Saturday, June 6, 2009

#31 - Kindness & Mercy on BOTH Sides of the Street

We all want Hashem to be kind and merciful to us, even if we are not deserving of this. After all, praying for kindness & mercy is part of our obligatory prayers. The Hebrew words for kindness & mercy are Chesed VeRachamim. If you combine these two words together, you will notice an absolutely amazing phenomenon. You will notice that the word Siddur/Prayer Book is spelled within this combination!

Small wonder then that there is in fact a very special piece about Kindness & Mercy that we pray for in a biblical formula known as the Yud Gimel Midot HaRachamim/13 Divine Attributes of Mercy. Hashem revealed this to Moshe upon his 3rd ascent to Mt. Sinai following Moshe's 40 days of intense prayer following the sin of the Golden Calf. Hashem promised Moshe that whenever Jews pray this in public that Hashem will listen to them (assuming that they are sincere in their prayers). This is recited during the Selichot prayers, many of which are recited during the High Holidays. This is also recited (except for Nusach Ashkenaz) in the midst of the Tachanun/Supplicatory Prayers in the morning and afternoon prayers following the Shemonei Esrei.

According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, or known as the Arizal, famed Kabbalist of the 1500s, the first of these 13 attributes is the word E-l, one of the seven names of Hashem that is forbidden to be erased, and represents Kindness. E-l is the Gematria of 31, and this number is a common theme in Parshat Beha'alotcha, which was just read this past Shabbat in Israel, and will be read this coming Shabbat outside of Israel. I will be talking more about this attribute a little later on here, and how it relates to one of the Tribes of Israel. This comes in good timing with this blog piece, as this is my 31th Post.


In the midst of this Parsha, you will notice in most Chumashim where there are two verses that are preceded and followed by inverted Nuns. It's interesting to note that these two verses consist of exactly 85 letters, and in one sense is considered a seperate Book in the Torah, making the Book of Numbers into three books so to speak, and which would theoretically make it the shortest Book in the Bible. And in a more global sense when we say that there are 24 Books in the Jewish Bible, the Book of Ruth which is the shortest Book, consists of exactly 85 verses. Anyways, these two verses are the very verses that are first recited when the Sefer Torah is brought out of the Holy Ark in the synagogue and when returned, respectively. The very first word of this section is Vayehi which is the Gemtria of 31. The Ba'al HaTurim which brings Gematriot and comparison of similar phrases in the Bible, points out that the first two letters of this word is Vie - which means "woe", that is, woe to the nations when the Jews traveled with the Holy Ark and upon entry to Israel, Joshua who was divinely commanded to conquer the nations who were living in Israel as the time, knocked down a total of 31 kings, which subsequently allowed the Jews to inherit the Land, which was part of Hashem's great kindess to us as he first promised their ancestor Abraham, the epitome of kindness who brought many people to believe and serve Hashem through his hospitality, to whom Hashem promised that he would give the land of Israel to his future descendants.


In the following section in this Parsha, we see that some Jews complained about the daily manna that Hashem provided them, and demanded meat. In response, Hashem said that he would send quail meat to them on a daily basis for 30 days until it would "come out of their noses". Many of them in fact died from this. But my point is that following this, only then would the remaining Jews realize that Hashem is in fact the one who provides the ultimate kindness, and only He knows what is best for them. Thus, it was on the 31st day that the Jews no longer suffered the results of overabundance, but were able to continue and appreciate the daily kindness that Hashem provided them with the daily manna.


When Miriam was stricken with Tzara'at (a spiritual disease that is similar to leprosy) as punishment for her critique of her brother Moshe's marital status as a result of his exalted relationship with Hashem which meant that He could receive prophecy at any time, Moshe prayed to Hashem a prayer which is the shortest prayer recorded in Bible history, and perhaps in world history: "Please G-d, heal her now" - without even using his sister's name within the prayer, which is common in our prayers today when he pray for particular sick people to be healed. The Hebrew words for Moshe's prayer is "E-l Nah Rephah Nah Lah". As we see, Moshe - to whom Hashem already revealed the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, began his prayer with the word E-l, the first of these Divine Attributes.

According to the Chasidic book Bnei Yissaschar, the Yud Gimel Midot HaRachamim have a correlationship with the Yud Gimel Midot HaTorah, the 13 ways that the Torah can be interpreted within the confines of the Torah She'be'al Peh/Oral Law. Corresponding to the Divine Attribute of E-l, the first of the 13 ways of Torah interpretation is called Kal VaChomer, which literally means "Easy & Strict", that is, from an easy scenario to a strict scenario. Without explaining this in a 100 words, let me illustrate this with an example which is followed as a response to Moshe's prayer.

Hashem replied to Moshe, "If Miriam's father would have spat at her, she would have hidden out of shame for seven days (easy scenario); then certainly, Miriam with her Tzara'at which is visible to everyone should be quaranteed from the environs (though the real reason that one with Tzara'at is quaranteed is because he/she has impurity that can contaminate others, and serves as a punishment to better his/her ways) of the Jewish Nation for seven days" (strict scenario) The Talmud in a particular context wants to attempt to prove that really Miriam should have quaranteed for two weeks or 14 days, a much more visible and shameful thing than being spat at; but as the Talmud puts it "It's enough that the applied case - Miriam's Tzara'at - should be like the precedent - the hypothetical case of Miriam's father spitting at her, and thus she was quaranteed only for seven days." But there is a question that remains, how does the Talmud assume that Hashem really wanted to quarantee Miraim for 14 days if the Torah if in fact Hashem never mentions this in the Torah?!

The above book Bnei Yissaschar quotes Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, who took over the mantle of leadership of the Chasidic movement following the passing of Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the movement, who points out that Hashem's response to Moshe's prayer was in fact Midah Knegged Midah/measure for measure. Hashem responded to Moshe's request calling out to Him asking Hashem for kindness to Miriam using the word E-l, which denotes kindness. Hashem in turn responded to him to the Torah way of interpretation that corresponds to this as saying that if Miriam would have hid a week for being spat at, then Hashem can't do anything less than put away Miriam for a week. But the question begs to be asked, where is Hashem's response of kindness here?

But this is the point. The Talmud that is largely comprised of the 13 ways of Torah interpretation understood well what Hashem was really telling Moshe. To show that Miriam's present scenario was a far worse case than Miriam's father spitting at her which in fact never happened, that by the strict rules of justice, Hashem would need to show that nothing less than two weeks, twice the amount of time would prove that this is really what the Torah required (This was in fact the exception in Miriam's case. But in general, once a person was confirmed to have Tzara'at - not simply if there was a question about it - he/she was quaranteed until such time that the Tzara'at disappeared and only then could atonement be attained in the Temple)But in Hashem's great mercy, He showed kindness in providing only one week of Miriam being quaranteed, as this is part of Hashem's Torah also. Indeed, quite often, the Talmud refers to the Torah when making a point as saying Rachmana - "Merciful One" refering to the Torah, Hashem's wisdom as such, since the Torah in fact wants to be merciful, though it has to be within certain confines of Jewish Law so the Torah won't be taken lightly, which would otherwise would lead people to do what they want without being disciplined by the Torah. We do see that in fact that the Torah in the week of creating the word uses only the name of Elo-him (G-d), denoting Hashem's strict justice; but as Rashi points out, the world would not have been able to be tolerant with only justice, since after all, if everytime a person sinned he would die, there would be no human existance left, so Hashem had to add mercy to the equation, as demonstrated after the account of the days of creation when Hashem's name is written as YKVK (Hashem) Elo-him, the name YKVK denoting mercy; and eventually, this name alone is mentioned quite often in the Bible.

Among the many reasons listed for the Temple being destroyed, the Talmud mentions that Jews followed the Halacha. So nu, isn't this what a Jew is supposed to be doing; halevei - if only all Jews would follow the basic Jewish Law, so what does the Talmud mean? It's very simple - everyone insisted on what they were entitled to according to Jewish Law, being very strict about for example what someone else owed them. Yes, the Torah will not lie as to what the law is; but sometimes, a Jew is expected to have sensitivity, and has to be willing at times to be understanding of other peoples' situation. There are times that a poor person who could barely feed himself will owe money to a rich person for doing accidental damage to him. But, if we put ourselves in someone else's shoes, how would WE would like to be treated, despite what the law would be? Indeed, if we want Hashem to treat us with kindness and mercy, it makes only sense to treat others in like kind. The book Tomer Devorah written by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of the 1500s is based on the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy demonstrating by each one of these how we could apply it in our daily lives in treating others. In fact, not only has this been translated into English, but is now even apportioned for monthly study (divided into 30 sections) which will be a definite help in receiving Divine assistance.


Today - 15 Sivan - is a very special birthday, the birthday of one of the most distinguished of the tribes (following the tribe of Levi from last post) - Judah. This may remind some of Judah the Maccabbe, but Judah the son of Jacob & Leah who had the original name also showed leadership qualities. He didn't always make the right decisions such as when he decided to sell Joseph rather than return him to their father, but at least he was a man enough to admit when he made mistakes such as in the incident of Tamar with whom he had an intimate relationship with, and put his spiritual future on the line when he promised his father Jacob to come back with Benjamin after the tribes' second visit to Egypt to get food, saying that he will be in eternal excommunication if this were not to happen. At the end of Jacob's life, he blessed Judah with a number of blessings, including being the ancestor of the dynasty of King David & the Messiah.

Judah's descendant King David showed exceptional kindness. When he judged a case and ruled for one person to give money to another, he gave money from his own pocket to the one who owed money to the other person whose case he just tried. This is certainly an example that everyone can think about when it comes to dealing to people, especially as it pertains to financial issues.

So now that we have learned a lesson about being a better Jew - especially to another Jew - we can note a correlationship between the months and the tribes and divine attributes of mercy. Don't remember the original source for this, but there is in fact a correlationship between the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy and the months. Yes, there are usually 12 months in the Jewish calendar, but in a Jewish leap year - there are 13 months. Indeed, in Hashem introducing the divine attributes to Moshe, it says "Hashem passed in front of him (Moshe) and He called out:
E-l..." - Vaya'avor Hashem... The word Vaya'avor (He passed) has the same letters as Ibbur, which literally means pregnant, and is the root word used to describe the leap month of a second Adar, or the leap year. And according to the Bnei Yissaschar, the Tribes of Israel correspond to the months according to the order of the leaders of the Tribes bringing Korbanot/sacrifices on behalf of their tribes following the dedication of the Tabernacle. Thus, Judah corresponds to the first Jewish month of Nissan (though Tishrei begins the Jewish New Year, the months are counted the 1st month, the 2nd month from Nissan, the month of the Exodus, the birth of the Jewish Nation). It was in this month that Hashem showed His great kindness to us despite the Jew's low spiritual standing in the impurity of Egypt and had yet to receive the Torah, thus displaying the Divine Attribute of E-l, which denotes kindness.

In Psalm 30 that is recited during Chanuka when we read about the sacrifices that the leaders of the tribes brought in the Torah, it ends off with "I will thank you", the last word in Hebrew is Odeka. This is the Gematria of 31, the same as that of the attribute of E-l denoting the Sephira of Chesed/kindness. That is, thanking Hashem for His great kindness, as King David, Judah's descendant thanked Hashem. And indeed, Judah's very name is based on the word Thanksgiving (don't worry, we have several months for that in the States if it will still stay in one piece by then), as Leah thanked Hashem for granting her with a 4th son, which was more than her equal share of 12 sons of Jacob as she prophetically knew as Jacob had four wives; and as the Talmud states, Leah was the first person to thank Hashem. And yes, Yehuda/Judah is the Gematria of 30, as it relates to Psalm 30.

The number 31 is also related to the other end of the active Sephirot - Malchut/Kingship, for when the first 31 numbers - 1 through 31 - are added, they equal 496, which is the Gematria of Malchut, and it is the Malchut Beit David/the Davidic dynasty, which will last forever - echoing the ending of Psalm 30 that was composed by King David for the occasion of the dedication of the Temple "forever will I thank You" - which is descended by parental line from Judah.

Judah's birthday is on the 15th of this month. It is this time of the month when the moon is full. And as I mentioned in my last post, King Solomon being the 15 generation from Abraham was the one king in whose reign that peace and completeness was reached as his name Shlomo implies, corresponding to the full month of the 15th of the month, very appropo to the fact that King Solomon is a descendant of Judah. Speaking of kingdoms in the Davidic dynasty, we know that King David was born and passed away on Shavuot. Before the established Jewish calendar of today, Shavuot could have fallen on the 5th, 6th or 7th of Sivan. In any case, that year Shavuot fell out on a Shabbat; and while there are certain law as far as taking care of the dead that are permissible on a holiday, it is clearly forbidden to remove a deceased on Shabbat, and King David was no exception, so his funeral could not be held until the next day, when only at that time could King Solomon assume the full mantle of the kingdom (he was in fact anointed while still in his father King David's lifetime, but this was done to stop his older brother Adoniya from attempting to be king). Now according to the custom of the majority of Jews, the prayers of Kiddush Levana, thanking Hashem for the moon, are recited during the 2nd quarter of the month, starting usually from the night of the 8th until the night of the 15th of the month.

So, the fact that King Solomon began his full reign from around the 2nd quarter of the month when we mention among the "moon" prayers "David, King of Israel, lives and exists" was to serve as a reminder to him that only if he would follow in the footsteps of his father King David could he hope for an everlasting reign of peace and completeness; not being satisfied with status quo, but fulfill the dictates of Psalm 72 (Chesed/Kindness is the Gematria of 72), King David's final psalm that he composed for King Solomon instructing him on how to be a good Jewish king which includes serving justice to the people and the poor; and then and only then could he hope to be in par with the complete moon which is compared to the Jewish people as signified by the birth of Judah, his ancestor, at the heighlight of the month of Sivan in which King Solomon took over the reigns of kingship, and Judah's name as Yehuda became adopted in time as one of the official names of Jews - especially as Yehudi in singular or Yehudim in plural. And as per Psalm 30 which was composed for King David for the future dedication of the Temple, it would be his son King Solomon who would be the actual king presiding over the Temple dedication.

Getting back for a moment to Moshe's prayer on behalf of Miriam - he starts with "E-l Nah" E-l equals 31, and Nah equals 51. Indeed, the Levites began their physical work in the Tabernacle/Temple after 30 years of age, beginning their 31st year, and ended after 50 years, which began their 51st year. Though Moshe of the Levite family was far above the working age, he never forgot even in a moment of personal distress - even as he was forgiving of Miriam's critique of Moshe, but rather remembered how Miriam waited by the Nile when Moshe, as Baby Moses, was placed in a little boat on that river - that he was nothing more than a servant of Hashem as his fellow tribe, the Levites were in serving Hashem, and thus didn't expect anything more from Hashem than anyone else just because of how great he was himself. He knew that nothing short of relying on Hashem's mercies would be the key to having his prayers answered. Along these lines, the 13th month of the Jewish leap year - the 2nd month of Adar - corresponds to Shevet Levi/Tribe of Levi, according to some.

Thus, the Divine Attributes start off with the special qualities of the Tribe of Judah, and ends off with the special qualities of the Tribe of Levi. Regardless of Jewish leadership - whether a king from the Tribe of Judah, or a Cohen or Levite from the Tribe of Levi, ALL were to remember that the ONLY reason they were priviledged to be in their special position is because this is what Hashem wanted - NOT because they were necessarily anymore worthy than anyone else - and thus outside of serving Hashem in their special position, each Jew is considered equal; and if anything, one of Jewish leadership or scholarship is expected to go beyond the letter of the law in treating other Jews with kindness and mercy.

Accordingly, Moshe narrates to the Jewish people in the Book of Deutronomy that the Jews were coming to Israel not because they were necessarily greater than the other nations because in fact some Jews sinned also, but because of Hashem's great kindness to them and he swore to their ancestors that He would bring them to Israel, and it was only because of this that in fact they were given Divine assistance to conquer the nations living there at the time. Even when they were fed the manna, there were some who complained that they didn't get enough meat; so after a whole 30 days of meat, they were so sick of it that it was only through this that their appreciation level of what Hashem provided for them was able to come back to normal. And so too with Miriam's situation, she felt as a prophetess that Moshe had overstepped his boundaries in leaving his wife in justification for being close with Hashem.

But what Miriam didn't realize is what Moshe did was only because this was what Hashem wanted or agreed to, and if she wasn't on that level, that was because this is how Hashem wanted it. After all, if we all work for the same boss; even if the boss doesn't give the exact same directions or priviledges to everyone, it is because this is what the boss wants, not because any employees decide that things should be different or better for some of their own; and thus, there is no room for jealousy here; but if anything, there should be a mutual respect of love and respect for each other if they want the same treatment from their boss.

Though the word for "No" in Hebrew is Lo - Lamed Alef, also equaling 31, we should realize that sometime a "No" as an answer to our prayers can also be part of Hashem's kindness even though we don't realize how this is possible. And if we are truly worthy enough, especially if we show kindness to one another, perhaps we can change the "No" to a "Yes" - through the Divine Attribute & Name E-l denoting kindness, and then indeed we will have plenty of kindnesses to thank Hashem for.

The names Judah - refering also to Jews in general as Yehudi - and Jerusalem are often together in the Bible and in our prayers. As the seven Sefirot from Chesed/Kindness to Malchut/Kingship correspond to the seven days of the week, so too, there are seven years to the Sabbatical cycle. I didn't mention this in my previous post about Jerusalem Day, but both the year of the events of Jerusalem Day in 1967 and in this year which was the beginning of the 43rd year since the holiest area in the world became available to Jews were the first year of the Sabbatical cycle corresponding to the attribute of Kindness, and that day of the Sefira - the 43rd day - is that of Chesed She'be'Malchut/Kindness within Kingdom. And in this year following Jerusalem Day, Judah's birthday falls out on the first day of the week, the same day of the week in which the Nachshon, the leader of the Tribe of Judah brought his sacrifices on behalf of his tribe - on a Sunday - the only leader of the leaders of the other tribes that brought his sacrifices on the very day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, which was the start of the official service in the Tabernacle by Aaron (his brother-in-law) and his sons from the tribe of Levi.

Judah was Leah's 4th son, and was the 4th generation from Abraham from whom was descended King David - whose name begins & ends with Dalet, which is the numerical value of four - and the Messiah. As the theme of this posting is about kindness & mercy, it's interesting to note that the each of the letters of the Alef Beit are related to one or another of the Sefirot, which besides the ones that we had mentioned in terms of the Sefira period, it also includes Keter/Crown, Chachma/Wisdom & Bina/Understanding. Anyways, it is the letter Dalet that is related especially to the Sefira of Chesed/Kindness. Additionally, for the Shir Shel Yom, "Song of the Day" that the Levites sang in the Temple and that we recite daily, Psalm 94 is recited for the 4th day of the week (Wednesday) which begins with the word E-l, denoting Hashem's lovingkindness. And finally on the subject of the number four for this post, according to Halacha/Jewish Law, there are four types of situations of being saved from danger for which one is obligated to give public thanks to Hashem, and thanking Hashem is the root meaning of the name Yehuda - 1) Recovery from illness, 2) Returning from a sea voyage, 3) Leaving prison, 4) Leaving the desert.

Next week, G-d willing, I will be writing about a Mitzva that also relates to two aspects of number four. You know of more than one such Mitzva? You are right, but we will be focusing on one Mitzva particularly. Stay tuned.

15 Sivan 5769 - Birthday of Judah son of Jacob

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