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    The prophet & the Shamir – B’chukkotai

    Yitzchak Shamir

    One of the well-known Jewish surnames is Shamir.

    Apart from the former prime minister of Israel, Yitzchak Shamir, other Shamirs in Zionist or Israeli history include the Hebrew writers Yitzchak and Moshe Shamir. There is a kibbutz in the north of Israel called Shamir, which is associated with the Hashomer Hatza’ir movement.

    The word shamir itself means a sharp stone or corundum. It figures in the haftarah of B’chukkotai in a verse that reads, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen or iron and with the point of a diamond” – b’tzipporen shamir (Jer. 17:1).

    The power of the shamir is legendary. In rabbinic tradition it has a special place. It was one of the ten wonders created by God at twilight on the first Erev Shabbat (Avot 5:6). Nothing could withstand it. It could split the hardest substance. It enabled King Solomon to build the Temple without needing any metal implements, which had been prohibited by the Torah (Ex. 20:25; I Kings 6:7).

    Though some scholars insist that the shamir was a diamond-like stone, Jewish commentary believes it was a miraculous worm. The idea of the shamir entered Arabic culture and became widespread in medieval folklore.

    When Jeremiah wrote about Judah’s sin being engraved by the point of a shamir, he may not have had a worm in mind, but the message is clear, that when a nation is hardhearted in the extreme its sin is so deeply etched that it cannot be easily eradicated.

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