches out a hand to give an offering to G!d, to slaughter a kosher animal for sustenance (or desist in touching a nonkosher carcass), to give aid to one’s brother or sister, neighbor or friend, Parshat Re’eh reminds us that, at the end of the day, every blessing that fills our hands comes directly from HaShem, and we act in a divine way when we pass that bounty on.

The message of the missing Yud in Re’eh is that withholding or closing one’s hand from giving to others, when it is appropriate to do so, in some way diminishes, dishonors, and contradicts the divine command, צִוִּיתִךָ.

Our goal must be the reverse: to use our right hands in giving to others in need, in giving to G!d in gratitude, to take sparingly and compassionately from the natural world, and to give to ourselves in proper proportion.

In Jewish mysticism, our left arms are associated with the trait of גבורה / gevurah, ‘might’, whereas our right arms and hands are associated with the trait of חסד / Ḥesed, ‘lovingkindness’.

This concept is alluded to in the verse from Song of Songs,

  שְׂמֹאלוֹ תַּחַת לְרֹאשִׁי, וִימִינוֹ תְּחַבְּקֵנִי  Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me. (Shir HaShirim, 2.6)3

In this way, when we give properly with our right hands, we turn lack,חסר Ḥaser, into gifts of חסד Ḥesed: Generosity and lovingkindness.

Giving properly of the gifts of our hands ultimately results in joy, as it is written,

כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ ה אֱלֹקיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ. because HaShem thy G!d shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the work of thy hands, and thou shalt be altogether joyful. (Dev. 16.15)

When G!d fills our hands with blessings4, and when we give a portion of those blessings to others, that generosity will reflect and reverberate within ourselves, within our family homes, within our community, our nation, and ultimately, within all creation.

To paraphrase the words of the doctor, when we use our hands for good, we will heal and be healed.

That one letter, Yad, makes all the difference.


Shabbat Menuḥah Shalom



Hey Menaḥem Av

Shabbat Re’eh

Hei Taf Shin Pei Aleph



I think a truer translation of Gevurah is ‘boundedness’ and Chesed is ‘boundless love’, and in this context ‘open-handedness’.

Conceived after reading a poem by Rabindranath Tagore called “Boundless Love”, translated from the original by Joe Winter.

  1. Second edition of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Dr. J. H. Hertz, C.H., Soncino Press, 1960. p. 803.
  2. In Hebrew, the word for arm is the same as the word for hand: Yad.
  3. For more about the relationship between the Sefirot of Jewish mysticism and human anatomy, see Gal Einai.
  4. See prayer, “Avinu Malkeinu”