Thursday, June 17, 2010

#73 - Mitzvot of Wisdom

Our Rabbis in the Midrash (Eicha Raba 2) state, "If any man will say to you that there is wisdom among the gentiles, believe him. If he will say that there is Torah among the gentiles, do not believe him."

Indeed, many non-Jews have made this world a better place to live in, utililizing the wisdom that they have in the fields of science, medicine, etc. for the betterment
of mankind. In fact, some of the wisdom that they have indeed comes from the Torah.
For example, many Chinese proverbs are very similar to statements in our Torah, which no doubt for the large part coming from the wisest of all men, King Solomon, as all nationalities in his time traveled to him to hear his wisdom.

While Hashem blessed King Solomon with wisdom as per his request following 40 fasts as symbolized by the BIG Mem as the first letter of one of his three compositions in the Tanach/Bible called Mishlei/Proverbs, as Mem is the Gematria of 40, just as it took 40 days for Moses to learn the Torah, there was one thing that baffled King Solomon for which Hashem would not give him the solution that He gave to Moses.

As mentioned in other sources, it is also mentioned in the 48th Daf of Tikkunei Zohar
that I just learned for this date of 6 Tamuz being that it's the 48th day from Lag Baomer, the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), author of the teachings of the Zohar. This section mentions that King Solomon wasn't able to figure out a secret pertaining to the Para Aduma/Red Heifer, which we will be reading about in its entirety this coming Shabbas Parshat Chukat. Particularly, the big question is: How could the ashes of the Para Aduma purify the person impure from contact with the dead, while making impure the one who is sprinkling these ashes to purify someone else? After all, it only makes sense logically that if the ashes purified someone with impurity, than certainly the one who is helping someone else become pure should not become impure as a result of doing so.

As King Solomon writes in Kohelet, "I said that I could become wise, but it is beyond me" (Ecclesiastes 7:23). Someone reading the Bible literally without reading the Book of Kings without prior Bible knowledge would either think that either he wasn't as wise as some of his collegues in his time, or that he said this in his humility. In any case, he was referring specifically to the seemingly illogical concept of the Para Aduma.

While it seems that the Zohar gives a Kabbalistic explanation to this, before Rashbi came along, the only one who knew the answer to this was Moses. In fact, King Solomon had good reason to think that Hashem would give the answer to him also. You see, the letters of his Hebrew name Shlomo can be rearranged to spell L'Moshe - to Moshe/Moses, and so he really thought that he would be the second person in history to understand this Chok/statue, after which is the name of this week's Parshat Chukat, which is a Mitzva/Commandment that has no sounding logic as to the purpose of it.

O.K., so King Solomon may have not been on Moses' spiritual level. However, if Hashem saw fit to grant that same Torah wisdom to King Solomon, the builder of the First Temple, as He gave to Moses, why did Hashem hold this wisdom about the Para Aduma from him?

While I never saw this question answered, I believe that the answer to this is in another Midrash in Shemot Raba. There are three prohibitive Mitzvot/Commandments that a Jewish king has - not to have in excess 1)horses 2)women 3)gold & silver. The Torah gives a straight out logical answer for this - so the king's heart won't turn astray. King Solomon, as a tremendous Torah scholar and saint, felt that the reason for these Mitzvot didn't apply to him, since he believed that he wouldn't turn astray from following Hashem. Meanwhile, the letter Yud of the word Yarbeh from the three times that it says regarding these Mitzvot - Lo Yarbeh "He shall not increase" complained to Hashem that King Solomon was attempting to eliminate it. Hashem assured the letter Yud, "King Solomon and a thousand like him will be eliminated, but not even the little point of yours will be eliminated!"

Indeed, the thousand that Hashem mentioned was probably the thousand wives that King Solomon had, many whom indeed turned his heart astray, and while he himself did not become evil like some of the other kings in Judah & Israel, some of his wives who went through the conversion process of becoming Jewish didn't really forsake their idols. In any case, the letter Yud in the word Yarbeh, making it a future tense, showing that as a result of violating the above commandments, the king's heart would turn astray, is mentioned three times. And as the letter Yud is the Gematria of 10, three times this is 30 - the same Gematria as the letter Lamed in King Solomon's Hebrew name Shlomo.

Hence, while the letters of his name could be read to mean "comparable TO (the letter Lamed) Moshe/Moses", he didn't quite live up to following all the commandments in the Five Books of Moses. Thus, since King Solomon thought that he was beyond the given logic of the commandments that he violated, he wasn't worthy of understanding a commandment that didn't sound logical. After all, if he seemed to have a hard time with Mitzvot that made much sense logically, how would he be able to handle a Mitzva that does not make sense logically. Only one who is willing to follow Hashem ALL the way without questioning HIS WISDOM can be worthy of knowing the secrets to what is behind HIS COMMANDMENTS.

In recent times, many gave Judaism a second look, which resulted in the Enlightment movement, which in time became known as "Reform Judaism", which resulted in "Conservative Judaism", a supposed compromise between Reform and Orthodox (the name, which by the way, should not be used to describe Judaism, as it is actually a name used in Christian groups). The reasoning behind this is that Judaism, to these people, needed to be "logical", as the times have changed, and so rather utilizing the times to fit Judaism, they attempted to fit Judaism with the times. Without getting into all the details of the harm that this did, it is clear to many, as proven through statistics, that observant Jews have far more children than in these watered down groups of Judaism, as the very first Mitzva of the Torah is Pru Urvu -
"Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), which means that we have children not simply to be a continuation of ourselves, but to bear the next generation who will serve Hashem; and so, the more children, the better.

And very unfortunately, in our homeland country Israel, the same twisted logic of needing to sound logical keeps surfacing its ugly head. Regarding the IDF recently filing charges against a soldier who killed two Gaza women in Operation Cast Lead, the last war that Israel fought a year and a half ago, "Defense" Minister (or Defense Monster) Ehud Barak, a former Prime Minister (or Prime Monster) and former IDF Chief of Staff, stated that no army in the world compares with the IDF, “both from a moral standpoint as well as from a professional standpoint."

I believe that is truly Hashgacha Pratit/Divine Providence that Arutz Sheva in wrote this news item in this week of Parshat Chukat, which stresses the point that we have to follow Hashem's Mitzvot, even if they sound illogical to us.

And I have a message to relay to Ehud Barak, who has been in the forefront of bulldozing Jewish communities while allowing illegal Arab structures to remain. While the IDF may be the supreme army in the world when it comes to a moral and professional standpoint, it is far from supreme when it comes to a Torah standpoint. In fact, the United States has more respect for observant Jewish soldiers serving in its army then the Israeli government has for the observant Jewish IDF soliders. So, Mr. Barak, as far as the Torah is concerned, if an action goes against the Torah, it doesn't matter how "moral" or "professional" it may be - it is FORBIDDEN to follow it. Period! Otherwise, why bother fighting a war when an IDF soldier, who in good faith serves in the IDF saving Jewish lives instead of going ahead in his personal and professional life, has to worry about going to prison for his act of true heroism to say the least?

Yes, Mr. Barak, sometimes we have to do the so called immoral or non-professional thing of killing women and babies. After all, if you wipe off the dust of the Tanach that you probably haven't taken a glance in since your army days, you will see that following King Saul's act of mercy of allowing Amalek's king to live, he murdered the Cohen Gadol/High Priest, many Cohanim, and a town including observant Jewish women and children, even the innocent babies! So, Mr. Barak, don't you dare tell the citizens of the State of Israel what is moral or professional!

In other news in Israel this week, many sets of Ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic parents had
been ordered to report to prison today (Thursday) because they refused to send their children to a Jewish school that they felt was beneath their strict religious standards. Now, regardless of what may be the true motivation of these parents, the Supreme Court, which just announced that stipends will no longer be given to those learning in Yeshiva following marriage after 2010, once again stepped on the Torah by attempting to coerce observant Jews to compromise on the Jewish education of their children, something that the United States until today has yet to do (except maybe in individual cases, but not en masse) in its 234 years since Independence Day 1776. In fact, it was none other than the only "religious" unSupreme Court Justice Edmond Levy who declared, “It cannot be that rabbis’ rulings will take precedence over the Supreme Court.”

Well, this is nothing new. Menachem Alon (father of Rabbis Moti & Benny Alon), who was a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, along with rabbinic ordination, was one who voted to oust the Kach Party of Rabbi Meir Kahane, may Hashem avenge his blood, from the Knesset, which very unfortunately came to pass. So, it's not surprising that the respect of the corrupt Israeli government and courts for Judaism, or whatever is left of it, is going down the tubes. Yes, there were some 100,000 Ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic Jews who demonstrated today in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak who accompanied the parents (some of them were smart enough not to report to prison, which was the right decision to do) to prison. But, far more needs to be done to overthrow a Communist regime which is stepping and stomping on the "illogical"
"immoral" and "unprofessional" Torah that it so despises.

There is far more reason to fast for what is going on today in Israel than for what happened some 766 years ago in 5004 (1244) on the Friday of Parshat Chukat. It was on that day of the week of this Parsha that 24 crates full of Jewish holy books were burned in France by the Anti-Semitic gentiles. When the rabbis of that time made a request to be answered in a dream as to why this happened, the answer given to them was the Aramaic translation of Zot Chukat HaTorah, "This is the STATUTE of the Torah" which is "This is the DECREE of the Torah". As the answer was related to the Parsha, it was decided that it would be the day of the week of the Parsha - Friday, rather than the date of 9 Tamuz that it happened on, to be the day to fast for this tragic event.

In any event, it seems significant that is was TWENTY FOUR crates of Jewish holy books that were burnt. As we know, there are TWENTY FOUR books of the Tanach/Bible.
However, the gentiles were not so concerned about the Jewish Bible, since after all, they have the same basic thing, just with a little different translation to reflect Jesus being the Messiah and a little different order of what they call 39 books of the "Old Testament". Not the only incident of Jewish books burning, their main quest
was to burn the Talmud, the crux of Jewish learning that explains the precepts of the Bible which lead to what the Halacha/Jewish Law should be.

In this 73rd Post, I wrote about wisdom, the Hebrew word for which is Chachma, which is the Gematria of 73. Twenty years ago, Artscroll began its translation of the Babylonian Talmud, starting with Tractate Makkot, the current tractate being studied as Daf Yomi, the daily study of a double side page of Talmud.
Fifteen years later, this project became complete in 73 volumes (Note: while you will see the last one being #72, one of the tractates is divided as 33a & 33b). The ultimate Chachma/Wisdom=73 of Judaism is as displayed in the Torah She'B'Al'Peh/Oral Torah, represented in the forefront as the Talmud, the explanation of the laws and how we derive them from the Bible, especially the Chumash/Penteteuch/The Five Books of Moses.

Regardless of how a Jew wants to live his life, one who takes an honest look of the Talmud will see how logical, moral and professional the Torah really is. Of course, Anti-Semitic gentiles and self hating Jews do not want the public to see the authentic picture of Judaism as displayed in the Talmud. In the Jewish sector within the last few hundred years, it began by teaching "Bible stories" to children in so called Jewish schools in lieu of how the Torah should really be taught, in the quest of having Jewish children learning to have a hatred for authentic Judaism with its "old fashioned" rabbis and Jewish laws.

In Yiddish theaters which were at one time a big thing among Jews in the States, observant Jewish life was constantly mocked. In fact, the phrase "Baba Ma'aseh" or fairytales, as a Yiddish phrase that is really a combination of Hebrew & Aramaic, was based on the three tractates of the Talmud - Baba Kama, Baba Metziah, & Baba Basra - which deal especially with the laws dealing with how Jews are supposed to treat each other in terms of damages, business transactions, and real estate. In essence, the Yiddish (which means Jewish) language was used to mock the very part of the Talmud that shows how observant Jews are supposed to honestly deal with other people; because these self hating Jews, having a guilty conscience of not observing Judaism, wanted to spread lies about observant Jews claiming that they only care about ritual while supposedly crooking others, to justify their own animalistic behaviors.

It was the ashes of an animal, though a kosher one at it, that were used to purify a person who contract a form of spiritual impurity as a result of touching or being under the same roof as a dead person. This red cow had to be without blemishes and never to have been used for work. What we can learn from this is that the only way that the Torah can remain with us without disappering from our lives is that we don't look for ways to change it since the Torah is already perfect, nor to use it as a lifestyle, misusing it for a type of work other than what the Torah is meant to be used for - to follow its laws and commandments, NOT as a way of entertainment by painting it as "Jewish" or "Kosher style" cold cuts coming from animals not ritually slaughtered according to Jewish law, along with not having its blood or forbidden fats removed.

There is one more aspect pertaining to this Para Aduma that I would like to make. The Torah calls the waters that were used with the ashes to sprinkle on the impure person as Mei Niddah. It's interesting to note that the word Niddah, the name of the last tractate of the Gemara/Talmud, is normally used to refer to a menstrous woman, as is related to separation from her husband of not even touching each other until she is purified upon going to a Mikva, a ritularium nearly two weeks after her period. Getting back to our Parsha, as noted by the translation of The Living Torah,
it means either 1)sprinkling water 2)purification water that separates man from defilement, or 3)restricted water.

It seems that the Torah can be compared to the three definitions of the word Niddah, the name of the final Talmudic tractate (Note: This is the final tractate of the Gemara, not of the Mishna).
1) The Torah, with is sprinkles of wisdom, has a most positive effect on a person if he but wishes to be affected by it.
2) Moreover, the Torah separates us from defilement - from the truly illogical, immoral, and unprofessional ways of the gentiles who clearly do not live a Torah lifestyle. This is not to say that all gentiles are evil people; indeed, there are even those Christians who are truly moral and don't look to convert Jews to their religion. But, for a Jew, he or she has a much higher standard of spiritual living, to which no man made religion or watered down Judaism for that matter can be compared to.
3) Finally, we Jews are indeed restricted by the Torah to our own holy environment. While there are times that we have to deal with non-Jews, and some make their living working in a very non-Jewish environment, we have to have a feeling at all times that the Torah is what is Supreme, and as our authentic rabbis interpret the Torah - NOT those who claim to live as a "religious" Jew, even those with the title of rabbi from an authentic Torah institution, who will sacrifice Torah principles because they work for an institution making a six-digit figure in fear of loosing their job, paycheck or position.


This Shabbat Parshat Chukat, my brother's son Mikey - Michoel Dov - will G-d willing celebrate his Bar Mitzva reading the entire Parsha from the Torah scroll. While I will unfortunately not be able to make it, as I cannot at this time travel from Israel to the States, I can say that I was the first relative besides my nephew's parents to visit him since he born in the same hospital as I was. The last I saw him was when he came with my brother to visit Israel this past summer, and after not seeing him for almost five years, I can say that he developed very maturely since I made Aliyah.

I have a message for my dear nephew. You have two Hebrew names. The first one Michoel, which means "Who is like G-d", is the name of the Guardian Angel of the Jewish people, as the other nations have their guardian angel. The second one Dov means bear, and while it may not be a kosher animal, it is a creation of Hashem which serves a function. A bear is very materialistic, which has no concern about other creatures when hungry, as this is how it was created, and if a creature is food for it, it's hot game.

Here you have complete opposites. The angel Michoel looks at every which way to exonerate the Jewish people from punishment, even as we may be well deserving of it; because if full strict justice were to be meted against us G-d forbid, we would not be able to survive. We would, G-d forbid, have to fear the "bear", which would devour us alive if it were let to be loose.

As human beings with a soul, especially as Jews with the holiness of a Neshama (soul), we have strings pulling us at opposite directions - the spiritual and the physical. Part of this involves the angels known as the Yetzer Tov - good inclination, and the Yetzer Hara - evil inclination. While, L'Havdil, Christians focus on the concept that we are born in sin and claim that they can only be saved through JC; we Jews take responsibility for our lives and face the challenges head on. True, it says that "there isn't a righteous person who does good but doesn't sin"(Kohelet 7:20), but it is precisely through this that one gets the motivation to try even harder, and never give up hope. After all, if it was so easy to do everything right, we would indeed be like angels, who though are in a high spritual level, they can't achieve further progress. On the other hand, if it was truly too hard to accomplish anything because we would be too tied to materialism, we would be no better than animals who can't help themselves by nature. However, as human beings, Hashem created us with both spiritual and physical leanings, and we ALL have the potential to create the balance between the two, using the physical in the pursuit of spiritual endeavors. Yes, we should not let the physical get the best of us, but at the same time, we need physical - food, sleep, exercise/sports, etc. to realize that "in all your ways, know Him (Hashem)" (Mishlei 3:6), but not letting the physical make us forget of why it exists in the first place - to serve Hashem.

In your Bar Mitzva Parsha, you have a clear example of this concept. The ashes of an animal - the Para Aduma - that is already dead are used to purify a person who got spiritual impure through contact with a dead person. While an animal - regardless of whether it is kosher for eating or not - is on a far lower spiritual level than a person who follows the Torah, it can be used in serving Hashem, as performed in a variety of Mitzvot, from bringing Korbanot (sacrifices) to giving them as gifts to a Cohen. When we see how an animal is slaughtered and burned, it makes us think that really it is we who deserve this when we sin, not following what Hashem tells us to do in the Torah. But, Hashem in his Infinite Mercy, would rather us do Teshuva, return to Him and learn through the animal how to better our ways; hence, making the ultimate use of what Hashem created animals for, because Hashem created the universe solely for Jews to follow the Torah, and everything else in creation is meant to be used in some way to help us accomplish our spiritual goals.

There is one more thing related to your Parsha that will be of most interest to you as a Levi, like I am. To begin with, there are 87 Pesukim (verses) in your Bar Mitzva Parsha. The number 87 is a very significant number in our Tefillot (prayers).
The Baruch Sheamar blessing, which precedes several chapters of Tehillim (Psalms) and the Shirat HaYam, Song of the Sea that Moshe & the Jewish people sang following crossing the Sea of Reeds, contains exactly 87 words. What is most unique about this prayer and blessing is that if fell as a note from Shamayim (Heaven), unlike most other compositions of prayers that were composed by people.

In the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 31a), it mentions the various songs that the Levi'im sang in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) depending on the day of week or holiday. On Shabbat, besides the chapter of Tehillim (Perek 92), there were two kinds of songs from the Chumash that were sung - one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
The morning one was from Parshat Ha'azinu, divided into six parts to be sung over six Shabbatot. The afternoon one was divided into three parts to be sung over three Shabbatot. The first two consisted of the Shirat HaYam that we recite daily in our Tefillot. The last one consisted of four Pesukim that are in...your Bar Mitzva Parsha, Parshat Chukat, known as Shirat Ha'Be'er, "Song of the Well":

"It was then that Israel sang this song: Rise, O well, respond to this song. A well was dug by princes, Sunk by the people's leaders, Carved out with their staffs. From the desert, the Jews went to Matanah, from Matanah to Nachaliel, and from Nachaliel to Bamoth. From Bamoth, they went to Hagai in the field of Moab. It is on the top of the cliff that overlooks the Wastelands". (Bamidbar 21:17-20)

I thought of making a parallel between Parshat Chukat consisting of 87 Pesukim and the Baruch Sheamar blessing consisting of 87 words. Being that the above four Pesukim are the 68-71 verses of Parshat Chukat, I thought of checking what are the 68-71 words of Baruch Sheamar: V'Nazkir Shimcha Malkeinu V'Elokeinu - "We will mention Your Name our King and our G-d".

Thinking of you Mikey, I was thinking of your first name Michoel over the last day, and something clicked in my mind. The beginning of the second part of the Shirat HaYam, where it begins with Mi Chohmocha B'Elim YKVK (Hashem) - "Who is compared to You among the mighty, Hashem", where the first three words each contain a syllabol of your name Michoel - MI CHOhmocha b'ELim. It is the first letters of this very phrase Mi Chohmocha B'Elim YKVK - Mem Kaf Beit Yud - that spell the famous word Maccabbe, the title given to the Maccabbes or Chashmonim (Hasmonians) who bravely fought the Syrian Greeks who forbade the Jews to keep the Mitzvot; but at the end, they entered the Beit HaMikdash once again, and following the miracle of the Menorah being lit for eight days, we celebrate eight days of Chanuka every year.

And as the letter Chanuka begins with a Cheit and ends with a Hei, there is another word that begins with a Cheit and ends with a Hei - Chochma (wisdom). Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) who wanted to know the reason why the ashes of the Para Aduma
purified the one who was impure but made impure the one who sprinkled these ashes on the impure person, was not granted the reason for this, stating "I said that I could become wise, but it is beyond me" (Kohelet 7:23). He wasn't granted the Chochma, the wisdom behind why this Mitzva is like this. You see, we have to learn that whatever Hashem tells us to do, while it is normally important to understand the reasoning behind it to have the full effect that the Mitzva is supposed to have on us, we are supposed to have the same attitude of wanting to do the will of our King, our G-d, for a Mitzva that we do not understand why we have to do it.

As this is a Gematria post, I thought I would share with you a very fascinating thing about the word Chochma as it relates to the Mitzvot. Let's take the four letters of Chochma - Cheit, Chaf, Mem, Hei - and spell out the letters of the names of these four letters, with their corresponding numerical value. Cheit - Cheit (8), Yud (10), Tav (400) = 418; Chaf - Chaf (20), Fei Sofit (80) = 100; Mem - Mem (40), Mem Sofit (40) = 80; Hei - Hei (5), Yud (10) = 15. Now add 418+100+80+15 EQUALS
613, corresponding to the 613 or Taryag Mitzvot.

While even non-Jews have wisdom, such as science, mathematics, medicine, etc., only so long as what they teach doesn't oppose Torah, this type of wisdom could be useful for our daily lives, as this is part of Hashem's creations. However, the best creation that Hashem prepared for us is what is known as Hashem's Wisdom - the Torah which is rooted with 613 Mitzvot. The Torah is not just another fine piece of literature or history book. The word Torah comes from the word Ho'ra'ah - instruction, for it is only the Torah that instructs us with its 613 foundation laws to serve Hashem properly. The Mitzva and reward of learning & teaching Torah is equal to all the other 612 Mitzvot; while at the same time, we only get the credit for this when we uphold its other Mitzvot when we are supposed to fulfill them. We have to always remember that is is Hashem as our King and G-d who is our Guiding Force throughout life, and that whatever else exists that is outside the realm of Torah is either forbidden to deal with or useful in helping us obey the King's Commandments.

Yes, Bar Mitzva literally means "son of a Mitzva", but in a more meaningful sense, having the qualities of a Mitzva, being ready and fit to serve the King of Kings following His Mitzvot, like the Maccabbees. As in the United States Army where one addresses his commander with "Sir, yes Sir!", lehavidil, we address Hashem with the words "We will mention Your Name, our King and our G-d".

Mazel Tov, Mikey! You have gone a long way to celebrate a happy milestone in your life. Love and blessings to you, Uncle Shimon.

6 Tammuz 5770, Erev Shabbat Parshat Chukat

No comments: