Saturday, November 29, 2008

#11 - Full CYCLE - Time To Go Home

With the events of the last few days, it's hard to pretend that nothing happened. But I will put things into perspective a little later on in this blog.

Meanwhile, I left off in my last blog of a couple days ago with a couple of questions. With no further introduction, they are:

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

Bircat Cohanim - It is called the three-fold blessing that the Cohanim bless the Jewish people. It consists of 3 verses, 15 words, and 60 letters. In the Ashkenazic Siddur, it is only these three verses that are recited, in virtually all other Siddurim, the whole section in the Torah about the Bircat Cohanim is included (Numbers 6:22-27). In this whole section of Parshat Bircat Cohanim, there are exactly 150 letters. There are likewise exactly 150 chapters of Tehillim, and exactly 150 words of the Aishet Chayil recited every Shabbat night at Kiddush, which are the last 22 Pesukim of Mishlei/Proverbs and one of two places in the entire T'Nach/Bible which follows exactly in Alef Beis order in the course of 22 verses.

Getting back to the actual blessing of the three verses, we said that they consists of 15 words and 60 letters. Likewise, the letter Samech - the 15th letter of the Alef Beit, has the Gematria of 60. That's nice - but you may ask - what connection does Bircat Kohanim have with the letter Samech aside from a number game? In fact, there is no Samech at all in these 150 letters section.

Actually, if you look in some Chamashim, you will see quite a few Samechs. However, these Samechs aren't actually part of the text. These Samechs in between verses just indicate that there is more space between these verses than usually. The Samechs stand for Satum - closed.
You may ask - closed? If anything, you just said that there is more space between the verses - not less? But there is also another kind of spacing which is even more space indicated in some Chumashim by the letter Pey - stands for Patuach - open, that is, wide open space.

The bottom line is as we said in our last post - the importance of Samech in relationship to the essential part of the Torah - the Oral Law - which sets the tone for a Jew to be a complete Jew from learning Halacha /Jewish Law- the word which has the Gematria of 60, as the Samech. Now, in these blessings of Bircat Cohanim, it seems to focus on the physical aspects of our lives, as Rashi points out. That's the point - in order to serve Hashem properly, we need Hashem's blessings to allow us to serve Him completely, as the shape of the Samech which is a complete circle - the only such one of the 22 Alef Beit. Thus, this is how we begin our day learning Torah - to be focused on what the purpose of learning Torah; not just for the sake of learning it, because a professor of Judaic Studies can also be teaching things from the Torah, but he may not be teaching it as a way of life, but as a mere text to analyze it and perhaps twist some of its teachings. However, one who learns Torah because this is what Hashem wants, and that we learn it to be a better Jew, this is exactly what distinguishes us from all the other nations of the world who may be good in swearing on the Bible, including on President Day, but to them it's just a formality. This explains why we say in the second daily Beracha/blessing of learning Torah "Who chose us from all the nations, and gave us HIS Torah". Hashem gave us the Torah to follow it according to how HE wants it to be learnt - to learn Torah L'Shema, Torah for its own sake, not for our gain or based on our own "logical" intellectual imput without a solid reason based on the rules of learning the Torah as given to Moshe on Mt. Sinai. (There is another reason given for why we recite particularly the Bircat Cohanim as the first words of Torah of the day, check out

Additionally, the letter Samech has a unique role in being the first letter of some major words refering or relating to the Torah - Sefer Torah/Book or Scroll of the Torah, Siddur - prayer book, Sinai - the mountain at which we received the Torah which we received during the month which is called by a word that begins with the letter Samech - Sivan, Seder - term used in Yeshivot to denote a schedule of learning Torah as well as the Passover Seder when we celebrate the birth of the Jewish nation, Siyum - the conclusion of a section of the Torah being learnt, Semicha - rabbinic ordination upon showing success in understanding how to learn Torah (in the old days, one had to know the entire Talmud at least to get this certificate - nowadays, much less is required to get the minimum rabbinic ordination).

Now, in the 15th Parsha of the Torah - Parshat Bo, which is the Parsha of the Exodus, we find the Samech playing a major role - in two places. First, the 60th letter of the 60th verse of this Parsha is the letter...Samech=60! (Exodus 12:21) This letter is where Moshe tells Hashem's commandment to slaughter the Passover sacrifice - the Samech is in the word Pesach/Passover. This holiday, commerated by slaughtering the Egyptian idol in front of the Egyptian nation - showed them that we Jews had no fear of them, freeing ourselves from mental slavery. Of course Hashem redeemed us so we can be free to serve him spiritually, but like the Bircat Cohaim promising good conditions, so was Passover the holiday of the birth of the Jewish nation and our physical freedom - thus, freedom from all sides - spiritually, mentally, and physically - thus a complete round of freedom as demonstrated by the shape of the circled Samech.

And here is another amazing role that the letter Samech plays in the Exodus. Samech, being one of the least letters written in the Torah, has only one place in the ENTIRE T'nach/Bible where you see three Samechs in a row - it is in the names of two cities as it says later on in the same chapter (Exodus 12:37) "The Jews traveled from Ramses to Succot". Ramses - ending with two Samechs - was the city of Egyptian exile from which the Jews left, and Succot - beginning with a Samech - was the 1st city that the Jews stopped at on their way to receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai and moving towards Israel. Thus, the Samech here is literally the spritial letter bridge that the Jews crossed on from exile to redemption! This is also reminiscent of the three Samechs you will see at the end of some Parshiyot in some Chumashim, indicating additional space between Parshiyot in the Sefer Torah (unlike three Peys which indicate an even larger space). Also, as the Exodus took place on the 15 of Nissan; and Succot, the name of the first place that the Jews stopped at from Egypt - is also the name of the holiday of Succot that begins on the other side of the year - 15 Tishrei. As mentioned before, the letter Samech is the 15th letter of the Alef Beit. And yes, the Passover ceremony that takes place in our homes on the first night is called the Seder, beginning with a Samech.

Additionally, there are 20 verses in the entire T'Nach that have two Samechs in a row (including the above which has three Samechs). In Psalms, you have exactly one place in its 150 Psalms or over 2,500 verses that has two Samechs in a row. It is in Psalms, Chapter 60! The Samech, with its numerical value of 60, appears twice in a row in the only place in Psalms that is particularly in Psalm 60 - Nes L'Hitnoses "A banner that it may be displayed/raised high" (verse 6). The two Samechs appear in the second Hebrew word or latter part of the phrase. Now, the first word Nes, in this context meaning banner is the same concept of what a miracle is, which is also called Nes. A miracle displays to the world of Hashem's wonders. On a subdued note - Rashi notes that this is also the terminology of Nisayon - trial or ordeal. Hashem sometimes puts righteous people through tests so they will be all spritually shaped right and also shows how Hashem runs the world which may not be very much to our liking at times.

By Divine Providence, I was thinking along these lines earlier this week having in mind that I was going to write a post (it turned out to be two posts) on the letter Samech. Little did I know earlier last week what 60 hours of terrorism (this is what the news said -60 hours!) was going to bring. Indeed, this began on the last day of the month of Cheshvan, which is represented by the letter "Nun", and the beginning of this month of Kislev represented by the letter "Samech". While these two letters together spell the word Nes which usually means miracle; indeed, as Rashi explains this word in the context of the above quoted verse from Psalm - these days were nothing short of trials and tribulations for the Jewish people at large.

I am very saddened by what happened to our Jewish brothers and sisters in Mumbai, India. Besides the tragedy to the Chabad couple in their 20s, there were two Kosher supervisors who had just came to the Chabad house on a job related mission when they came just in time to meet their untimely death as well. Sure, as with countless other Jews who have died Al Kiddush Hashem, in sactification of Hashem's name, these Jews are granted automatic arrival in a very special place in Gan Eden. But think of all the ones who have been affected by this. Even so, you see how Hashem does things to have a continuity, and while some came there just in time to meet their Maker, Hashem spares others to continue life. It is comforting to know that the one child that the Chabad couple had escaped without physical harm besides his bloodied pants. Indeed, the now orphaned child will now have to deal with life with a great emotional burden that he will need much help overcoming as much as possible. But he is his parents' physical continuity, and this is how Hashem allows things to happen.

While even Chabad on its websites seem to be at loss for an answer - without reservations, there is something that can be said to help put things in a bit of perspective. Surely it's emotional for any Jew with feelings to see and hear such tragic events. But when you are honest about what the Torah says - the answer is very clear. True, I don't know why the tragedy struck particularly at these people who were brutually murdered. But Hashem sends clear cut messages to the Jewish nation. Yes, I read of a modern Orthodox rabbi who wrote on the web when Hurricane Katrina struck the United States that we have no right to second-hand guess what Hashem tells us since we are not prophets like the ones we used to have. When I confronted this rabbi by E-mail telling him that it was very clear that Hashem punished the United States for pushing Israel to give away Gush Katif that happened right before the hurricane, he asked how come the hurricane didn't happen to Washington D.C.?
Well my dear friends, Hashem doesn't do things too drastically all the time, or there will be no free will left, and then everyone will do the right thing because they feel forced to. But that hurricane hit the oil refinery in New Orleans that consisted more than 50% of Arab imported oil.
And guess who payed for it? Every single vehicle driver in the United States!

What I will say is while I don't believe that the ones who were murdered were punished themselves as their Neshamot went straight to Heaven, it is everyone else who have been affected by this - largely by Chabad. While there is still much outreach work being done outside of Israel, which does bring Jews to Judaism, and some of these newly observant Jews do eventually move to Israel - for the rest of us outside of Israel not involved in outreach work - Hashem is telling us a message - it's TIME TO GO HOME! This is the title of one of Rabbi Meir Kahane ZTVK"L HY"D's books, exhorting Jews to follow the Torah, and return home to Israel.

According to Chabad philosophy - Jews live by the Parsha of the week, and the events happening in any particular week has to do with its Parsha - the Torah portion read on that coming Shabbat. Well my friends, observant Jews for the large part did not know what happened with the murdered Jews until after Shabbat. Thus, it is in THIS week's Parsha that we are confronted with the tragic news. And in my Kahane post that I wrote LESS THAN A WEEK AGO, which was BEFORE these events happened, what did I write about? About Ya'akov our forefather delaying returning to Israel which was the cause of his punishment of not seeing his son Yosef for 22 years - the same amount of years as he was in Beit Lavan - even before he was rolling in wealth! This happened in THIS week's Parsha.

Mind you, the Chabad couple were originally from Eretz Yisrael - born & raised (the husband when still a child moved with his parents to Crown Heights). Some people think we can escape terrorism by not being involved in the "war zone" in Israel. Others think that it's O.K. to live outside of Israel if they are living a very religious life, spreading Yiddishkeit in their town. Now for Chabad, as long as the Rebbe was physically telling his followers what to do - that was one thing - you have to follow what you Rabbi tells you (unless there is obvious concern that he is openly saying things against the Torah). True - Jews need to be reached out at wherever they live. They are our brothers and sisters at whatever level of Judaism or lack of it as they may be at. But...think of all the Jews living in Israel who don't even know how to even say Shema Yisrael or have NEVER been at the Kotel. Yes, there are 10s of 1000s of Israelis who are in this position - and very unfortunately, there are a few too many of them who have been swept with Christian Messianic cults, may G-d spare us. There are many English speaking secular Jews who live in Israel. Are there enough outreach people that are taking care of the youth of Israeli society who can ensure that at the very least, these youth will not at the very least turn to crime or substance abuse? Now for nearly 17 years, the Lubavitcher Rebbe has not been giving instructions to anyone as to where to call home. So for all those new Chabad youngsters out there who are looking to do the "Rebbe's Shelichut" - you have a guaranteed place for doing this - in our Holy Land!

The Halacha of keeping two days of Yom Tov does not change outside of Israel regardless of good intentions. If you live in Israel - you only keep one day, and if you live outside of Israel - you keep two days. Period! Either you live by the Parsha of the week as dictated by Chabad philosophy or you don't live by the Parsha of the week. Period! There's no inbetween - we see what happened to Ya'akov Avinu despite all his good intentions which didn't help him even though his living outside of Israel is what brought him to get married and becoming the ancestor of the Jewish people. In this week's Parsha - Parshat Vayetze - Hashem tells Ya'akov "Return to the land of your fathers" - Shuv El Eretz Avotecha. And my dear friends, what is the opposite of the word Shuv - Return - in Hebrew? Bush - as in President Bush!

Have we forgotten the three day progrom in Crown Heights in the summer of 1991 in which Yanky Rosenbaum HY'D, a Lubavitcher was murdered? So for all Jews who feel comfortable living in a "Jewish" neighborhood that is located in a Christian country filled with hidden Anti-Semitism which lurks out its ugly head at the first opportunity that there is an excuse to attack us, G-d forbid - even before Moslem Arab Obama - escape the burning BUSH in the States ( and RETURN to the land of the "7 Nations" which Hashem told us in Biblical times to conquer and do away with these nations, and be an example for the 70 Nations of the world who are living on their own land - by living on our OWN land as pointed out in the very first Rashi on the Torah!

Motzaei Shabbat Toldot/3 Kislev, 5769

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