When one of my teachers wanted to emphasise that he disapproved of something, he would pound the table with his fist and exclaim: lo mit an oleph! The English equivalent would be, “No, with a capital N!”

The origin of this Yiddish phrase is that the Hebrew word, lo, can imply either ‘No’ or ‘Yes.’ If it’s spelled lamed aleph, it means No! If it’s spelled lamed vav, it means ‘It is his!’ or ‘Yes!’

Our parasha this week describes the potential sale of property. It refers to “the house in the city” and goes on to say, asher lo choma.” (25:30). You may be familiar with a feature of the Torah where a word is written one way

, but it is always pronounced another way (kri uchetiv). The phrase, asher lo choma, is one of these. The word lo is written with an aleph but we read it as if it had a vav. That is, we write it as “the house in the city that has NO a wall” but we read it as “the house in the city that has a wall.”

Why the double entendre here in our portion?

Is there any deeper significance?

Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (d. 1993) suggests that the Torah is giving us a profound lesson on the significance of walls in Jewish history. Often the most powerful walls are ones you do not see. That is, do not read the verse to mean that there isn’t a wall at all. There will be times and circumstances when there is a wall, only you cannot see it!

When the Romans in 70 CE destroyed our Temple, one might have expected that this would signal the end of the Jewish community. However, when those walls came down, spiritual walls remained and have continued to bind us together as a people ever since.

Throughout the past almost two thousand years, until 1948, we did not have the ties of land and physical walls to bind us together and to protect us. Yet, it was the unseen spiritual walls that have guarded us as a nation, and have forged our identity.

Says Rabbi Soloveitchik: “Superficially, Jewish history may seem to be ‘unwalled,’ insecure, but this is only an illusion. Indeed if one studies Jewish history, one must, of necessity, read the verse with a vav – Jewish destiny is protected by a mighty wall.”

As we face a more uncertain world in a post-pandemic era and the war in Ukraine, we need to be as alert and as responsible as we can to the risks that are around us. At the same time, we pray that the Almighty will also continue to provide us with walls of protection to keep us safe.