Wednesday, June 3, 2009

#30 - TRUE Freedom

In life, we all have our ups and downs - our moods, family life, friendships, finances, health, etc. Well, spiritually, it is the same thing. Sometimes we feel like praying today, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we feel like listening to the rabbi's lecture; while othertimes, we feel like playing ball. While certainly we need some sort of recreation or relaxation once in a while to recharge our spiritual batteries, the general mode that Hashem expects us to be is to improve ourselves bit by bit - not too quickly or we will loose it all, but working on ourselves with our relationship between ourselves & Hashem, between ourselves & others, and allowing ourselves time to others to think how we behaved until now, repenting for our past misdeeds, and moving forward without giving up hope no matter how many times we have fallen.

According to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, even if one fell down spiritually thousands of times, even the beginning attempt of doing the right thing is precious to Hashem. Most significantly, the theme of repentence - which begins with admitting to our wrongs - is one of several themes in Parshat Naso, read this past Shabbat in Israel, and will be read this coming Shabbat outside of Israel (as Shabbat of last week outside of Israel coincided with the second day of Shavuot as celebrated there, so the regular reading of the Parsha was postponed until this coming Shabbat).

And so, right from the start in Parshat Naso, continuing from the end of the previous Parshat Bamidbar, are the details of the work that the three major Levite families were to perform in the Mishkan/Tabernacle - from ages 30-50. The Torah considers this age range to be the prime of their physical life to be able to perform duties in the Tabernacle quite proficiently without being too slow or not having enough strength to perform their tasks. Indeed, it is from here that Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers at the end of Chapter Five listing the stages of the ages of a person's life, learns out that 30 is the age marking Ko-ach/Strength.

But before moving on to other places in the Bible showing the significance of the number 30 (and 50), as the timing of this coincides with my 30th Post, I would like to translate the meanings of the names of the three Levitical families - which were the names of the three sons of Levi, the son of Jacob. While I am a Levite, I do not know which one of the three Levite families that I am descended from; as there are others not coming from the Tribe of Levi who do not even know what tribe they are from (especially as it pertains to the parental line especially in terms of inheritance in the land of Israel as it was thousands of years ago). However, the meanings of the names of the three Levitical families have a common theme.


Parshat Naso begins with the details of work for the B'nei Gershon - descendants of Gershon. The name Gershon has a connotation of being chased away, or divorced. Next are the B'nei Merari. Merari is in fact similar to the word Maror/BITTER herbs that are eaten alongside with the Matza on the Seder night, thus signifying the concept of bitterness. And as the end of the previous Parsha mentions, the B'nei Kehat. Kehat has a connotation of bashing, as phrased in the Tnach/Bible as bashing teeth. So you wonder, how come the names of the heads of the Levitical families have such negative connotations?

I believe that the Torah wants to teach a crucial lesson here. You see, Bnei Gershon can signify the children of divorced parents. In whatever way their situation is bandaged - parents remarrying, having a chance to see both of their parents, etc., no doubt they are affected by their parents being divorced - for some, it may not be so traumatic, but it is not something that the children are always comfortable talking about to their friends. In any case, many may not feel the same level of confidence of being something in life like their other friends. Then you have the B'nei Merari - children coming from bitter homes, and while their parents may be married, they are certainly not in a very happy atmosphere to say the least and unless are physicologically helped or given a brake in life, no doubt they will carry on a bitter legacy that they will not be happy with. And then there are the B'nei Kehat - children from violent homes that includes physically and/or verbally being beat up.

My point is that while individually, we may not exactly come from the best of circumstances, we all - particularly Jews as descendants from our Avot &
Imahot/Jewish patriarchs & matriarchs as mentioned in the Book of Genesis have tremendous potential. True that we may have setbacks, unpleasant memories, and some of us may not want to talk much about our childhood days, but if Hashem allowed us to be Jews, and especially knowing that we have a Torah that transmits to us what Hashem wants us to do, that we have a mission to do. There will be certain things in the Torah that will indeed be more challenging for some than others - but our mission is to eventually overcome these challenges and perhaps rise even greater than most others who have been challenged far less.

It is the tribe of Levi who was eventually chosen to be Hashem's servants in His holiest place in the world. While then, the Levites had a pretty good background in terms of family and serving Hashem, as they were never enslaved in Egypt, and the entire tribe was very faithful to Hashem without serving idols, at least through Joshua's period of leadership; today, Jews have been dispersed throughout the world and come from virtually every type of background possible. Even so, there are many if not most Jews from non-observant homes who know if they are in fact Cohanim or Levi'im/Levites. Being a member of this tribe was such a privilege, that it seems that most who are from this tribe know this to be a fact until this day, despite the challenges of the exile that were imposed on Jews throughout the centuries, while so many other Jews until this day - regardless of religious background - do not even know what tribe they come from. Thus, we see how lively the Torah is until this day keeping the awareness of the privilege of being Hashem's special servants, even after almost 2,000 years since the Levite tribe have not been able to serve Hashem in the Holy Temple.


On Shavuot (first day outside of Israel), for the Haftara/readings from the Prophets following the Parsha, we read from the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel. It is this very Haftara that talks about concepts that are discussed in Kabbalah. The beginning words are "It was in the thirtieth year...and I (Exekiel) was among the exiles..." Rashi, the number one commentary on the Bible & Talmud, begins commenting that the prophet sealed/hid his words without explaining the meaning of this, that is, what he means by the 30th year as from what event or period in time. At this point, Rashi in fact does not explain what this 30th year is. It is only on the wording of the second verse, mentioning the period of time as the fifth year from the exile of Joyachin, one of the last kings in Judea before the destruction of the First Temple, does Rashi explain what the 30th year means - the 30th year following the last Jubilee, which was the 50th year following seven Sabbatical cycles of not working the land. But the question begs to be asked - how come Rashi didn't IMMEDIATELY explain what it means when it says the 30th year, or at least say that he will explain this a little further on when more details are mentioned about this period in time?

Much earlier on in history when Jacob with his family - children & grandchildren, came to live in Egypt in the midst of a world famine where they would be amply supported by Joseph, the Torah ends off Parshat Vayigash with saying that they were living in Egypt with a stronghold in the land. Then, in the beginning of Parshat Vayechi, it starts off mentioning how long Jacob lived for. Rashi on the beginning of this Parsha points out that in the Sefer Torah, you do not have the usual spacing that you see at the end of a Parsha before proceeding to the next one, but only as the usual spacing between sentences. He explains using the same terminology as he used in the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel, "Why is this Parsha SEALED? Because since Jacob's passing, the eyes & hearts of the Jews were HIDDEN from the troubles of the slavery, that they were begun to be enslaved. Another reason: Jacob wished to reveal the date of arrival of the Messiah, but this was HIDDEN from him".

There is something to be asked on this. What does it mean that the Jew's eyes & hearts were hidden from the "troubles of slavery" while saying at the same time that they enslavery began?
Does this mean that they kept themselves shut from the reality that was happening to them? It's true that Jacob passed away already, but we know for a fact that the slavery didn't actually begin until after all of Jacob's sons passed away, and Joseph, Jacob's son, as second in power to Pharoh, was still in power for over 60 years?

There seems to be a common theme here between the context of the life of Jacob's family in Egypt and the time period of Ezekiel when he among many other Jews were in exile. First of all, in terms of Jacob's family, especially with their physical & spiritual patriarch Jacob, not knowing when redemption would come at hand, were in spiritual limbo. And while they may still have had the comforts of Egyptian life as they were well provided for by Joseph, the reality of an upcoming period of slavery was already starting to take root. The realities of being an exile didn't quite hit home unfortunately, and so it lead to the reality of their children and grandchildren being enslaved in Egypt down the road. The Jews in this inbetween stage - the time period between living in Israel and being slaves were indeed living in a very dark period in Jewish history, because their eyes and hearts were shut from a reality that they should have envisioned but let the comforts of exile make them forget that Egypt was just a temporary place.
The only difference between the Jews in those days and now is that at least then, they really didn't have anyone to learn from and hadn't even received the Torah yet, but today's Jews have much to learn from, and if not from the Torah per se if they haven't learned quite much about what Judaism is about, then at least they have what to learn from in Jewish history.

And so it was the case in Ezekiel's days. It was close to the period prior to the destruction of the Temple, but the exile in fact already began when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who ordered the Temple's destruction, exiled a segment of the Jewish population in Judea. Yes, another dark period in Jewish history, even though there was still a fair sizable Jewish population with the Temple still standing. But very unfortunately, the Jews kept their eyes & hearts shut from what was really happening, and since they refused to repent as the prophets kept warning them to do, it was just a matter of time before the Temple would be destroyed and most of the rest of the Jews would be murdered, die from starvation, or exiled.

And so it was the 30th year since the last Jubilee, a year in which inherited land returns to its original owners and Hebrew servants return homes from serving their master; and the next generation of Jews didn't know of how Jewish life was supposed to be lived, and that it is only "freedom for the land", as the Jubilee year dictates, when Jews follow the law of the land, the Torah of the Land of Israel, not their way of how they view Judaism to be or be under the guise of a Jewish or Israeli government that quite often spits on Jewish Law. And so, indeed as Rashi points out at the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet sealed/hid his words and didn't immediately explain the details as Rashi himself didn't immediately do, because this signifies that the fact that the Jews hid themselves from the reality they were presently living in compared to how it was some 30 years ago was a true dark period, because it wasn't what was happening itself or what was going to happen that was so terrible, it was the fact that the Jews didn't repent from their evil ways and lived quite comfortably without worrying about what Hashem wanted that made it a dark time. It was just that Ezekiel recognized the reality - and so Hashem wanted to give him a vision of the REAL REALITY - what goes on in Heaven - how the angels look like and their method of operation. This is the part of Tnach that forms the basis of the concepts of Kabbalah, and is read publicly on the day that the Torah was given on Shavuot.

And the reason that Kabbalah is considered a "hidden" subject, understood properly by very few, is because it is these very few that truly know what reality is. This world is indeed one big exile -not so much because it can be spiritually degrading - but because the world is viewed as the real reality with all its comforts, making people forget the purpose of our life in this world. It didn't just appear from the "Big Bang", and we don't descend from monkeys or apes, which would otherwise excuse our animalistic behaviors. Thus, even if we don't understand the details of the Haftara with its kabbalistic vision, it should put us in a frame of mind that makes us think of our purpose in life which is dictated by the Torah that Hashem officially gave us on this day, commencing with the Ten Commandments, paralleling the Ten Statements through which Hashem created this world for the purpose of us Jews serving Hashem.


On Shavuot (outside of Israel, it's the 2nd day), we read the Book of Ruth, the shortest of the 24 books of the Tnach, which consists of 85 verses. The star of this book is Ruth, princess of a Moabite king who converted to Judaism, and after living a period of poverty and humbleness in Israel, married Boaz, the Jewish leader at the time, and from whom was descendant the royal line of King David from whom the Messiah will be a descendant. We read this especially on Shavuot because the events that took place in the Book of Ruth happened around this time of year, and King David was born and passed away on Shavuot.

Without going into all kinds of details, Ruth, daughter-in-law of Naomi whose husband was a relative of Boaz, was instructed by Boaz to marry him to keep Naomi's ancestral land as inherited from her deceased husband to stay in the family as Noami had no living descendants. Ruth came to Boaz in the midst of the night telling him of the situation. Boaz replied to Ruth - Lini HaLayla - "Stay here overnight" (Ruth 3:13)- and then Boaz would see would be as there was a relative of his that was closer to him by blood relationship who would be the "land redeemer". As it turns out, this relative appeared from the blues, and at first agreed to do as Boaz requested, but then reneged, so Ruth wound up marrying Boaz and the rest is history.

As I have mentioned before, there are certain letters in the Bible that are unusually large or small. In this word LINI - "stay here", there are actually two different versions as to what the large letter is. Some have it as the letter Lamed, others have it as the letter Nun. Interestingly, these letters have the Gematria -numerical values of 30 & 50 respectively which we will discuss a little later on with the connection of the Levitical families serving in the Tabernacle from ages 30-50. But first, there are in fact explanations for BOTH of these letters being large even though in any given text, only one of these will be big.

One common theme among the explanations between the two big letters is about generations. LAMED - It was in the 30th generation from Abraham, as King Tzikiyahu, as the last king of Israel and 30th generation in parental line from Abraham, that the Temple was destroyed. These 30 generations are compared to the cycle of the moon, which represents the Jewish people. It is significant to note that King David was the 14th generation from Abraham, as his name David is the Gematria of 14. And then it was his son King Solomon as the 15 generation when it was the highlight of Israel's history with everything in place living in peace and completeness, as the meaning of King Solomon's name Shlomo, which corresponds to the 15th day/night of the Jewish month that the moon appears whole. But then, the generations of Jews were in a spritual downslide partly in thanks to some of the future kings who sinned that led to the end of their life as it was then in Israel. Corresponding to the waning of the moon as it disappears from sight at the 30th & last day of the month, King Tzidkiyahu's eyes were blinded by Babylonain king Nebuchadnezzar.

NUN - It was the 50th generation from Adam (& Eve) that the Jews were exiled to Babylonia. And indeed, in the word LINI, the letter LAMED can be read to mean "for" Yud (10), Nun (50), Yud (10), adding up to 70, meaning that the Jews were exiled in Babylonia for 70 years. This is followed by the word Haleila - "the night", as exile is compared to night.

Now, something doesn't quite seem to add up. We know for a fact that Abraham was the 20th generation from Adam. And we said above that it was the 30th generation from Abraham that was exiled. So, it seems that in fact that it was 49th generation - NOT the 50th generation that was exiled. So, while 49 is next to the number 50, it is not the number 50. What's the deal here?

For one thing, it was Abraham that made the bridge from the past to the future. There were in fact two periods in his life - the period before he knew Hashem, and the period afterwards. In a more universal way, our Rabbis tell us that is was in the Year 2000 after after the world was created (See my 3rd blog "What happened in the Year 2000?) that Abraham spread the believe of one G-d in this world, as the first 2,000 years signify a period of chaos without much significant sprituality being accomplished in this world, besides a select few who didn't worship idols, and then the second period of 2,000 years until the Mishna was written down was the period of Torah, even as the Torah would not be given to the Jewish people for almost another 450 years. And so, whether you look at it in a personal or universal way, Abraham represents two different generations - two different periods of time that reflected the difference between spiritual exile & "freedom for all".

And so indeed, while in fact, King Tzidkiyahu, as the last king of Israel/Judea, was the 49th generation from Adam; and indeed, the Sefira - spiritual count of the last of the 49 days of the Sefira is Malchut She'bi'Malchus - Kingdom within Kingdom; King Tzidkiyahu's generation is considered to be the 50th generation, as signified by the fact that Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, is called the "50th day" from the Sefira count of the Omer, but we don't officially count this day - it is only the Torah that counts this. Siginificantly, we think sometimes that the Torah has to be according to the way that WE want it to be to fit our lifestyles - when we forget that it is our lifestyles that have to fit the way the Torah wants it to be. And so we see historically, the Babylonian exile happened in the "50th generation" to remind us that it is Hashem through his Torah who calls the shots, and that we can only have freedom - as opposed to exile - if we follow in the Torah's footsteps.

In connection with the Book of Ruth which ends with King David's name as its last word, and interestingly, the Talmud in Tractate Berachot states that Ruth was so named because her name is a terminology of the word saturation, as King David saturated Hashem, so to speak, with his praises in his Book of Psalms, so along these lines, I would like to point out Psalms Chapter 30. The opening verse tells us that this psalm was especially dedicted to the upcoming dedication of the First Temple, of which the preparations were begun by King David, hence called HaBayit LeDavid - The House of David. This is the very psalm recited on Chanuka when we read about the Korbanot/sacrifices that the leaders of the tribes brought during the first 12 days from the dedication of the Tabernacle, which makes up the second half of the above discussed Parshat Naso, the name of the Parsha literally meaning "lift up". Interestingly, the first word of the second verse of Psalm 30 following the introductory sentence is Aromeemcha - "I will exalt You", the terminology of the word which literally means raising up. Thus, through serving Hashem, we are raised up spiritually; and indeed the name of the next Parsha is called Beha'alotcha, which literally means "when you will go up", referring to lighting the Menorah.


We see that the number 30 has a common theme through the Bible - it represents the choices that we make in life. The Levites after living 30 years are most ready to serve in Hashem's Holy Place. It was in the 30th year following the Sabbatical/Jubilee cycle that Ezekiel received a most divine prophetic vision to remind the Jewish people of their mission in life before they would be totally swept by their spiritual & physical exile. And that indeed was the 30th generation from Abraham, who started the process of spreading the Torah way of life in the world, and indeed in the verse immediately following the Days of Creation - it says "These are the accounts of the heaven and earth WHEN HE (Hashem) CREATED THEM" (Genesis 2:4). The Hebrew word for the words in big letters here is B'Hibaram - rearranged to spell the word B'Avraham - "through Abraham", meaning that it was Abraham who gave meaning for the world's existance, and indeed, the Torah begins with a big Beit, signifying the Year 2000 (the TRUE Y2K) when Abraham started the world's true mission. However, unfortunately, the 30th generation in the "30th year" from the Jubilee, spiritual freedom, forget what their ancestor Abraham's mission was, and so without spiritual continuity not matching with their physical continuity, were doomed to exile. They acted more like being the 50th generation from Adam who failed in his mission as he ate from the tree that Hashem ordered him not to eat from. Thus, the number 30 signifies the potential of doing their mission, thus the Levites began their holy work with 30 years of spiritual background based on Abraham's spiritual mission; and the number 50 signifies the end of the accomplishment that was done or was supposed to be done, but the waning period following the 50 years corresponds to Adam's failed mission. It was just that with the Levites after turning 50 years old, that they resumed their singing duties so long as they still had a voice, as music represents a very spiritual thing, it was just the physical labor, representing the hardships of life in this world as challenges in the midst of serving Hashem that they stopped doing, and the Levites could still serve Hashem focusing more on the spiritual aspect while being able to look back on their spiritual accomplishments performed while in their harder years of their life.

Pirkei Avot, in speaking about the verse that says that the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were "engraved" - Charut, says that don't read it in interpreting the verse as "engraved" - Charut, but freedom - Cheirut, as "there is no freedom but Torah". Today, we don't have to be blind to see what happens in the non-Jewish world of drugs, alchohol, uninhibited sex, and all else that the comfortable American life has to offer that is clearly waning with its flag of 50 stars is hanging. Whatever people want to criticize about the Hasidic lifestyle, in sharp contrast, VERY FEW in comparison or in contrast in the Hasidic world and other religious Jewish sectors get caught up with the temporary frenzies that wind up enslaving them.

Before concluding, there are a few tidbits from other sources about the number 30 that I want to relate:


The 30th Tractate in the Mishnayot is called Kiddushin - the tractate that is all about the laws of marriage. It was indeed on Shavuot when the spiritual marriage of the Jewish people to Hashem took place. Very interesting, this tractate concludes with a whole long segment on the importance of learning Torah, the theme of the holiday of Shavuot.


Among the various topics of the above mentioned Parshat Naso is a whole section on the Nazirite, one who vows not to drink wine, which also comes with a package deal forbidding him to contaminate himself with the dead or to cut his hair. The minimum amont of time for his Nazirite vow is 30 days. The Talmud in Tractate Nazir teaches us through the verse - Kadosh YIHYEH - "He (the Nazirite) shall be holy" where the word Yihyeh has the Gematria of 30 - hinting to the minimum 30 day time period of a Nazirite vow.


In the Tikunei Zohar about the spiritual significance of the Alef Beit/Hebrew alphabet, it mentions about the verse that states about the dream that Jacob had at the future site of the Temple that the "angels were going up and down (the ladder)". The Zohar on this comments that the angles go up with the letter LAMED which equals 30, and come down with the letter NUN, which equals 50. How fascinating! The Levitical tribe - including the Levites - serving in the Tabernacle/Temple resembles the angels of above who serve Hashem, go up the Temple ladder so to speak beginning their physical service from 30 years of age until after 50 years of age when they come down this ladder, as mentioned in the above Parshat Naso, and indeed angels are mentioned in the Haftara for (the first day of) Shavuot.

Next week with G-d's help, I will be mentioning about Judah, Jacob's son. Indeed, in terms of generations from Abraham, Judah - the ancestor of King David and the Messiah, was the 4th generation from Abraham, and was the 4th son of Leah. And indeed Yehuda/Judah is the Gematria of 30, the number of this Post.

11 Sivan 5769, 40th Day of my 40th Year

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