Thursday, August 20, 2009

#40 - Magic MEM


Today is the first day of the 3rd and last 40 day period that Moses or known as his full title in Hebrew as Moshe Rabbeinu spent in Hashem's presence. It's interesting to note that we know for a fact that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai for the 40 day retreat on a Thursday morning, the way that it is this year (it also happens to be the time of week that I was born). Corresponding to this, the month of Elul is a month of introspection and retrospection of our past deeds or misdeeds, and a resolution to be better people both in our relationship to Hashem as well as our relationship to others, followed by the 10 Days of Repentence culminating with Yom Kippur, the day on which Hashem told Moshe that he forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf.

Perhaps the most famous hint for the name of the month of Elul is the phrase Ani LeDodi VeDodi Lee - "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me" (Song of Songs 6:3), describing the love relationship between Hashem & the Jews. The first letters of these four words in Hebrew spell the name of this month of Elul. As we know, the most effective repentence is when it is done out of love, rather than from fear, although it is also an acceptable means of repentence, but ultimately, we should be motivated mostly in serving Hashem through love, the same way that a relationship between husband and wife works. In any case, what you might not have seen is that the last of the four words in the above phrase "Lee", consisting of Lamed=30 & Yud=10, correspond to the 30 days of Elul (there are technically 29 days in Elul, but can be considered 30 days because there are two days of Rosh Chodesh Elul, beginning today with the 30th of Av), and the 10 Days of Repentence, respectively; as Elul is the big preparation month for the crucial 10 day period during which Hashem judges us based on our deeds.

The connection of the month of Elul with the number 40 goes much further. You see, Elul & Bina/Understanding have the same Gematria of 67. And in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5 states, the age of 40 years is a time of understanding. This is based on what it says in Parshat Ki Tavo which is always read during this month of Elul: "Hashem has not given you a heart to know...until today. And I led you for 40 years in the desert" (Deutronomy 29:3-4). In this context, Moshe is noting that it is only after 40 years of teaching the Jews in the desert that now they have a sense of understanding that they did not have earlier. And as noted in the Zohar, the heart is associated with understanding. Perhaps it can be added that before the giving of the Torah, the Jews immersed in water as they were like converts to Judaism who do likewise as a step of becoming Jewish as in both cases they were/are considered like a newborn child; hence, the Jews were now spiritually almost 40 years old.

There are those who might reason, "Well, who is fooling who? Am I really going to try to fool Hashem that I am a little better boy now when I know that after Yom Kippur, I am going to be the same type of guy as I was before this month?" Good point. But to every good question, there is a good answer - in this case, more than one. For this, we first need to turn to the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, to whom some 30,000 Jews of all walks of life travel to be at his gravesite in Uman every year for Rosh Hashana, beginning exactly 30 days from now.
He says that a Jew should never give up hope. No matter how many times one may fall down spiritually, or does the same sin because he lacked the willpower to withstand temptation or whatever other reason it may have been, one should always attempt to be better next time. Even the slightest startup or effort in doing the right thing is precious in Hashem's eyes, and makes an impression in the spiritual worlds.

Several years ago, I heard a rabbi during the High Holidays recount a story that took place at his work before he became a pulpit rabbi. There was a company named Texaco which looked at one point to decrease the number of employees to save on some money. Towards this end, inspectors were sent to see how the employees were performing. It seems that while virtually everyone else were sure to behave very well, and not slack off with all kinds of chatter and breaks, there was this one employee who did nothing different and took his usual coffee breaks and all. His fellow co-workers asked him, "Don't you see that the inspectors are looking at us to see how we are performing?" He answered, "Look, I am no hypocrite. Do you really think that these inspectors are going to be fooled that we just work all the time?" As time went on, the inspectors made their decision - only one employee would need to be booted. Who was that? You guessed it - the guy who didn't want to be a "hypocrite". They told him, "You think we don't know that the employees are not always in their best behavior? But at least when we inspectors were around, they showed that they cared about the company, and they put in their best effort to do the right thing. But as for you, not only did you show that you didn't care about the company, you didn't even have respect for yourself."


Speaking of this 40 day period, I am writing this in this 40th blog in On a personal level, I am in my 40th year, and so for the remainder of this blog, I will write interesting factoids about the letter Mem, which equals the Gematria of 40, especially at it relates to Moshe, whose name begins with a Mem. Just to mention about my name, the letter Mem is the second letter of my first name Shimon, and the first letter of my second name Matisyahu. In more than one post in the past, I have mentioned a bit about Mem. But when everything is put together, it will be a perfect Mem jigsaw puzzle.


First of all, I want to make a relationship here between the three 40-day periods that Moshe Rabbeinu spent in Hashem's presence, adding to a total of 120 days, and the 120 years of Moshe's life, whose name begins with a Mem. First things first - Moshe ascended Mount Sinai for his first retreat on 7 Sivan, immediately following the giving of the Torah which included the Ten Commandments, which took place on that very day (the only reason that we start observing Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on 6 Sivan is because the holiday is actually dependent on being the 50th day from the offering of the Omer barley in the Temple which took place on 16 Nissan), hence being the first of the 40 day retreat. Now, as we know the story about Baby Moses (the Christians took their phrase of Baby J**** from us) who was placed in a basket on the Nile River when three months old to escape the Egyptians who otherwise would have drowned him. As we know from tradition, he was born on 7 Adar. Exactly three months later, on 7 Sivan, was the date that this happened. We also know this for a fact because when the Egyptian princess Batya (who in time converted to Judaism) rescued Baby Moses and attempted to nurse him, he refused her breast milk. The Midrash tells us that since Moshe was going to be the one to be Hashem's messenger in the future to give the Torah to the Jews which was going to be on this very date 80 years later, even as a baby, he refused to defile himself drinking milk from the body of a non-pure person, as Batya had not yet converted to Judaism. Thus, in his very first year of life - of 120 years - at the tender age of three months, Moshe showed signs of being a spiritual person, and in the future, he ascended for his retreat with Hashem on the first day of 120 days which took place on the day that the Torah was given.

Now fastforwarding in Moshe's life, he basically spent his life in three different places - Mitzrayim (Egypt), Midian, and the Midbar (desert), all three words starting with a Mem. The only question is how much time did he spend in each? We know that the last 40 years of his life, or the 3rd and last period of his life, was in the desert, and corresponding to this, we can see a relationship between this and the 3rd and last period of 40 days that Moshe was in retreat with Hashem. Indeed, it was on this first day of these 40 days that Moshe came up on Mount Sinai, coming up with the stone tablets that he carved together for the Ten Commandments in lieu of the first ones that he broke following the first 40 day period of his retreat when he saw the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf. This was also the very date that Hashem revealed to Moshe the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy/Midot HaRachamim that Hashem promised would facilitate His answering the Jewish peoples' prayers in the future. Indeed, Sephardic Jews begin the special Selichot prayers (where we ask Hashem for His forgiveness) starting on the beginning of this month (the day after Rosh Chodesh, and in this year - on Sunday following Shabbat when we don't say such prayers) and continue doing so through Yom Kippur, unless it is Shabbat (but are said on Yom Kippur even if it falls out on Shabbat). (Ashkenazic Jews begin the Selichot prayers later this month). Also to note, of the 22 letters of the Alef Beit, the Mem is the 13th letter on the list. In any event, this special day of Rosh Chodesh Elul of Moshe's ascent on the first day of the 3rd period of 40 days or the 81st day of his retreat, indeed took place in his 81st year of life, which included the Exodus - Yetziat Mitzraim, when the Manna (Man in Hebrew with the vowel of a Patach) first started falling, giving of the Torah - Matan Torah of which includes the 613 Mitzvot/Commandments (which is mentioned specifically at the end of the Talmudic Tractate named Makkot, which begins with a Mem), the 13 Midot HaRachamim, and construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle, all of these events having to do with words that start with a Mem. And of course, this was also his year of his total of 120 days of retreat with Hashem.

Now getting back to Moshe in Egypt, how many years was he living there before his run to Midian? Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of righteous blessed memory in his Living Torah, a flowing English translation of the Chumash with notes showing his extensive research which includes places mentioned in the Torah, notes as many as nine different opinions as to Moshe's age when he was on the run. One of these opinions notes that he first left Egypt at age 40. This opinion would fit well if we were to match 40-40-40 between his years of life and his three periods of 40 days each of his G-dly retreat. We know that immediately following his first 40 day period with Hashem learning the Torah from Him, he came down back to Planet Earth only to see the Jews having chased away the Shechina/Divine Presence by worshipping the Golden Calf. Accordingly, Moshe was chased away with a threat to his life following his first 40 years in Egypt according to this opinion.

Now, some of you may have a question. Doesn't it say in the Torah itself that Moshe was 80 years old when he first appeared to Pharaoh before the 10 plagues started? And in fact, as we know from the Midrash, this was a year's process. And we know that his birthday was 7 Adar, in the month just prior to the Exodus. If this is the case, then he would have been 81 when the Exodus took place, and we know that the Jews spent 40 years in the desert, which would have made Moshe's age at 121, and not 120, when he passed away. The answer: The correct translation in this case would have to be that Moshe was in his 8oth year, rather than say that he was 80 years old; the same way that I say that I am now in my 40th year, as I am 39 years old, having completed 39 years already, so now I am in my 40th year. This is in fact the correct way of saying one's age, because to say that someone is so many years old doesn't take into account as to how many days, weeks, or months one has lived after one's "current age". I am also pointing this out, because it was in his 80th year, and the beginning of his 81st year when at least the last plague of the death of the firstborn Egyptians took place, that most of the plagues visiting the misbehaving Egyptians took place, the same way that in was in the 2nd period of Moshe's 40 day retreat when he prayed to Hashem to forgive the misbehaving Jewish people, concluding on the 80th day of Moshe's total amount of days of retreat with Hashem up to that point. And then it was on his 81st day of retreat, the 1st day of the last 40 day period, that Hashem revealed to Moshe the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy/Midot HaRachamim, which talks about Hashem having patience, which includes giving time for a sinner to repent, the same way that Hashem gave much time to the Egyptians to repent and let the Jews leave free from their country, and especially before the death of the firstborn, but they failed to capitalize on that opportunity, so Hashem used his mercies specifically for the Jewish people, even if they weren't so worthy themselves, but Hashem gave them Mitzvot to perform so they would be deemed worthy of leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah.

Now, let's get to the final day of Moshe's retreat, his 120th such day - Yom Kippur. As we see in the Torah, it was his brother Aharon, the first Cohen Gadol/High Priest, who was the star of the day of Yom Kippur when it came to doing the service of this most holy day in the Tabernacle or Temple. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year that even the Cohen Gadol was only allowed in the Holy of Holies, which was off limits to everyone else at all times (The ones who had to do repairs and all came inside in special boxes lowered into this room) Indeed, it was during Moshe's 120th and final year of Moshe's life, that his brother Aharon passed away. (Note: Today is the last day of the 30 days of mourning that the Jews had for Aharon, whose Yahrzeit is Rosh Chodesh Av). Besides being Moshe's only brother, they had tremendous love for each other, the Torah equates them being equally righteous (though they each had unique qualities in which they excelled - Moshe with his humility, and Aharon with his peacemaking), and Aharon was in fact Moshe's top Torah student until he passed away (it was only after Aharon's passing that Yehoshua who served Moshe was elected to be the next leader of the Jewish nation). And it is on Yom Kippur that we make our best effort to be pure from sin, and even dress in white like the angels who don't have sin; and accordingly, as Yom Kippur was the last of Moshe' 120 days of retreat in Heaven where the angels reside, we want to leave this world when it is our time to be pure from sin, and accordingly to Jewish Law, a person is buried in white shrouds to commemorate this point. Certainly, we know that Moshe left this world pure from sin, and whatever few shortcomings he may have had during his lifetime were most certainly atoned for in this world, so he could go straight to Heaven following his 120 years of life, in which he passed way on his birthday of 7 Adar, exactly 120 years to the day.


As I mentioned a little earlier, there were a number of occurences in Moshe's life that have to do with the letter Mem, some of them ending as well with a Mem Sofit/Final Mem (Note: when I list the words in this paragraph ending with a Mem, I am referring to the final Mem, but essentially is the same letter as the same pronounciation) as the letter Mem itself begins and ends as such. To begin with, his very name Moshe was named after the fact that the Egyptian princess Batya drew his out of the water on which the basket in which he lay was floating. Water in Hebrew is Mayim, beginning and ending with a Mem. On the downside, Hashem refused to allow his entry to Israel because in attempting to bring forth water for the Jews, he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as per Hashem's commands. His sister's name was Miriam, beginning and ending with a Mem. His childhood years were in Mitzrayim/Egypt, beginning and ending with a Mem. Moshe received the Torah, the bulk of which and ultimately what teaches us how to observe the Torah is the Oral Torah, the foundation of which are the teachings of the six orders of the Mishna (also starts with a Mem), which begins with a Mem and ends with a Mem. Interesting to note, Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers begins its very first word with Moshe's name which begins with a Mem, in the context of his receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, and that first chapter in that tractate ends with a Mem. (Also, the foundation principles of the Torah through which the Torah is interpreted as to how we learn out the Halacha/Jewish Law are known as the 13 Midot of the Torah, the word Midot beginning with a Mem). And then it was on this first day - Rosh Chodesh Elul - that Hashem revealed to Moshe the 13 Midot HaRachamim, the phrase which beings with a Mem and ends with a Mem. This would not be complete unless I would tell you that the first day of the first period of Moshe's ascent is called the day of Matan Torah/Giving of the Torah, beginning with a Mem, and the last day of the last period of Moshe's ascent was Yom HaKippurim (the full name of Yom Kippur), ending with a Mem.

It seems that virtually all the major important events of the Jewish people in the Chumash begin with the letter Mem, as I had mentioned earlier about Moshe. Also, the 10 Plagues visiting the Egyptians are known as the Eser Makkot, the latter word beginning with a Mem, and plagues also visited the Egyptians at the Reed Sea (NOT the mistranslation of the Red Sea) as foretold in the Haggada. The Manna - the Hebrew word for which starts with a Mem - was provided for the Jews during their 40 years in the desert was in the merit of Moshe.

In summary - the themes in Moshe's life beginning with a Mem
Mattan Torah
Mikra (represents the Written Torah that Moshe gave over to the Jewish people)
Mishna (teachings of foundation of Orah Torah that Moshe gave over to the Jewish people - which begins and ends with a Mem).
Midot HaTorah (the 13 principles of the Torah)
Midot HaRachamim


Speaking of Rosh Chodesh Elul and water, the 51st day from now is called Hoshana Rabba, the seventh and last day of Sukkot, when we have special Hoshanot prayers evoking Hashem's merices pertaining to Mayim/water. The special name given to this day is given as such, as the last syllable of the first word Hoshana is Na, consisting of the letters Noon (50) & Alef (1), adding to 51. This day is most siginificant following Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur, because on Rosh Hashana - the decree is written, on Yom Kippur - the decree is sealed, and on Hoshana Rabba - the decree is mailed. If G-d forbid it is a bad decree, there are chances of it being revoked, put on hold, or torn up, depending on our future deeds and heartfelt prayers.

In relationship to the month of Elul and these solemn holidays, the month of Av - of which today is the last day of the month - the month in which both Temples were destroyed because of the Jews' misdeeds, is represented in the zodiac by the Mazal/constellation of Aryeh/Leo. The letters of Aryeh - Alef, Reish, Yud, Hei - begin the words Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Raba. The word for the month of Av itself means father, and indeed Hashem wants to be a Merciful Father to us. However, though our ultimate relationship to Him is through love - Ahavat Hashem, we also have to have fear - Yirat Hashem, and the most fearful and king of the animals is the Aryeh/lion; and thus, without Hashem judging us on a timely basis, we could, G-d forbid slack off to the point that we will be too far spiritually from Hashem to be able to return to Him by doing Teshuva/repentance.

Now it the time to beef up on the Mitzvot as well as with good Middot/characteristic traits, the same name given for the principles of the Torah and Hashem's merciful traits. This includes being happy for others rather than being jealous, willing to help others or give things to other when needed rather than focusing on one's own wants all the time, and being humble giving attention to others rather than having everyone else focusing on onself. Behaving in these good ways are not just nice ways of being a good person, but this is in fact what the Torah expects of us, and so Torah learning coupled with these good character traits make a Kiddush Hashem/sanctification of Hashem's name when other people - whether children, non-observant Jews, or non-Jews, will be impressed about how a Jew can live a good, moral life, thus making a good impression on them to want to live such a life as well, the ultimate solution of getting rid of Anti-Semitism, because nothing else will work in the long run. Taking out either the Torah or good Midot, G-d forbid, only leads to increased Anti-Semitism, as past history has shown. But if we behave in the correct way; ultimately, Hashem will have all the more reason to want to treat us with mercy if we cause others to love and fear Hashem as well.

There are two sources of teaching children (and also adults for funny entertainment and being mindful of living as good Jews) how to observe the Mitzvot and having good Midot. I'm referring specifically to Uncle Moishe & the Marvelous Midos Machine both having audios/videos teaching about Mitzvot & Middot (you can see samples of these on To order these, you can either go to your local Judaica store or order them online, such as These are excellent tools for teaching Jewish children how to be better Jews and better children. The small monetary investment is worth all the money in the world; for after all, this is our whole purpose in this world, serving Hashem and transmitting this to the next generation who is our continuity. It was the guarantee of our Jewish children that Hashem accepted for giving us the Torah.

For adult learning in books, to learn more about what the Torah has to offer, one of the top websites I want to suggest is To learn more about the 613 Mitzvot, there is the Sefer HaMitzvot by the Rambam/Maimonidies, or known as Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, of which there are translations in English, and then for learning Mussar - Torah ethics for good Midot - one of the best books on this subject is first of all, Mishlei/Book of Proverbs of the Bible, composed by none other than the wisest men of all time, King Solomon. In Mishnaic literature, there is what we had mentioned earlier in this post - Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, which is commonly learned on Shabbat afternoon between Passover and Rosh Hashanah. And then of books of more recent times, there is a Sefer called Mesilat Yesharim/"Path of the Just", authored by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato of the mid 1700s, which focuses of good character traits, of which there is a translation printed by Feldheim Publishers. Again, refer to your local Judaica store or internet to purchase.

IN MEMORIAM: In relationship to what I just wrote, I want to dedicate this 40th post of to a dear friend of mine - Rabbi Moshe Chaim Horn of blessed memory - who passed on in his 40th year (like Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato who also passed away in his 40th year) some five years ago on 16 Tamuz - the 40th and last day of Moshe Rabbeinu's first 40 day retreat in Heaven. Rabbi Horn was an accomplished rabbi, lawyer, family man, and a true friend in need to all who needed assistance in life. His Ahavat Yisrael - love for Jews, accompanied with his friendly smile and Midot Tovot - good character traits were an inspiration and a Kiddush Hashem - sanctification of Hashem's name, to all who knew him.


Just remember, today, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul - is the first day of Moshe's 3rd ascent of his Heavenly retreat corresponding to Moshe's 81st year when most of the spiritual gifts were given to the Jewish people. Today is an excellent time to begin doing something more in coming closer to Hashem. And if you are reading this at a later time, especially before Rosh HaShana or Yom Kippur, you can still have your foot in the door before the end of the day...

G-d willing, will post in a week from now, and the topic will be about marriage.

First Day of Rosh Chodesh Elul 5769, First Day of Moshe's Final 40 Day Retreat with Hashem

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