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I've often wondered if someone has compiled anything about the "special letters" in the Torah: All the letters that are either big or small. Together, do they read as something special? One or more anagrams?

(I suppose this was prompted by last week's parsha with the Shema and the עד at the ends of the first and last words.) Also, I think there are fewer "small" letters than large ones.

Perhaps a book about Torah codes has an answer?

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Madeleine, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for the fascinating question! Please consider registering your account so that the site can keep track of your contributions no matter where you log in from. – Isaac Moses Aug 17 '11 at 15:58
Great question! I have never thought about or encountered such a book, but I am now interested to read it! – WAF Aug 17 '11 at 16:56

6 Answers 6

Throughout the Torah there is a full alphabet in big letters and a full alphabet of small letters.

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There are actually variant traditions (I think they're quoted in either Encyclopedia Talmudith or Torah Sheleimah) as to whether these two full alphabets exist in the five books of the Torah alone, or spread out throughout all of Tanach. – Alex Aug 17 '11 at 16:01
Do you have a source for this? – Menachem Sep 19 '11 at 6:21
@menachem there is also an "official list" of big and small letters in the Mikraos Gedolos Divrei Hayamim – Shmuel Brin May 13 '12 at 5:19
@ShmuelBrin: link? – Menachem May 13 '12 at 5:28

Try Sefer Katan Ve'Gadol, by Rabbi Zvi Ron. It brings together all the different midrashim about every big or small letter in Tanach.

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Not a book about the letters taken together and forming an anagram or the like, but there's a rather extensive write-up on the odd letters in the Tora in Tora Sh'lema. I think it appears after his commentary on M'tzora, or possibly Tazria.

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There are plenty of commentators who discuss why some letters are bigger (or smaller) than others. The Baal Ha'Turim, for example, has a commentary on the Torah that focuses primarily on the gematria (the counting system) of the words in the Torah, but he also discusses why some letters are in different forms.

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This is a list online. Mesorah Gedolah at the beginning of the Torah also records all the big letters (I can't find a similar list for small letters).

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Israel Yeivin, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (ed. E.J. Revell; Scholars Press, 1985) discusses these "large" and "small" letters (among other peculiarities pertaining to letters) on pp. 47-48 (§§ 84-85).

He refers to the Masorah's listing of "a few dozen" examples of large letters, although in the list provided in a previous answer there are 29 (so, two-and-a-bit dozen?). Only a few of these, he claims, allow for some kind of cogent explanation:

  • those that begin a book (Bereshit, Shir HaShirim, Divrei HaYamim, Mishlei) or section (ס at Qohelet 12:13);
  • those that fix attention on something of significance, e.g. Vayiqra 11:42 (half-way point in Torah counting letters) and 13:33 (counting words);
  • providing a warning that "reading must be precise", as in Devarim 6:4.

But most, he believes, don't admit of any rationale (e.g. Bereshit 30:42; Devarim 29:27).

There are fewer examples of small letters, citing from the Masorah:

  • three small final nuns: Yeshaya 44:14; Yirmiyahu 29:13; and Mishlei 16:28;
  • others listed as: Bereishit 2:4; 27:46; Vayiqra 1:1; Devarim 32:18.

Finally, Yeivin also notes that such marking is not consistent across the older mss, e.g. Leningradensis having only three of each (large and small).

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