Monday, January 12, 2009

#17 - The Fourfold GOOD

"So, what is the good word?" Well, where did this phrase come from? I would hardly be surprised if the word good actually comes from the word G-d. G-d is known by the world as a Being of Goodness. And while there are those who are quick to blame G-d for the Holocaust by denying His existance because "if G-d really existed, he wouldn't have let it happen", our Sages in Mishna Berachot Chapter 9 waste no time telling us that we are supposed to thank Him for the bad like we do for the good. Of course it's most tragic when someone is murdered, injured, sick, loses a beloved one, falls down from riches to rags overnight, etc., but Hashem has His reasons which we quite often do not understand. The truth is that the real world of goodness is the world we enter after death if we behaved good. The "other" world is the real world because this is the world of eternity; however, the world that we presently live in is only here for ourselves to accumulate as many brownie points as possible so we can merit the world of eternity; and the more points we have, the MORE we will enjoy the spiritual bliss FOREVER!

Indeed, our Rabbis have told us that it's worse to cause someone to sin than to murder him/her, because while a murderer only deprives one from this temporary world (though he/she can no longer perform good deeds, Hashem may reward someone for the deeds that would have been done had he/she lived longer) but causing someone to sin causes him/her to be taken away from the future world, basically, dying a spiritual death. Yes, it may be a little hard to grasp first, but as evil as Hitler was, ANY Christian missionary attempting to lure Jews to Chrisitianity, "Messianism", etc. is FAR MORE evil. It's true that some six million Jews were torturously murdered in the hell of Hitlerism, but as we know in Judaism, a Jew who dies Al Kiddush Hashem/by Sanctification of Hashem's name, is granted an automatic immediate free ticket in the world to come in a most special place that NO ONE else is granted permission to enter. However, a Jew who converts to another religion cuts himself off spritually FOREVER from Hashem's Presence!

With this being said, today's date - 17 Tevet - is a date full of good meaning. First of all, the name of this month Tevet has a connotation of the world TOV - Good. Now, today's date of the 17th also implies good, because Tov/Good is the Gematria of 17. And there's more. After every day of creation as recorded in the beginning of the Bible, it marks the creation that "it was good".
There is an exception here. The second day of the week has no mention of the word good, but the third day of the week (from Monday night until Tuesday night) mentions the word good TWICE. And so this year, 17 Tevet falls out on the 3rd day of the week. Hence, you have here the fourfold GOOD, the name of my 17th post. Moreover, the Mazel/constellation for this month of Tevet is Gedi/Capricorn which is also the Gematria of 17!

On a personal level, 17 Tevet will always be ingrained in my mind for something very good that I accomplished. FOUR years ago, I made Aliyah on this date. It didn't fall out on the 3rd day of the week then, but significantly, I am writing this post celebrating FOUR years of living in Eretz Yisrael. When I first moved here, I lived in Yerushalayim for two and a half years. Now, in Parshat VaEtchanan (Deutronomy 3:25), it mentions Moshe pleading with Hashem to let him cross over to Israel so "I can see the GOOD land...this GOOD mountain and the Lebanon". Rashi tells us that the "GOOD mountain" refers to Yerushalayim (and Lebanon refers to the Holy Temple). I didn't think along these lines at the time that I was on my way to the airport or on the El Al plane, but sure was it GOOD timing! In any case, the phrase in Hebrew for this is HaHar HaTov HaZeh - "THIS good mountain". Now normally in Hebrew, the word for the word THIS is ZEH. But in this instance, it's with a presuffix of the letter Hei, thus HAZEH, which also has the Gemaria of the number 17, following the word HaTOV - the GOOD.

There is a halachic significance of the number four with Israel, particularly with Jerusalem (and the Holy Temple). Now first of all, we ask Hashem in our prayers to gather us from the "FOUR corners of the earth" to return us to Israel. But even before that, even while not yet living in Israel, Halacha/Jewish Law tells us that when we pray the main prayer of Shemoneh Esray, we are supposed to face Israel/Jerusalem/site of Holy Temple from whatever direction we are at. Actually, it sometimes is more confusing when living in Israel if out of Jerusalem as to exactly what direction to face the Holiest City because when travelling around, we are at a very fine angle, and especially without the sun around (or GPS), we may not have a good sense of exact direction. (In terms of living in the Western Hemisphere including the United States when facing east - in Florida, it should be a slight northern slant; in New York, it should be a slight southern slant).

In terms of four years, there is a type of spiritual level that is associated with this. As many will be familiar with, a Jewish boy gets his first haircut at the age of three, that is, in the beginning of his fourth year. Now, what is this based on? The Torah tells us (Leviticus 19:23-25) that when growing a fruit tree - in the first three years, the fruits are forbidden to be eaten. In the fourth year, its fruit are considered holy, and we are told by tradition that they can only be eaten if redeemed (for example, with a coin). And finally, in the fifth year, we can eat its fruit without any hindrance. One thing that is associated with this Mitzva which is not said in the Torah pertaining to most Mitzvot is that this would apply, as it starts off with "When you enter the land (of Israel)" which happened in the beginning of Joshua's leadership. How fascinating! I reached a milestone of four years, and now in the beginning of my fifth year, I am considered as a regular inhabitant of the Land. To come to think of it, I lived here for virtually an entire United States presidential term, for it was shortly before Bush started his second four-year-term.

Another connection with the number four in terms of Israel is the four blessings of Bircat HaMazon/Grace after meals. While the first blessing, composed by Moshe who was not able to enter Israel, does not speak anything about the Holy Land; the second blessing that was composed by Yehoshua who led the Jewish Nation to the Land mentions thanks to Hashem for the "cherished, GOOD, and spacious Land". Then the third blessing that was composed by King David & King Solomon mentions Jerusalem & Zion, and today's version of the blessing ends off asking Hashem to rebuild Jerusalem.

However, what perhaps is most fascinating is the FOURTH blessing because there is a whole story behind how this blessing got composed - which happened because of what started out as rather a very tragic incident. You see, the Jews of Beitar were murdered by the Romans and to add insult to injury, were forbidden to be buried. Some time later, permission was finally granted. Well, we don't need to mention what happens to a deceased after a short time of not being buried, but in this instance, a miracle happened and none of the dead were decayed or decomposed! It was in thanks of this that the Rabbis composed this FOURTH blessing thanking Hashem for preserving the bodies and that they were finally allowed to be buried. The key words used in this blessing in thanking Hashem for these things are HaTov V'Hameitiv - "the GOOD (king) and does GOOD (to all)" - in this instance, a double expression of goodness in this FOURTH and final blessing of thanking Hashem for our wonderful meal that we just ate.

There is one more interesting thing to note here. Rabbi Ya'akov Krantz, known as the Magid of Dubno, passed away on this date of 17 Tevet. He is known most famously for his parables that he composed amidst his sermons to bring Jews closer to the Torah. The Vilna Gaon, who was of impeccable Torah scholarship and character, felt a great need of this Magid to give him a lecture on ethics so he can fine tune his own character/Midot Tovot, though someone of the caliber of the Vilna Gaon probably did not need further "ethical instruction". In any case, what I would like to point out here is that the Vilna Gaon, among the greatest scholars of that generation, was born on the first day of Passover. As we know, we read the Hagaddah on the first two
night(s), (in Israel where the holidays are celebrated the way that the Torah tells us, we read the Hagaddah only on the FIRST night) which includes the Mitzva of recounting the Exodus/Sippur Yetizat Mitzrayim that is entitled with the word MAGID. It was exactly 200 years after the passing of the MAGID of Dubno that I was making my personal Exodus, leaving the exile for the Land that was promised to the first Ya'akov our ancestor who was told U'Faratzta Yama V'Keidma V'Tzafona VaNegba - "You will spread out to the west, east, north, and south". Yes, the four directions of the Land that the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt with the FOUR expressions of Redemption were promised that they would enter - V'Hotzeiti, V'Hitzalti, V'Go'alti, V'Lokachti "I will bring out", "I will save", "I will redeem", "I will take". (Incidentally, there is an English translation of the commentary of the Magid of Dubno on the Haggadah which was published for his 200th Yahrzeit which was the very date that I made Aliyah!).

So imagine - FOUR years gone by as though it was only yesterday. Do you want to wait another "FOUR more years" before coming to our Homeland where it is meant for a Jew to live the true meaning of life, living a spiritual life that more closely resembles the life of the world to come in the next world? Don't need to wait to start enjoying the spiritual bliss - the only TRUE GOOD. You can start your preparations for the big move to the GOOD land - TODAY!

17 Tevet 5769

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