Science, religion, letters and random musings department

Was moth awarded a Hebrew letter
long ago for witnessing a miracle?
•This is not the story of the moth by Jose Rizal, hero of the Philippines
         By Michael E. Abrams

         Copyright 2007

      Even a wise man may say that in the history of the world that we have experienced miracles – but we know that some people will believe in the miracles and others will not.

   Many of us doubting human beings would be happy to have some kind of proof.

     Perhaps the evidence is plainly before us, even in the process of waking in the morning, restored to life to face a new day. Some of the miracles may be right before our eyes, if we take the time to notice them.

    What if these some of these miracles belong to the plants and animals around us? A bee gathers pollen to fertilize the wildflowers and to provide us fruit and vegetables. Rain causes the earth to become green again. Life continues to flourish even with all of the evil in the world.

   Let me tell you a story, now, told to me by a wrinkled man in an ivy-league yarmulke (religious hat) over a cup of sweet tea without the sugar and an artificial almond cookie, somewhere in Miami, perhaps Sarah's Restaurant, where my mother, of blessed memory, used to dine. I can't remember him very well, and it may just have been one of those dreams that seem quite real.

    In the history of the Jewish people, he reminded me, there was no more significant moment than when Moses received the ten commandments. While the nation waited below, Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law, and some say he received not only the ten commandments, but the whole five books of Moses and more – the Torah and even the commentary. "Of course," he said, squeezing the tea bag with two fingers to make it drip, "the rabbis argue one way or another on the subject of whether the whole Torah was given, but that is neither here nor there for our story."

     "The whole mountain blossomed with flowers," he continued, "and so the Jewish people decorate their homes with flowers to remember that day."

      In those days in the desert, he went on, there lived a plain dusty moth, and the moth led a meager existence because it had very little food, even as a caterpillar. It was the lowest and poorest of the Divine Creator's many creatures, scraping out a living in the hot sun, seeking shade in whatever plants would grow in the sandy soil. Few people noticed the moth, and those that did wanted only to shoo it away as no one wants moths around the firelight, even though these small creatures love to dance in the brightness.

   Even like the poor moths, the Hebrews had fled Egypt following such a fiery brightness. It is said, he reminded me, that Hashem or the Divine Master took the Hebrews out from hundreds of years of slavery “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” and this is a reason that Passover is celebrated.

    But the Hebrews at that time had no written laws to follow and spent a long time wandering from place to place, wondering what would happen to them.

   "They had no place to go," he said.

    Finally, the writings say, it became the time for Moses to ascend the famous mountain and receive the Word of Hashem. We are told that there was such a glow around the mountain that people had never seen before.

    It was a glow that some found frightening, along with smoke and thunder. The presence of Hashem was not doubted. It was a glow that was reflected on the face of Moses.
      Photograph used with permission of
         photographer Chris Harlow.

    "Perhaps you have seen the movie?" the man asked. "There is a part that the cameras missed, my young friend," he said, smearing some dietetic cream cheese with the end of his spoon onto what was left of the bagel, and then wagging the spoon at me.

    And so it was, that when Moses received the word on the mountain, no other human being was there to see. It was there that the Divine revealed his presence. It was there that Moses basked in the divine glory. Yet, he was not allowed to see the face of Hashem, and even his name is not allowed to be spoken. But there was one creature on the mountain that had followed the light and saw everything. It was the little brown moth.

   Hashem saw the moth, a  creature which had been created even before Adam, 
    "You had to see it to believe it," said the old man. "The poor moth was fermisht." That means "all shook up"  in Yiddish.
      The moth spoke first, for the language of moths is something  that only the Divine knows. The moth was shaking and frightened and said, “Oh, master of the universe, what will happen to me now that I have seen your face? I did not mean to do so. I am but a poor moth, please have pity on me!” The Divine Master responded,”Oh my little creature. Be not frightened for I will also bless you.  I see that you are a plain moth and perhaps my angels forgot in their haste to provide you with some mark of distinction, as we have done with many of the other moths and butterflies, who can fly like my angels. 

     “You have the miracle of changing from a caterpillar to a moth, but you will also have another miracle that I will give you.”

  “From this time forth, you and your cousin moths, who will always remind you of this day, will carry a sign of having seen me, and it will be a testament to my power to all peoples. You will carry a marking on your back, signifying the great event that you have witnessed. I will also carry you out of the dry desert to fertile lands where you will flourish among the many green plants and trees.”

   Suddenly, marveled my new friend, there appeared on the wing of the moth, the Hebrew character which is called “noon" with the vowels pronounced like the word "book.” It is a letter that stands for the Hebrew word “miracle.” To this day, more than three thousand years later, the moth carries the sign of the great miracle it witnessed.

     "Quite a story," I said, wondering why I had not heard it before. "Let me pay for this," said my friend, breaking into a catlike grin, as if I were the canary. I don't remember what happened to him. He got up, bid me farewell, and simply disappeared from the table.

     I thought, yes, even the most learned scientist cannot tell us why a caterpillar can change into a moth. And surely only those who are reading this tale know the way the moth got its markings.  And this story seems more than a dream – could it be real? Did the  man in the restaurant know something special?

     You can look this moth up in the dictionary as “the Hebrew character moth” or Orthosia gothica. The cousin moth, the Setaceous Hebrew Character, also carries the markings to help remind all moths of that day.

      Yes, you are one of the first to know of this story. It is certainly a story that can be shared with everyone.

More information on the Hebrew Character Moth and the Setaceous Hebrew Character Moth can be found at