Saturday, April 25, 2009

#27 - "But My REBBE Said..."

Welcome to my 27th Post. Speaking of which, what is special about the number 27? If you read my 22nd post, you will know that there are 22 letters of the Alef Beit/Hebrew Letters. Now, there are five other letters that are spelled only at the end of words, but are considered part of their respective letters among the regular 22 letters. The regular letters that I am referring to are Kof or Chof, Mem, Nun, Pei or Fei, and Tzadi. When spelling these at the end of a word, they are shaped differently and are called the same letter but ending with Sofit/End, that is - Kof or Chof Sofit, Mem Sofit, Nun Sofit, Pei or Fei Sofit, and Tzadi Sofit.

Now, in terms of Gematria, while generally the above five letters at the end of a word maintain the same numerical value as their respective letters when spelled elsewhere in a word, they are at times considered to have higher numerical values - 500, 600, 700, 800, 900 respectively. Otherwise, the end letter is considered part of its regular letter. The reason I am pointing all this out is for the following thing we learn from this.

The point of all this until now is to focus on the MIDDLE letter of the 27 letters - that is, when the five final letters are NEXT to their regular respective letters. Thus, as we count the letters this way, it is ...Kof, Kof Sofit, Lamed, Mem, Mem Sofit... Anyways, the middle letter in this configuration is MEM - the 14th letter in this order. Now, the first letter is Alef and the last letter is Tav. Thus, first-middle-last is Alef-Mem-Tav which spells EMET/True or Truth.

Yes, I wrote "to focus on the MIDDLE letter" which in this case is MEM. You see, I just entered my 40th year this Shabbat-Rosh Chodesh - in which, but the way, we read the two MIDDLE Parshiyot - Tazria & Metzora - of the 54 Parshiyot of the Torah. While I am age 39 as I finished 39 years of my life, I have now entered my 40th year. Mem is the Gemaria/numerical value of 40. And what is so special about the number 40?

Several months ago, I wrote about the significance of the letter Samech - having the Gematria of 60 - as it relates to Torah She'B'Al Peh/Oral Torah - but more specifically as it relates to Halacha/Jewish Law, as the word Halacha is the Gematria of 60, and towards this, I provided several examples using this letter. There are times that we say that an aspect of Jewish Law is Halacha L'Moshe M'Sinai - as transmitted to Moses on Mt. Sinai. However, there are other Jewish Laws that have been derived by the 13 ways, principles or rules of interpreting the Torah to learn out what the Jewish Law is from the verses of the Torah as recited in Shacharit/the daily morning prayers that includes a paragraph that begins with Rabbee Yishmael Omeir/Rabbi Yishmael Says. This is indeed related to the letter Mem as part of the regular 22 letters of the Alef Beit where it is the 13th letter. And indeed, it is the letter Mem that points out to learning all the Torah, and the Oral Torah of the Mishna and the Talmud or Gemara. It is particularly the Talmud that details the analysis of how we arrive at certain Jewish Laws using one principle or another of the 13 principles of interpreting the Torah based on the verses of the Torah.

LEARNING TORAH - Moshe Rabbeinu, whose name begins with Mem, following the giving of the Torah, ascended on Mt. Sinai to learn the Torah from Hashem for 40 days. The Torah that Moshe learned included both the Written Torah that is contained in the Bible and the Oral Torah which includes the Mishna, Talmud, and Halacha.

MISHNA - This is a contraction of two letters/words - the letter MEM and the word SHANA/year(s), that is 40 years. Moshe taught the Torah to the Jews for 40 years, and as the Talmud learns out from what Moshe told the Jewish people in addressing this fact to them in their 40th year of learning together in his concluding sermon(s) shortly before passing away, that it is only after 40 years of age or learning (there may be a difference of opinion as to what 40 years this refers to - one's age or period of learning) that one totally comprehends the teachings of his Rebbe (in certain instances of Jewish Law, part of a year is considered a full year. Thus, even though Moshe in fact passed away before the end of the 40th year, it was only then that the Jews truly comprehended what Moshe taught them). In any case, the foundation of the Oral Torah is/are the Mishna/Mishnayot - nearly 4,200 paragraphs of the basics of Jewish Law & Mitzvot, compiled together by Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, or known simply as Rabbee/Rebbe, the leading Sage of his generation. And most significantly, the Mishnayot begin with the letter Mem - May-a-mah-tai - "From when do we read the evening Shema" which is in fact the very first Mitzva that we perform at the beginning of the night, and accordingly is the very first Mitzva of a boy who becomes Bar Mitzva at the beginning of the day which begins at night according to Jewish Law. And the Mishnayot concludes with the letter Mem Sofit - "Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta says that the only vessel that contains blessing that Holy One Blessed Be He found is peace as it says "Hashem will give might to His nation, Hashem will bless His nation with peace"". With peace is in Hebrew - Va'Shalom. And as the letter Mem is spelled out as the word Mem as Mem-Mem Sofit; so besides the fact that the beginning letter and the ending letter of all the Mishnayot is Mem & Mem Sofit - these two letters can also be spelled together as the word MEM! Thus, the Mishna is most associated with this letter Mem that has the Gematria of 40.

TALMUD or GEMARA - The Talmud Bavli/Babylonian Talmud was compiled by Rav Ashi, who was the 40th generation from Moses, which is the meat of Torah learning in Yeshivot throughout the world, as it is this set of learning through which one applies himself to deep analysis of what the Torah is teaching us, especially as it relates to Jewish Law, because without this way of learning, we would not know what Hashem is telling us to do, besides the Mitzva of learning Torah in which applying ourselves diligently to the Torah is the makeup of becoming Torah scholars who will then be able to trasmit their Torah knowledge to the next generation. So it isn't that Rav Ashi happened to be the 40th generation from Moses - Rav Ashi exemplified how Torah is to be learnt as he recorded this in writing, and thus the number 40 becomes a most significant number. Indeed, with the writing of the Babylonian Talmud, Rav Ashi SEALED the Oral Torah, meaning, that no future Rabbi or Sage can contradict what the Halacha is as brought down or interpreted in the Babylonian Talmud, unlike earlier, when the Halacha, unless was specifically taught to Moses, was subject to interpretation without saying for example, whether something is considered kosher to eat or not. Now that the conclusion - what the Halacha has been decided - there is no turning back or recall on that Halachic decision.

Yes, Rav Ashi SEALED the Oral Torah. And there is a specific SEAL that Hashem has. The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) says that the SEAL of Hashem is TRUTH. The obvious connection is that the Torah is TRUTH/EMET - beginning-middle-end. This is illustrated by the Midrash which tells us that on Judgment Day for mankind, Hashem will be asking who has the Torah. The other nations will present the Bible - without the New Testament which will then be known as falsehood - as the Torah. Afterwards, Hashem will ask the Jews if they have the Torah. They will come forward with the Oral Torah as well as proof that the are the ones who have the Torah.
While the Bible or T'nach, especially the Chumash/Penteteuch/The Five Books of Moses, is indeed the foundation of the Oral Torah, in itself, one would not know how to properly be a good Jew, and if interpreted literally, not only will one not understand much of the Torah as presented in Jewish Law, but could in fact be doing major sins or blunders in attempting to lead a Jewish life. For example, there were groups of Jews such as the Karaites who interpreted the Chumash in this fashion. As it says in the Chumash that "You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on Shabbat", in its literal meaning, it seems to imply that one should not have anything lit in one's home during Shabbat; thus, to spend Shabbat in darkness without any fire or light around. Sure, one will not commit the sin of lighting a fire on Shabbat, great. However, as instituted by Moses himself, we light Shabbat candles before Shabbat in order to have an enjoyable evening being able to see your way around and eat with light around without bumping into one another and starting fights. Yes, these type of Jews truly lived in spiritual darkness, as they refused to listen to the Sages and followed the Torah as how they themselves wanted to live a life of Judaism without regard of how Hashem really wanted them to live it. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that disobeying the Sages makes one worthy of death, something that they are not so quick about saying when one disobeys a Mitzva as recorded in the Chumash. So the ultimate TRUTH of the Torah is the Oral Torah, because without it, we cannot live Jewish lives according to the TRUTH of Hashem, and thus, it is the Oral Torah that is the SEAL of Hashem, exemplified by Rav Ashi SEALING the Oral Torah with his composition of the Babylonian Talmud.

On this past Shabbat, Jews learned the second chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers. It begins with "Rabbee Omeir" - "Rebbe (who is the one who compiled the Mishnayot) says: What is the proper path that one should choose for himself/herself? What is glorious to the one who does it and is glorious to mankind". Now mind you, Rabbi Yehuda the Prince who is known as Rebbe, no doubt had many lessons of Jewish ethics to teach the Jewish people in his long career of the leader of his time and put together the essence of Jewish learning. So, why this particular teaching among others as the first one?

In today's presentation of Judaism, there are many who claim that they are the only ones with the right way of Judaism or how to serve Hashem, and everyone is wrong or don't have it quite the right way. In short, everyone claims that they themselves are the only ones with the TRUTH. The truth is that while there are guidelines as to how Jewish Law is supposed to be, which will exclude what is known as Conservative or Reform Judaism because these movements do away with much of Halacha, there are other forms of practice which will involve differences of custom, as to whether between Ashkenazic and Sefardic, Hasidic and Litvish, Charedi and Modern Orthodoxy. But putting differences, there are basic guidlines as to how Jews are supposed to behave, especially as to how we present ourselves to others which will bring out either a positive or a negative result, which usually proves whether we are doing the right thing or not. Yet, there are times that even this may seem a little tricky with differences of opinion among Rabbis who seem to be making a Halachic decision based on how they see how the Torah is supposed to be interpreted or decided. But are they always right?

Rashi on Leviticus 26:1 points out the juxtapositon of the verse stating that one should not make idols next to the section in the Torah about the laws of a servant working for a master. "One should not say, since my master - using the Hebrew word Rebbe - has relationships with certain women (forbidden by the Torah)...worships idols...profanes the Shabbat, so will I". Question: Why in Rashi does it say "My Rebbe" as opposed to "My Adon", as the Hebrew word for master vs servant or slave is typically Adon, not Rebbe?

I never understood the reason for this, until...the Gush Katif fiasco. While there were few Rabbis who were outspoken against the upcoming Disengagement which is indeed shameful in itself, and very unfortunately, many rabbis of institutions in Israel were paid hush money by the Israeli government to keep quiet about the Disengagement, clearly there were very few rabbis in Orthodox circles who voiced their opinion of being in favor of it. But yes, there were a few rabbis in Israel who indeed said that the soldiers should obey the Israeli government orders to help throw their brothers and sisters from their homes, based on how they interpreted the Torah. Mind you, being paid hush money is automatically a disqualifier in terms of deciding Jewish law, and a Dayan/Jewish Judge is forbidden to take a bribe. There was one of these rabbis who was considered right wing who said this hocus pocus that the Disengagement is the sin of the Israeli government, and thus, one is not to disobey orders; because otherwise, one would be sinning and making things worse. Believe me, I would have no hesitation to mention the names of these mocker of the Torah rabbis if I wasn't afraid of the Mossad or Shin Bet knocking on my door, as the usual laws of not saying bad, known as Lashon Hara, about other Jews does not apply to speaking about those who are openly saying heresy that opposes what the Torah says. But the following is the point that I want to make here.

There is a significant percentage of Israeli soldiers who are observant of Jewish Law, despite the demands or challenges of being in an army, which is not always conducive of being able to practice Jewish Law very easily. However, these religious soldiers generally are in the army as wanting to help defend our nation from our Arab enemies, and all such soldiers regardless of religion who want to truly help defend our nation are heroes in Jewish history. Now, when the clock was ticking towards the time of the Disengagement, there were those among the religious soldiers who asked their Rabbi as to whether they should or should not participate in the government's orders of throwing out their Jewish flesh and blood kindred from their homes. Knowing that there were rabbis, especially Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Shlita, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel (who still needs our prayers for a complete recovery - HaRav Mordechai Tzemach ben Mazal Tov) who spoke against the Disengagement in strong terms, these seemingly religious soldiers still had doubts in their minds.

Why? The root of this problem is that they didn't put themselves in the Gush Katif residents' shoes to feel how it would be like to be thrown from their homes, thus a lack of Ahavat Yisrael/love for Jews to begin with. Another aspect is that they were afraid of either being thrown in prison and/or lose their positions or pay in the army, showing their lack of self sacrifice and lack of trust in Hashem who is the provider of sustenance. Apparently, they weren't afraid of how life will be in Hell or if they will miss out in the Eternal Reward in Heaven.
And very unfortunately, some of their Rabbis told them that they should or must follow orders to do the despicable thing. And I have questions to ask these non G-d fearing rabbis and so called religious soldiers who followed in suit of the Nazi orders - "Did even one of you do anything for your Jewish brothers or sisters whom you threw out? Did you invite them over to your place at least for Shabbat after the trauma that you forced on families, including little children? Did you provide them with food or clothing after you did your evil deed? Did you do so much as to even visit these displaced families in their temporary quarters in their stuffed hotel room or half makeshift homes which don't provide adequate housing in the freezing winter? And perhaps above all, did you consider the fact that throwing Jews out of these homes would make room for Arabs to be ever closer to attack Israel, G-d forbid?"

On Judgment Day, no doubt that these so called religious soldiers will be asked to account for this. Some will blurt out "B...b...but my Rebbe said that it would be sin to disobey the Israeli government!" Did these soldiers or students really think that their Rebbe was the greatest Sage or Halachic decider of the generation when they clearly knew that there were "fanatical" rabbis who spoke against the Gush Katif fiasco? And there were some of their comrades in the army who did refuse orders, some of whom were in fact imprisoned and in some cases lost their Lieutenant or General status and lost their job while having mouths at home to feed. Yet, NOT ONE regreted their decision while in prison as they watched the TV seeing their fellow soldiers throwing out Jews. But among the "religious" soldiers who did the easy thing of wrecking Jewish lives, there was one after the fiasco who was crying while making Kiddush for his family, even as he had a 10 year old nephew who refused to speak to him after the despicable deed that he had done.

My friends, there was an earlier Rebbe who already decided what the Halacha should be in terms of the Disengagement. "Rebbe says: What is the proper path that one should choose for himself/herself? What is glorious to the one who does it and is glorious to mankind". Now, who is this mankind? Is it the corrupt government who constantly give the Arabs their baby bottle in their futile attempt to stop their crying? Or is it the general populace who were minding their own business living true Jewish lives as settlers, and bearing in mind, they settled in Gush Katif with the blessings of the Israeli government from decades earlier? Glorious to throw Jews out? Or glorious to have the courage to speak out against injustice and having what to be proud about, especially if thrown in the slammer but able to be able to sleep at night without a guilty conscience? And if some think that one has to give in at times to the Arabs, the descendants of Yishmael, there was a Rabbi Yishmael who outlined the 13 principles of how Jewish Law is to be derived from the Torah, not how mankind wants to interpret the Torah because it "sounds logical". It is the Torah that is truly logical, it is the ONLY TRUTH. If the Torah principles are applied properly, then even if Halacha does not follow a certain analysis as outlined in the Mishna or Talmud, it is still considered the TRUTH of the Torah, because the particular analysis was based on wanting to find out the truth of what Hashem wants, NOT because of what others will want or say in the government or other nations who will not be satisfied with us Jews no matter what we try to do to appease them.

Going back on the number 40 and Jewish Law, there are quite a few times where this number is mentioned in Jewish Law. In fact, in the very section that it mentions of not lighting a fire on Shabbat, we learn out through Gematria that there are 39 major categories of forbidden work on Shabbat. Eileh HaDevarim - "These are the things..." Eileh/These is the Gematria of 36, the word Devorim/Things is plural which is a mininum of 2, and the prefix Ha/The in HaDevarim implies 1 more - thus a total of 39. However, when the Mishna in Chapter 7 of Tractate Shabbat lists the 39 categories, it introduces this as Arbaim Chaseir Achat - 40 missing/minus one. Why?

Another parallel example of this are the amount of lashes that the Beit Din/Jewish court administers to a sinner for certain no-nos, as detailed in Tractate Makkot, which incidentally the name of the tractate which is Makkot begins with a Mem, and is the same Gematria as my name Shimon (466) (But please, no lashes for my birthday present). While the Torah actually declares 40 lashes per crime, the Rabbis interpreted the verses to imply that in fact only 39 are administered. So why did the Torah say 40 lashes when it meant only 39?

The Torah here teaches sensitivity. While in reality, someone who is a sinner may deserve a far worse punishment, and indeed, should technically be punished with death for disobeying even the slightest Mitzva that the King of Kings orders, it is not for us to judge a person in such a way, even as we ourselves are hardly less guilty. The only reason we have to punish is because the Torah tells us to do so, and even at that, the ultimate purpose of this is to provide punishment to the sinner in this world rather than him having to face a far worse punishment in the next world, as well as help him prevent from doing more sins, even if it is for him to fear punishment as opposed to fearing Hashem as the reason for not doing a sin. Thus, the Torah left it for the rabbis to teach us a lesson in having sensitivity towards other Jews, and it is only THESE TYPE OF RABBIS who are in a position to decide Jewish Law for others. There are stories told of rabbis who were approached by poor Jews who had a question as to whether something was considered Kosher, and these rabbis spent a long time finding in some cases - a loophole in Jewish Law permitting them the food even if these rabbis themselves would not eat such food.

And the same type of lesson can be learned in terms of the forbidden labors on Shabbat. While not doing some of these labors may seem to strictly restrict one's freedom of enjoying life; if this would be Hashem's really purpose, then He could have easily forbade other types of work that would accomplish this. The truth is that being forbidden to work with certain things on Shabbat in fact makes the "workload" easier, thus providing a TRUE sense of freedom of not being restricted in feeling free to do what one wants - and if following one's Jewish soul - its only want is to do what Hashem wants us to do. It is not as those who want to criticize Judaism, especially as proposed by "fanatical" rabbis, that we are making lives for ourselves and others unbearable, claiming that following the Torah as in the "old fashioned" days is not logical, while mocking Jews learning "Baba Ma'asays"/nonsense as in Baba Kama, Baba Metzia, and Baba Batra - the very tractates of the Mishna & Talmud that deals about proper relationships with others. If these mockers of observant Jews and Judaism really want to be honest about this subject, why don't they visit a Jewish home peacefully enjoying the Shabbat as in sharp contrast to what goes on in their own homes, a good percentage of such homes which are with divorce or broken homes without real meaning of what a Jewish family is like outside of the synagogue or Jewish school?

As this point, making a connection between a few things that I mentioned earlier in this post, Bircat HaChama took place on the date that is described in the very beginning of Mishna Pesachim as Ohr L'Arba'a Asar, literally means the "Light of the 14th" (of Nissan). This month of Iyar immediately following this has a connotation of the world Ohr/Light. Morever, the letter Mem=40 in the 27 letters takes its place as the 14th letter, and my birthday which begins on the first day of this month of Iyar was the beginning of my 40th year.

In conclusion, speaking of my birthday and Ahavat Yisrael/Love of Jews, especially as this Mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael is in the Torah reading of this coming Shabbat, there is an amazing find of the connection between the name of this Mitzva and the date that I was born - which I only discovered a few months ago. I believe that this Mitzva is my ultimate mission in life.

What are the Hebrew letters in Ahavat Yisrael? Alef, Hei, Vav, Tav/Sav, Yud, Sin, Reish, Alef, Lamed. Now, on what Hebrew date was I born on? On 1 Iyar 5730 (1970). The answer to the question are the SAME LETTERS as Ahavat Yisrael as this - B'(On) Alef (1) Alef, Yud, Reish (Iyar) Hei, Tav, Shin, Lamed (5730). TRULY AMAZING! (Note: The month Iyar is generally seen to be spelled with two Yuds. There are times though that Iyar is in fact spelled with only one Yud, as in this case).

2 Iyar 5769 - Motzaei Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Iyar

P.S. It happens time and again that the number of the time listed for a particular post has a connection with the subject within that post. Accordingly, at this post shows the time of 2:44 PM, the number 244 is connected with two things here. First is that the word Gemara, which I wrote extensively about in this post, is the Gematria of 244. And I had mentioned the connection of the Gemara or Talmud in terms of the Mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael. According to the count of the Mitzvot according to the Rambam/Maimonidies who qualifies his list of 613 Mitzvot based on 14 principles, what is the 244th Mitzva of the Torah? Ahavat Yisrael!

TRUE STORY: Today at the Kiddush which I sponsored at the Western Wall in honor of my birthday, I met an attendee who is a Sephardic Yeshiva Bachur who has the same exact Hebrew name as mine - Shimon Matisyahu! (Sephardim pronounce the second name as Matityahu). As it turns out, he was named Shimon after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar whose Yahrzeit is celebrated in this month on Lag Baomer, and he was named Matisyahu after the hero of the Chanuka story as he was born on the 7th night of Chanuka. In my case, I was named only Shimon at my Bris, and I added the name Matisyahu naming myself after the same person as this guy was named after only 13 months ago on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Also, on this birthday, I began my 40th year, and the letter Mem has a Gematria value of 40 and is the first letter of the name Matisyahu. TRULY DIVINE PROVIDENCE!

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