Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#60 - Rabbi @ Gematriot Congregation

For someone who is quite intellectual, it is quite easy to learn for almost any college degree he/she wants. Yes, it may take time, effort, and preparation to learn the courses well, but it is easy because this is something that can be accomplished. Some degrees require internships, as a hands-on-experience, but once that title is earned - Dr., Esq., C.P.A., M.B.A., Professor, etc. - it is a lifetime title unless revoked by a legal board who have the power to take away the license or title from someone who behaved in a fashion not befitting the title, aside from what certificate may remain on the wall.

Perhaps this concept stands out far more when it comes to religion. After all, a man of G-d needs to protray himself/herself as someone of high moral standard and values, beyond the ritualistic aspect of that religion. This puts pressure on some clergymen, because they know that others look up to them, and don't want to do something that will change their image of being a spiritual leader. And if they are truly sincere in their beliefs, they don't want to do anything that will tarnish other people's beliefs of that particular religion.

In Judaism, the concepts of Kiddush Hashem/Sanctification of Hashem's Name & Chillul Hashem/Desecration of Hashem's Name come to mind. One can either behave in a fashion that will impress even non-observant Jews or non-Jews to have a good feeling about Judaism, even if these others people cannot imagine themselves being observant or Jews; or one can behave in a fashion that will give leave a bad impression on how Judaism looks, and it won't matter what the Torah or Bible says.

Until recent times, rabbis for the most part were highly revered, even by Anti-Semitic rulers at times. People understood that from the way that rabbis behaved, there was something to what these rabbis learned and represented. In a community where the rabbi was held supreme, anyone of the common populace who dared to oppose the rabbi's views either by word or action was ostracized by the community. As his financial position as a rabbi wasn't necessarily reflective of his standing, he wasn't influenced by gain or politics to do things that could be questionable, but his biggest concern was that everyone could grow spiritually and observe the Torah properly.

From the old Shtetel way life in Europe to the immigration of millions of Jews to the States, significant changes have happened within this past century. In a country where people came for financial stability and to make fortunes, the tide of how Judaism would be treated would never remain the same. Yes, there are still many rabbis out there who are truly sincere about making a spiritual impact as their primary goal. But within the realm of Orthodox Jewry as Jewish observance according to tradition is known as, there is a wide spectrum of how Judaism is viewed. This is of course not even talking about Conservative and Reform movements who are clearly not observant of Halacha/Jewish law, and not only their rabbi, but the cantor also gets a nice salary who both violate the Sabbath publicly by using a microphone, many if not most who also drive to and from their "religious" work on Shabbat.

Just about everything called religious in the United States today is an enterprise. True, people have to make a living, and certainly, it is nice if one needs to make money anyways that he is doing something constructive that helps Judaism. But that's it - if it HELPS observance of Judaism, NOT DESTROY observance of Judaism. From the pulpit to granting Kosher certification to giving emotional assistance to troubled women, there have been rabbis who have fallen astray for the sake of honor, money, power, had affairs or committed sexual molestations on children. Whether it is a small minority or a big majority, one cannot help but hear complaints from members of the Jewish community or the news when things go wrong.

In the old days, it was the rabbi who was in control. Few rabbis in Europe really had a half decent lifestyle just because of their title, when they were lucky if they could afford to eat a couple meals a day. For today's average pulpit, especially in Modern Orthodox circles, a rabbi can easily make if not a six digit figure, then close to it in a well established Jewish community. But while he may pay lip service once in a while by telling his congregation to "cut down on the noise" once he hears a room full of talking in the middle of services, he knows quite well that some of the ones who are guilty of making a desecration of G-d's name talking during the Torah reading or Kaddish - the big "machers" - are responsible for paying his salary. These days in the midst of the media rambling about Israel, the rabbi feels a need to say his opinion, and I will tell you for a fact folks, not all of them are saying things that are correct according to the Torah For example, the assasination of Yitzchak Rabin who gunned down some 16 Jews in the Altalena incident in 1948 bothers some of these well paid rabbis more than what he did in attempting to please our Arab enemies. The false claims of Meah Shearim residents throwing stones at drivers on Shabbat seems to be more of an issue to them than openly declaring that Rabbi Meir Kahane was right, let alone set an example of giving up their handsome position and not just talk the talk but walk the walk to Israel like Rabbi Kahane said to do.

The bottom line is that while today there are more people with the title of rabbi than ever before, the title is not so respected like it was at one time. The title only seems to be good as the one who owns the title. And even among those rabbis who are respected for deciding Jewish law,
there were and are unfortunately those who have made decisions that have if anything endangered the Jewish people, like for example, saying that it is OK to give away parts of Israel for the sake of "protecting Jewish lives", while experience has shown that by not following the Torah when it clearly states to drive out the enemy, that more trouble is bound to happen. And most unfortunately before the Gush Katif expulsion, there were those rabbis who either said that soldiers should not refuse orders to throw out some 9,000 Jews from their homes, making room for Arabs to get ever closer to murder more Jews, or they themselves worked hand-in-hand with the police and soldiers to ask residents with little children to exit their homes who would afterwards not have a half decent place to live or a means of living. Yes in Israel, there are these rabbis making these so called Halachic decisions who are well paid by the self-hating Jewish Israeli government committing these atrocities. Many other rabbis in Israel who are revered in the Yeshiva world were paid good money by this same government to keep quiet as the destruction of Jewish families, homes, synagogues, and Yeshivot took place. By the way, if anyone is interested in seeing the real picture of what happened in the Gush Katif expulsion exposing the real traitors of this fiasco, write to me in the comment section, and I will forward you a 10-minute video of this via E-mail.

So after all is said and done, one would hope for some stories of modern day rabbis who exemplify what a real rabbi is like. Fortunately, there is such a story that took place a few decades ago. Once, there was a gentleman who was visiting some Jewish patients in a New York hospital. Seeing someone's name on the bed, the gentleman started saying "Mr. ... " All of a sudden, the one addressed as Mr. started shouting "How dare you call me a Mr. when I am a rabbi!..." The nice gentleman then apologized, and the two spoke a bit. Then, when it came time for the nice guy to greet the person lying in the bed next to the one who said of himself that he was a rabbi, afraid of getting a similar reaction, he started saying "And you are" waiting for an answer. The person on this bed replied, "Miller, Avigdor Miller".

My friends, for those who may have not heard this name before, few rabbis in the United States scenary accomplished what this Avigdor Miller, a most revered rabbi, did. Rabbi Miller (passed away in '01) may have not been the most famous or popular rabbi, but few reached his stature of accomplishments without politics getting into the way. Early on, he strictly enforced a no-talking policy during prayers, and it was never mitigated in hopes for more money than the meager salary he began receiving. He didn't just "mind his own business" by giving a nice peppered sermon on Saturday morning. He sought to make Talmudic scholars out of congregants who knew little more than reading the prayer book. It took three years for him to teach a whole tractate of Talmud to 13 congregants who took up the challenge. Today, his synagogue which is more like a learning center, hosts daily classes on all different Talmudic tractates and other studies. He gave lectures on Mussar/Jewish ethics spanning thousands of cassette tapes. And in time, for those who learned some 500 Dafim/double-sided pages of Talmud, he verbally declared them as rabbis, and insisted on them putting that title on family invitations. For more on this non-political real Rabbi Avigdor Miller, you can check this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avigdor_Miller. (NOTE: This is NOT to say that I agree with all of his viewpoints, such as on Zionism, as he never even stepped foot in Israel in his long life until he was buried there. However, in terms of not falling in for politics and his humble character, there are definitely things that many of today's rabbis can learn from).


Eleven years ago on this date - the 18th of Shevat, I received rabbinic ordination, known as Semicha in Hebrew. As a child, I must confess that I wanted to be a rabbi and a teacher. While for many years in my 20s it was something which I didn't know would ever happen, this dream of mine finally became a reality. How much it helped me in the long run or will help me, I don't know. Personally, I think it did more for others in my attempt to help those who needed assistance, than what the title actually did for me. And as far as teaching is concerned, it may be a possibility in a classroom arrangement in the near future now that I am married; but meanwhile, I am teaching Torah, at least through my blogspot here. I guess you can call my following, or my synagogue without walls, Gematriot Congregation. In case anyone here is interested or knows someone who is interested, in receiving rabbinic ordination without having to go out of your/his way to attend classes when busy working for a living, you can turn to this link http://www.vaadharabbonim.com/, which is under the auspicies of Rabbi Mordechai Yitzchok Friedman, Shlita, the Tyrnava Rav, from whom I received Rabbinic ordination (This Rav also offers a variety of rabbinical services that may not always be available from other rabbis who don't have specialties in certain fields or don't have extra time, as you can check on this link http://www.vaadharabbonim.com/).

But aside from today's date of my anniversary of receiving rabbinic ordination, I am writing about this topic in my 60th Post. You see, the word Semicha is related to the word for the letter Samech, whose letter is the Gematria of 60. This brings to mind about the original Semicha which was conferred by Moses to Joshua upon Hashem's instructions V'Samachta Et Yadcha Alav - "You shall lean your hands on him", Vayismoch Et Yadav Alav - "He leaned his hands on him" (Numbers 27:18,23), and at the end of the Chumash - Samach Moshe Et Yadav Alav - "Moses leaned his hands on him" (Deutronomy 34:9).

As a side note, the Gematria of the word for the letter Samech is the Gematria of 120; and thus, this wording which is used for Moses giving the first ever human handed rabbinic ordination (which is not done by the hand today, but only in the form of a certificate) hints to the fact that Moses was in his 120th year, the last year of his life; and Moses ordaining Joshua was his answer to his request of Hashem as to who would lead the coming generation. And at Moses' passing at exactly 120 years old, the end of the Chumash once again mentions this very thing of Moses placing his hands on Joshua with the wording of Samech=120.

The truth is that the original Semicha as passed down from Moses to Joshua got lost somewhere along the way since the time that the Talmud was completed. Hence, the Semicha that we have nowadays is not part of that Semicha as it got broken, but it's the same idea of authorizing a new bidding Talmudic scholar to decide matters of Jewish Law. In earlier times, nothing less than knowledge of the entire Torah, which was basically the body of the Talmud and Jewish Law was required.

With the passing of more recent generations, the level of Torah knowledge isn't the way it used to be for the most part, and so in order that the Torah shouldn't be eventually lost due to not having many qualified people for the position, the official study for rabbinic ordination is limited to a basic Semicha package of the laws of Kashrut and ritual slaughter called Yoreh Yoreh, which is conferred to someone who has gone through several years of learning in Yeshiva, though not all Yeshiva programs will require many years, depending on the circumstances of the individual, as there are some who become observant Jews from non-observant homes, and want to go all the way to being an ordained rabbi, but aren't very young; however, they are quite educated to learn more at a faster rate than younger people. Following this, there is an advanced Semicha called Yadin Yadin which involves the laws of justice and courts in a Jewish setting.

These days in the Modern State of Israel, there is a separate Semicha called Rabbanut Reishit conferred on those who have the basic Semicha, who have to know like half of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law to be qualified. They can then get a government appointed rabbinical position to be a rabbi of a synagogue or community, and are paid quite well for life as they can't get fired by the particular synagouge or community that they are appointed as rabbi of. Though some of these rabbis are truly devoted to their followings, and don't get swayed by the politics of this double sided government; many others would have been better off if they had a different type of government position than using their rabbinic position or the Torah for their selfish gain. For example, I know of a case where there is a government appointed rabbi of a Moshav whom - as the Rebbetzin/wife of a rabbi who truly deserves the title in whose home I have stayed for Shabbat before in this Moshav said - that in seven years "no one in this Moshav has seen the man, and just picks up his check every month", while her husband, who isn't paid a penny (oops, I mean a Shekel) for dealing with the residents there, makes friends with them all, gives Torah classes to them, and helps them with advice and other assistance in their time of need.

Near the end of Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, it says Ben Shishim L'Zikna - "A sixty year old attains elderly status". Now, in the Torah that speaks of respecting a Torah scholar and old people, it says V'Hadarta Pnei Zaken "You shall honor the presence of a Zaken"
(Leviticus 19:32). Rashi notes that Zaken is a contraction of the words Zeh Shehkana Chachma - "This one who has aquired wisdom". While there may be a difference of opinion in Jewish Law as to what is the age of being elderly, a Torah scholar deserving of the title is respected at any age that he is of this status. In any case, the basic honor expected of anyone who is supposed to give this honor is to stand up for someone who is in the category of a Zaken when they walk into the room.

Hence, we have associated here the concept of sixty with wisdom. The Aramaic translation of Yonatan Ben Uziel translates the first word of the Torah - Bereishit - "With wisdom" G-d created the heavens and the earth. Now, in this first section in the Torah about the creation of the world, one can find every single letter of the Alef Beit, including what is called the final letters that only appear at the end of a word, except for the letter Samech, which is the Gematria of 60.
In case anyone was wondering why, it could be that it wasn't necessary to include the letter Samech, because this letter apparently represents the concept of wisdom, which was used to create the world. In a physical sense, the world that Hashem created is rounded, just like the letter Samech.

One more reason for me pointing this out about the section of the Torah about creation not containing the letter Samech is because it contains exactly 469 words (Genesis 1:1-2:3), and today - the 18th of Shevat which is the anniversary of my Semicha - is the 469th day from when I began http://www.gematriot.blogspot.com/. Hence, I have given my 60th Gematriot class via this blogspot at the end of 469 days from when I began my classes, which correspond to the 469 words of the account of the first week of the world's existance that leaves out the letter Samech that is the Gematria of 60. (For more information on this, and on the letter Samech/number 60, you can check Post #s 10 & 11 - Nov. '08)

I should add that while most of today's Torah scholars are ones with rabbinic ordination, there have been quite a few big Torah scholars who for one reason or another, never got formerly ordained. For example, known as Reb Elchonon, Elchonon Wasserman, may G-d avenge his blood (he was murdered by the Nazis), was not only a most accomplished Torah scholar, but was also the Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva head of a Yeshiva in Branovitch (in Europe) where he taught Gemara to young bidding students. He also was very close with the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, from whom he spent time with whenever possible. Unlike so many today with the title of rabbi - even if academically earned - aren't even worth the paper on which their rabbinic ordination is written upon, because of how they behave, or rather misbehave, giving a bad impression of Judaism; Reb Elchonon Wasserman was one who most deserved the title, though he never actually received the officially written title for it. In fact, the famed Chofetz Chaim himself didn't have it either for a long time until he saw it was necessary to have it for a specific purpose, and was able to get it on the spot because he was already well known to be a big Torah scholar.


And now that I am married, there are a few tidbits that I would like to bring here regarding Samech as it relates to marriage. First, as there are 469 words in the account of the first week of creation - the first seven days, so too is the word Chatuna/wedding the Gematria of 469, and it is customary for a first time bridegroom or bride to have Sheva Berachot - a weeklong celebration of their marriage with friends at which the Sheva Berachot/Seven Blessings that are recited at the wedding are also recited at these celebrations. Second, as illustrated in the wedding ceremony, the bride circles the bridegroom under the wedding canopy - seven times, and it is the letter Samech of the 22 letters of the Aleph Beit that resembles a circle, and in turn, the bridegroom gives the bride - a ring that is completely round. Third, when Hashem wished to create a marriage partner for Adam, He said, "It's not good for man to be alone, I will create a helpmate that is suited for him" (Genesis 2:18). As translated by Targum Onkelus, the word for helpmate in Aramaic is Sameich, which is very similar to the word Samech! Moreover, the Hebrew word for this - Ezer - has the same letters as the word Zera/children or descendants. Hence, husband and wife are helpful towards one another in accomplishing their continuity and potential.

Getting back to the lesson at hand, I want to point out is that Hashem created a beautiful world that resembles the letter Samech, but He left it a little incomplete - as it says at the end of the account of the week of creation Asher Bara Elokim La'asot - "which G-d created TO MAKE"; the word La'asot - "to make" being the 469th word. Hence, it's up to us to complete our mission, just like the letter Samech is the letter that denotes completeness as it is the only letter that is a full circle completely enclosing some space, unlike all the other letters (except for the Mem Sophit/Final Mem but it is not a circle the way that the Samech is though it has something in common with the Samech, but this is beyond the scope of this post). And in the Jewish world where it is the rabbi who teaches the Torah ensuring the existance of the next Jewish generation as observant Jews, the Semicha is the completion of studies that lead to being given a title that will now allow one to teach and decide matters of Jewish Law to others.

While I do not need Semicha to write a Gematriot blog, I do mention matters of Jewish Law where I give what you would call an opinion, but my opinion is based on Jewish Law, and as applicable in my previous post on the subject of the internet, I fairly presented both sides on the subject, presenting the issues involved and also used that post as a forum to discuss the details of the problems per se as it relates to Halacha/Jewish Law, while making clear how the internet can be used in a Kosher way. This is pretty much how the concept of Shehailot U'Teshuvot/Questions & Answers in the context of Halacha work. The Rav/Rabbi deciding what the Halacha should be does a deep analysis of the issues related to the question, quoting from various sources - from the Bible, Talmud, and Halachic sources, and gives his verdict based on everything he mentions, not because of how he feels the answer should be based on "common sense" or some convenient answer that will make the questioner happy to want to approach him the next time to make himself famous and popular.

And as this relates to this week's Parshat Yitro, the name of Yitro/Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, is the same Gematria as HaTorah/The Torah - 616. After all, one becomes a rabbi because of the Torah which he learns that qualifies him to have this title. It is in this very Parsha that the Torah, beginning with the Ten Commandments, was given. In connection with Creation, the world was created on condition that the Jews in that future time close to 2,450 years later, would receive the Torah; otherwise, Hashem would have destroyed the world right then and there. The Torah was received on Har Sinai/Mount Sinai - the name of the mountain beginning with the letter Samech. And the words Sefer Torah/Torah Scroll begin with the letter Samech.

As Matan Torah/Giving of the Torah is compared to a wedding - which was the spiritual wedding between Hashem and the Jewish people, the latter who received the Torah/marriage contract as a GIFT from Hashem, I would like to point out that after 55 days of marriage, G-d willing - and 55 is the Gematria of the word Kala/bride - on the following day which will be Shabbat Yitro, we will read this Parsha whose name is the Gematria of 616. Similarly, my Ufruf - reading of the Torah for the bridegroom on the Shabbat before marriage - was on the first day of Chanuka -the 616th day from when I gave myself a 2nd Hebrew name - Matisyahu, which means GIFT OF HASHEM, which took place nearly two years ago on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. On both of these days (1st day of Chanuka & Rosh Chodesh Nissan), we begin reading from the section of the Torah (on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, it's read outside of the Sefer Torah) called Bircat Cohanim (Numbers 6:22-27, as customary by Sephardim and in Israel by all), which is the very same thing that we recite immediately after the daily blessings for learning Torah called Bircat HaTorah. And it is the second of the two blessings that mentions that Hashem chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah, which are the very events that are mentioned in this week's Parshat Yitro.

Along these lines, there are 55 days between my Ufruf day, which was the 616th day from when I received my second Hebrew name Matisyahu/GIFT OF HASHEM & the Shabbat when we read Parshat Yitro, the name of the Parsha having the Gematria of 616 in which we read of the GIFT OF HASHEM, the Torah, that the Jewish people received. And in the beginning of this Parsha, it is the only place in the entire Chumash where it mentions the names of Moshe's two sons - Gershom & Eliezer, whose names when combined add up to the same Gematria as Matisyahu - 861, and my father's Hebrew name is also Moshe. Moreover, my present full Hebrew name - Shimon Matisyahu - is the Gematria of Krias HaTorah/Reading of the Torah - 1327!


And now something as it relates to the number sixty regarding an area of Torah study, as per a verse in Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs, the lovesong between Hashem and the Jewish people.
The verse (Song of Songs 6:8) states - Shishim Heima Melachot "Sixty are the queens" referring to the sixty tractates of the Mishna - or Mishnayot in plural (though in time, it came to be divided into 63 tractates). The Mishna as the foundation of the Oral Torah represents the completeness of Torah study as something beyond the Bible. This work was the first written work in the format of Halacha, the word for Jewish Law which is the Gematria of 60, though we don't turn to the Mishna today as the source of how we decide Jewish Law, because of subsequent arguments of the Talmud as to what the Mishna really said or how it is applicable, and we have had several sources of Jewish Law composed in the last 1500 years. However, the Mishna as it represents the concept of 60, represents the concept of wisdom, which is ultimately the wisdom of Hashem, which we would never know from reading the Bible alone.

Along these lines, the 469th and last word of the account of Creation in which the letter Samech=60 is not written even once - La'asot - is the same Gematria as the word Mishnayot - 806, which originally consisted of 60 tractates. Hence, we see from here that the only way we can make the Torah complete is by our observance of the Torah in the 6,000 years of the world's existance through the aspect of the Oral Torah of which the Mishayot is the foundation, the first written guide of Halachic observance.

No wonder then that the very end of the first tractate of the Mishnayot - Berachot (means blessings) - mentions the verse Et LA'ASOT LaHashem Hefeiru Torateicha - "It is a time TO ACT for Hashem, for they have nullified Your Torah" (Psalms 119:126). The main commentator on the Mishanyot - Rabbi Ovadia from Bartenura (who incidentally made Aliyah at a time when few Jews lived in Israel, who became the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and is buried in the Old City right near the Temple grounds), explains on this verse that there are times that we have to leave aside the words of Torah in order to act for Hashem. Aside from the original context for which this explanation is given, indeed the Mishnayot as the Oral Torah was not written down for some 1,550 because the Oral Torah was not allowed to be written down, but only as an oral tradition from generation to generation. It was only because the Jews were incurring various troubles from the Romans, and there was a great fear of forgetting the Torah as a result that the rabbis of the time decided that it was about time to disregard what the Torah says about not writing down the Oral Torah, and finally write it down - for the sake of Torah. However, we must bear in mind that this is NOT a carte blanche statement to decide things on our own like this L'Shem Shamayim "for the sake of Hashem", without getting prior approval from a competent Halachic decider, a decider of Jewish Law who is approved by major Torah scholars who are well known in the Torah world.

It's most significant to note that the very first Halachic debate that took place spanning centuries was centered on whether one does the traditional leaning on a sacrificial animal - also called Semicha - that is brought as a holiday sacrifice on Yom Tov. As recounted in Tractate Chagiga, Chapter Two of the Mishna, the two big Torah leaders in each generation were divided on this subject - one said yes and the other said no, until Hillel & Shammai who also said yes and no respectively, and since in matters of Halacha, it is Hillel whom we follow; it was then decided that the Halacha follows that we lean our hands on the holiday sacrificial animal.

As I am concluding my 60th Post, it is Halacha - the Gematria of 60 - which dictates how Hashem wants us to observe his commandments, which is what ultimately distinguishes a rabbi - particularly one who decides matters of Jewish Law - from everyone else who are bidden to follow what he decides what the Torah/Halacha says.

18 Shevat 5770

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