Tuesday, January 19, 2010

#57 - Eat 2 Live or Live 2 Eat

To those living in the United States, the number 57 is a very familiar number. Perhaps some will not think immediately as to why it is a little more than just another number, but the mention of Heinz ketchup will ring a bell. Apparently, the high profile ketchup company markets itself on having 57 varieties of products.

Perhaps this is most representive of the plentifullness and varieties of food (which will soon be a distant reality for most in the States) that can be found in the United States culture. Long gone are the days when it was for the most part a loaf of bread, a bit of produce, and basic condiments such as salt and sugar. While we made sure in my previous post that the primitive half-clothed caveman wouldn't starve after a hard long day of hunting animals, few today know what the word "enough" means.

And so today in my post, the number 57 as the number of this post will attempt to keep things in perspective, at least for the observant Jew who should know not to just take things for granted - even if ketchup is a daily staple in his/her diet.

In my previous post, I mentioned the Tribe of Asher in relationship to the Torah, particular to the Mishna, the foundation of the Oral Torah, as Asher son of Jacob waits by the gates of Purgatory, and prevents those who have learned Mishna, whose very first word Me'imatai is the Gematria of Asher's name - 501. In presenting this, I quoted the verse of Jacob's blessing for Asher in relationship to oil. As Asher is the Tribe that corresponds to this present month of Shevat, it was on the first day of this month that Moses began his series of final discourses that comprises the Book of Deutronomy, which is also called Mishneh Torah.

Unlike all of the other tribes who have a corresponding month, Asher is the only one who was also born during the month that he corresponds to. While I have seen more than one date listed as his birth - 2 Shevat or 20 Shevat - I believe it is the 2nd of Shevat. The reason that I say this is based on how the letters of the Alef Beit are shaped. You see, the letters Beit=2 & Kaf=20 look somewhat similiar. The difference is that unlike the Kaf which is a circular letter, the letter Beit has an indent on the bottom right of it. Now, the problem is that when people copied information in the pre-printing days, mistakes were the norm. It seems that perhaps the Beit was not clearly written well enough to distinguish from the circular Kaf, and so in time, the date of 20 Shevat as Asher's birth was written. However, a circular letter as a Kaf would be hard to mistaken, since there is no need to make any indentation mark that may not be written well. Hence, it seems to me that the correct date would be 2 Shevat, but that the letter Beit was not written indented well and could have easily been mistaken to read a Kaf when copied over; but the other way around would be virtually impossible.

I also have a personal reason for why I say this. You see, the 2nd day of Shevat was the 36th day from my wedding day of 26 Kislev - the 2nd day of Chanuka. Besides the connection of the "2nd day" between the two dates, the number 36 as it relates to Chanuka are the number of mandatory candles lit for the Menorah (besides the eight serving candles that light their respective night's candles). The prefered way of lighting the Chanuka Menorah is using olive oil, which was the special item that Asher, whose birthday is 2 Shevat, possessed in his inherited part of the Land of Israel. In fact, in other years when there are only 29 days in Kislev, the month which begins Chanuka, the date of 2 Shevat indeed is the 36th day from 25 Kislev - the 1st day of Chanuka. But in any case, what distinguishes the 2nd day of Chanuka from the rest of the days, is that it was particularly on the 2nd day after the Maccabbees lit the Menorah on the day before, that it was first evident that a miracle was happening being that they put only enough olive oil in the Menorah to last for one day. Hence, whatever way you look at it, there is a unique connection between Asher's birthdate and Chanuka. This is also bearing in mind that it is the beginning of the 36th Parsha of the Torah - Beha'alotcha - the conclusion of the Torah reading on the last day of Chanuka - that speaks of the Menorah that Aharon, ancestor of the Maccabees, lit, which could only be lit with the purest olive oil.

There is a practical difference between the original Menorah of the Tabernacle/Temple and the Chanuka Menorah. While today's Menorah consists of eight candles, the Menorah of the House of G-d consisted of seven candles. The number of this post is 57, which are the Hebrew letters Noon & Zayin; and in turn, are the beginning letters of the words Zayin Neirot - seven candles, which was what the Menorah that the Maccabbees lit consisted of.

Well now, it is a few days after 2 Shevat (I could't write this post sooner); but as we are in the month corresponding to Asher, perhaps we can make some kind of play with today's date of 5 Shevat.

At the end of the Book of Leviticus, it mentions the process of the Mitzva/Commandment of Ma'aser Beheima "Animal Tithes". As the Mishna details, the herdsman allowed the herd to leave the gated area one by one, and as every 10th animal was walking out, he patted it with red paint so he would know which 10 percent of the animals were to be designated as tithes. Anyways, the verse reads: Kol Asher (literally means what or that, but could also hint to the Tribe of Asher who is connected with the month of Shevat) Ya'avor Tachas HaShavet "whatever passes under THE STICK" (Leviticus 27:32). In Hebrew, the word for "the stick" which was used to apply red paint to every 10th animal is HaShevet. You can read this word as Hei=5 (the letter) Shevet, which is today's date.

The ultimate idea of tithes was that everything belongs to Hashem, and so even if one worked very hard to maintain his animals and spent much time and resources feeding and nurturing them, he still had to remember that really, he is only an employer in this world doing what Hashem wants. Of course he was entitled to have benefit from his livestock, but the way it worked with tithes is that either they were given to Cohanim, Levites, the poor, or designated food to be eaten by the owner only in the city of Jerusalem.

Ultimately, we have to remember that really WE are the ones under THE STICK of Hashem, and that our only justification of being above the animals is that we are actively serving Hashem; otherwise, we are far lower than the animals. At least these kosher animals after all is said and done are being used for the purpose of various Mitzvot/Commandments, even if the animals themselves don't know about serving Hashem. And just like at a moment's notice, the designated animal that is painted red will soon be a sacrifice to Hashem, Hashem chooses who will soon be leaving this world, which is not always dependent on how long we have been in this world. Indeed, although we are not now during the High Holiday season, this reminds us of the prayer called "Un'Taneh Tokef" in which we recall how we pass by like animals in the field for Hashem to count every single one of us when our fate is sealed for the better or worse on Rosh Hashana
or Yom Kippur.

Another way to remind us of our ultimate mission in life - that is, living for the right purpose of serving Hashem, rather than living for our pleasures of which eating is the most basic one - is through the use of Gematria. Now notice that I did not say - "our ultimate mission in life is eating to live". While as in the title of this post - eating to live is far better than living to eat, it's not the eating itself that accomplishes what needs to be done - eating just helps one have the energy to accomplish his/her mission, no less important than spending time stopping by to pump some gas or fuel in the car to allow one to continue driving on the road for work or home.

In Kabbalistic sources, we see that when Hashem created the world, it wasn't just a bunch of magical words that created everything in this world. Actually, Hashem pronouncing words is what actually created everything, but the mechanism behind this were the Alef Beit used in Creation. For example, when Hashem created stone, He created it using the letter of the Alef Beit that is the Hebrew word for stone - Even, consisting of Alef, Beit/Veit, Noon. It was these letters through Hashem's will that created stone, and these letters are its vitality that allows it to continue existing.

In another aspect, there is a purpose of us - particular Jews - eating food in this world. While for non-Jews who will simply not live if they don't eat, we Jews can actually accomplish spiritual things by eating the food in a few different ways. First of all, the food does give us the energy to do Hashem's Mitzvot. Secondly, saying Berachot/blessings before and after eating involve praising Hashem for the food and keeping us in line reminding us that everything we eat and own really belongs to Hashem but that He grants us things for the sole purpose of serving Hashem. Thirdly, the eating itself can accomplish spiritual things, and to this, there is more than one aspect.

In Kabbalah, we see that there are sparks which sometimes includes reincarnates of people in the food; and eating the food, especially when we say the blessing on the food which helps most when having Kavana/concentration on the words of the blessing, helps "redeem" these sparks or reincarnates of people who have to be atoned for. And then regarding Shabbat, there is a special aspect of eating on this holy day that helps honor enhance Oneg Shabbat/pleasure of Shabbat; and hence, buying extra delicious food is part of honoring the Shabbat. Now, part of this is that we enjoy Shabbat ourselves by eating tasty food, even as we see in the Talmud & Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law that there were various rabbis who prepared different things on Friday in honor of Shabbat, including the food; and also that we are supposed to even taste the food that we cooked for Shabbat beforehand to make sure that they were cooked good. But even with all this, we have to have in mind that we are honoring Shabbat, and of course honoring Hashem. This is not to mention that there is also a special aspect of eating on Yom Tov/Jewish holidays, just as Jews used to eat peace-offering sacrifices during Temple times in honor of the holidays.

In fact, just about every single Jewish holiday is distinguished by its own set of food. Passover - Matza, Shavuot - dairy, Rosh Hashana - honey, various fruits and vegetables, symbolizing wishes for a sweet year, Chanuka - latkes or Sufganiyot/jelly donuts in Israel, Purim - hamentaschen. And I almost forgot - we have Tu B'Shevat coming up in a week from Shabbat which is celebrated with eating various fruit, including fruit that we haven't eaten yet this season which requires an extra blessing of Shehecheyanu.

Sometimes, it's a little easy to be carried away with an array of tempting holiday food that puts us in a jovial mood; especially when with family and friends. Some homes may have some 57 different types of food during the course of a holiday meal. But one does not have to go far. In the first blessing of Bircat HaMazon/Grace after Meals - "for He is a G-d who feeds and sustains everything". The word for feeds in Hebrew is Zan - Zayin, Noon, which is the Gematria of 57.

Aside from the blessings before and after a meal, there are those who have a custom to say Psalm 23 at the meal, especially on Shabbat. I don't think too many people need any kind of introduction for this most famous psalm, which is most known to Christians, and is also recited in the prayer services of one's hardest moments in life followed the passing of one's beloved relative. As a most universal prayer, King David views G-d as One who takes care of him, even in some most trying moments in life.

In this psalm, there are 57 words and 227 letters (I am referring to Hebrew of course). As far as the number 227 is concerned, this is the Gematria of the word Beracha/blessing. No doubt that this psalm is the bridge between the food and the blessings.

Speaking of blessings, the very first tractate of the Mishna & Talmud is called Berachot/Blessings, which I touched upon in my previous post. As the very first tractate, it is the blessings, thanking Hashem for all that He gives us, that first and foremost remind us of Hashem, and then we can be in a proper frame of mind when doing all of Hashem's other Mitzvot. But if this were not enough, there are 57 Mishnayot - paragraphs of the Mishna in this very first tractate of nine chapters. More specifically, Chapters 6-8 deal almost exclusively with the blessings on food, taking up on third of the Mishnayot and pages of the Talmud in this tractate. While the earlier part of the tractate deals with the reading of the Shema and daily prayers, perhaps it is the blessings on food that is the ultimate merge between the spiritual and the physical as is Psalm 23 which consists of 57 words and the amount of letters that equals the word Beracha/blessing (227).

Speaking of the word Beracha, the last of the 54 Parshiyot of the Chumash is called V'Zot HaBeracha, which is sometimes called Beracha for short. Hence, where the Chumash, the foundation of the Torah She'Bichtav/Written Torah which consists of the 613 Mitzvot leaves off with the word of Beracha, is where the Oral Torah, the detailed explanation of the 613 Mitzvot, picks up with the theme of Berachot.

I had mentioned in the past that this last Parsha of the Chumash consists of 41 verses in a different context. Well, the number 41 is the Gematria of Eim/Mother, and it is the mother who physically nurtures the baby to be a grown up adult - both as a pregnant woman and then as a nursing woman, continuing her household chores as Chef Mommy. Hence, this last Parsha called Beracha also hints to the concept of food, as evidenced by some of the blessings that Moses gave to the Tribes mentioning food in relationship to the Land of Israel that the Tribes would soon conquer and inherit.

And so on this note, we are getting to the blessing for the Tribe of Asher. Both in Moses' blessing & in Jacob's blessing, the concept of food most relates to Asher - particularly through the concept of oil, representing richness which was a blessing that this tribe had. In Jacob's blessing, "From Asher will his food be richly saturated, and he will provide dainties of a king". The word king in Hebrew is Melech, which is the Gematria of 90, and kabbalistically, the letter that represents this birth month of Asher which corresponds to his Tribe is Tzadi, which is the number 90. Indeed, we say in the beginning of almost every blessing - Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Haolam "...KING of the world".

Speaking of the letter Tzadi, it is the 18th letter of the Alef Beit. And as the verse that is recited - in the midst of the thrice daily recital of the Ashrei prayer (Psalm 145) - which according to Halacha/Jewish Law if recited without concentration, is repeated from that verse on, states: Poteiach Et Yadecha U'Masbia L'Chol Chai Ratzon - "You open Your hand and satisfy the wants of all living things" (verse 16), the word Chai/living is the number 18. Moreover, the letter Tzadi itself is etymologically related to the word Tzad/hunt (yes, we know this is what the caveman does to survive) which is related to food when one kills an animal to eat.

And the name of the heavenly food that the Jews ate in the desert for 40 years was called Man/manna (it seems that this is root word of the word money) which is the Gematria of 90, one of the topics of next week's Parshat Beshalach, which is always read in this month of Shevat. In fact, there are those who recite this part in the Torah about the manna (Exodus 16:4-36) every day as a Segula/assurance for Parnassa - making an ample living, having in mind that it is Hashem who provides us with sustenance. It was at the time when the manna first fell down that Moses composed the basic text of the first blessing of Bircat HaMazon/Grace after Meals in which most versions of this text include the above verse of Poteiach Et Yadecha.

Now in the first part of the above verse of Asher's blessing, the Hebrew word for oily, fatty, or richly saturated is Shemeina, having the same letters as Mishna, as we mentioned as a special connection to Asher. Now, in the physical sense, the word Parnassa/sustenance or making a living, is the same Gematria as Mishna (395)! In this sense, the Tribe of Asher is the bridge between Mishna study and making a rich living that will allow one to continue learning Torah with ease if he does not let his work get to his head (remember, the word head in Hebrew - Rosh, has the same letters as Asher!). And along these lines, the word Pat/bread has the same Gematria as Talmud (480). Hence, we see from here that everything in the physical realm has its counterpart in the spiritual realm.

This is reminiscent of two other Tribes of which I spoke of in the past regarding a partnership of Torah study. Yissaschar was the brother-tribe who learned Torah all day, and his brother or fellow tribe Zevulun supported Yissaschar, so Yissaschar could continue his Torah learning. This meant that Zevulun would share 50% of Yissaschar's reward for Torah study (though a Jew following in Zevulun's lead still at least needs to learn Halacha/Jewish law that will teach him how to live a Torah way of life despite his work schedule).

And thinking of this week's Parshat Bo, one cannot help but notice that there are at least two Mitzvot that involve eating - eating the Passover sacrificial lamb and eating Matza, both of which were/are obligatory on the first night of Passover (outside of Israel, a second Seder which includes eating Matza is performed on the second night of Passover as well), along with the Maror/bitter herbs which was/is a kind of a supplement to the Passover meal. Here you have it - carbohydrates, protein and vegetation, most of one's daily sustenance for a well balanced meal.

But don't wait for the last day to start buying Passover food. Today, I bought special Kosher for Passover food for my wife's cat. According to the Torah, one is forbidden on Passover to even own Chametz - leavened food/products - even if one himself/herself is not able to eat it, but an animal can eat it. Only if it is spoiled enough that even a dog cannot eat it (sorry, no dogs in my place!), then one does not transgress the prohibition of owning Chametz on Passover.

5 Shevat 5770

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