Q. Is it true that every Jew is supposed to be a letter in the Torah?
A. It is a lovely idea – the number of Israelites who left Egypt is more or less the same as the number of Hebrew letters in the Torah. The Baal Shem Tov tells us that every Jew is a letter, and a Jew who fails to be a letter harms the Jewish people in the same way in which a missing letter disqualifies a Torah.
Quoting this saying, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks in his book, “Radical Then, Radical Now”: “Will we, in our lifetime, be letters in the scroll of the Jewish people?” (page 38).
When we speak of being letters in the Torah, which Torah do we have in mind? Naturally there is only one Torah. But are we talking about the parchment Torah of today, or the stone tablets of Moses’ Torah?
This question worried Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch. He was concerned about a Jew being a letter written on parchment, since letters in ink on parchment can fade and become illegible. He preferred to say, “Every Jew is like a letter carved in tablets of stone. At times, the grime of neglect may accumulate, and distort or even completely conceal the letter’s true form, but underneath it all the letter remains whole. We need only brush away the surface grit, and the letter, in all its perfection and beauty, will be revealed.”