Friday, June 26, 2009

#33 - Life in the Jungle

Yes, I found out the tragic pop news - for a lack of better words - only hours ago on the net, as nobody as of yet had called me to let me know. It seems that it happened all of a sudden during my sleeping hours in Israel, but the music industry got hit by a bolt of lightning - one of its biggest shocks in the last 50 years. Without need of mentioning his name, while he indeed may have broke down the race barriers in the music industry; ultimately, the mark of a person is whether he/she behaved more like an angel - and not just by his/her name and the name of that person's children - or behaved more like an animal. It may not matter so much to the non-Jewish world who cares mostly about their idol's music/movie/sports talent, even if this "superhero" is a wife beater or got into some stupid fight while drinking alcohol at a night club; but Judaism has a very different way of defining how a person's actions, especially as he/she relates to others, define that person. And especially as Jews who are the PRINCES of Hashem the KING, we have a special responsibility to maintain our special position and aspire to be on the same level and perhaps even higher than an angel, at least as much as Michael the official angel of the Jewish nation maintains his behavior as an angel.

And so we begin with the Alef Beit. For example, the word for the letter Gimel is similar in wording to the word Gamal/camel. And the word for the letter Kuf or Koof means monkey.And so with Hebrew/Yiddish names - Tzvi Hirsch, Aryeh Leib, Dov Ber, Zev Volf - the first in each set is Hebrew and the second is Yiddish - mean deer, lion, bear, wolf respectively.What is going on here? Besides the deer, all the other animals that I mentioned with the Hebrew letters and names are non-Kosher animals. Yet, they seem to be a mainstay in our Hebrew alphabet and Jewish names! Are we in a jungle or safari here?It is the summer when kids in camps like to go on trips and they love seeing animals! But all kidding aside, everything in the physical realm has its spiritual counterpart.

First things first - the upcoming Parsha that will be read in Israel this Shabbat - Parshat Chukat, and will be read on the coming Shabbat outside of Israel, begins with how the ashes of a Para Aduma - red cow/heifer will purify a person from impurity of the dead, which would afterwards allow him/her to enter the Holy Temple which is off grounds for someone who has an impurity. With this being said, one might think that in order to purify oneself to be ready for spirituality, that one should simply be purified by waters that a blessed by a holy person, similar to L'Havdil how Christians may think - and not with something that has to do with an animal - even a kosher one like a cow (I have lived in Israel for a number of years now, yet I have never heard of a female with a name of Para). Yet, it is specifically through a cow, as well as the one who actually sprinkles the ashes on the impure person - that then and only then can that person attain purity. And at that, why specifically a RED cow?

There is another special thing about this coming Shabbat on 5 Tamuz that coincides this year with the reading of Parshat Chukat in Israel. It was on 5 Tamuz that the Navi/prophet in the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel received his prophetic/kabbalistic vision - the very Haftara that is read on Shavuot (outside of Israel where this holiday is observed for two days, it is read on the first day when the Torah portion of the Ten Commandments is read). As I mentioned in my 30th Post (and this Haftara begins with "It was in the 30th year..."), this Haftara reading is all about angels. Now, as the Rambam/Maimonidies notes in his writings, there are 10 types of angels. One of these are who are called the Chayot. Chayot in every day usage refers to animals - specifically wild animals at that. The prophet Ezekiel describes four of these Chayot. Each of these angels had four faces - the faces of a human, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. In fact, these were the first set of angels that he encountered among others. Anyways, it is this section of the Torah named as Ma'aseh Mercava that the Sages of the Mishna & Talmud were most cautious about teaching, and is quoted quite often by the main book of Kaballa - the Zohar (its author, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, passed away on Lag Baomer - the 33rd day of the Omer, and this is my 33rd Post).

So, what do animals have to do with holy matters, when animals are just the opposite of angels who don't even eat or sleep?It has to be remembered that everything in nature in this world is Hashem's creation. Every creature - regardless of how it looks, behaves, or smells - is how Hashem intended it to be. The only variable here is mankind. Why? Because Hashem gives free choice to a person, and can behave like an angel or behave like an animal. For example, Hashem tells us in the Torah that it is forbidden for a Jew to get a tattoo. However, animals don't do anything to change their looks, they could care less, as long as they don't have to wait for their next meal. Only if it is in their nature to do something will they do it - killing another animal for its prey, mating in public, etc., but in fact are limited in certain ways that humans are able to perform, including speech (it's still amazing to me until today how certain parrots are able to do some talking).

Becoming more popular in recent years in the religious Jewish world is what is called Perek Shira - a compilation of verses from the Bible that all facets of creation say in song & praise of Hashem. There is in fact a difference of opinion among rabbis as to whether is it the creations - including the animals - who themselves praise Hashem, or that it is the different parts of creation that show a uniqueness about that particular creation that Hashem made. In any case, it's most interesting to note that at midnight in Heaven, the righteous in Gan Eden have "happy hour" praising Hashem. Correspondingly on earth, it is the rooster - the 33rd on the list in Perek Shira (and this is my 33rd Post) who calls out with seven voices. Each voice is represented by a different verse. (There is a custom among pious Jews who are awake at midnight to learn Torah and/or say special prayers asking for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple).

Ultimately, the world was created for mankind. You see, all the rest of creation follows its natural instincts and automatically recognize that there is a Creator who is in charge and generally follow their natural instincts that Hashem created them with. But the main one in creation - mankind - is the one with free choice. True, man more than anything else should be most grateful to Hashem and show the prime example of how Hashem is to be served, as the angels created with their natural instinct and in a very holy abode behave, and can reach even a higher spiritual level than them. However, if one follows his/her animalistic desires and behaviors, he/she can stoop down way below the most lowly animal creature that exists on the face of this earth. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 38a) tells us that one of the reasons that mankind was created last was so that if a person becomes conceited, he can be told that even a gnat - a lowlife insect - was created before him. In fact, in another part of the Talmud (Eruvin 100b), we are told that if the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from a cat, prohibition of stealing from an aunt, prohibition of sexual immorality from a dove, and proper manners related to sex from a rooster.

Aside from the animal sacrifices that used to be brought in the Holy Temple, and which we will bring with the upcoming Holy Temple, G-d willing; we use animal products in some of our holiest rituals - including Tefillin/Phylacteries and the Sefer Torah/Torah scroll, both manufactured from animal hide. Thus, these animals whose hide is being used serve a most vital function in serving Hashem. It may be quite mind boggling - but imagine that the holiest object on this planet, a Torah scroll - at least outside of the Holy Temple - can only be considered with such holiness if the words of the Torah is written on animal hide!

Yes, Hashem teaches us how to behave - through animals, who are part of Hashem's creation. Their very creation should inspire us - the superstars - to automatically sing and praise to Hashem for His wonderous works and thus inspire us to want to serve Him the correct way. And if even animals who have natural instincts who are not commanded by Hashem to keep his Torah or else will do things that are above their natural behaviour instincts, then we human beings can at least aspire to that level even without knowing what the Torah tells us. And the Rabbis themselves tell us Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah - proper manners/behaviors come BEFORE the Torah. Now, this is not to say that children have to be perfectly behaved before they ever learn Torah in school. However, besides keeping the 613 commandments - there is also a sense of behaving like a PRINCE, that befits the title of such a person, and it is only through that that others who will be impressed by such good behavior and will follow suit or at least admit that the Torah way of life is a good and blessed way to live.

Now, speaking of a tale of two brothers - Jacob & Esau, while Yaakov/Jacob was an Ish Tam (NOTE: Today - 4 Tamuz - is the Yahrzeit of Rabbeinu Tam, grandson of Rashi, whose name was Yaakov, and was named as such from “Yaakov Ish Tam”, whose view on the order of the Parshiyot in the Tefillin is followed by pious people who put on this Tefillin after donning the Tefillin according to Rashi’s view), a “simple” person, meaning, without shticklich, tricks or cleverness up his sleeve, learning Torah all day, while Esav/Esau is described as a hunter in the fields. Now, while not everyone is into learning Torah all day, some make out to be very honest business people who make a Kiddush Hashem/Sanctification of Hashem’s name, when others outside of the Torah or religious world observe those who follow Judaism and can see that the Torah is a very beautiful thing (as I wrote about in my previous blog about the brothers Yissachar & Zebulun). However, Esav was not about ready to be a Zebulun to support his brother learning Torah. His reason for leaving Yeshiva was because he wanted to follow his base desires like an animal, and as in the cruel business world - animal fights animal until the winning hunter finds a prey.

Anyways, Esav who was of reddish complexion representing his desire for sins, came home one day totally famished and begged Yaakov to feed him red beans in return for the birthright service - equivalent to the priesthood - which at the time was reserved for the firstborn as Esav was. Yaakov agreed as he knew that Esav was not worthy of being the man to have the special privileges of priesthood in serving Hashem considering his current behavior. It was on that day that their grandfather Abraham passed away. Our Rabbis tell us that Abraham passed away five years earlier than he would have otherwise thanks to Esav’s behavior, as Hashem promised Avraham that he would live to a “good” old age, and if he would learn of Esav’s behavior, it would have been aggravating to him.

In terms of Gematria, the letter Hei - speaking of which is the date of this coming Shabbat - Hei (5) Tamuz - is the letter, as mentioned by Rashi, that Hashem used in creating this world, as it says (Genesis 2:4) B’Hibaram - B’Hei Bra’am “With the Hei, He created them (heaven & earth)”, while Hashem created the world to come where the righteous are with a Yud. This is the only letter - besides the Kuf - which has an opening in it (that is, between the top & the bottom). The Talmud (Menachot 29b) tells us that this indicates that this opening is for one who wants to repent will have a way to re-enter so to speak, thus giving hope to someone who wants to repent can realize that he/she has the chance as long as one is living in this world. Now, another way of reading the above word is when the letters are rearranged, it reads B’Avraham - through (the merit of) Abraham. That is the world was created in Abraham’s merit. Now mind you, in this word, the letter Hei is small. This also indicates that Abraham’s original name was Avram/Abram, but the letter Hei was added to his name when he was ready to have his circumcision at the age of 99, or in his 100th year.

Now getting back to Esav, on the day that he came back from the field feeling faint and his grandfather Abraham died, he committed five sins, and thus as a result of beginning his public sinful life, Abraham died five years earlier than he would have had Esav not been this way. Thus, the sharp contrast here is that one can either use materialism - as this world which was created with a Hei=5 - for spiritual pursuits like Abraham did in feeding his guests with the finest foods in the desert leading them to believe in Hashem (we see that the story of his feeding guests came right after his circumsion when the letter Hei was added to his name) or like Esav who sold his soul for even the most plain foods. And in case anyone feels sorry for Esav because he came home extra tired and hungry from a hard day’s work, our Rabbis are quick to point out that he was faint from doing sins - the FIVE sins that began his materialistic life.

Yaakov and Esav were now 15, and as Pirkei Avot tells us, one starts learning Talmud/Gemara at this age (why children in Yeshivot these days learn Gemara years before they turn 15 is beyond the scope of this blog). So, since Esav walked away from Yeshiva, Yaakov was on his own
without his twin brother Esav as his Chavrusa (learning partner, as is customary in Yeshivot), but with Hashem’s help, he won the award of Bechir ShebeAvot - the “chosen one” of the patriarchs as the one who was most learned in Torah compared to Abraham & Isaac.

Now, I don’t remember where I saw this, but it is written that out of 1,000 children who learn Chumash, only 100 will learn Mishna. Out of these 100 who learn Mishna, only 10 will learn Gemara. And finally, out of these 10 Talmudic students, only one will be a teacher of Torah. This was apparently the common scenario in the early days - and indeed there is a connection between Alef (1) and Elef (1000) as I wrote in previous blogs, but my point today is to focus on the numbers 100 & 10. You see, the letter Kuf whose word means monkey is the numerical value of 100. It’s also interesting to note that while the Talmud talked about the open space of the letter Hei as pertaining to the repentant, it does not mention this about the Kuf. You see, a monkey stays being a monkey. (It's noteworthy to note that contrary to the belief of the scientists who don't believe in G-d who maintain that humans came from monkeys, the truth is that the opposite is true. The Midrash tells us that as a punishment for building the Tower of Babel to fight Hashem, one third of the builders became monkeys; hence, the reason for the similarity of monkey's faces to human faces). And so Esav, not utilizing his choice properly, chose not be different from the 100 who learn Mishna, and instead of continuing his learning at age 15 when one begins learning Gemara, he chose a materialistic lifestyle. And in case you think he didn’t have examples to learn from, Abraham gave himself a circumcision at his old age in his 100th year, not having the same strength as a 15 year old. Accordingly, even if he didn’t want to live a life as a rabbi or teacher of Torah, Esav could have still aspired to be like the 10 who learn Gemara, who at least make an attempt to make it to the top spiritual level, as the letter Yud has a numerical value of 10, and is the letter that Hashem created the world to come for the righteous.

Now, there was an early indication of Esav’s sinful life. He was born with a reddish complexion with a head full of hair, and then when he came home from his first day of sinful life, he asked for red beans. Now, we see with the Red Cow that it had to be full of red hair. Rashi quotes Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan who says that the color red represents sin, and that it was a cow because it represented atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. Again, Esav may have wanted to excuse his behavior since it was part of his nature - like an animal. But he could have used his desires for good behavior instead of evil behavior, but don't feel sorry for him for selling his privileges of the birthright-priesthood service as the firstborn so that Yaakov would give him beans to eat. Abraham’s spilling of blood, which is red, came in the form of the blood of circumcision and killing evil people in war, but Esav murdered people strictly for his own benefit. And then we see in the Midrash that when Samuel the prophet was ready to annoint King David as king, he noticed he was of reddish complexion. Hashem assured Samuel that while this was true, he conquered his evil inclination unlike Esav. (King David did have sexual desires that led him to the mess up pertaining to Bath Sheba, but he was a mentsch to admit he did wrong when confronted by a prophet for his misdeed, and he did much fasting and crying, eventually leading to totally conquering his evil inclination).

And it is on this note about blood being used for good or evil that I end this post. G-d willing, I will pick up from this point on my next post which will be around the time of the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz (17 Tamuz).

4 Tamuz 5769, Erev Shabbat Chukat

1 comment:

Rafael V. Rabinovich said...

Hold it! So Michael Jackson is "Michah-el ben Yaakov" -- akin to malach Michah-el and Yaakov Avinu. But that is merely holy names fallen into (no racist pun intended) the darkness of klipa.