Friday, April 23, 2010

#67 - Age of UNDERSTANDING

Here I am. Now that I am forty years old, I reflect back on what I went through during my life until now. I had a lot of close calls, including incidents where I could have, G-d forbid, lost my life or be seriously injured. Like the time that I was almost attacked by a huge dog at the age of 17 when I was walking a long way home from synagogue on Shabbat, from which I was spared only because I raced across the street of cars running in both directions and the big dog got caught between two cars going opposite ways, which gave me enough time to run far enough for the dog not to continue hunting me down. And then there was the time when I suddenly lost control of my car on the highway when it spun around until it suddenly stopped facing the opposite side of traffic instead of rolling over several feet down on the side of the highway. And for car accidents, I was very lucky among the number of times that I never even got injured. Indeed, miracles happened in my life.

It is true that many of us when much younger do stupid things that puts us at risk in life. Some live on while others aren't so lucky and either perish or their lives will never be the same again. But one thing is for sure. Many reach a level of maturity later in life with the understanding that we have only one life (I'm not going to get into reincarnations now) and that we need to make wise decisions while we still our in the prime of our life before nearing retirement age.

And so, Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers states at the end of Chapter 5 - Ben Arba'im L'Binah "Forty is the age of understanding". To note, Binah/Understanding is the Gematria of 67, and this is my 67th Post. And being that my birthday is Rosh Chodesh Iyar - 1 Iyar - the beginning of the month of Iyar, I would like to point out that as shown on the calendar chart displayed at www.inner.org, which focuses on kabbala, Gematriot, and other Torah secret goodies, Iyar is the very month that represents the Sephirah of Binah.

Indeed, the very first of the middle blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer in which we request various things, is called the blessing of Binah. Before I go again, I want to mention that some of the things here about this blessing is taken from the book in English called "Shemoneh Esrei" authored by Rabbi Zev Leff, Shlita, Rav of Mashav Matisyahu, who was my first Gemara Rebbe.

There is something unique about this blessing that is not found in the subsequent middle blessings that are blessings of requests. Like the first three blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei that involve praising Hashem, so to does the blessing of Binah start off this way "You grant knowledge and teach understanding to mankind", instead of saying "Grant knowledge...". This is quite significant because on Shabbat, we do not recite these middle blessings, and instead we have one middle blessing which focuses on Shabbat. Then in the evening Shemoneh Esrei after Shabbat is over, we insert a paragraph within this blessing of Binah after the praise element of it before the request part of it, since it is only when we make a separation between Shabbat and the weekdays as the inserted paragraph is about, that we can begin making our regular requests once again.

It can be said that this blessing is the bridge between the first three blessings of praise and the following blessings of requests. Perhaps the same can be said about the age of 40, the age of understanding, reflecting on our past, and looking towards the future in terms of future accomplishments.

The last letters of the first phrase Atah Chonein L'Adam Da'at "You grant knowledge to mankind" can be rearranged to spell the word Matanah/Gift, since knowledge is the ultimate heavenly gift. As Matanah is the Gematria of 495, it's interesting to note that the beginning of being 40 years old began my 495th month - of course I mean months according to the Jewish calendar. For others who may have lived through another Jewish leap month of an additional Adar, they had lived 495 months to reach the age of understanding. Indeed, it is at this age of understanding that one realizes that life is a gift of Hashem, and we must be very careful to preserve this gift, both by living a safe life and making it a most productive spiritual life.

And not forgetting the women, especially as I am in my first year of marriage, the Talmud in Tractate Niddah 45b notes Binah Yeteirah Nitnah B'Ishah Yoteir M'BaIsh -"A woman was given more understanding than what was given to a man". While those men in the workforce may want to deny this fact, we do see that a girl matures mentally quicker than a boy from the fact that a girl becomes Bat Mitzvah at age 12, while a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah at age 13.

In Kabbalistic sources, the word Binah can be rearranged to spell Ben Yud Hei, which literally means the son of, or having the characteristic of Yud Hei, about which these two letters can spell one of Hashem's names or the first two letters of Hashem's main name. As pointed out by the Chasidic Master Rabbi Israel of Koznitz, this signifies that one needs to be a son to Hashem, as the verse states Banim Atem L'Hashem Elokeichem - "You are sons to Hashem your G-d" (Deutronomy 14:1) Bearing in mind that this name of the letters Yud Hei is the Gematria of 15, we can refer again to the list of ages in Pirkei Avot which reads Ben Chamesh Esrei L'Gemara, "Fifteen years old is the age of (learning) Gemara, which involves the very process of understanding the laws of the Mishnah as to how we learn them from the Torah, which is understanding one thing from another. And as Rashi explains the definition of understanding (on Exodus 31:3), it's understanding things on one's own out of things that he has learned.

In terms of being a good son (or daughter) to our parents, we have to know the rules of how to behave properly to them. And in terms of learning Torah which is supposed to teach us how to be good children to Hashem, it is the Gemara/Talmud which is the meat of Torah learning, based on which is the Code of Jewish Law which is the end product of what began in the Gemara.

And as this week's Parshat Kedoshim (the second of two Parshiyot that will be read this Shabbat) includes the most famous dictum of V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Camocha "Love thy neighbor as yourself", which is called the Mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael/Love for Jews, based on the count of the 613 Mitzvot as arranged by the Rambam/Maimonides, this is the 244th Mitzva that is listed in the Torah, and the word Gemara - another name for the Talmud - is the Gematria of 244. And the word Talmud is the Gematria of Ahavat Chesed/Love of Kindness - which is 480, and the 480th Mitzva of the Torah is giving Tzedaka/charity! This is similar to the concept that the words Torah & Gemilut Chasadim/Doing acts of kindness, have the same Gematria of 611. What we can learn from all this is that we need a balance in Judaism, and being a good Jew includes both learning Torah (to the best of one's ability), of which Gemara is the meat of Torah learning, and doing acts of kindess which is an expression of the Mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael. And for a blogspot that illustrates good examples of this, turn to http://levechad.blogspot.com/.

And speaking of loving Jews, the commentary of Ohr Torah on the Jewish book of Ma'alot HaTorah mentions that there are exactly 67 words of the last verses of the Chumash/The Five Books of Moses, which is related to Binah, as demonstrated as being the Gematria of 67. Now, the last of these 67 words, which is the concluding word of the Chumash, is Yisrael, referring to the Jewish nation. Now, to put a spin on this, Yisrael is the Gematria of 541. Add to this the number 67 being that this is the 67 word of the concluding verses of the five books of the Chumash, and being that this is at the end of the fifth book of the Torah, add five to this, and presto!
We have a total of 613, corresponding to the 613 Mitzvot And being that 67+5 equals 72 which is the Gematria of Chesed/Kindness, this most relates to the Mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael, of which Rabbi Akiva says that this is the big principle of the Torah, on which all the Mitzvot of the Torah are based, as we Jews are all one spiritual body, and so even our observance or non-observance, G-d forbid, of the Mitzvot that are related between oneself & Hashem, in contrast to the Mitzvot that involve human relationships, affect us all spiritually, which can signal either reward or punishment, G-d forbid.

To note, my birthday on 1 Iyar when I turned 40 - was the 541st day from when I began www.gematriot.blogspot.com, which is a forum for me to write Chiddushei Torah -original or new thoughts on Torah, which is an aspect of the 613th & final Mitzvah of the Torah, which is to write a Sefer Torah/Torah Scroll; and the last word of the Sefer Torah is Yisrael, which is the Gematria of 541. Hence, in relationship to the previous paragraph, this is just one more show of Hashgacha Peratit/Divine Providence that has been quite evident in writing my blogspot on www.gematriot.blogspot.com.

The Vilna Gaon points out that the source of age 40 being the age of understanding is the verse in Proverbs 2:3 - Ki Im L'Binah Tikra "For only if you call out to understanding", being that the word Im (if) which is right next to the word L'Binah (to understanding) is the Gematria of 41, as the aspect of understanding begins in the 41st year. By the way, the word Im with a change of vowels can also be read to read Eim/Mother, as the verse in Psalms 113:9 declares Eim HaBanim Semeicha "Glad mother of children". To note, this is the name of the Sefer which Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, HY"D, may his blood be avenged which was spilled by the Nazi beasts, wrote about the Mitzva/Commandment and importance of living in Israel, which is something that he only realized so many years earlier in the midst of rabbis who were against having Jews moving to Israel in the wake of the secular Zionistic movement. Ironically, he himself never stepped foot in Israel as his life was snatched before he had a chance to make Aliyah. Indeed, it was following virtually 40 years in the desert that the Jews crossed the Jordan river to arrive in Israel under the leadership of Joshua, in the wake of their 41st year from the Exodus.

And as we already mentioned how Binah is related to the words Ben/Banim, it is also related to the word Binyan/building. With the proper frame of understanding we can build on our knowledge to derive at conclusions in learning and the daily way of living which includes the household and workplace.

To note, there are 39 major categories of work which are forbidden to be performed on Shabbat. The 12th Chapter of Tractate Shabbat of the Mishnayot begins with the word HaBoneh - "One who builds", as building something is one of these 39 categories of work. Also in this chapter is mentioned the category of writing, as writing is a form of building, as we use letters to build a word. It is most fascinating to note that in the Babylonian Talmud to this chapter, there is a section about the spiritual significance of the letters of the Alef Beit.

Now, combining these two definitions of Binah - understanding & building - as it relates to my 40th anniversary of my birthday, the Daf Yomi - worldwide daily study of a double sided page of the Babylonian Talmud on my birthday of 1 Iyar this year when I turned 40 - was Sanhedrin 62. On this very Daf, it mentions examples of the prohibition of writing on Shabbat - mentioning of all words - my first name Shimon!
In this context, if one wrote two or more letters to form a word without intending to do a sin on Shabbat, he or she is liable to bring a Korban Chatat/Sin Offering. Hence, one who writes, for example, the name Shimon, is liable as such. Now, the question can be asked, if one wrote only the first two letters of this name - Shin & Mem - as an abbreviation for this name, would one be liable since he didn't intend to write these two letters as a word?

The answer to this is that although normally, if writing the first two letters of a word as an abbreviation would not spell a word on its own; in this case, the first two letters of this name Shimon indeed spell a word on its own - Shem - either as the name of Shem the son of Noah, or as the meaning of the word name (NOTE: These letters - Shin & Mem - are the initials of my full Hebrew NAME Shimon Matisyahu!). Even though normally, one who does an action on Shabbat which results in a forbidden work on Shabbat which he or she did not intend by his/her action - is exempt, at least if it was not inevitable according to Rabbi Shimon (Bar Yochai) of the Mishna, which is the Halachic view that we normally follow (as opposed to Rabbi Yehuda who says that one is liable in any case); IN THIS CASE, one is nevertheless liable, though he or she did not intend to write the word Shem as referring to the name Shem or its meaning of the word name, but merely as an abbreviation of the name Shimon, since indeed it does spell a word, as it is an inevitable consequence of writing the abbreviation of the name Shimon.

Well, I have to admit that the fact that this worldwide study of this page of Talmud fell out on my 40th birthday discussing the name Shimon as a case subject is a real birthday treat! This is bearing in mind that the word Binah as it relates to turning age 40 can be rearranged to spell the words Ben Yud-Hei, which can be translated as a "fifteen-year-old", the age that Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers mentions as the time to start studying the Gemara/Talmud!

Getting back to the number 67 which is the Gematria of Binah - and the number of this Post - there is a most significant part of the Bible related to this number - Psalm 67. Unlike all of the other Psalms, this one was sent to King David by Hashem within the drawing of a Menorah which King David used in his battles (this means that this is the one psalm in the Book of Psalms that was composed by Hashem Himself!). We recite this psalm especially during the 49 days of the Sephira of which we are almost halfway at the time of this writiing, as there are 49 words besides the introductory verse, and the fifth verse contains 49 letters.

And being that I am writing this on the 24th day of the Sephira, I am reminded of the 24 Books of the Tanach/Bible (NOT 39 books as displayed in the "Old Testament").
It was just yesterday that I was reading in the Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Ki Tisa where it comments on the verse "He (Hashem) gave to Moses when finished speaking with him (the words of the Torah)" (Exodus 31:18), which took place at the conclusion of the first period of 40 days that Moses spent with Hashem. There are in fact three statements on this verse that a rabbi of my namesake, Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, states. Perhaps this is hinted by the fact that the beginning word of this verse Vayiten/He gave is the Gematria of the name Shimon - 466.

"When a teacher begins teaching Torah to a student, the teacher teaches and the student repeats after him. After being taught, his teacher tells him to recite the words of Torah together. Similarly, when Moses learned the Torah from Hashem, Hashem told him, "Come, let's recite it together" as it says, "When He finished speaking WITH him"."

About the word KeChaloto/When He finished, which can be alternatively be read without the vowels as KeChalato "like his bride" - "It's forbidden for a Torah scholar to teach Halacha/Jewish Law in public until the words of Torah are pleasing to the listeners, just as a bride that is pleasing to her husband who wishes to hear what she has to say".

"Just like a bride is decorated with 24 types of jewelry (as listed in Isaiah Chapter 3), so too does a Torah scholar needs to be well versed in the 24 Books of the Tanach. And just like a bride is modest in hter parent's home and doesn't publicize herself until she enters the bridal canopy as if to say "If anyone knows anything about me, let him come and testify", so does a Torah scholar need to be modest and well known for his good deeds".

Now for the connection of the number 40 with Matanah/Gift as I had mentioned earlier, the Midrash Tanchuma continues, "Rabbi Abahu said: "All the 40 days that Moses spent on the mountain, he learned Torah and forgot it. At the end, Moses said, "Master of the universe, forty days passed by and I don't know anything". What did Hashem do? At the end of FORTY days, Hashem gave the Torah to him as a GIFT, as it says, "He gave to Moses when He finished."""

Anyways, why did the Jews spend 40 years in the desert when they were almost ready to move to Israel early on? It was thanks to the 10 evil spies that Moses sent upon the request of the Jewish people who wanted to first know how Israel was like without having faith and trust in Hashem, who came back saying terrible things about Israel, declaring that it would be impossible to conquer the land with all the nations that were settled there. This resulted in the Jewish men (besides the Tribe of Levi who weren't enslaved in Egypt and hence didn't have the slave mentality like the rest of the Jews had, along with their full faith and trust in Hashem) crying that very night following the news. For this, Hashem declared that for the 40 days that these evil spies traveled, the Jews would be spending 40 years in the desert and the ones who cried would die out during their stay in the desert.

If the Jews would have realized that Hashem was in fact giving them a gift - the Land of Israel, perhaps they would have behaved a little more rationally. But since they saw this only as a challenge which they believed that even Hashem, so to speak, would not be able to overcome in terms of fighting the strong nations there, they obviously were not able to see this as a gift, let alone as Hashem's land in which it is only in this land that we can perform all the Mitzvot/Commandments that are possible to be fulfilled. And so, since the Jews who were cry-babies were not able to appreciate this gift, then Hashem figured, why give it to them? Certainly, it would be the next generation who would be raised in the spiritual environment while in the desert who would have a true appreciation of the gift that they would eventually receive. It would be this new generation that would have the proper UNDERSTANDING of how the Torah is our way of life. It is only when we trust in Hashem & in the Torah - Hashem's wisdom - that we can hope that we can overcome any and all challenges if this is indeed Hashem's will; and not give up hope because of a few rotten apples who as supposed leaders present "logic" as to why the Torah cannot work for us, G-d forbid.

To conclude, being that I am a Levite at the age of 40, I am halfway between the ages of 30 & 50 when the Levites performed certain tasks in the Temple which were only valid to perform during these twenty years. I certainly hope that the Temple will be rebuilt shortly and then I will have a chance to perform these duties sometime during this coming decade before I turn the age of 50, G-d willing.

G-d willing, I will be writing another post next week.

9 Iyar 5770, 24th day of the Sephirah

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