Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#61 - Where is my MEAL?

Ask the average observant Jew if he knows anything significant about the number 61 in Judaism. Chances are, he will think perhaps you are trying to play some kind of game, or that you have someone in mind who is 61 years old. Now, ask a Torah scholar the same question. Chances are is that if he recently learned Rashi on the Parsha or some part of the Mishnayot, he may have a flash in his mind as to some significance of this number.

Actually, there are two topics in Judaism that have to do with the number 61 - and in fact, seem to have some relationship with each other; though in one context - it has to do with a story, and in another context - it has mention in terms of Jewish law.

As recounted in Parshat Beshalach (and in the Midrash and other commentaries) that we read a few weeks ago, following the Jews' arrival at the Sin Desert, they woke up one Shabbat morning only to discover that they had no Matza to eat for the first time since Passover night, their last night in Egypt. Well, guess they didn't have too much to eat for Shabbat lunch, but in any case, they wasted no time complaining to Moses & Aaron about the mealless discovery. By nighttime, they already found themselves eating meat, and the following morning, they had the world's first heavenly food - the manna, the same thing that they would be eating for nearly 40 years.

In those days, two meals a day was the standard in society. It was very simple. People ate a good breakfast at the beginning of the day, they worked hard the whole day on the field or farm, perhaps munching on a bit of fruit and vegetables, and then ate a hard earned dinner when the sky turned dark. Perhaps they did a little reading by candlelight, and after talking whatever was on their mind, they slept for the night until the dawn of day invited them for another such day.

O.K., let's do a little counting here. Based on the calculations of the dates and events that took place from the Exodus to the Giving of the Torah in Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud, the month of Nissan, the month of the Exodus, consisted of 30 days. Now, as recounted in the Torah, the Jews arrived at Sin Desert on the 15th of Iyar. Thus, two meals a day for 30 days add up to 60 meals. Thus, if it was on Shabbat morning of the 15th of Iyar that they had no Matza, their main staple that filled them up. Hence, considering their last meal of Matza until it was gone, they had a total of 61 meals from Passover night when they were bidden to eat Matza for their historical Passover meal.

So what, you may ask? Well, don't ask me, ask Rashi, and the Midrashim that he quotes from (such as the Mechilta, but the Midrash Tanchuma says 60 meals). After all, it would seem to be enough to mention that the Jews had what to eat for a month, and then found themselves without food. Why mention exactly how many meals they ate?

Before attempting to answer this question, let's go straight to the Mishna. In Tractate Menachot (12:4), a tractate that discusses the details of the Mincha - singular for meal-offering, Menachot in plural, consisting of flour and oil, and sometimes eaten by the Cohanim, it mentions about a person who donated (in the times of the Temple) a meal offering consisting of 60 Isaron (unit of measure in the Torah) which can fit in one container. Now, if he vowed to donate 61 Isaron for the meal offering, that 61st measure of the meal offering had to be in a different container. Similar to this, when it came to the various Shabbat and holiday animal sacrifices which were accompanied by a meal-offering, the most ever that was brought on such occasions was on the first day of Succot when it fell out on a Shabbat, which also consisted of 61 Isaron of the meal-offering, requiring a second container.

So, it seems that the number 61 is associated with meals, especially as a maximum number. The difference between the two scenarios here - the Jews in the desert & the offering of the Mincha - is that in the first scenario, it is the food that Hashem provided the Jews, while the Mincha offering is what we provide to Hashem, so to speak (believe me, Hashem doesn't need our meals).

As we know about the Torah being a little more than being a story teller or a factoid base for Ripley's Believe It or Not, it is the latter part of that Mishna about the 61 Isaron measures of Mincha that is what will shed light on the matter here. Rabbi Shimon comments that "up to 60 measures, one can mix the meal offerings (brought for different types of animals)".

The other Sages asked, "Do you mean to say that you can mix together 60 measures, but not 61 measures"?

Rabbi Shimon replied, "All of the measures of the Sages are like that", and he proceeded to give examples of this.

There is a very good lesson we can learn from this. Sometimes, we think we know what the limits are to something - good food, good night sleep, good time hanging out with friends or surfing the web. However, how many times do you know of yourself or someone else suffering the results of these "good"ies? Yes, a good meal, but stuffing oneself without realizing there is a limit can lead to feeling overly stuffed, vomiting, not feeling well, stomach cramps, etc. Sleeping a little too much can cause one to feel real drousy instead of accomplishing to be fully alert during the day. Hanging out with friends until the post midnight hours will either waste half of the normal waking ours with sleep or if one needs to be at work the next morning, will have to force himself to get ready despite feeling dead tired or come late to work, and then not feeling right at work, and can make mistakes from not driving very well with the possibility of falling asleep on the wheel to making unnecessary blunders at work. Surfing the web shares these same basic qualities, in addition to possibly straining the eyes or back with prolonged use of the computer, quite often with taking no brake for several hours because we feel quite addicted to the Tree of Knowledge which is quite sinful for some who get addicted to the spiritual trash on it.

And this is the lesson of the limit of the amount of "meals" for one container. Sixty, a number that is associated with the name of the letter Samech, which is related to the word Semicha, such as leaning one's hands on the animal sacrifice, is the number that is related to fullness and completeness, such as the full circle of the letter Samech. One can go endless of times around a circular path, but he/she is limited to that circle. Hence, it is the number sixty that represents a boundary, a limit, such as this round world which kept expanding during Creation, until Hashem called out "Enough!", and then it stopped.

Thus, it is the number 61 which shows that now it is time for a new container, because the old container can hold only so much or everything that is in the container will either get smashed or the container will burst. Yes, it is ONLY one more, but it may be this ONLY one more that will ruin everything. It is worth getting a container for ONLY one more "meal". No my friends, it's not 30 in one and 31 in another. The meals are distributed particularly in this manner of sixty and one, respectively, because it is not about "even distribution" because in fact, this cannot happen with an even and odd number together. Don't expect for everyone to always be happy if there will be even a "little" difference as to the distribution of a meal in everyone's plates. There will never be a perfectly distributed meal - a little less chicken in someone's plate, or more gravy in another one's plate. However, when the person finishes his/her portion, he or she then realizes that despite the exact amount or taste, it accomplished its purpose of providing a satisfying meal.
And so for the Jews in the desert, what they needed to realize is that everything is from Hashem. True, it seems that they didn't have what to eat for the day, let alone for Shabbat. However, what was important for them to realize is that it was Hashem who provided them with the Matza, protection, and freedom to begin with. They started to take things for granted as if to say that the food should have been there automatically, being in a mode that despite Hashem feeding them until now, they expected it to be more than a full refrigerator.

And it was to this that Hashem had to put a stop. As it is, Hashem was not too happy for their request for meat, as Rashi continues points out; but their request for breakfast, which took place in the form of the manna, was a proper request. Why? What's wrong with a steak dinner? It wasn't costing a dime to Hashem anyways?

Meat represented more than just satisfying a bodily need of sustaining oneself. While in fact the Torah does not openly endorse being a vegetarian since Noah's days, but in fact gives various commands to eat meat, including the Paschal lamb which made up part of the first of the 61 meals that the Jews ate from that historical night in Egypt until their Matza supply ran out, this is supposed to be only in the context of serving Hashem. Craving for meat out of this domain is a pure lust for something that is not necessary. However, their request for normal breakfast food, though they didn't behave quite nicely in the way they asked for it, was indeed a proper request, because without basic nutrients, one cannot live for very long, and needs to live to serve Hashem.

And as we see about the story of the manna, its ultimate purpose was for the Jews to rely on Hashem on a daily basis for their food. No more taking food for granted. They didn't learn their lesson earlier from the 61 meals until their food supply was gone, that just like they were provided with what they needed to eat until then, so too it would be Hashem' s wish that it should continue like this. All they needed to do was to open their eyes and perceive that there is a limit to what one should desire to maintain a healthy and balanced living, and that extras are nothing but stand in the way of what really counts in life.

And speaking of the 61 measures of meal-offering on the first day of Succot that fell out on a Shabbat, we know about the Mitzva/Commandment of taking the Arba Minim/Four Species (citron, palm branch, myrtle leaves, willow branches) on Succot. According to the Torah, the Mitzva applies specifically to the first day of Succot, but in time, the rabbis rules that we should do this for the full week of Succot - except for Shabbat. Now according to the Torah, this first day of Succot is regardless of what day it is, even if it is Shabbat. However, as the rabbis were afraid that someone might come to accidentally carry these Four Species from a private domain
to a public domain on Shabbat when this is forbidden, even for a Mitzva, they forbade doing this even on the first day of Succot when it falls out on Shabbat.

We can learn a valuable lesson here. While the Torah made a clear cut commandment to perform a Mitzva - regardless of what day of week the first of Succot falls out on, the rabbis of 2,000 years ago were empowered by the Torah to change the rules of this for the sake of protecting the Torah, as worded in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, making a "fence for the Torah". The rabbis do not have the power to nullify Mitzvot or add on to them as a whole another type of commandment, except as a means of supporting the Torah that already exists. Hence, they had the power to extend the amount of time of fulfilling the Mitzva of taking the Four Species for the entire Succot (originally, it was done for a full week only in the Temple), and forbade doing a Mitzva that the Torah tells us to do specifically on the first day of Succot to protect one from the grave sin of carrying on Shabbat.

Thus, we see that the Torah trusted the rabbis with making limits - even when it comes to making limits on doing a Mitzva according to the Torah. And specifically regarding the Shabbat, the rabbis wanted to make sure that even when a Jew has in mind to do a Mitzva that he won't somehow find a way to justify doing a Mitzva by committing an Aveira/sin to accomplish this, though it would seem simple enough to understand that while taking the Mitzva of the Four Species is only one command, resting on Shabbat and not working on Shabbat are two commands, and so the Four Species is not able to overide the Shabbat with two commands. Forbidding taking the Four Species on Shabbat to prevent carrying outside of the permitted limits would limit the chance of doing the great sin of carrying from a private domain to a public domain, as it is forbidden to even carry a Sefer Torah on Shabbat in a public domain for the purpose of reading it in the synagouge as is done on Shabbat. While this may in a way be able to be far more justified since after all, the learning of Torah is the greatest of all Mitzvot, such fear of this happening was not expressed to this degree by the Sages, since after all, it is the Torah itself that forbids us to violate the Shabbat. However, this would not be so obvious with the Mitzva of the Four Species since after all, it is a timely thing for a limited time, so it is easy to justify with saying that it is only for that time that it is permitted and a must to carry the Four Species even outside of the Shabbat limits.

This is all fine and dandy. But, how did the rabbis know that it is O.K. to prevent a Mitzva from being done in the face of saving people from doing a sin? Maybe the Torah wanted it in such a way that one has to learn to be prepared properly before Shabbat of the first day of Succot, and
perform the Mitzva of the Four Species in such a way that no violation of the Shabbat will take place? After all, we see from the Mitzva of Brit Mila/circumcision which is performed on Shabbat if it is the baby boy's eight day of life that what could not be prepared before Shabbat can be done on Shabbat despite what is normally considered violation of the Shabbat, while what was able to be prepared for the circumcision before Shabbat but was not done, cannot be done now on Shabbat. So the question begs to be asked, why is it different with the Four Species?

It is the lesson of the 61 meal offering portions that are offered on the first day of Succot that falls out on Shabbat that teaches us this. The fact that one is doing a Mitzva of offering meal offerings did not justify stuffing everything into one container relying on any miracles. While miracles in fact happened in the Temple right and left, it was not up to us to decide what miracles these would be. It's only after doing our part the way we are supposed to do that Hashem could decide to do miracles. So as Rabbi Shimon said, "All the measures of the sages are like that"; meaning, that the Sages had the power to put limits on how Mitzvot are performed if they could possible endanger their own Mitzva or a different Mitzva. The fact that one is performing a Mitzva does not give him the right to decide how HE will do the Mitzva. After all, it is the KING OF KINGS that gives the orders, and is not left to our devices to decide what is the best way of doing it - EXCEPT THROUGH THE MEANS OF TORAH LOGIC, and it is the Sages who were empowered and trusted by the Torah to make this determination. As we see from the Karaites to the Enlightment movement that led to Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanistic "Judaism", these movements accomplished nothing except for watering down the basic tenents of Judaism, fitting Judaism to make it convenient for oneself, not treating it as something that was divinely ordained by the King of Kings, but misusing and mistreating His words of wisdom - the Bible, towards their selfish end and gain.

Perhaps a perfect example of this pertains to the concept of not carrying on Shabbat. To people with logic, it seems that moving furniture across the room is far more work than carrying a tissue in one's pocket when walking from one's house to another person's house across the street.
Yet when it comes to Shabbat, moving furniture in the house could be perfectly permissible so long as it is not being done in preparation for after Shabbat, but carrying even the slightest thing even in a pants pocket in the street where it is forbidden to carry anything on Shabbat unless an Eruv, which involves string around an area marking it as a private domain rather than a public domain, is a sin that is worthy of being stoned for by a Jewish court (as was done in the times of the Temple) if done willfully. And by the way, we see the prohibition of carrying in public on Shabbat mentioned specifically by the manna, as no manna fell on Shabbat so the Jews wouldn't carry it on this holy day.

As worded in the Mishna here, the measures of the Sages are called MIDOT Chachamim. Indeed, the introduction to the Sifra, the Midrashic work on the Book of Leviticus which begins with the sacrifices, what we recite in our daily morning prayers, lists the 13 MIDOT HaTorah, the measures through which the Torah is expounded to arrive at the proper Halacha/Jewish Law. (NOTE: In terms of the 70 bulls that were sacrificed on Succot, corresponding to the 70 nations; 13 of these bulls were brought specifically on the first day of Succot)

As I had mentioned at the end of my previous post, Halacha/Jewish Law is the Gematria of 60, which is either something that was already handed down to Moses, which is called Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai, or it is something that is determined by the rabbis who have come to a Halachic conclusion based on various Torah sources. Hence, declaring something extra in the name of Jewish Law without putting it in its proper perspective - such as (symbolically) stuffing 61 meals in a fixed 60 meal measure - is nothing less than adding something to the Torah, which is forbidden according to the Torah. Only the Sages who have a very keen understanding of the Torah know exactly how to "add" or "subtract", which are nothing but adjustments to maintain a proper balance for the totality of the Torah's 613 Mitzvot to be observed.

In the conclusion of my 61st Post, I would like to point out that as a way to remember how many meals the Jews had from the Seder night in Egypt until they ran out of their supply of Matza, the first letters of the phrase Seudat Ochel/Meal of Food are Samech Aleph - the number 61. So too, the first day of Succot which can be called Aleph Succot - (Day) 1 of Succot - also has the initials of the letters Samech & Aleph. And in terms of the Mitzva of Succah - dwelling in a Succa during the seven days of Succot, there is a special Mitzva of eating a minimum of an olive/egg sized piece of bread particularly on the first night of Succot (outside of Israel - also on the 2nd night of Succot) in the Succah, the same way that there is a special Mitzva of eating Matza particularly on the first night of Passover (outside of Israel - also on the 2nd night of Passover).

And as the seven days of Succot correspond to seven Ushpizin/Heavenly Guests who visit our Succot during the holiday, the first day of Succot corresponds to Abraham our forefather, who is especially known for his Hachnasat Orchim - inviting guests, sharing his scrumptions meals with non believers in Hashem, through which he used to bring them to believe in the existance of Hashem, in lieu of the worthless idols. Kabbalistically, it is the morning/early afternoon meal of Shabbat - of the three meals of Shabbat that correspond to the Patriarchs - that corresponds to Abraham, during the time of the brining of the Shabbat/holiday sacrifices and meal offerings, as well as the fulfillment of the Mitzva of the Four Species. And it is specifically the story of the three angels who appeared to Abraham who fed them that is mentioned as talking place specifically at noon time, just around the time that a good percentage of worshipping Jews in the synagogue on Shabbat morning are home in time for Shabbat lunch. And for another phrase whose initial letters are Samech Aleph is Seudat Orchim - meal of guests.

By the way, the Midrash tells us that the Four Species correspond to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph. Particularly, it is the Etrog/citron - the only growth of the Four Species that is edible - that corresponds to Abraham, the early Biblical figure who specialized in physically and spiritually feeding his guests. Etrog is the Gematria of 610, which is 10 times 61. Hence, as Abraham is the featured Heavenly Guest for the 1st day of Succot, on which 61 measures of the meal offering was offered when it fell out on Shabbat, it should be noted that Abraham as representive of the number 61 here, passed all of Hashem's special 10 tests of his G-d fearing character. Hence, 61*10 adds up to the Etrog/citron which corresponds with Abraham, the father of "southern" hospitality (he lived for many years in the Negev, the southern part of Israel).

NOTE: My next post will, G-d willing, be written up this coming Sunday.

4 Adar 5770

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