Sunday, September 6, 2009

#42 - NEW Year Resolution

So what's new? Well, we will shortly be entering a NEW year - beginning with Rosh Hashana 5770. But that is not all so new, is it? Every year, we begin a new year.

Well today - 18 Elul - is the beginning of a new year, at least as far as Chasidim are concerned. You see, this date is the birthday of the famed Rabbi Yisroel Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, who was born exactly 311 years ago - which was also on the second day of the week as it is this year. Along this note, the first letters of the words of his title - Ba'al Shem Tov - which literally means "Owner of a Good Name", the letters Beit, Shin, Teit - add up to to the Gematria of 311.

I would like to point out to a Jewish book named Sefer Ba'al Shem Tov, the most famous and extensive collection of his teachings compiled by Rabbi Shimon Menachem Mendel Shub of Gavartshov, first published in 1938, arranged according to the Parshiyot of the Torah, quoting from some 210 sources, basically books from the teachings of various Chasidic Rebbes. For more information on this, you can check this out on, where
you have the list of Parshiyot or holidays on which you can click, and you will instant access to the teachings of this book. For the home page of the website containing this information, with all kinds of information pertaining to the Ba'al Shem Tov, you can click over here

Though not everyone in the religious/Orthodox/frum world may subscribe to being a Chosid, follower of the Ba'al Shem Tov's Chasidic movement, represented by numerous sects of it who are headed by various Chasidic Rebbes, no doubt that the Chasidic movement has had much influence in the Jewish world. As a matter of fact, when it comes to Talmudic scholarship which seems to be more associated with the non Chasidic world, various accomplishments of Talmudic learning have in fact come from the Chasidic world. For example, Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a Chortkover Chosid, started the famous Daf Yomi, daily page learning of the Babylonian Talmud nearly 90 years ago. Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, one of the Gerrer Rebbes, started the Daf Yomi learning of the Jerusalem Talmud nearly 30 years ago. And Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, one of the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbes, started a Talmudic learning program providing a stipend to those who do well on tests of Talmudic learning, known as the Mifal HaShas program.

Anyways, this new year is a very special NEW year. You see, this is the beginning of the 312th year of the Ba'al Shem Tov's birth. So nu, what is the punchline? Yes, the word NEW in Hebrew is CHODOSH - Cheit, Dalet, Shin, and Chodosh is the Gematria of 312! So, this 312th year of the Ba'al Shem Tov's birth is a NEW year, and is a time for a NEW resolution, to do something NEW in being a better Jew, giving us 12 days of the end of the Jewish year of 12 months that begins from Rosh Hashana. And a Jew, among other names in Hebrew, is called Yisroel, the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and is also the last word of the Chumash - the Five Books of Moses. Also, the first letters of the words of the phrase Yisroel Ba'al Shem - Yud, Beit, Shin - add up to the Gematria of 312.

There is another word in Hebrew that is spelled with the same letters in the same order, but with different vowels - CHODESH/Month (NOTE: There are places where you will find this word with the letter Vav in the middle, but in the T'nach/Bible, it is never spelled with a Vav).
Indeed in English, we call the first day of a Jewish month - a New Month/Rosh Chodesh, the same way that we call Rosh Hashana - the New Year. In fact, the word Rosh does not mean new, though it may serve its purpose in English to let everyone know that it is a new time in the calendar - it means head. What this really means is that what we do on the head of the month, and especially on Rosh Hashana - the head of the year - sets the pace for the entire period of time. Though one can do good deeds on any day of the year - there are certain times that set the pace, making it much easier for the rest of the month or year. In any case, the fact that the word month in Hebrew is called Chodesh as related to Chodosh/new, does imply that the moon is reNEWed on the beginning of the lunar month, which reaches its max of human view on the middle of the month.

The Mitzva/Commandment of Kiddush HaChodesh/Sanctification of the New Month, which was performed in earlier times (until the establishment of the Jewish calendar some 1,650 years ago) by looking for the sight of the New Moon to declare a new month was first given over to Moses before the Exodus in time for Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which is the birthday of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who taught that each NEW try in serving Hashem, even if one failed thousands of times, is precious to Hashem.

And mentioning the Exodus, there was a great rabbi who was born nearly 500 years ago on the Seder night (first night of Passover) when we read about the story of the Exodus - Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, also known as the Maharal of Prague, the inventor of the Golem, and also wrote a commentary, in book form called Gevurot Hashem, on the Haggada, the Seder book. His mother, who screamed from labor pains right before his birth, prevented a blood libel of Jews from taking place. In short, a non-Jew who murdered a Christian boy to place him at the home of a Jew to make it look like the boy's blood was used for baking Matzos, got frightened from hearing this mother's screams, and instead of placing the murdered Christian boy at a Jew's home, kept running with the sack of this boy until caught by authorities, and the non-Jew was exposed for his crime instead of a blood massacre of Jews. Anyways, the Maharal of Prague passed away exactly 400 years ago - on 18 Elul. (Incidentally, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad/Lubavitch sect of the Chasidic movement, was the 8th generation by parental line from the Maharal of Prague, and was born on 18 Elul).

The time slot of 400 years rings a bell. In Genesis 15, Hashem tells Abraham that his descendants, the Jewish people, would be slaves "in a land not theirs" for 400 years. Rashi points out that indeed, it was exactly 400 years from Abraham's son Isaac's birth on the beginning of the future Passover holiday on 15 Nissan until the Exodus which occured on 15 Nissan. Though the Jews in fact were only slaves for the last 116 of these 400 years, since Abraham's first descendant was his son Isaac, with the knowledge that his descendants would be slaves, Hashem considered it as if the Jews served all their 400 years, as in fact was the original plan, but Hashem had mercy on His people due to the Egyptians' inflictions on the Jews far more than what Hashem intended for them. Sounds like criminals getting early release from their full prison term for good behavior.

Now, I want to point out to another set of 400. Well, it works like this. Based on the count of the Taryag Mitvot/613 Commandments of the Rambam/Maimonides who has strict guidelines of how he composed this list (unlike earlier ones who compiled such lists but without logical guidelines as he points out in his introduction to his list), the 21th Mitzva of the Torah is telling the story of the Exodus on Passover night. And the Mitzva of learning/teaching Torah is the 420th Mitzva of the Torah. Hence, the Mitzva of Torah is the 400th Mitzva from the Mitzva of telling the story of the Exodus which also includes the Mitzva of learning/teaching Torah, as the story of the Exodus is part of the Torah; in fact, the second book of the Torah which includes the story of the Exodus is indeed called in English by this very name.

And there is something else in common between these two Mitzvot. In the verses of the Aseret HaDibrot/Ten Commandments, there are exactly 620 letters. It has been pointed out that this corresponds to the 613 Mitzvot and the special seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis/Sheva Mitzvot D'Rabbanan. Now mind you, we are forbidden to add new Mitzvot to the Torah. However, the Rabbis have the power to institute things within Judaism to strengthen Hashem's Torah among the Jewish people. In particular, there are seven such institutions that have the status of being called Mitzvot. So with this being said, both the 21th Mitzva & the 420th Mitzva correspond to the same letter of the Alef-Beit - Sav/Tav, the last letter of the Alef Beit. To note about the Sav/Tav that corresponds to the 21th Mitzva of telling the story of the Exodus, it is located in the word Hotzeiteicha - Who brought you out (from the land of Egypt), thus directly relating to this very Mitzva!

In our previous post - the 41th post - I mentioned the concept of last being mentioned first, particularly on a blog website where the last piece of information is placed first. In reference to this, I mentioned that the word blog in Hebrew is the Gematria of 41, and the last Parsha of the Torah - V'Zot HaBeracha, which we read on Simchat Torah when we conclude the reading of the Torah scroll and begin it anew, has exactly 41 verses. In relationship to the letter Tav, the very first verse that is traditionally taught to a Jewish child is the verse: Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe Morasha Kehillat Yaakov - "The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob". The first letter of the word Torah - and the first letter of this verse -BEGINS with a Tav - the LAST letter of the Alef-Beit.

Had plenty to mention in my previous post, but the concept of last coming first is actually a concept from the Torah from day one - in fact, 2,000 years before the Creation of the world. You see, the Midrash tells us that when Hashem was ready to write the Torah, the 22 letters of the Alef-Beit appeared before him. Each letter gave a reason why it should be the one to begin the Torah. In fact, the order of the letters speaking to Hashem was in the REVERSE - the letter Tav started speaking, and then the Shin, the Reish, etc. The Tav said that the Torah should begin with that letter because after all, it begins the word Torah. Makes sense. But Hashem told it that it would be the letter in the future that would mark punishment for evil people. Yes, the Tav serves a very vital purpose, but Hashem wanted to start the Torah with something positive. As it turns out, it was the letter Beit that began the Torah. Perhaps why the BIG Beit is that it can represent the Gematria of 2,000, as the Torah was written by Hashem 2,000 years before Creation. And the letter Alef, known as the silent letter as indeed it didn't speak up until Hashem spoke to it, was given the special honor of beginning the Ten Commandments, which corresponds to the 1st Mitzva of the Torah - Pru Urvu - having children who will continue the legacy of Torah in the next generation. And speaking of writing the Torah, the 613rd & very last Mitzva of the Torah - WRITING a Sefer Torah - is mentioned in this week's Parshiyot of Nitzvim-Vayeilech (it is mentioned particularly in Parshat Vayeilech).

Focusing on the Mitzva of learning/teaching Torah, the verse for this is V'Dibarta Bam - "You shall speak of them (words of Torah)". The word Bam - Beit, Mem - is the Gematria of 42 (and this is my 42nd post), and this is the 420th Mitzva, which means that 420 is 10 times the number 42. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are the 10 Commandments, 10 classifications of Jews - B'nei Yisrael, and 10 holinesses as related to Eretz Yisrael - the land of Israel. The last word of the Torah/Chumash - Yisrael - begins with a Yud=10, and thus the number 42, which represents Torah, when multiplied by 10, is 420, the number of the Mitzva of the list of the 613 Mitzvot. In fact, the Beit in Bam begins the Torah Shebichtav - The Written Torah or the Bible - Bereishit, and the Mem in Bam begins the Torah She'bi'al Peh/The Oral Torah - Mei'ei'matai. By the way, both the first word and last word of the Torah includes the letters that make up the word Rosh - Head, and today - 18 Elul - is the HEAD day of the 312th year of Rabbi YISROEL Ba'al Shem Tov who was born on this day. Another interesting spin on this number as it relates to the Ba'al Shem Tov is that the letters of the number 312 in Hebrew - Shin Yud Beit, when rearranged, spells the words Yisroel Ba'al Shem. Correspondingly, today is the HEAD day of the 401th year of the passing of the Maharal of Prague.

Thus, the number 401 in Hebrew is Tav, Alef. These are the LAST and FIRST letters of the Alef-Beit. Corresponding to this, on Simchat Torah, we read the LAST section of the Torah, and then begin the FIRST section of the Torah. This is the time when we begin a NEW beginning, starting from Bereishit - "In the beginning", and as we said earlier about the number 312, it is the Gematria of Chodosh/NEW.

Interestingly, the Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, whose teachings are part of the Torah, passed away on Shavuot, the anniversary of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah which included the revelation of the Ten Commandments. On this day (6 Sivan - the first day of Shavuot outside of Israel, unlike in Israel where it is only one day of Shavuot), right before the reading of the Torah which is about the events of the day, we read a special poem called Akdamut, about the speciality of the Jewish people and the Torah. Each stanza ends with the letters Tav/Sav and Alef, the same letters that represent the concept of ending and beginning the Torah anew. And thus, while it is on Shavuot that we received the Torah, it is only on Simchat Torah when we celebrate the conclusion and beginning of the Torah, which is some four and a half months later when we can appreciate the Torah after learning it a while following the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.

Speaking of Shavuot, the Maharal passed away during the week of Parshat Ki Tavo, the 50th Parsha of the Torah - and the first verse of this Parsha contains exactly 50 letters - which in this year, is last week's Parsha. The word Tavo has the same letters as the word Avot/fathers, which is in fact the name of the Mishnaic Tractate that begins with the words Moshe Kibel Torah MiSinai - "Moses received the Torah from Sinai", which began on Shavuot, the 50th day of the count from after the Exodus. And in the verse that speaks of the Mitzva of Torah, as we recite in the first paragraph of the Shema which we recite twice daily, it contains exactly 50 letters. And in a similar verse that we recite in the second paragraph of the Shema, it contains 54 letters, and as we know, there are 54 Parshiyot of the Torah. And as I am writing this 42th post, there are exactly 42 words in the first and most important Beracha/blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, the main prayer that we recite at least three times a day, which like the Mishnaic tractate is also called Avot. The 42nd and last word of this blessing is the word Avraham which is the Gematria of the word Bamidbar/Desert (248), which is the name of the fourth book of the Torah (known as Numbers in English), where it mentions the "desert of Sinai" in the first verse of this Book (Incidentally, this verse mentions MY birthday - the first day of "the second month" Iyar, and I was born in Mt. Sinai Hospital - you'll have to guess what city I was born in, I won't tell everything about myself here - sorry).

In the first verse of the reading of the Torah on Shavuot (Exodus 19:1), it says that "on this day" of the 3rd month (Sivan), the Jews came to the wilderness of Sinai. Rashi points out the normal wording of the Torah is "on THAT day". Why "on THIS day"? To tell you that the words of Torah should be NEW to you as though they were given as part of the Torah on the day that you are learning them. And per the last Mitzva of the Torah - writing a Sefer Torah - there is a concept of writing down Chidushei Torah - "NEW" Torah thoughts, which are in fact not so new in terms of being part of the Torah. But to the person who thought of these Torah thoughts or concepts, it is a new thing that he did not previously know or think of. And especially in terms of not forgetting what we learned, it is especially important to write down what new thing that we learned ourselves that we may not see in a Sefer/holy book, so it won't be forgotten or lost to others later on.

And it was on this note of writing Chidushei Torah - new Torah thoughts - that I began on the evening immediately following Simchat Torah when we end the Torah, and begin a NEW reading of the Torah. And as I had mentioned in my very first post, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik points out that the celebration of the Torah on Simchat Torah is particularly about BEGINNING the Torah, rather than finishing the Torah. It is the fact that we don't just close the book when we are done with reading the contents. Reading and learning the same Torah text once again shows that we hope to gain some new insight in our Torah learning or service of Hashem. This can also be illustrated with a school graduation when there is always someone telling the students that the graduation ceremony is not merely the end of learning in school - it is the BEGINNING of a NEW future for them.

Yes - a new day which means a new Mitzva, a new piece of Torah learning, getting ourselves ready for the new year.

18 Elul 5769 - Yahrzeit of the Maharal of Prague & Birthday of the Ba'al Shem Tov

P.S. Towards the end of the week, G-d willing, I will be writing about the good side of 9/11.

NOTE: The number 222, as it shows the time of this posting 2:22 PM, rings a bell in my mind. My NEW year, my b-day, is Alef Iyar - the Gematria of 222, that is, the letter Alef which is 1 and Iyar which equals 221.

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