“And G-d said to her: two nations are in your belly” (Genesis 25:23)
“Nations” is written giyim with a yud, but we read it as goyim with a vav. And Rashi also wrote that giyim is the text as written. But the Gemara, in Brachot 57b, brought that what was written was goyim with a vav, “And G-d said to her: two nations are in your belly — do not read goyim but giyim. Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav: these were Antoninus and Rabbi.” That is, according to the Talmud, in the Torah it is written goyim with a vav, and therefore it said not to read it as goyim but as giyim. And Mesoret HaShas wonders about this: “In all the books and copyist originals it is written giyim and read as goyim. It is a commandment to explain this.”
So we have come to fulfill this commandment. We have already cited Radak’s opinion about variants in what is written and what is read in our page on parashat Vayera and we will add for you, the student who desires knowledge, the opinion of Meiri in his book “Kiryat Sefer,” the second article. “And now we must clarify about defective and plene spelling and how we decide in the cases where we found a disagreement between the Midrashim of our rabbis OBM and the earlier Mesorah books written by linguistic scholars and the precise books. For in the medrashim of our rabbis we have found ‘and to the sons of the concubines,’ pilagsham is written, [without the yud] and in the books of Mesorah it is written plenary (see what we wrote in parashat Chaye-Sarah) and ‘When Moshe finished’ [kalot, with a vav]. In the Midrash they say that kalt is written and in the books of the Mesorah it is plene. The same is withkarnot — karnt is written, and there are many others like this.
“And I have seen by the Torah greats that for anything which comes from the Talmud as a basic matter and from which we derive some halacha we rely on the rabbis’ opinion, as in the cases of karnot/karnt, sukkot/suct, totafot/toteft, we rely on the ruling of the Talmud [see parashat Chaye Sarah, where we wrote that the Mesorah is toteft, and not as in the Gemara, and that is despite the Meiri’s opinion]. But everything which comes by way of allegory, we rely on the book of Mesorah, and if we find a disagreement within the books of Mesorah, we rely on the majority.”
His words are clear and enlightening; if we find that the Mesorah disagrees with the Talmud on a matter which has no halachic implications, as in our case, we do not follow the words of the Gemara. This settles the Mesoret HaShas’s question, as Radak and Meiri attest that there were errors and different versions of the text of the Torah.
And to greatly strengthen our words we will bring an additional example from our parsha. “Go out to the field and hunt me down some food” (Genesis 27:3). Food, tzeidah, is written with a hay and read tzayid without the hay. The midrashim and early commentaries did not mention a written/read issue at all; neither Rashi nor Ibn Ezra did. However, the later commentators, such as Radak and Chizkuni, wrote “tzeidah is written with a hay, read without a hay, and the interpretation is known that ‘it was written with a hay to hint at the five laws of ritual slaughter (hesitation, pressing, thrusting, moving, and plucking)’.” But they did not cite the source of that “known interpretation.”
So I looked in the books and the midrashim. This interpretation is found in the Midrash “Lekach Tov.” This explains the matter perfectly: the book “Lekach Tov” was written by Tuvia Ben Eliezer, who lived c. 1100 (see Encyclopaedia Hebraica, Tuvia Ben Eliezer). And Minchat Shai, whom we will quote later, wrote thus, so you see that the variation in writing and reading the word tzeidah is a later addition and was not present in Torah scrolls extant at the time of the earlier medrashic writers, and were not available to Rashi and his generation.
A proof that our words are true and stable comes from the words of Minchat Shai, Genesis 27:3: “Tzeidah — read it tzayid. In the Greater Mesorah, in the array of the letter hay a sign is given; there are two words written with ahay at the end of the word which are not read, and there is one they disagreed about, the tzeidah of ‘take now your weapons.’ And I have seen in a handwritten mesorah and also in one manuscript scroll from Spain, that there is a tradition of reading it tzayid and there is a dispute about this. But the Ramah…tzeidah is written and tzayid is read…and in Midrash Lekach Tovtzayid is read and tzeidah is written… And the cited medrash is unequivocally the composition of Tuvia Ben Eliezer, called Medrash Pesikta… and within the composition it is noted that it was 4850 years from the creation of the world.” (1090 C.E.).
This is an overwhelming proof by the author of the Minchat Shai that there is disagreement amongst the Mesorah masters whether there is a written/read issue on the word tzeidah.
Do not be amazed at the different versions and many errors, for this is the way of people who copy many books; they make mistakes and they err, especially during a period when the printing press had not yet been invented and everything was painstakingly hand-copied. There were copyists who were precise and some who were not precise. The Rama attests, in the Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 143, paragraph 4, “And another (Torah scroll) must be brought because of a complete error, but because of defective and plene spellings you should not take out another, for our Torah scrolls are not so exact that the other one will be more kosher.”
About this we have already brought the words of Radak (II Samuel 15:21) about the versions, “It seems as though the books were lost and confused in the first exile, and the sages who knew the Scriptures died, and the men of the Great Assembly who returned the Torah to its previous luster found disagreements in the remaining books and followed the majority thereof, according to their knowledge. Where they could not completely clarify matters they wrote one thing and did not add vowels or wrote in the margins and not inside the texts, or wrote one in the margins and a different word in the text.” Whoever explicates the letters and the words as though they had come down from Sinai exactly as they are written now will fall mute and turn a deaf ear, but he who understands will understand.
Words of True Knowledge
 Though a kosher Torah scroll must be written by hand even now, nevertheless, the Masoretic works dealing with the spelling of Torah words are printed and therefore less subject to errors.