Thursday, November 27, 2008

#10 - CIRCLE of Jewish Life

Chodesh Tov!

So, Chanukua is coming up in a few short weeks. While it is a holiday that is often treated with fun and games, the ultimate fun and games is what Chanuka really represents - Torah. And for those who really know the Chanuka story - the Syrian Greeks had no problem with our Bible - after all, it is a great book of wisdom. But to them, it was just another book of wisdom - calling it Biblos - meaning book - to be put on the shelf, but not to follow it as a religion or consider is a Holy Book. But my friends, when you take the Kedusha - the holiness - away from something G-d forbid - it defeats the whole purpose of what the item is supposed to truly represent. The Syrian Greeks in particular wanted us to abolish three particular Mitzvot - Milah, Shabbat & Chodesh. Milah - circumcision is our engraved Jewish binding to Hashem, Shabbat represents that Hashem rules the world - not needing to work when Hashem shows He can take care of the rest, and Chodesh represents the Jewish people power over time as when they used to declare the sight of the New Moon - Rosh Chodesh - which would set the tone for the holidays and other occasions of the coming month.

With the above being said - you will soon see what part of the Torah that the Syrian Greeks had a problem dealing with, if they indeed considered our Bible a book of wisdom. But first, I have a couple questions here - and see for yourselves if you can figure out the answer(s).

What is the one letter of the Alef Beit in the account of the Creation of the world mentioned in the beginning of the Torah that is not written even once - and why?
What is the number that represents the Oral Law - the part of the Torah that was originally not written down unlike the Bible?

There is one answer to the above questions. But first - as the Kabbalistic book called Sefer Yetzira (Book of Formation) tells us - each month represents another letter of the Alef Beit. So, the letter for this month of Kislev is the letter Samech - which bears the Gematria of 60. Samech is also one of the letters of the name of the month of Kislev. And, Rosh Chodesh Kislev - the beginning day of Kislev, is the 60th day from Rosh Hashana - the beginning of the Jewish year when the number of the year changes (even though we count the number of months from Nissan, any given year that is called 5769, 5770, etc, begins from Tishrei). Finally, Rosh Chodesh Kislev always falls out around the time that we read Parshas Toldos, where it states near the beginning of the Parsha that Yitzchak was 60 years old when his sons Esav & Ya'akov were born. For more information on this subject of letters and months, and their relationship with each other - you can check out

Now, our Rabbis tell us that Hashem created the world with the letters of the Alef Beit. However, in the account of the Creation in the first week of the world's existance, there is one letter that is not written even once. It takes over 2,000 letters in the Torah until it appears for the very first time in Genesis 2:11 - the letter Samech. So why? All the letters of the Alef Beis had a mission in the creation of the world. Well for one thing - think of the shape of the Samech. It is the ONLY letter that is completely closed (besided the Mem Sofit - that appears only at the end of the world and is a mutation of the regular letter Mem). And this world is a circle like the Samech, so on a simple level, this would seem to be the answer. But there is another answer that is a whole another dimension.

You see, there are two parts to the Torah - even though it is all Hashem's wisdom. There is Torah SheBichtav - Written Torah & Torah SheB'al Peh - Oral Torah. But for those who aren't familiar with the history of the Torah, this makes no sense since we have books on all types of subjects in Judaism. But thousands of years ago, things were different. Only the Bible was permitted to be written and publicly distributed. However, the detailed laws, as given to Moses at Sinai, was forbidden to be written down unless one wrote private notes for oneself. It was this second part of the Torah that the Syrian Greeks had a problem with because the detailed laws of how a Jew should behave was a problem to the Syrian Greek lifestyle of living a carefree life without disipline, morality, and proper sexual behavior. It was the Jewish consciousness of what is beyond the literal meaning of the Bible that put this foreign nation on their wits seeing Jews behave so differently that made them realize what was behind this.

The letter that represents this underlying consciousness of Judaism is the letter Samech - 60. When the Rabbis saw that the Torah was in great danger of being forgotten due to the increased troubles that were happening to the Jewish people, especially by the Romans and others who attempted to prevent Jews from learning the Torah, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) wrote down the Mishna - the foundation of Talmudic learning. It originally consisted of 60 (Samech) tractates (Baba Kama, Baba Metzia & Baba Batra were originally one tractate, and so were Sanhedrin & Makkot originally one tractate), though now we see it as 63 tractates. Also, the word Halacha - Jewish law - which is the result of Talmudic learning figuring out what the Halacha should be in practice after much deliberation and debate is the Gematria of Samech - 60. Wow!

But there is more on the connection of the letter Samech to the Oral Torah or Law - speaking of debates or known in Hebrew as Machloket, there was actually not a single doubt in Jewish law for at least 1,000 years from when the Torah was given. This was truly incredible considering the fact that the Oral Law was not to be written down and spread en masse. This was until...the very first debate that plagued several generations came about. As recorded in Tractate Eduyot, the question was whether prior to slaughter of a holiday sacrifice, was there a Mitzva of leaning - placing one's hands - on the animal as required for other sacrifices, or was there no Mitzva of doing so? So it when on for a century or more. But here is the punchline - the Hebrew word for leaning as in the Mitzva of leaning on the sacrifice is Semicha (today it is the name of rabbinic ordination as the first one took place with Moses placing his hands on Joshua handing over to him the leadership) having the same root word as the name for the letter Samech!

Another instance of the connection of Samech within the Oral Law, there is a concept of learning something from the verses of the Torah in instances where one subject is next to another subject, something can be learned from this. For example - why does the Torah place the section about the Nazir - one who makes a vow not to drink wine - next to the section about the Sotah - the unfaithful wife? Our Rabbis tell us that one who sees the Sotah in her disgrace following her ordeal in the Temple of her drinking the bitter waters which resulted in her immediate death - should refrain from drinking wine (wine played a big factor in sexual immorality in the old days). Anyways, this type of Talmudic learning is called Semuchim - parts of the Torah placed next to each other - again have the same root word as the name for the letter Samech! This is based on the verse in Psalms 111:8 - Semuchim La'ad Leolam Asuyim B'Emet V'Yashar - "Hashem's commandments/strengths (Semuchim) will last forever, they are made with truth and straightforwardness".

So now, it makes sense why the letter Samech is left out of the account of Creation. The only purpose of Creation was the Torah, as we learn from the words that says Yom HaShishi - when the Torah tells us of what was created on the sixth day, unlike for the other days of creation, the Torah adds the letter Hey to the day of the week - HaShishi - THE 6th day, hinting to the slated 6th day of Sivan when the Torah was given, about which Rashi points out, the world was hinging on this one event - because if the Torah would not have been given then, the world would have ceased to exist. But it was particularly the Oral Law that was at issue here because even most non-Jews don't have a problem of having the Bible - the Written Torah - around, why - they even use it to claim that they themselves are the ones following G-d's word. But it is the Oral Law that differentiates us from the rest of the world who - push comes to shove - don't want to impose on themselves the discipline - the Torah way of life - on themselves. Thus, the fact that the letter Samech is not written even once in the account of Creation shows that the Oral Law - consisting of its foundation - the Mishna with its 60 tractates- to its debates starting with Semicha, its deliberations such as Semuchim - to its conclusion or end result - Jewish Law or Halacha - with a Gematria of 60 - as our Rabbis instruct us - were originally NOT written down either. Thus, the fact that the Samech is not written is something that is secret, hidden or closed is called Seiter, Sod, Safun, or Satum - all these Hebrew words connoting this idea begin with the letter Samech!

There is actually more material I have to write on the letter Samech, but so it won't be too tiring to read the whole blog, I will cut it short, leaving this for the following post. Since the ultimate purpose of my blogs is for everyone to learn something from them to be a better Jew, I want to place an emphasis on learning Halacha - Jewish Law - EVERY DAY. Yes, we are supposed to learn Torah every day as we are supposed to pray every day. The very end of the Gemara (the Babylonian Talmud) tells us that one who learns Halacha every day is assured of being someone worthy of the reward of the world to come. It is THIS part of the Torah that keeps us in line following what Hashem tells us to do. And while women are not obligated to learn Torah like men are, since the women have to devote much time to raising their children, they still have an obligation of learning the parts of Jewish Law that will teach them what to do as observant Jews - in fact, there are the laws of Niddah - a menstruous woman who must observe the laws pertaining to being in such a state if she is married, and is not considered pure to have physical contact in any way with her husband until she goes through the procedures that will permit her once again to continue married life without hindrances. Another major area in Halacha that everyone needs to know very well are the laws of Shabbat (and Yom Tov). There are numerous laws about what is not permitted to be done on Shabbat, and as the Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Berura with his introduction to the Laws of Shabbat quotes the Ya'arot Devash, unless one learns all the laws of Shabbat very well, one can possibly always be doing something that is forbidden on Shabbat, even if he can be labeled as a "Shomer Shabbat" - one who keeps Shabbat without intentionally violating it in any way, certainly not in public.

So one may ask, where do I begin? Is there a particular book of Halacha that I can learn? And what if my Hebrew is not so good - what is available in English that I can learn on a regular basis? O.K. - you have a few options. For beginners - you have what is called the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - the Concise Code of Jewish Law - the original Hebrew written by Rabbi Shlomo Gansfried ZTVK"L, and consists of 221 chapters, with over 2,500 paragraphs. Don't get panicky - you only need to start learning a bit every day so after all, you can properly digest what you learn and you should review what you read over several times to get it all pat down. There is a concept of learning particularly two laws in the daytime and two laws in the nighttime, as part of the fulfillment of daily Torah study. However, the main thing is to keep it at a pace where you can learn at your own speed that will ensure that you will not fall behind and skip some days. You have a few choices in the English version. You have the one which is just in English - translated by Hyman Goldin, and in more recent years, should come with another book of just the index of hundreds if not thousands of key words that will help you find out what the Halacha is in a certain instance (NOTE: this should NOT substitute asking a Rabbi well versed in Halacha as to the correct decision in some instances - if you are not sure - ask such a rabbi). There is also another one that comes in two volumes known as the Metzuda translated by Rabbi Avrohom Davis and is translated line by line - Hebrew on one side & English on the other. And just a couple of months ago - Artscroll came out with the first of five volumes that includes both Hebrew and English, and includes additional Halachic decisions from the Mishna Berura & Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZTVK"L, whose decisions at times may differ from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

As for the regular Shulchan Aruch - Code of Jewish Law - for the more advanced, you have in English the whole first section of the Shulchan Aruch called Orach Chaim ("Pathway of Life"), consisting of 697 chapters, which includes the laws of prayers, blessings, Shabbat & Jewish Holidays, along with the translation of the Mishna Berura, as published from Feldheim Publishers. Personally, I have found this English translation to be a big eye opener, even as I can understand the original Hebrew pretty well - but for one who has been raised learning English, this is absolutely crucial. Do bear in mind that there are three other parts of the Shulchan Aruch, and sad to say, I don't know of an existing translation though they may not necessarily be applicable in everyday living like the first section of the Shulchan Aruch - but include the laws of Kashrut, marital law, and judicial law.

Start with something easy. You know, Chanuka is coming up in a few weeks. Now is the time to learn the laws of Chanuka - one or two laws or paragraphs a day if you start now (from when the post is written) will ensure that you will know everything you are supposed to do by the time Chanuka comes along. Additionally, there is a blogspot on Halacha that I just discovered "accidentally" (from the hand of Hashem) last week, or where on this blog it shows the followers on the top righthand side, you can press on the smiling guy (a good example of what a religious Jew should look like) and check it out that way.

COMING UP: Why do we read the Bircat Cohanim - Priestly Blessing as the first words of Torah every morning after the blessing on learning Torah? And also, what was the bridge between the slavery of the Jews in Egypt, and the Exodus?

P.S. If you notice, this is the 10th blog that I have written on, and you see the time it shows that this 10th blog was posted: 10:10 AM! I truly believe that this is something nothing short of Hashgacha Peratis - Divine Providence. The letter Yud is the Gematria of 10. Another connotation of the letter Yud is Yid - Jew. Learning Halacha is learning to be a COMPLETE Jew, that is, a COMPLETE Yisrael - as the acronym of this word (the last word of the Torah/Chumash) can be read as Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiyot LaTorah - there are 60 myriads of letters to the Torah - corresponding to the 60 myriads or 600,000 male Jews from 20 years old and up, the ones who were able to fight in battle, who were present for the giving of the Torah, and a COMPLETE Yid, just like Yud=Ten (10) represents completeness - from the Ten Statements with which Hashem created the world to the Ten Commandments (actually means Statements in Hebrew) which are the basis for the 613 Commandments based on which we follow their details as described in Halacha. And just like word Halacha has the Gematria of 60, the number for Samech - the ideal of completeness is further demonstrated by the shape of the letter Samech which is a COMPLETE circle - the only one of the 22 Alef Beis which is shaped like this.

Rosh Chodesh Kislev (1 Kislev) 5769

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