Sunday, December 25, 2011

#129 - Tractate Chanuka

Happy Chanuka!

Yes, my favorite time of the year is back, this year celebrating my second wedding anniversary on the second day of Chanuka.

But before I continue on with the theme of Chanuka, I have to announce that great news happened a couple of weeks ago on my wedding month of Kislev - my wife Yael gave birth to our baby girl, who is named Tamar Tzadika. We expected this to happen more like after Chanuka, rather than before Chanuka. Anyways, I have amazing information pertaining to my daughter's birth, her name, her date and time of birth, about which I will devote my following post, which will (of course) include Gematriot, so stay tuned shortly for a most unique post.

While I think that there must be like a hundred Torah based Gematriot about Chanuka, I am about to show you something that I doubt you will ever read anywhere else but at one place of course -

Well, this has to do with Daf Yomi, the study of the double sided page of the Babylonian Talmud that began almost 90 years ago. To be exact, this worldwide study began on the beginning of the Hebrew year 5684, having commenced on Rosh Hashana. Hence, we are presently in the midst of the 89th year from when this study of this most important Jewish learning began.

As some may have guessed, the Gematria of the name of this holiday Chanuka is 89. Now unlike the title of this post, there is in fact no tractate of the Mishna/Talmud that is called Chanuka. In the Mishna, you will be hard pressed to find eight mentions of the name of this holiday. In the Talmud/Gemara, there are like three and a half Dafim (double sided pages) in Tractate Sabbath (21a-24b) devoted to the history, laws, and discussion of Chanuka, but no mention is made of it in the Mishna on which this piece of Gemara is based on.

While it is true that unlike the holiday of Purim, Chanuka is not mentioned in the Tanach/Bible, since the story of Chanuka took place since the last events of the Tanach took place, this is not the reason, or at least not the only reason, why there is no tractate in the Mishna that is devoted to Chanuka. You see, it seems that since Rabbi Judah the Prince, also known as Rabbeinu HaKadosh or Rebbe, the compiler of the Mishna was a descendant of King David, while the Hasmoneans/Maccabbees, the ones who introduced Chanuka to the Jewish people, were from the tribe of Levi, in the due course of time, they ruled in Israel as kings, this upset Rabbi Judah as we see in the Tanach that the Jewish kingdom was permenantly granted to the royal line of King David. Hence, save for only so many times of the mention of Chanuka in the Mishna in the way of passing, not even one Mishna is devoted exclusively to Chanuka, in sharp contrast to the Rambam/Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law who devoted whole chapters or a whole section to Chanuka as they do for Purim.

Whether Rabbi Judah's grudge was justified or not according to the Torah, Hashem has his ways of making it up to those good boys who were left out in the cold. You see, it has been pointed out that there are 36 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud (Note: Tractate Tamid of the Mishna also includes Gemara, but only on three of its seven chapters unlike the other tractates of the Talmud which have Gemara on the entire tractate), corresponding to the mandatory 36 lights of Chanuka that we light during the course of the eight-day holiday (Note: This does not include the Shamash candle that is lit as an accessory candle on each of the eight nights). On a more esoteric level, the lights of Chanuka represents the light of Torah that guides the Jew in the right path, preventing him from steering towards the darkness of the spiritual exile. In fact, it is a bit ironic that the main body of Torah learning is named after Babylonia, though it was compiled in Babylonia in contrast to the less studied and harder to learn Jerusalem Talmud that was composed in Israel. But the fact that this is called the Babylonian Talmud shows that it is the light of the Torah, the light of the Talmud, that has saved the Jews from spiritual extinction, even in the darkness of exile, which included Babylonia from the era of the destruction of the First Temple when mass amounts of Jews were exiled there by King Nebuchadnezzar.

With this said, let us imagine that we are presently in the Hebrew year 5684, when the learning of Daf Yomi began. The first tractate Berachot, consisting of 63 Dafim, has ended on 4 Kislev, and Tractate Sabbath has begun on 5 Kislev. (Note: In both years 5684 & 5772, Cheshvan consists of 29 days, unlike in some other years when it consists of 30 days). As those who have learned some Babylonian Talmud know, the Talmud page of any given tractate begins on Daf 2. As the Talmud on Chanuka in Tractate Sabbath is found on Dafim 21-24, Daf 21 has been learnt on 24 Kislev - Erev Chanuka, and the following three Dafim on the first three days of Chanuka.

Coincidence? Mentioning earlier of the special connection between the number of Talmudic tractates to the number of Chanuka lights, the fact that the learning of these pages of the Talmud on Chanuka coincided with the timing of this holiday IN THE VERY FIRST YEAR OF THE DAF YOMI STUDY is hardly coincidental when the concept of Hashgacha Peratit/Divine Providence exists. And especially as related to Chanuka, this holiday was the result of the independent spiritual freedom that took place following an era of the Syrian-Greeks attempting to do away with our Jewish practices and beliefs, treating our Tanach as another book of wisdom that they called Biblos, attacking particularly the teachings of the Talmud that is not seemingly included in the Bible except for the fact that the Talmud is also G-d given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and the rabbis through many centuries learned what the Halacha/Jewish Law is based on the rules of the Torah as to how we apply the learning of the verses of the Torah that teach us the Halacha.

Back to Year 5772, this is the 89th year from when the Daf Yomi started, and we are presently in the midst of Chanuka whose name is the Gematria of 89. And so, in honor of this special timing, I would like to mention a piece on the importance of Torah study as related to Chanuka from Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenburger Rebbe, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, which he related on the eighth night of Chanuka, 5742. While much is to be mentioned about this special rabbi's life, this post would not be complete without mentioning that he founded a program called Mifal HaShas in which thousands have become Torah scholars from learning 30 pages of Talmud a month on which they get tested and are helped financially being rewarded for doing well on the Talmud tests.

The Rebbe made a very interesting point on the reason for why, according to Halacha, we don't need to relight the Chanuka light that we are supposed to allow to burn for a minimum of half an hour, if it gets extinguished unexpectedly. The idea is that once one lights the Menorah, one can get back to learning Torah without interruption. Similarly, the rabbis who enacted the observance of lighting the Menorah on Chanuka did not institute this holiday as "days of feasting and happiness" as Purim is designated, in order that the focus of the eight day holiday will be on Torah learning.

"For it is only in the merit of the Torah, in the merit of Matisyahu and his sons the holy Cohanim and in the merit of their Torah that Hashem saved us from the Greeks, for the Torah is our protection. This explains the mention in the Al HaNisim prayer of the miracle happening "in the days of Matisyahu Ben Yochanan Cohen Gadol, Chashmonai and his sons" for the Cohanim are the teachers of the Jewish people, as the Torah writes (Deutronomy 17:9): "You shall come to the Cohanim...and they will instruct you of the word of judgment (Halacha)", teaching us that the Chanuka miracle happened ONLY in the merit of the Cohanim who learn Torah"."

"Indeed, the days of Chanuka were NOT set aside as a time to celebrate the miracle of the victory of the war against the Greeks, but solely as a remembrance of the miracle of the Menorah, for this matter which "for the Jews was light" (Book of Esther)", and as our rabbis tell us, light is Torah, which is more important to us than even saving Jews from dying in war, as mentioned in the Talmud (Megilla 16b), Talmud Torah is greater than saving lives."

The Rebbe gives a fascinating explanation for why the last day of Chanuka is dubbed Zot Chanuka. It is true that this phrase comes from the reading of the last day of Chanuka, and hence is used as a nickname for this final day. But the Rebbe has a unique take on this as related to Torah. As on every day of Chanuka, we read from the portion of the Torah regarding the Korbanot/offerings of the leaders of the tribes following the dedication of the Mishkan/Tabernacle. On the seventh day of Chanuka, we read the offerings of the leader of the tribe of Ephraim; and on the eighth day of Chanuka, we begin the Torah reading with the offerings of the tribe of Menashe. As we know from Talmudic literature about these two sons of Joseph, Ephraim was the Torah scholar par excellence, while Menashe was the overseer of his father Joseph's life saving activities in the famished Egypt in which Jacob's family lived for some of those famine years. Hence, the eighth day of Chanuka, on which we read of the offerings of the tribe of Menashe who is related to life saving activities, is dubbed with the name Zot Chanuka "This is Chanuka", to remind us that this eighth day of Chanuka is part of the holiday that represents Torah via the miracle of the Menorah rather than the victory of the war against the Greeks.

On a personal note, I received a special Aliya to the Torah on the fifth day of Chanuka of this year. As we know, the special Torah reading for Chanuka is mostly about the offerings of the leaders of the Tribes of Israel who offered them on the altar in the Mishkan/Tabernacle. Accordingly, on the fifth day of Chanuka, we read the section about the offerings of the leader of the Tribe of Shimon (my namesake). Now, the way that the daily three Aliyot of this Torah reading is divided, the Cohen is called up for the first three verses that mention both the name of the Tribe and its leader, the Levi is called up for the last three verses that mention the name of the leader of its Tribe, and the final person is called up for the whole section that was read for the Cohen and Levi (in Israel where the miracle of Chanuka took place; outside of Israel, its the whole next section that is read for the third person).

Anyways, when I was in synagogue on the morning of the fifth day of Chanuka; for some reason, the Torah reader read the whole section for the Cohen. Did he do this accidentally or purposely? But what was even more strange is that no one signaled him to stop the Torah reading at the usual place for the Cohen. Next, as I am a Levi, and I don't think there was another Levi at that Minyan, I was called up for the Levi Aliyah, and the Torah reader read the same exact thing. This means that unlike usually where the Levi Aliyah does not consist mention of the name of the Tribe but only the name of its leader who brought the offerings, this Aliyah that I was called up for was the entire section of the offerings of the Tribe of Shimon, mentioning Shimon's name. Good music to my ears! And as for the last few years, my full Hebrew name is Shimon Matisyahu, this Aliyah was most significant to me this Chanuka, which I hope is a good sign from Hashem for good things to continue happening for me.

Just as the mention of Chanuka is included within the midst of the tractates of the Mishna without being its own section; in a similar vein, the cities of the inheritance of the Tribe of Shimon in the Land of Israel was not its own section of land, but rather included within the territory of the Tribe of Judah. This is due to what Jacob decreed for his sons Shimon and Levi for their trait of anger that they had in their wiping out the city of Shechem and their treatment of Joseph that lead to him being sold, and hence, neither did the Tribe of Levi have its own inheritance. And then later on, following the sin of the idolatry and immorality of the Tribe of Shimon at the site of the idol Ba'al Peor, Moses refused to bless this Tribe individually, though hinting to his name within the blessing of Judah. And so, while Chanuka does not have its own Tractate, ALL OF THE TRACTATES OF THE BABYLONIAN TALMUD CORRESPOND TO THE LIGHTS OF CHANUKA; similarly, while Shimon was castigated or ignored between Jacob and Moses - and hence, was only able to take part within the land belonging to the Tribe of Judah, Hashem made it up to Shimon as He did for Chanuka. You see, some of our greatest rabbis/Torah teachers of all time was named Shimon - including Shimon HaTzadik and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

And so, while I am on the topic about my name Shimon, I would like to mention a bit what the Midrash Rabba has to say about the inner meaning of the offerings that the leader of the tribe of Shimon brought. Now, bearing in mind that all the 12 tribal leaders had a specific theme in mind based on which they brought their offerings, what was unique as related to Shimon is that the offerings for this tribe was based on the theme of the Mishkan, as all of the tribal offerings were brought celebrating the dedication of the Mishkan, was were spaced out in a period of 12 days.

Anyways, as we know, the Menorah was one of the major features of the Mishkan. This is hinted where it states about some of the offerings "filled with flour mixed with OIL for a meal-offering", for it was the oil that caused the Menorah to be lit. Hence, there is a direct hint to Chanuka in the mention of the offerings for the tribe of Shimon. This is not so surprising; for you see, the word Shemen/oil is spelled in order within the name of Shimon, both words beginning with the letter Shin and ending with the letter Noon. Also, both the name Shimon and the word Shabbat begin with the word Shin. This is bearing in mind that Shimon is the only one of the tribes who name begins with Shin.

Now, you may ask, why did I mention about Shabbat at this point as related to Shimon, as though there is a special connection here just because both of these words begin with a Shin? Actually, there are a couple reasons here. The first involves an irony which involves the Jewish calendar. You see, the way that our present calendar is set up, all the days of Chanuka can fall out on Shabbat on one year or another except for...the fifth day of Chanuaka, on which we read of the offerings for the Tribe of Shimon. Perhaps this is related to what I wrote earlier here about the exclusion of Shimon from the blessings of Moses on his dying day.

Now, for the second reason, there is something fascinating that I will mention here that you probably never came across before. Going back to the Midrash Rabba about the offerings for the Tribe of Shimon, the mention of Asara Zahav "ten (shekel weight) of gold" hints to the ten Torah sections of the construction of the Mishkan. Now, aside from the 12 mentions of this phrase Asara Zahav of the offerings for the 12 Tribes, the only other mention of this phrase in the entire Tanach/Bible is in the story of Eliezer traveling on behalf of Abraham to find a marriage match for his son Isaac, and upon discovering Rebecca, Eliezer gives her two bracelets worth ten shekel weight of gold (Genesis 24:22). Rashi notes on this that this hinted to the Aseret HaDibrot/Ten Commandments.

With this said, of the ten Torah sections about the construction of the Mishkan, the section about the Menorah is the fourth of these ten sections. Hence, corresponding to this, the fourth of the Ten Commandments is about Shabbat. And as we know, one of the essential commandments that the Syrian Greeks attempted to prevent the Jews from performing was Shabbat, and the Menorah is the ultimate object that represents Chanuka that celebrates our freedom to learn Torah and practice its commandments. Moreover, as mentioned earlier in this post, the section in the Gemara about Chanuka is mentioned specifically in the second chapter of Tractate Shabbat which deals about what type of materials can or cannot be used for lighting Shabbat candles. And so, while the fact that the section of the offerings for the Tribe of Shimon is the only one of the 12 tribes which is never read on Shabbat Chanuka; in a deeper meaning focusing on the positive side, the Menorah in itself represents Shabbat, and hence, there is no special need of mentioning about it on Shabbat, when aside from lighting the Menorah in the Temple, lighting a fire is forbidden on Shabbat, and hence, we light our home Menorahs before Shabbat, allowing enough time for it to be lit a minimum of half an hour after Shabbat begins in order to fulfill the Mitzva of Chanuka lighting for Shabbat.

Now, the beginning of the section about the Menorah within the construction of the Mishkan reads V'Asita Menorat Zahav Tahor "You shall make a Menorah of pure gold" (Exodus 25:31). Note that the word Tahor/pure is used here. And as we know, the sixth and last volume of the Mishnayot is called Teharot, plural for pure. The largest of the six orders of the Mishna, it contains 1,003 Mishnayot. And having mentioned Tahor in relationship to the Menorah, the words Menorah=301 and Shabbat=702 add up to the Gematria of 1,003! Moreover, as the leader of the Tribe of Shimon was the fifth in line of the 12 tribes to bring his offerings, the fifth of the 12 tractates of Seder Teharot is also called Teharot! It would be quite hard to dismiss all of this as mere coincidence!

And while we are at it, as the 12 months of the Jewish calendar have their corresponding tribe and their corresponding letter of the Alef Beit, the month of Av corresponds with the Tribe of Shimon and the letter Teit, the letter the begins the word Teharot. Accordingly, both the name of the letter Teit & the word Teharot, begin with a Teit & end with a Sav/Tav! Now, looking at the remaining letters of the word Teharot, they are the same letters as the word Torah! And as we know, a baby learns the whole Torah during its NINE month sojourning in the mother's womb. Perhaps this is hinted where it mentions in the Torah about a woman being pregnant VaTahar "she was pregnant", this Hebrew word having the same letters as the word Torah.

On a personal note, I must mention that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Shlita, Chief Rabbi of Safed, son of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, for the Parsha sheet for Shabbat Parshat Vayeishev, #611 (Note: The number 611 is the Gematria of the word Torah!), writes all about Chanuka. But what is most significant here is that instead of beginning writing about the Maccabees or Matisyahu whose courageous acts lead to the holiday of Chanuka, Rabbi Eliyahu devotes more than one of the four pages of this theme to Shimon HaTzadik, whose righeousness shielded his generation from the evils of the Syrian Greeks, as noted in the Talmud (Megilla 11a), where his name and immediately his grandson Matisyahu's name (just as my name is Shimon Matisyahu!) is mentioned side by side (Note: In the Gemara text, Matisyahu's name is spelled without a Vav at the end of the name, though in reality, his name did have a Vav at the end, and also in the English text of Artscroll on the Talmud, they write Matisyahu's name in Hebrew with a Vav at the end). While I am not going to start quoting from what the Parsha sheet mentions about Shimon HaTzadik, one of the key points mentioned is that Shimon HaTzadik, Shimon the Righteous who was the Cohen Gadol/High Priest of the Jewish people for 40 years in the time of the Second Temple, lived what he preached in the second Mishna of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers "the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (prayer service or Temple offerings), and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of lovingkindness)".


Having just mentioned words that have the same letters as the word Torah, let us take a fascinating look at words of related themes.

As we know, there are Taryag Mitzvot- 613 Commandments. Taking the Hebrew number for 613 which we pronounce as Taryag, consisting of the letters Tav, Reish, Yud, Gimel, let us use a form of Gematria called Atbash, in which a letter is exchanged so to speak with its opposite side of the 22 Hebrew letters. As hinted with the word or acronym Atbash, the first letter Aleph corresponds with the last letter Tav, the second letter Beit corresponds with the next to the last letter Shin, and so on. Hence, when substituting the four letters for the number 613, the corresponding exchanged letters are Aleph, Gimel, Mem, Reish. Well, it won't take long to figure out that these four letters ARE THE SAME LETTERS THAT SPELL THE WORD GEMARA! Yes, it is the Gemara, the meat of Torah learning that develops Torah scholars, that is the explanation of the Mishna. As the Talmud (Berachot 5a) notes on the verse on what Hashem says that He will give Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:12), HaMitzva "The Commandment" refers to the Mishna. Hence, we see very clearly that the Gemara is the detailed explanation of the 613 Mitzvot (though there are some tractates of the Mishna that do not have Gemara explanation, there are quotes of Mishna strewn throughout the Gemara/Talmud), hinted via the Atbash Gematria of Taryag/Gemara! And while we are at it, the final word of the mentioned verse here is LeHorotam "to instruct them" which the Talmud says refers to the Gemara. Now, the middle four letters of the word LeHorotam are the same letters as the word Torah. Thus, we see from here how crucial Gemara learning is.

But wait, I am not quite finished! As I have mentioned in the past, the 420th Mitzva of the Taryag Mitzvot is learning and teaching Torah (Talmud Torah). But what I didn't mention before is that this is the 174th Mitzvat Asei, the 174th Positive/Active Mitzva of the Torah. You see, I didn't have a reason to mention this earlier, but now I do because today, we will use the same Atbash method for the four letters of the word Torah - Tav, Vav, Reish, Hei. The corresponding Atbash letters are Aleph, Pei, Gimel, Tzadi. These four letters add up to the Gematria of 174. Yes, there is indeed no coincidence that the Mitzva of Talmud Torah is the 174th Mitzvat Asei listed in the Torah!

Speaking of the 613 Mitzvot, let's focus for a moment on the 613rd Mitzvah, which is the writing of a Sefer Torah/Torah Scroll for oneself. While today, this is done by relatively few people, as first of all, it is quite expensive to buy a Sefer Torah, even if writing a Sefer Torah which is quite time consuming and every one of its 304,805 letters has to be written correctly or the whole Sefer Torah is invalid to be read in public, can be performed by hiring a Sofer/Torah Scribe.
Also, today's books come in the form of paper rather than the old fashioned scrolled parchment. This is where the Chofetz Chaim quotes the Rosh pertaining to this Mitzvah, that nowadays, this Mitzvah is basically fulfilled by purchasing the basic books of the Tanach and Talmud (includes Mishnah and Gemara) and learning them, since after all, the whole idea of this final Mitzvah of the Torah is to learn the Torah that we write and/or purchase, though of course, the Mitzvah can also be performed literally.

Perhaps it is of no coincidence that the final Mitzvah of the Torah, at least in its literal sense, is the most expensive Mitzvah. It is of no surprise that the holiest object that exists is also the most expensive Mitzvah, for as we know, the physical is a reflection of the spiritual. But in any case, as I just mentioned here about how the number 613 in Hebrew makes up the letters that spell the word Gemara via the Gematria method of Atbash, we learn from here that indeed, the ultimate purpose of this last Mitzvah of the Torah is to be well versed in the Torah which is most represented by the learning of Gemara. For in fact, the Gemara is part of the Oral Torah which was originally forbidden to be written down unlike the Tanach which is called the Written Torah. However, since the rabbis of some 1,500 years ago saw that with the increasing troubles that were happening to the Jewish people that included exile and foreign rule, they were afraid that the details of the Torah which is the basic makeup of the Gemara would be forgotten, and hence, they ruled that for the sake of preserving the Torah, the basic contents of the Oral Torah had to be written down.

Imagine what Torah learning would be like today if we had no Gemara text to learn from, and no Daf Yomi - which would not be possible without a printed text and learning schedule. For even if Torah scholars would be able to learn as much without the written text of the Gemara, how much or how well would laymen or people who are no longer learning in Yeshiva and busy making a living would be able to commit to so much Gemara learning without a basic text of the Gemara in front of them (hearing a Shiur/Torah lesson on Gemara only makes sense if one is already familiar with the Gemara being discussed; otherwise, there won't be a fluent cohesiveness of understanding of the subject being discussed, especially when give and take discussions and arguments are a good part of Gemara learning).

Speaking of the Atbash method of Gematria, we see this being used in Chapter 428 of the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim. Now mind you, the Shulchan Aruch is a basic text of Halacha/Jewish Law, and NOT a Torah book full of interesting Gematriot. Occasionally, a Gematria is mentioned in reference to why a Halacha or Minhag/custom is observed. But for the most part, this is not the norm in the Shulchan Aruch. However, in this particular chapter, the final chapter of Hilchot Rosh Chodesh/Laws of the New Moon (by the way, I was born on Rosh Chodesh), there are various codes of letters/numbers that are mentioned to remember different aspects of the Jewish calendar. On this note, this chapter mentions how the first six days of Pesach/Passover correspond to the various Jewish holidays based on falling on the same day of the week in the same year being hinted in the Gematria method of Atbash. However, the one holiday that is not mentioned in reference to all this is Chanuka (Note: The truth is that Succot isn't mentioned either, though Simchat Torah, the final day of holidays beginning with Succot, though its own holiday is mentioned. Also, the first day of Succot falls out on the same day as the first day of Rosh Hashanah which is mentioned in the Atbash equation). It is true that there is a technicality regarding Chanuka because there are two months of the Jewish calendar that aren't always the same number of days in the month as in some years, they are 29 days and in other years, they can be 30 days - which is Cheshvan, the month before Chanuka, and Kislev whose ending falls out after the beginning of Chanuka.

Perhaps this is not a coincidence. You see, Chanuka represents the concept of what is beyond time, unlike most of the months of our present Jewish calendar which are always either 29 or 30 days - except for the months that surround Chanuka. For as we know, the Tanach - the Written Torah, is a fixed text. However, even though the Mishna and Gemara are also technically fixed texts today, these latter texts that are basically mentions of Halachic disputes throughout these texts shows that there is no necessarily "one right way". True, only one opinion can be followed as far as following what Halacha we hold by.
However, there is also the concept that Eilu V'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim "Both opinions are the words of the Living G-d", and so why physically, only one way can be followed; in the spiritual world, both opinions can be true, even as both rabbis who are arguing with each other base their opinion on how they read the verse in the Torah.

One who has learned the spiritual significance of Chanuka will know that this holiday represents the ultimate spiritual light that Hashem hid for the righteous in the future. It is through this light that one can see past and future the same way, which the infant in the womb has a taste of. This spiritual light goes beyond the physical limitations of this world. Similarly, Chanuka is the only holiday that is not mentioned in the Tanach, as demonstrated in not being mentioned in the Atbash formula of the holidays corresponding to the first six days of Pesach. For as the first six days of Pesach correspond to the six days of the work week in the materialistic world, Chanuka is all spiritual, not limited by the amount of days in the Jewish calendar beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and not necessarily ending on the same Jewish date every year. Chanuka is ultimately represented by the Oral Torah which hints to the whole concept of not sticking to the same words, but allowing for varied interpretations of the Torah that ultimately translate what the Halacha should be; however, Halacha in its spiritual sense is not bound by limitations except for how we observe it in this physical world. This is bearing in mind that the word Halacha is the Gematria of 60, the numerical value of the letter Samech, which is shaped virtually like a circle, just as this finite world which is round, but following the 6,000 years of this world's existance, the seventh millenium will be the display of pure spirituality when we will be beyond the physical limitations of this present world in which we are bound by Halacha without openly showing how both views of which only one view can be followed in the form of Halacha, can be true.

Now, while the number eight is what represents the concept of what is beyond nature as related to this finite world, just as the light that Hashem created at the beginning of time which will be use of use for the righteous in the future is what is beyond time, not differentiating between past, present or future. In fact, we see that the phrase Beit HaMikdash/Temple is the same Gematria as the name Matisyahu (861) whose heroic actions led to the eight day holiday of Chanuka. Also, the Rambam/Maimonides laws about the Beit HaMikdash which he calls Beit HaBechira (House of Choosing) consists of eight chapters.
However, unlike outside of the Beit HaMikdash where we light up to eight lights on Chanuka; in this holiest place in the world, only seven lights were lit. The difference is that in the Beit HaMikdash which is a reflection of the Beit Hamikdash in the spiritual world, it is very much related to the concept of the number eight, and as we see mentioned in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, there were 10 miracles related to the Beit HaMikdash. Hence, only seven lights were needed to relate to what is beyond the finite world of six work days and of six thousand years, since it is true that in the seventh millenium, it will be time of total spirituality without the physical restraints of this world. However, outside of this holiest abode on earth, where even the number seven is still within the realm of nature being that while we observe the seventh day as Shabbat, we start once again after Shabbat into the six day work week so we need something more tangible that is related to the concept of what is beyond nature, of what is beyond time, and it is only this concept as related specifically to the number eight that helps us reach this goal, and it is the eight day holiday of Chanuka that accomplishes this.

Noting above about the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, we also have what are called the seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis. While the Torah forbids us to add to the Mitzvot of the Torah, what are called the Mitzvot of the Rabbis weren't invented as all "new" concepts but are already related somehow to other Mitzvot of the Torah. Without getting into a whole discussion about this, these Mitzvot of the rabbis include the Megilla reading of Purim and the lighting of the Menorah of Chanuka. However, there is a fundamental difference between Purim and Chanuka. Even as Purim is a Mitzva of the rabbis, it is a holiday that is mentioned in the Tanach, in fact, the Book of Esther which is devoted exclusively to this holiday, though it is not a holiday mentioned in the Sefer Torah. However, Chanuka has NO DIRECT CONNECTION WITH THE BIBLE OR WRITTEN LAW.

With this said, adding the seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis with the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, the total is 620 Mitzvot. And it is Chanuka which is the LAST of these Mitzvot. In fact, while the last of the 613 Mitzvot is the very Mitzva of WRITING Torah, the last of the seven Mitzvot of the Torah especially relates to the concept of the ORAL TORAH, for lighting the Chanuka Menorah is not mentioned in ANY of the 24 Books of the Tanach, unlike Purim. Now, mentioning earlier of the connection of the word Teharot, the name of the sixth and FINAL volume of the Mishnayot as related to Chanuka, this word is the Gematria of 620, and as I just mentioned, lighting the Menorah on Chanuka is the 620th and FINAL Mitzva to be enacted. And as I mentioned earlier about the letters Teit and the remaining letters that spell the word Torah within the word Teharot, the letter Teit represents the concept of darkness as we see that the ninth plague of Egypt was darkness and it is the letter Teit that represents the month of Av, the month that includes the darkest period of the Jewish calendar in which on the ninth day of this month (Tisha B'Av), both Holy Temples got destroyed. Hence, the concept of Chanuka as related to Torah is learning Torah even in the darkest of times, as this is the light that lights up the spiritual darkness. Indeed, Chanuka falls out during the winter when the nights, the time of physical darkness, are longer; and as our rabbis tell us, the nights were created for Torah learning. In fact, the Talmud learns out about the amount of oil used for the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple from the amount that was needed for the longest of nights which are typically during the month of Tevet, on which the last few days of Chanuka occur. Moreover, the first letter of the month of Tevet is a Teit=9, further representing this concept of spiritual light in the long periods of spiritual darkness in exile.

And as for the month of Kislev on which Chanuka begins, let's dissect the letters of the name of this month. The first letter of Kislev is a Kaf, and as we know, this is also the first letter of the word Cohen. Now, the next letter is a Samech
which in itself is the letter that represents the month of Kislev. Also, the letter Samech as related to Cohanim reminds us of the Bircat Cohanim (blessing of the Cohanim) which consists of 60 letters. And then, the final two letters Lamed & Vav are the first two letters of the word Levi from whom the Cohanim are descended. Moreover, these two letters spell the number 36 in Hebrew, and as we know, we light a total of 36 lights on Chanuka (aside from the Shamash candle).

And in connection with the number of this Post, the number 129 can be read in two parts - one (1) and twenty-nine (29). The letter Aleph=1 begins the word Ohr/Light, and the first letters of the months (Kislev & Tevet) during which Chanuka occurs spell the number 29. And as I have mentioned in the past, the number 29 is connected with the name Shimon, my namesake, in more than one way - first, as mentioned here, the 29th of Kislev is the fifth day of Chanuka on which we read the offerings of the leader of the tribe of Shimon that he brought on the fifth day from the dedication of the Mishkan. And as pertaining to Shimon HaTzadik as I mentioned earlier in this post as related to Chanuka, he passed away on the 29th of Tishrei.

Think this post is long enough. Stay tuned shortly for my next special post about the birth of my baby daughter.

Sixth Day of Chanuka/First Day of Rosh Chodesh Tevet/30 Kislev, 5772

Saturday, December 3, 2011

#128 - Our Reaction to G-d Given Talents

As we know, pride in the form of haughtiness is virtually the worst characteristic trait that the Torah condemns. This has caused the downfall of many with good spiritual qualities. And on the other side, humility is considered the greatest characteristic trait that one can possess. The Torah makes it very clear about Moses, who despite his great love for his people and was even willing to give up his spiritual benefits to save the Jews from perishing following their sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, is ultimately praised in the Torah for his humility "The man Moses was very humble, more than anyone living on earth" (Numbers 12:3). Hence, it was to Moses of all people that Hashem wished to transmit the Torah to, earning him the title of Rabbeinu "our teacher", for it wasn't only the Torah that Moses taught the Jewish people which he didn't actually learn all on his own, but all taught to him in the course of 40 days by Hashem; but it was his own example of being someone who was so worthy of being the one to teach the Torah to the entire nation that is part of why he is called Rabbeinu. Additionally, he wasn't the teacher of just his immediate generation, but the teacher of all future generation of Jews, partly in due to his desirable character traits that everyone could learn from.

There is one tractate of all the 63 tractates of the Mishnayot that does not deal with Halacha/Jewish Law per se. It is called Avot ("fathers") or Pirkei Avot/Ethics
of the Fathers. What distinguishes this ethical work from all other ethical works of the non-Jewish world is that the teachings about ethics in Avot, just as Halacha, are all part of the Torah that Hashem transmitted to Moshe; as indeed, the very first word of this tractate is Moshe's name, mentioning that Moshe received the Torah from Mt. Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua...

The question can be asked - Isn't there ever a time that you need a little pride or haughtiness to accomplish something good, just like for example, anger or hatred is needed at times to protest evil that is used to hurt good people? Otherwise, people with no sense of self worth will at the very least be taken advantage of, and will feel useless at the end, not wishing to contribute to society.

Before I answer this question, while a person who is humble is far more liked in society in the long run than someone who is haughty, regardless of their accomplishemnts, a person does have to have a balance that won't throw him off base of being taken advantage of. While it may not always be obvious where to draw the line, it can be agreed upon for the most part that self-worth and haughtiness are in essence two different creatures.

Actually, it is the Talmud (Sota 5a) that answers this question: "Rav Chiya Bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: A Torah scholar needs to have within himself an eighth of an eighth of haughtiness" The reason for this is so that he can maintain his respect as a Torah scholar by not being made fun out of and having his teachings accepted. This is of course assuming that beyond this, he will not let haughtiness get to his head.
Even at this, not all the rabbis agree with this. "Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak said: No part of it whatsoever, as the verse states: "All haughty of heart is an abomination of Hashem" (Proverbs 16:5)."

Regardless of whose opinion we follow, the obvious question here is - What is the particular significance of an eighth of an eighth? The Vilna Gaon comes to the rescue and points out to us the eighth Pasuk/verse of the eighth Parsha of the Torah - which is this week's Parshat Vayishlach. The verse reads "I have been made small of all the kindnesses and truth that You have done for Your servant..." (Genesis 32:11) which what was Jacob was saying to Hashem in his request to be saved from his evil brother Esau. The lesson that we can learn from this is that although we feel humble from all the things that Hashem has given us as truly we are not really worthy of all the goodies that we receive in life, especially as virtually all of us have sins due to which not only are we not really worthy of anything good, but according to the strict measure of justice, we are worthy of death. However, the fact that Hashem does provide us with various measures of good means that we are worthy to some extent, however small it may be; and hence, rather than feeling so proud and haughty about it, we should rather be most grateful to Hashem, in fact recognizing that Hashem found favor in us to grant us the good that He showered on us. It is only based on this type of way of thinking that we will not loose focus on our purpose in life is.

Of course, the lesson that we learn from the EIGHTH verse of the EIGHTH Parsha is ultimately the most important thing here. However, perhaps the fact that the number eight, or more particularly, an eighth of an eighth, has something to do with permitted haughtiness, must mean that this number or fraction of a number has some significance here, more than just the fact of the position of what number verse of what number Parsha sounds kind of catchy.

The secret here is the number 64, or more specifically, a sixty-fourth piece of the pride pie. With this said, making the connection between this number or fraction number with the concept of humbleness/haughtiness, I saw two different Torah factoids on this.

One involves the time when the Torah was going to be given to the Jewish people as to which mountain on which it was going to be delivered. Various mountains argued to be THE mountain to be the one to have the Torah given on (yes, inanimate objects also have a life force, which is of course given to them by Hashem). However, Hashem chose the lowly looking mountain Mt. Sinai for this unique honor. Anyways, one of the high mountains is Mt. Tabor. The Talmud (Bava Batra 73) mentions this mountain as four Parsaot or 16 Mil tall. Now, the maximum amount that a person is allowed to walk outside of town on Shabbat is one Mil, or 2,000 Amot/cubits; hence 16 times 2,000 Amot yields the total of 32,000 Amot, the total amount of Amot of Mt. Tabor.

Now, bear in mind that Mt. Sinai where the Torah was given was not located in the Holy Land of Israel. And so, while the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, it could not be
selected as the mountain on which the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple would be built on. The lucky mountain chosen for the Beit HaMikdash was Mt. Moriah, or known as the Har HaBayit/Temple Mount, bearing in mind that the Great Sanhedrin's headquarters was located in a room of the Beit HaMikdash, who taught the Halachot of the Torah that was originally given on Mt. Sinai. With this said, the Har HaBayit, as we see in Mishna Midot (2:1), is 500 Amot tall. And as 500 times 64 is 32,000, the Har HaBayit is one sixty-fourth of Mt. Tabor.

Another connection of the 64 number is what the Maharsha mentions that the Gematria of the Hebrew word Gas/arrogance, is 63. Hence, only if we have 1/64th of arrogance, and not 1/63rd of arrogance, can we hope to maintain our healthy spiritual balance in the humbleness/arrogance scale.


The Pool Game

As Jews who believe in Hashgacha Peratit/Divine Providence and that there is no such as coincidences, as even the Hebrew word for coincidence or happening - Mikreh, spelled with the letters Mem, Koof, Reish, Hei - when its letters are rearranged, reads as Rak Mei'H' (Hei (H) spells short for Hashem) - Only from Hashem. In fact, the word Mikreh itself is the same Gematria as the name/word Hashem (which literally means the Name which we say in lieu of pronouncing Hashem's real name except in prayers and in full verses from the Torah) - 345!

With this said, let's turn a moment to the game of pool. No, not swimming pools, but the game pool in which balls are hit with large sticks in order for them to enter the hall. Now, in a game of 15 balls, the ball that is used to hit other balls is the EIGHT ball. Perhaps the reason this number ball was chosen among the others is because eight is the middle number of the first 15 numbers, or because the way that the number eight is shaped, it is a never ending number (just like the number zero which isn't the number of one of the 15 balls) that can be continously written without interrupting the flow of the pen as it is with the other numbers. In any case, the bottom line is that it is the ball with the number eight that is always used to hit the other balls.

While I don't know all the varied forms of ball games on the pool table, from what I do know is that as long as there isn't a winner of the game yet based on the amount of total balls that were knocked down into the hole, the game is not over. However, if a player, in his attempt to knock another ball down the hole, pushes the EIGHT ball which itself falls down into the hole, the game is over, which means that the other player wins.

With what I wrote about pertaining to the number eight, perhaps what we can learn from here is that as long as we know how to utilize our position of self worth in accomplishing what we need to in life without letting pride/haughtiness/arrogance get into our way, we can hope with G-d's help to be successful in life, since it is G-d' wish after all that we use our G-d given talents to benefit the world - and this is applicable both for Jews and non-Jews, just as we constantly use the EIGHT ball to hit the other balls in our goal to win the game without letting the EIGHT ball itself go down the drain. On the other hand, when we forget that our talents are nothing less than G-d given talents and instead associate these talents as OUR talents as the verse describes "my strength and the power of my hands have accomplished these things", this is hitting the EIGHT ball right down into the hole, loosing the game. For that matter, if Hashem wants something accomplished, He can find numerous ways of doing this. However, it is His will for whatever reason that a certain person or people are the one(s) picked by Him to be in essence His messenger(s) to accomplish certain things with the G-d given talents given to him/them.

Imagine that an earthly king appoints certain people to be in charge of certain things on his behalf. While certainly, the ones that the kings appoints feel most privileged to be in the positions that the king placed them at, and would be more than happy to do what the king says to do even for no financial recompensation feeling lucky to be able to do something for the king, it is almost certain that they won't feel such pride to the extent that they are better than anyone else, for first of all, they realize that they themselves are hardly considered in worth in sharp contrast to the king. Also, they realize that with privileges, they also come with immense responsiblities, and that any deviation from what the king orders them to do will result from being fired, to being thrown into prison, to being executed. And so, bearing this in mind, the uppermost thought in the minds of these people hand picked by the king is that while they may be luckier than some other people, they hardly have any reason to be any more proud than anyone else because ultimately, it is about servicing the king, and NOT servicing themselves.

This is exactly how we have to view ourselves in our observance of Judaism. Of course we feel most privileged to be Jews as a small percentage of this world population. However, the purpose of the talents that Hashem has provided us is not in order to service ourselves, to make ourselves look important in front of other people, but ONLY to service Hashem. Of course down the road, people will respect us for our good service to Hashem, for our knowledge in the Torah, for our fine characteristic traits. In fact, one of the 613 Mitzvot/Commandments in the Torah is to fear/respect Torah scholars, and another one of the Mitzvot is attaching ourselves to Hashem by following in the footpaths of Torah scholars. However, this is not a reason for a Torah scholar to grow haughty. What a Torah scholar must remember is that he is supposed to be example of a servant of the King of Kings, a soldier of the Top General in His army, in order that other Jews will emulate his example so they too can follow in Hashem's ways the proper way following Halacha. Yes, a Torah scholar has to use his EIGHTH of an EIGHTH of haughtiness (and not all rabbis agree with this by the way) in order to maintain his basic dignity so he won't loose respect, but not because he feels that he is better than anyone else to the point that he uses his position to G-d forbid step on other people towards his own benefit, for ultimately, all the benefits belong to Hashem, and if one is entitled to any benefits, it's only because Hashem chooses this as such, but not because one "deserves" it per se.


There is hardly an adult in a normal civilized society that does not know that a chess board consists of 64 boxes, which when measured by the number of boxes on any given side, is eight by eight. But perhaps what is striking here is that the word chess is very similar to the name of the Hebrew letter Cheis (or Cheit as pronounced the Sephardic way) which is the numerical value of eight. In similar fashion, the popular Japanese food called Sushi is called by this name, as the meaning of this word which means six, was called as such because the original sushi consisted of six pieces, noting that the Hebrew word for six is Shishi, similar to the name Sushi.

The popular story that goes about the person who invented chess about what he requested as his reward from the king, whether is actually happened or not as such, perhaps describes the depth and breadth of what seems to be the countless amount of different game positions that exist with this most mental sports game, which echoes the Torah which is limitless, as it is Hashem's wisdom.

In recent times, chess has become a professional sport, and no doubt has changed the lives of many who made a living out of being professional chess players. With this said, some consider Bobby Fischer, a Jewish American, to be the greatest chess player of all time. However, he is not the only Jewish chess player to have played as a champion. Chess history would certainly be incomplete without the mentions of Samuel Herman (Shmuel Chaim) Reshevsky, who was an observant Jew throughout his life until his passing at the age of 80 in 1992, and Daniel Abraham ("Abe") Yanofsky (who passed away at the age of 74 in 2000, and has a street named after him in Jerusalem). In fact, the only one who ever beat Bobby Fischer after becoming a chess champion was the observant Jew Reshevsky, as in one game, Fischer walked out on Reshevsky not wishing to take a chance loosing a game, making Reshevsky the winner.

As with anything else, chess brings out the best or worst out of everybody. You see,
there are major differences between Fischer and these other two Jewish chess champions. First, Fischer was a professional player, as he never worked as any other profession or job, as he quit school at the age of 16, the end of his formal education. The other two Jewish champions, however, while they certainly had great talents for being professional players, didn't let chess be the overriding factor in their lives, who both went to college and became professionals in other fields of study while still playing chess on the side, both having accomplished things in their lives other than what related to the chess world.

Secondly, while Fischer didn't have a stable life when it came to having a family, and even after his death, it took a while for the courts to figure out who was to inherit him, only at the end to award his Japanese wife his estate; both Reshevsky and Yanofsky were married (both to Jews) and had children, showing that family was an important factor in their lives.

But perhaps most importantly here, we see the end results of these chess players. While Reshevsky and Yanofsky didn't at least seemingly become haughty from being master chess players, Fischer clearly showed plenty of his haughtiness - both in playing chess and his general outlook in life. To him, chess was the end of a means.
Few other things mattered to him if he couldn't be the top chess player in the world, and he showed how much it bothered him if he thought that there was even a possibility that someone could beat him on the 64-boxed game.

In time, he became anti-American, anti-Jew i.e. anti-Semitic, and a Christian as a Seventh Day Adventist. It's interesting to note that two Jewish players would not play chess professionally on the Sabbath/Saturday - Reshevsky because he always kept Shabbat, and Fischer because he was a Seventh Day Adventist. But on a more universal level, while I don't blame Fischer for being anti-American to an extent, as it is true that he was once arrested for something that he may not even have been guilty of, and then he fled the States, what is true is that if he would have been around in Hitler's time in Europe, Hitler probably would have hired him to be his mouthpiece instead of sending him to the concentration camps, as virtually no one spoke against Jews the way that Fischer did it.

While there may be questions as to what motivated Fischer following stopping his playing chess for a while to become the monster that he became, which included him praising the terrorist actions of 9/11 only hours after it happened, there is no doubt that this is related to the haughtiness that he developed as the chess professional that he became. While he may never have been aware of what the Torah says about the "eighth of an eighth" or "one out of sixty-four parts" of haughtiness concept, the chess game of 64 parts eventually became an evil force for Fischer, who used haughtiness in the most evil way instead of feeling humbled about having had the great privilege of the G-d given talent that he attained. Perhaps Fischer had a mental illness, but it wasn't something that he always had, or at least wasn't developed in his system until much later in life. Certainly in his case, the mental illness mostly developed as a result of his actions and warped thinking processes earlier in his life, rather than the other way around.


Anti-Semitism from Jewish Origins

Having mentioned the self hating Jew Bobby Fischer, who spoke such anti-Semitic statements that would have blown off Adolf Hitler's mustache, it is actually hardly of much surprise after reading Parshat Vayishlach. You see, it is in this Parsha that mentions the birth of Amalek, the name of the nation who was the first to attack the Jews shortly after the Exodus, when the rest of the world was too frightened to take up arms against the Jews following the Egyptians drowning in the Reed Sea. You see, baby Amalek's grandfather was Esau, who was born and raised in the most holy and righteous family in the world at the time - with parents Isaac & Rebecca and brother Jacob.

We see that pertaining to the seven Canaanite nations, Hashem is clear when He tells us "Do not let a soul of them remain, utterly destroy them" which was what the Jews were supposed to do upon entry to Israel being led by Joshua. However, we see that Joshua gave these nations a menu of choices - 1)Run away, 2)Agree to servitude and taxes, 3)Fight it out. In fact, the Girgashites, one of the seven Canaanite nations, took up the first offer, and picked up their tents for pastures outside of Israel, while the other Canaanite tribes decided to fight it out. However, when it comes to Amalek, there are three Mitzvot about getting rid of this evil nation - 1)Remember what they did to you, 2)Erase the memory of Amalek, 3)Don't forget what they did to you.

Now, the question can be asked. As we know from our Sages, one who causes others to sin is worse than a murderer who only takes away a physical life, for one who makes other sin murders one's soul, one's spiritual life. Hence, the Caanaite nations, about whom Hashem makes very clear that they have a terrible spiritual influence with their idols and immmorality, were actually given a chance by Joshua to stay alive; while with Amalek, who merely wanted to kill the Jews without attempting them to change their religion, is eternally hated by Hashem, and not given any chance to repent or move elsewhere. Isn't this a cotradiction to what the Sages said?

True, the Canaanites had a terrible spiritual influence, and in fact, we see this to be the case later on when the Jews worshipped idols, as the Canaanites weren't all wiped out. However, they didn't necessarily go out of their way to entice Jews to another religion. They didn't hate the Jews per se, so long as they could also live in the land and do as they pleased. However, Amalek with pure hatred for the Jews, went out of its way to reach the Jews in the desert to fight them, and didn't even maintain the fear of the Jews as the other nations had at that time. While there is discussion among the Sages about the Amalekites mocking the Jewish religion, and attempted to "cool off" the Jews' enthusiasm for the Torah, the bottom line is that whatever the Amalekites did in relationship to the Jews was pure hatred and was determined to get rid of the Jew. Period.

So, why did Amalek hate the Jews so much, even before the Torah was given which in itself was a reason for the world to hate us after we were the ones chosen to receive the Torah? Well, we know that Amalek is directly descended from both Abraham & Isaac (unlike the Arab descendants of Ishmael who are only descended from Abraham) and as such, knowing that the Jews had unique spiritual status, was most jealous of the Jews carrying bitter hatred, just as their ancestor Esau had for Jacob following the latter's receiving the blessing from their father Isaac instead of Esau. And so, bearing this in mind, nothing would stop Amalek from advancing their hatred towards the Jews. It is for this reason that Hashem made it clear that for Amalek, there would be no exceptions made, not even with the deal that Joshua made for the Canaanites.

From Eight to Eight in the Eighth Parsha

Well, we already established that Parshat Vayishlach is the eighth Parsha in the Torah, as well as the significance of the eighth verse of this eighth Parsha. Now, turning to the end of this eighth Parsha, we see that there were a total of eight kings of the nation of Edom before there were kings of the Jewish people, which began with King Saul.

We see something amazing here. The Torah is not speaking of current events or what the Torah wants us to do in the future. The Chumash is relating something that would occur in the future, writing exactly what would happen not in the times of the Chumash itself, but hundreds of years later after Moses' death mentioned at the end of the Chumash.

We see another thing here. While it mentions at the end of this Parsha about the death of the first seven kings, it doesn't mention the death of the last king named Hadar. What made this eighth king of Edom so special that the Torah doesn't mention his death even though he eventually died just like the first seven kings?

As the Maharal of Prague mentions in his writings, the number eight is the number that represents what is above nature. For while the number seven represents the concept of Shabbat as the Seventh Day, the Shabbat of today is within the natural order of things in this world, and it will only be in the future that the number seven will be associated with eternity (see the end of Tractate Tamid of the Mishna).
However, the number eight to begin with is goes beyond the natural order of this physical world to begin with. And as such, a Torah scholar who lives a righteous life, relating basically to spirituality, knowing his purpose in life, can afford to have an "eighth of an eighth" of haughtiness, for he knows that the little haughtiness that he needs to use is in order to maintain the other 63 parts of humility. He knows that the Hadar - name of the eighth Edomite king - which means splendor or glory, the results of one's accomplishments if merely a prototype of the orginal Hadar - splendor/glory of Hashem. We are merely messengers of Hashem who do our best to replicate in our own way the amazing tapestry of Hashem's wisdom through the G-d given talents that He gave us. Then and only then can a Torah scholar be able to show himself as a Torah scholar that will attract honor, as ultimately, it is the honor of Hashem that is the focus, that will bring other Jews to the splendor and glory of the Torah.

Intersting to note, we always read Parshat Vayishlach, the eighth Parsha of the Torah, in the month of Kislev that we begin celebrating Chanuka, the eight day holiday that celebrates our freedom of practicing Judaism from the vicious attempts from the anti-Semitic Syrian-Greeks who attempted to prevent us from observing the Torah. Moreover, we begin the holiday with lighting one light/candle on the first night of Chanuka, concluding with the eighth night lighting eight lights. To come to think of it, there were also Hellenistic Jews who betrayed the Jewish faith and attempted to stop other Jews from observing the Torah. But thanks to the Maccabbees, we won at the end. However, the main emphasis of the observance of Chanuka came about not due to our physical victory of winning the war against the Syrian-Greeks, but our spiritual victory, for at the end, victory belongs to Hashem, and we are only soldiers in Hashem's army, who are doing our job not because it makes us look better, but because
this is Hashem's will, and we are only worthy of being Hashem's Chosen Nation when we behave as the Chosen Nation, not just because we have the title of Jews who have brains and win international championships in the fields of science and sports, for ultimately, even the secular accomplishements are based on the talents that Hashem gave us, but they only mean something if we use these talents in serving Hashem and setting an good example for the rest of the world to have everyone want to emulate the Jews when we behave as good Jews.


Regarding the number of this post - 128, it is the EIGHTH generation of numbers when added to themselves. Hence, one added to another one is two, two when added to itself equals four, etc. The following demonstrates this:
1+1=2+2=4+4=8+8=16+16+32+32+64+64=128. So, as you can see, the eight numbers in this equation are: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128.

Regarding the SEVENTH generation of these numbers - the number 64, this is the amount of boxes on the chess board. And as per the number seven, I had mentioned earlier that both Sherevsky and Fischer would not play chess on the Seventh Day - though for diametrically spiritually opposite reasons. Coincidence? This surely resembles the opposite spiritual lifestyles of the twins Esau and Jacob.

And at a close examination of this number 128, we see that it consists of two numbers: one (1) and twenty-eight (28). As we know about the Alef-Beit, there are 22 basic letters, and five of these letters take on a little different looking shape that are used exclusively at the end of a word; hence making a total of 27 different shapes in the Hebrew alphabet. And as used in Gematria sometimes, these five letters that are used as the end of a word have the respective numerical values (in order of the letters) of 500, 600, 700, 800, 900. Following this, the "28th letter" is the letter Alef once again, but instead of having the numerical value of one, it now has the numerical value of 1,000 - demonstrated by the fact that the word for the letter ALEF, can also be read as ELEF - which means one-thousand - using different vowels.

Parallel to this, we see in the chess game that the chess pieces represent people of various ranks from the plain soldiers - the pawns, to the king and queen. However, unlike the ones with positions inbetween the soldiers-pawns and the royal couple, the pawns, if they advance all the way to the other side of the board, then can become queens themselves. Of course, this is another example of chess that is based on a concept in the Torah. You see, the angels are very spiritual beings who are very close to G-d, while human beings are very material and physical people. However, if people overcome their physical temptations, urges, and addictions while looking to be spiritually close to G-d, they can potentially be even on a higher spiritual level than the angels. The difference reflected between these two groups are represented by the name of two Parshiyot that are read just around the time of the Jewish New Year, and in some years, they are read together on one Shabbat rather than on two separate Shabbatot: Nitzavim - which means standing as the angels are in the same spiritual position without moving ahead or backwards, and Vayeilech - which is related to the word Halicha/walking, for people have the freedom of choice to walk closer to G-d or G-d forbid away from G-d, but as the pawns in the chess game, people have the chance of reaching the highest spiritual heights possible, even higher than the level of the angels who may be compared to the other pieces of the chess game between the pawns and the king/queen.

Looking forward to writing my next post around Chanuka time which will of course be about one of my favorite Jewish holidays...

Week of the EIGHTH Parsha Vayishlach/EIGHTH of Kislev, 5772

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#127 - The Woman's Number

"Sara's life was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of Sara's life." (Genesis 23:1)

"It was in the days of Achashveirosh. He was Achashveirosh who reigned from Hodu to Cush - seven and twenty and one hundred countries." (Esther 1:1)

It won't take long to figure that there a few things in common between these two verses. They are both the first verse of their respective places in the Tanach/Bible. The former verse is the FIRST verse of the FIFTH Parsha of the Torah - Chayei Sara, and the latter verse is the FIRST verse of the FIFTH of the five Megillot. Both of these verses mention the number 127 (which is the number of this post), howbeit in two very different ways of mentioning this number. And finally, both of these verses have something to do with righteous women - Sara & Esther respectively.

In case anyone thought that these two verses that mention the same number 127 don't have any concrete connection between these two, we have to turn to the Midrash for this one. In the Yalkut Shimoni (Remez 102) on Parshat Chayei Sara, the story goes that students of Rabbi Akiva were falling asleep in the midst of his lecture. In order to arouse them, he asked: "What did Esther (Achashveirosh's wife) see that she should reign over 127 countries? But let Esther, the descendant of Sara who lived 127 years come, and reign over 127 countries."

Now, from this alone, some may come to the conclusion that Rabbi Akiva merely was attempting to find a way to keep his students awake mentioning riddles of Torah, but not necessarily because there is a connection of the number 127 between Sara & Esther. Perhaps if it would be a Bible professor giving this kind of lecture, one may indeed come to this conclusion. However, as our Rabbis tell us, even the mundane talk of Torah scholars need study, for a true G-d fearing Torah scholar doesn't just talk words for no reason to shoot the breeze, or tell over a nice catchy story. In other words, if such a Torah scholar mentions something, it is for a reason. Hence, there has to be some type of connection here between Sara and Esther here as per the number 127.

To be sure, there are various explanations given for this, including the point Rabbi Akiva was making to his sleeping students with this point that he made so they would have to motivation to stay awake from now on during his lectures. However, taking one look at what this Midrash recounts, I have a question. What does it mean "What did Esther SEE that she should reign...?" If anything, it was Hashem who was pulling the strings, and as a result of Sara living her life to the fullest as implied by the wording of the verse describing Sara's years of life as Rashi notes, Hashem rewarded Sara with having a descendant who would reign over 127 countries, who would be a righteous woman under whose rule Jews would be able to practice their religion freely as Jews without fear of persecution.

As we know, Esther being the most righteous Jewish woman of her time, would never begin to consider marrying a non-Jew for the sake of materialism. The fact that she did in fact marry the non-Jewish anti-Semitic Achashveirosh was not of her own choice
as the king picked her out from all the other women in the harlem to be his wife. While in fact, the sin of a forbidden sexual relationship is one of three things (the other two being idolatry and murder) that one is forbidden to commit under all circumstances should one be threatened to do based on the cost of one's life, Esther did not resist from marrying Achashveirosh because she knew that she was put in this situation for the benefit of the Jews at that time. It must be remembered that the Jews were in the midst of the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, and it was a time of Hashem's hiding His face, so to speak, from the Jewish people, as indeed, Esther's very name denotes this very concept. Hence, the miracles that happened to the Jewish people that led to the holiday of Purim happened in a concealed way that wasn't obvious to the average person that miracles were taking place like what happened in the era of the Exodus.

Thus, Esther SAW, knowing that Achashveirosh was the ruling power of the time, and wasn't merely king over his immediate country of Persia, but of all the existing countries at the time, which were 127 countries. No doubt that Esther realized that there was a unique reason why she was being put in this position to be Achashveirosh's wife, and as queen, she would in effect be ruler of these countries as well. She knew that it was not a mere coincidence that the number of countries were the same amount as the years of Sara's life, and that just as Sara made the best use of her life, despite the challenges that she had, including being taken by two different kings to have sex with them but was saved as the end, so too, Esther realized that after all was said and done, the king asking to marry her was meant to be, and that it was meant for her to have rule over the 127 countries for the benefit of the Jews. (Note: No doubt that if Mordechai would have been against Esther giving in to the king's demands of being his wife, he would have made it crystal clear to her not to do so, but he knew that this was meant to be for the sake of the Jewish people, and this was what is called a Heiter Sha'ah, a permit in Jewish law for the moment, though otherwise, it would be forbidden to marry a non-Jew).

Now, while we notice that the wordings of the number 127 are quite different from each other in the two verses, I am not here to list the explanations for these as they are two totally separate issues. However, there is a major difference between the use of the number 127 in these two verses. In the verse about Sara, the number has to do with the concept of time. In the Book of Esther, the number has to do with the concept of place.

In Kabbala, there are three general categories of the influence on the materialistic world. They are called Olam/world (place), Shana/year (time), Nefesh/living being.
As we see in the two verses above, the number 127 is in fact used in all three concepts. The living beings are Sara & Achashveirosh/Esther, the time as 127 years, and the place as 127 countries.

Just as I mentioned earlier about the number five being connected to both of these verses, we see in the Talmud (Berachot 10a) that there are FIVE connections between Hashem and the Nefesh or Neshama - soul, corresponding to the five times that the word "Bless" is mentioned in Psalms 103 & 104. The following are these five connections:

1)Just as Hashem fills up the entire world, so too does the soul fill up the entire body.
2)Just as Hashem sees but is not seen, so is the same with the soul.
3)Just as Hashem nourishes the entire world, so does the soul nourish the entire body (meaing, that if the soul leaves the body for good, then the body ceases to live).
4)Just as Hashem is pure, so is the soul pure (as long as it doesn't have sins).
5)Just as Hashem resides in rooms within rooms, so is the same with the soul.

As we see here, some of the points here also have to do with the concept of time.

Now, the Talmud here also notes that the five mentions of "Bless" also hints to the fact that King, David, the author of these psalms, lived in five "worlds" and sang song, mentioning the respective "Bless" verses. These five "worlds" are:
1)His mother's womb
2)Air of the world
3)Nursing at his mother's breast
4)Seeing the downfall of the wicked
5)Looking at the day of death

Very interesting, this list are called five "worlds", even though not all of them are technically what you would call places. O.K. - the womb is one place, the physical world is another place, and you can technically call the breast area of the body as a place on the body. But what do the last two things on this list have to do with the concept of place?

The truth is that all of these concepts have to do with this physical world - the place that we are in for the time being. But it is very interesting to note that in fact, the last two on this list - seeing the downfall of the wicked, and looking at the day of death, have their respective counterparts in the two verses related to the number 127.

Well, as for seeing the downfall of the wicked, it is quite obvious that the Book of Esther shows just this with the downfall of Haman, just when he thought that he was going to bring the downfall of Mordechai along with the rest of the Jews, but the tables turned on him.

As for seeing the day of death, it is precisely in the place of the Torah regarding Sara's passing away that it begins mentioning the life of Sara's years, and hence, the concept of place (this world) and time is bound together in this verse, along with the concept of a living being or a soul, and hence, encompasses the trio of Olam, Shana & Nefesh. It is no coincidence that in fact one of the 54 Parshiyot/sections of the Torah is called Chayei Sara "Life of Sara", for although this is the very mention of Sara's passing, we learn from this that we live in this world not as a end of a means by itself, but that in order to be able to live eternally. With this said, the emphasis is not on death, but rather, on the productive life that one has lived, for in fact, whether we like to put it this way, but for someone who lived a good, productive, righteous life, death or the time of one's death is the celebration of that person's life. True, there are mourners for him from close relatives to the many friends, students, etc. that he had, but this is in essence mourning merely the physical loss of that person's presence. However, deep down inside, the mourners feel a bit of happiness and pride knowing that it was well worth being connected to such a wonderful person who made a positive influence on their lives. For anyways, all of us are going to die sooner or later, so when the passing of a loved one occurs, it is just one more reminder for us to think of our purpose in life and bearing the above three concepts in mind, the goal is to live our lives what will most benefit our souls during the brief lifetime that we have been provided in this finite world.

As per the connection of these concepts to the number five, we know that the holiest object on this earth is the Sefer Torah/Torah scroll which while it may be one scroll, it consists of FIVE books, and aside from being called the "Five Books of Moses" in English, the Hebrew word in referring to these five books is Chumash, based on the word for the number five. To note, for a kosher Torah scroll, we use animal hide as its parchment. While this may sound a little far fetched for the most holy object on the face of this planet, the idea here is that we use materialism to be uplifted for holy purposes. In our own lives, we do the same when we do our mundane activities as eating, sleeping, and working in order to serve Hashem and be able to fulfill the Mitzvot/Commandments properly in the best of health.

In a very similar idea in Judaism as also related to the number five, in order for an animal or object to be offered in the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple, the item had to first be consecrated, to declare that one is designating the item as a holy object, and hence, even though it may be an animal who has no concept of what holiness is, there is an aspect of holiness that now applies to the animal, and it is forbidden to henceforth be used for mundane purposes. And as connected to the number five, the offerings were one of FIVE categories - 1)Olah/Burnt Offering, 2)Mincha/Meal Offering, 3)Shelamim/Peace Offering, 4)Chatat/Sin Offering, 5)Asham/Guilt Offering. Also, the section in the Mishna about the various offerings is the FIFTH volume of the six orders of the Mishnayot that is called Kodoshim/Holy Things, especially in its first tractate Zevachim/Sacrifices.

Now, the word Yisrael, the last word of the Chumash which is the name of the Jewish people, consists of FIVE letters that begin the words Yeish Shishim Ribo Otiyot L'Torah "There are 60 myriads of letters to the Torah." While in fact, there are 304,805 letters in the Chumash, just a little more than a half of the 600,000 number that is the number of adult male Jews who left Egypt, the point here is that each and every Jew has a share in the Torah, regardless of the spiritual level that one may come from or is presently in. The only question is how connected we wish to be with the Torah. Yes, we all have a share in the Torah, but do we show this to be so? Do we seriously set aside time every day to learn some Torah as the Torah commands us to - and not just a set period of time everyday and then play hookey in our non-working hours, but when we know we can spend more time on it as something that we feel hooked to?

True, there are many distractions in life, but this is precisely why we are here in this world, to combat the distractions and focus on what is important - and if we are not able to learn Torah at any particular time, it is only because we are addressing a basic physical need, and not spending time everyday chatting with friends that gets us nowhere in the long run. We learn from the verse about Sara's years of life from the wording separating each unit of hundreds, tens, and singles with the word years, teaching us that each and every year (Note: The Hebrew word for year is Shana, this word also being the number 355, the maximum amount of days in a non-leap Jewish year) or each day of Sara's life for that matter, was used for a constructive purpose, and not wasted on one's personal pleasures to take a vacation from the daily routine (I'm not saying that it is forbidden from the Torah to take a vacation, but that whatever we do is supposed to ultimately be serving Hashem, but one can discuss this in detail with one's rabbi).

Yes, we live in a world that is full of illusions. Indeed, the word for world in Hebrew is Olam, which is related to the word Helem/hidden, for this world hides spirituality with what takes place in this world. While some may be drawn to spirituality through nature, one would not necessarily come to the same conclusion when one turns on the tube and sees how the Hollywood "world" is so glorified, full of movies that are full of actors just to make money, and then on top of this, some of them win awards for something that they enjoyed doing and making millions on while so many hardworking people who are actually doing something constructive in their jobs who watch these movies when relaxing at home usually don't get types of perks with millions of dollars or awards. And this is just one out of many such examples of how this world, especially today more than ever, are reflective of how this is such a "hidden" world, a world full of falsehood, just as the idols that used to be worshipped and are still worshipped in some places of this world until today.

And in connection with this, there is the book of Esther, which is also a word which denotes the concepts of hiding, implying in this context that is was Hashem Who was doing the hiding in this Biblical book. For indeed, Hashem does not do what we call miracles every day, for otherwise, we would not have free choice, and realize that Hashem is speaking to us. While in fact, the greatest miracles is nature and how our bodies survive, since these are things that happen everyday to us, it is easy to take these things for granted instead of taking time to think how wondrous this world is including the complexities of each subject and object in this universe as shown in science. For a short while, Hashem did miracles for us in the Torah in the times of the Exodus from the Egypt to the entering the Promised Land, and Hashem still continued doing miracles for us from time to time, but this was a gradual weaning process in order for us to get trained to serve Him even without what may be obvious miracles but rather from our own imput of our actions.

Being that the number 127 ends with the number seven, and as the Torah lists the years of Sara's life, ending with saying "seven years," it is significant to note that this Shabbat, the SEVENTH day of the week, is the SEVENTH of Kislev, on which we read the SEVENTH Parsha - Vayeitze. And in this Parsha that we will be reading this Shabbat, we see that Jacob worked for Laban for SEVEN years in order to marry Laban's daughter, Rachel. After the switch of sisters was made on Jacob, and after marrying both Leah and Rachel, he proceeded to work for another SEVEN years on behalf of Rachel. Anyways, we see that these seven years where in Jacob's eyes "as a few days"
in Jacob's great love for Rachel (Genesis 29:20). For while when one may be waiting for something exciting to happen, each second may seem to be eternity; when one truly loves someone or something and prepares oneself for the upcoming occasion, he feels that every moment in preparation for the big day is worth it, and hence, the time period involved doesn't feel boring because it feels just like when one is having fun, time flies. The translation of this is that one's whole being seems to be based on what one is striving for, and so, the time feels that at the end, "it was all worth it."

And this is the same thing that we must feel in our Jewish lives. We must feel that every moment in our lives is worth living, even when materialistically, we have challenges, for we must remember that in fact, we ultimately are working for the Big Boss, and so while we may enjoy some of the frills in life, these are only temporary and fleating, and could at times be detrimental to our eternal, spiritual life if we don't focus on the real reason why we are living to begin with.

And while we are still speaking of the number seven, we see that both Aaron, the head ancestor of the Kehuna/Priesthood and King David, the head ancestor of the Davidic dynasty, married wives whose names ended with the word Sheva/Seven. Aaron's wife was Elisheva/Elizabeth and King David's wife whose son Shlomo/Solomon became the successor king was Batsheva/Bathsheba. And in reference to the above concepts of place, time, and living beings, we Jews observe the Seventh Day of Shabbat since we emulate Hashem who so to speak worked for six days in creating this world, and then rested on the Seventh Day.

Perhaps it is most fitting that the concept of seven is represented specifically by women such as Sara, Esther, Elisheva & Batsheva. For it is the woman who carries the womb, which is a whole world by itself for the nine-month resident who is preparing spiritually and phsyically to live in the next world - which in this case is this physical world. And the beginning growth of the newborn is the drinking of the mother's milk at the breasts. And it is the woman who experiences time from her periods to the pregnancy time of nine months, unlike a man who only experiences time in terms of his body when he begins to loose strength in his older years, realizing only then that it is just a matter of time before he is replaced by the next generation.

Now, let's do a little math trick here. Take number one and add it to another one and it becomes two. Then, two added to itself yields four, etc. Let's demonstrate here in number forms: 1+1=2+2=4+4=8+8=16+16=32+32+64. Now, let's add the seven different numbers involved here: 1+2+4+8+16+32+64=127. As you can see, after the number of the seventh generation is yielded following the first six numbers in the line here being added to themselves, the total sum of the numbers of the first SEVEN generations of this mathematical equation equals 127. Coincidence?

In conclusion, the only woman in the entire Tanach whose age of passing is mentioned is Sara. It is most fitting that it is Sara of all people to have this distinction, for she was the first Jewish woman, and additionally, had the unique privilege of being the mother to bear the first Jewish born child - Yitzchak Avinu. And in her unique situation, this was at the unusual old age of 90 years, after being barren for so many years in her younger years. In any case, she well deserved to be the mother of the first Jewish born child, because along with her husband Abraham, she helped people to be "under the wings of the Divine Presence" exposing them to the truth of one G-d, instead of just staying put at home as the earlier righteous people did until Abraham came out in the open to reach out to other people. Hence, it was only fitting that for such a righteous couple, they would bear the first Jewish born child to be the ancestor of the people for whose sake Hashem created the world.

FIFTH Day of the Week of Parshat Vayeitze/FIFTH of Kislev, 5772

Saturday, November 26, 2011

#126 - DREAM of a Lifetime

Shavua Tov & Chodesh Tov - Wishing you all a good week and a good month.

At this time, I am writing at a time of two firsts - Motzoei Shabbat, beginning the FIRST day of the week that immediately follows the conclusion of Shabbat; and Rosh Chodesh Kislev, which is only one day this year as opposed to some other years where it consists of two days - hence, today's date is the FIRST of Kislev and not the thirtieth of Cheshvan (the way it was one year ago on Motzoei Shabbat).

Both of these occasions - Motzoei Shabbat & Rosh Chodesh - are especially connected to King David. The Melave Malka (literally means escorting the queen, which is referring to the Queen Shabbat, a real spiritual creature like the angels) meal is called Seudat David HaMelech - King David's meal, which is called such for at least two reasons. First - kabbalistically, there are four parts of the Holy Chariot which correspond to the three Patriarchs and King David; and similarly, the three meals of Shabbat correspond to the three Patriarchs, and the fourth meal which is the meal eaten on Saturday night corresponds to King David. Historically, King David was once told by Hashem that he would pass away on a Shabbat. Hoping to avert dying on Shabbat, he figured that if he learned Torah for the entire Shabbat which would prevent the Angel of Death from taking away his soul, then he wouldn't have to die on this happy day of the week. Hence, following the end of every Shabbat, he used to celebrate living through another Shabbat by having a festive meal (after fasting the whole Shabbat!).

Rosh Chodesh is especially connected to King David because the Davidic dynasty is compared to the moon, the same way that the Jewish people are compared to the moon.
Just as the moon has its waxing and weaning periods, so it is with the Jewish people and the Davidic dynasty. To note, King David was the 14th generation on the parental line from Abraham the first Jew, bearing in mind that the Gematria of the name David is 14. Hence, his son King Solomon was the 15th generation from Abraham. Similarly, the moon reaches the status of a full moon at the 14th/15th days of the month. And indeed, in the days of King Solomon whose name Shlomo means complete(ness), it was the heighlight of the utopian state of the Davidic dynasty and the living standards of the Jewish people. And then, even in King Solomon's days already, his kingdom started going downhill beginning with challenges to his kingdom, and when his son Rehoboam became king, most of the Tribes of Israel deserted his kingship for Yeroboam Ben Nevat as the first king of Israel. Finally, Zedekiah of the 30th parental generation from Abraham was the final king of Judea in whose reign the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia.

Bearing in mind that this is my 126th post, it would be most appropriate to mention Psalm 126 of Tehillim/Book of Psalms that was composed/compiled by King David. This is not just any one of the 150 psalms. This Psalm is recited immediately preceding Bircat HaMazon/Grace After Meals on a day or time that we do not recite Tachanun/supplicatory prayers, which include Saturday night & Rosh Chodesh. One reason given for reciting a psalm before the after meal blessings is because we are supposed to recite words of Torah at a meal, and so even if one did not remember or have a chance to do so, reciting a psalm which is part of the Tanach/Bible will fulfill this requirement.

I will be referring to this Psalm a little later in this post. But first, I want to write a little more about the siginifance of today being Rosh Chodesh Kislev. We see in the first chapter of the Mishnaic Tractate of Ta'anit of the breakdown of the various dates that we mention or request for rain. First, we begin the mention of rain on Shemini Atzeret (22 Tishrei). Then, there is a difference of opinion in the Mishna as to when we begin the request for rain - either 3 Cheshvan or 7 Cheshvan, of which we follow the latter view as the Halacha/Jewish Law.

Now, when we request a basic need for the Jewish people from Hashem but it doesn't get fulfilled on time, there is an obvious reason why it is so. No doubt, it is because we are not behaving right, and so Hashem is in no rush to fulfill our request. Hence, when rain doesn't come sooner rather than later, it means that we have to repent of our evil deeds, and especially in earlier times, fasting was a common occurance when things didn't happen right for the Jewish people.

Along these lines, if the 17th of Cheshvan (the date of the beginning of the Flood in Noah's time) arrived and no rain fell down yet, indiviual pious people would begin fasting. Then, if the beginning of the next month - Rosh Chodesh Kislev - arrived and still no rain in sight, then the community starts fasting. Thank G-d, it already started raining this season, which is thanks to a lot of good Jews doing the right things.

In earlier times, when Jews were expected to be on a much higher spiritual level but didn't behave accordingly, famines were not that uncommon. During one such year when it close to the month of Nissan when the rains in Israel are just about over, when it hadn't rained the winter season up to this point in time, the Jews were desperate and turned to a righteous and learned sage named Choni HaMeagel. He is called HaMeagel which literally means the one who makes circles, because in his prayers in which he pleaded with Hashem to send rain, he made a circle around himself and swore that he would not leave the circle until rain would come. As the story continues as recounted in Mishna Ta'anit 3:8, the rain finally came.

Speaking of circles, the letter of the Alef Beit that corresponds to the month of Kislev is Samech, which is the roundest of the Hebrew letters, and unlike all the other letters (except for the Mem Sophit/Final Mem), it is the only one in which there is a hole that is completely surrounded. We also see that the Mazel/constellation for this month is the Keshet/rainbow, and Hashem's speaking to Noah about His promise that He will never bring a flood for the whole world again which would be demonstrated by having a rainbow appeared took place in the beginning of Kislev which was shortly after everyone left the Ark a mere few days earlier. In any case, the rainbow has a circular appearance, in part resembling the round Samech.

With this said, perhaps there must be some kind of connection between the concept of circles, rain, and the month of Kislev, especially since we see that this month is represented by the circular letter Samech. And if there any connection, what is this supposed to teach us?

For this, we now refer to the Babylonian Talmud on Tractate Ta'anit which mentions another story of Choni Ha'Meagel. It is obvious that the origins of the Rip Van Winkle story comes from this original story, but let us recount the real story that took place.

As I promised, this is where Psalm 126 kicks in. You see, it all started when Choni HaMeagel had a question on the first verse of this Psalm - "A Song of Ascents: When Hashem will return the captives of Zion, we will be like dreamers". He wondered: "Is it possible to sleep for 70 years with one continous dream?" Now, the reason he noted 70 years is because there were 70 years to the Babylonian exile (although this verse/psalm also refers to the future Redemption). While he was thinking about this, he met someone who was planting a carob tree, and when Choni asked him how long it will take to grow, the guy told him that it would take 70 years, and that just like his ancestors planted carob trees for him, so he was also doing for his descendants after he would no longer live. The next thing Choni knows, he wakes up after 70 years of sleep, and then met the grandson of the guy who planted the carob tree 70 years earlier who was picking carobs off the tree at that very moment. Following this, since no one knew who he was or believed his story that he slept for 70 years, he realized that he could not go on living like this, and so he asked Hashem to take away his life and then he passed away.

While Hashem can do anything, some may doubt that the literal meaning of the story took place. After all, not all the Aggadic stories in the Talmud necessarily happened literally, but they can mean some spiritual, figurative meaning for us to learn from. In fact, not all the Biblical stories that we read in the Tanach necessarily happened either, such as where Hashem tells the prophet Ezekiel to revive the dead bones of a group of Jews that attempted to leave Egypt 30 years earlier before the Exodus. Some say that this was only a dream that Ezekiel had. In fact, believe it or not, but the Rambam/Maimonides believes that the story in the beginning of Parshat Vayeira of the encounter of the three angels coming to Abraham for a meal was only a dream that Abraham had, no less of a dream than the dream that the Torah explicitly states that Jacob had at the beginning of this week's Parshat Vayeitzei.

Whether this last story of Choni Hameagel was literally for real or was only a dream that he had, what is true is the Torah lesson that we can learn from this recounting.
The 70 years that Choni called a dream in fact echoes another part of the Psalms (90:10): "The days of our years in them are 70 years...", which is given as the average lifespan of mankind, which was also how long King David, composer of the Book of Psalms, lived. The point that Psalm 90 makes is that our lifespan is very short and that we need to make the best of it, and realize that this world is temporary and full of vanities, and only realizing our purpose in life and following in suit will make our lives worthwhile.

The problem with most people is that they live confused lives and don't realize what the real purpose of life is about, truly living a DREAM life. Perhaps some with religion will have a better answer for this, but it seems that even a good percentage of these people don't follow through with what they learned in the Bible and all. And even when it comes to acquiring materialistic items in life, so many have dreams of "having it all," but don't accomplish having the temporary "American Dream," and even when it seems that they have it all, this is quite often challenged by a change in the economy, losing one's dream job, divorce, loss of health, etc.

It is significant that there were 70 years to the Babylonian exile. You see, the word Bavel/Babylonia comes from the word Mevulbal "mixed up". Very unfortunately, most people are mixed up with what really counts in their average lifespan of 70 years, and for all practical purposes, are dreaming of a reality that does not exist.
They have no concept of why they were created, of why they are living, and if they are not atheists, virtually all of them think that they are going to Heaven for what they supposedly did right, forgetting all the wrong things that they did during their lifetime that they did not make amends for if they even realize or remember what they did wrong.

The Babylonian exile followed a long stretch of Jewish history of Jews living in Israel for 850 years. The reason why they became exiled from the Holy Land to begin with is because they were mixed up and confused of how they were supposed to live as Jews. They took it for granted that everything would be O.K., even as the prophet Jeremiah kept warning them of the doom that would take place if they would not better their deeds. They were truly living a false dream of a life in which they did things the way that they wanted to do them, regardless of how much this went against what Hashem said, even as Hashem explicitly warns us in the Torah time and again that if we don't follow His laws, then consequences, including exile, would take place.

And so, it only made sense that the Babylonian exile would consist of 70 years, to teach us that Babylonia was not our land and living there as Jews was for all practical purposes - a dream that Jews can live there in holiness just like in Israel but in reality could not be true, reminding the Jews that they could not continue behaving in this fashion, and it was only after 70 years that the Jews had a rebuilt Temple once more, showing that they are only living at home when they are both near the environs of the Holy Temple AND following the laws as Jews connecting ourselves to the holiness of the Temple.

It would seem a bit ironic that the main Talmud that Jews learn is called the Talmud Bavli/Babylonian Talmud, which includes this last story of Choni HaMeagel (Ta'anit 23a). It is true that this Talmud was composed in Babylonia, and was hence named as such. In another way of looking at this, perhaps we can read this as "Talmud for the confused", for unless we learn the meat of Torah learning, which is the Gemara/Talmud, we will remain confused about what the Torah teaches us, and even if we know all the laws of the Mishna, Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law, without knowing the Talmud, we will be at a loss as to where these laws stem from, or what they are based on. You see, without understanding what a Halacha/Jewish Law is based on, there is no way that someone who is "basically observant" without being knowledgable of the give and take arguments and reasonings of the Talmud will be able to come decide what the Jewish Law is, for the Talmud gives the reasons and sources for these laws.

It is the Talmud, especially the Babylonian Talmud, that gave reason for a Jew's existance in the Shteitel towns of Europe, mostly living in poverty, long after its composition a few hundred years after the Roman exile. It is the Talmud that especially demonstrates that the Torah/Bible was not a man made script, but a Divinely given set of laws which is interpreted by the teachings of the Talmud, the Oral Law, showing how Hashem was precise in His wording to teach a particular lesson or nuance. It is the Talmud which is "our life and the length of our days" both in this world and in the next, realizing that a material lifestyle doesn't quite fit in a Torah way of life except to the extent that is needed to maintain our health and the means to be able to observe the Mitzvot/Commandments.

Related to the letter Samech, there are 60 tractates of the Mishna, the foundation of the Oral Law (actually, we have them divided today as 63 due to technicalities), and Samech has the numerical value of 60. In this physical world, both beans and eggs are round objects, which are eaten by mourners as their first meal following the burial of their close relative. This is learned out from Parshat Toldot that we just read on Shabbat where Jacob served beans to Esau as on that day, their grandfather Abraham passed away, and so the meal of the day in the home of Isaac was beans. The reason for eating their circular types of foods is to remind us that life goes around in a circle - from birth to death, from riches to poverty. The world spins around, it is a new generation, and who was rich or poor in one generation may lead to descendants with the opposite financial circumstances, for life and wealth are not permanent fixtures in this world, and will change hands and families.

Hence, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the beginning of the month that is represented by the circular letter Samech, all Jews would fast for the lack of rain. The Hebrew word used for congregation is Tzibur, which is an acronym for the words Tzadikim Beinonim V'Reshaim - righteous, average, and wicked people. ALL SPECTRUM OF JEWS had to be aware that we must start getting together as a nation and do the right thing, and not just like indivuduals, as the individuals who started fasting on the 17th of Cheshvan, represented by the fact that only a few individuals were righteous enough to be spared from the Flood - which was Noah and his family, which begin on this date.

And so, Choni made the circle around himself, as if to say that even if there were wicked people among the Jews, and it is true that they need to repent of their evil deeds, but since part of the Tzibbur also consists of righteous people, he reasoned that it was only right to bring the rain in the merit of these people, for unless everyone would be evil, it would seem to be unfair to continue hurting the righteous ones among the Jewish nation, since the Tzibbur consists of one unit, and so it would not be fair to punish the righteous because of the wicked. It is this circle that marks the totality and completeness of the Jewish people, and instead of claiming that there are only individual righteous people, it would be much more fair to say that there are only individual wicked people, and hence, the circle of life should not be broken because of a few rotten individuals.

At this point, it would be most interesting to point out that both the word Toldot - the name of this last week's Parsha, and Ta'anit - the name of the tractate about rains, both begin and end with the letter Tav/Sav. But more than just this, these sections of the Chumash & Mishna/Talmud respectively have connections with each other.

Let's note the word Ta'anit, which means fast, such as not eating. To note, this word is the Gematria of 930 years, and as we know, Adam lived for 930 years. Originally, he was not supposed to have died had it not been for the sin of the forbidden fruit, so his life was shortened to 1,000 years, from which he gave 70 years of these to King David. As a result of his sin, he both separated from his wife and fasted for 130 years. The three middle letters of the word Ta'anit, which spells the word Ahni/poor person, make up the Gematria of 130, hinting to the fact that Adam considered himself as a poor person without the pleasures of physical life to atone for the sin that he committed.

Now, take the word Toldot, which means generations. Now, all of mankind are generations/descendants of Adam & Eve. The three middle letters of this word spell the word Vlad, which means child or embryo, having the Gematria of 40, and indeed, it takes 40 days for an embryo to be formed. The reason given for why there were specifically 40 days of the Flood is because Hashem so to speak was forced to give life to embryos from illicit unions as they take 40 days to be formed. Moreover, for certain sins, the atonement mentioned for these are 40 days of fasting; perhaps reminiscent of Moses' not eating for 40 days and nights at a time on Mt. Sinai.

In both sources of Parshat Toldot & Masechet Ta'anit, the concept of mourning is mentioned; in Parshat Toldot - as I wrote earlier pertaining to the passing of Abraham, and the fourth chapter of Ta'anit mentions the mourning for the saddest day of the year - Tisha B'Av, the date on which both Temples got destroyed accompanied with Babylonian & Roman exiles. In fact, when Esau requested Jacob to give him the beans, he asked "Dump into me this reddish food...therefore his name was called Edom", meaning, that Esau's family in the future became the Edomite nation. However, the English hardly does justice as for the translation; for in fact, the word Ha'adom "the red" in describing the beans is written twice in a row, indicating a double aspect of red. Now, the beauty of the Hebrew language is that in contrast to English in which some of the letters are vowels themselves, the vowels are separate from letters in Hebrew; hence, words without vowels can be read as different words at times. In this particular instance, one can read this word twice as Ha'Adam - the man or the Adam. It seems that the reason for this repetition of word is to hint to Adam, whose sin caused himself and the world to go into mourning, for now death was decreed upon the world.

We see that following his sin, Hashem appeared to him, and as the verse states "Hashem G-d called to HA'ADAM (the man) and said to him AYEKA" (Genesis 3:9 - Note: In Hebrew, the chapter and verse number here, when put together, reads the word Get/divorce, for in fact, Hashem divorced mankind from the Garden of Eden following the forbidden fruit sin, just as Hashem divorced us out of our land upon the destruction of the Temple). Now, note that I did not immediately translate this last word of the verse. You see, while it may literally means "Where have you been?" this is not a mere physical concept of place, but a spiritual concept of place, indicating that Adam had a major spiritual fall with the sin. In fact, one again, just as the word Ha'adom can be read without vowels to also read Ha'adam, as indeed the exact word in this verse in Genesis, the word Ayeka can also be read as different vowels to read Eicha - "How...", the beginning word of the book in Tanach that is also the name of this book that is read on the night of Tisha B'Av, the national day of mourning, the date marking the destruction of both Temples by Babylonia and Rome - the latter which is called Edom in Scriptures. Hence, there is a parallel connection here between the sin of HA'ADAM & the destruction of the second Temple by HA'ADOM/EDOM, as Edom is a nation descendant from Esau who was born as Admoni/reddish. And it was these reddish beans that were cooked by Jacob in a state of mourning, the death of Abraham being the bridgepoint between the decree of death on mankind and the destruction of the Second Temple by Edom.

The good news here is that King David & his descendant the Messiah are the rectifications for these sins. First to note, the letters of Adam's name are the acronym for Adam, David & Moshiach. By Adam giving 70 years of his original slated 1,000 years of life to King David, this gave him the power to help with Adam's rectification. In fact, King David just like Esau was born with a reddish complexion, resembling the sinful desires of the body. However, the difference is that while Esau did not control his desires, King David did. And even when he had a temporary lapse of this when it came to his strong sexual urges for Bath Sheba, he repented to such a degree that his fasting conquered his evil inclination for sexual temptations.

In time, King David merited to have the Messiah descend from him, and as mentioned by the Rambam/Maimonides, the Messiah is descended from his son King Solomon, which means that he is descended from Bath-Sheba; for in fact, King David's extreme sexual urge for Bath-Sheba became the springboard for his total repentance in the away of sexual temptations. And as based on holy sources, the United States is the Edom of today, and as we see, there are in fact 51 states in the U.S., for Washington D.C. as the capitol is an area of its own that is not included in the "fifty states", and the word Edom is the Gematria of 51. This is aside from the verse about the reddish beans that are described with the repetitive word Ha'Adom which is the Gematria of 50, bearing in mind that generally, the United States is referred to as having fifty states, and as this verse concludes "therefore, his name was called Edom." So indeed, Moshiach will be coming shortly at the end of the exile of Edom which began as Rome and ending as the United States, the current world power as Rome was at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.

In connection to Jerusalem, the antithesis of Edom, we are currently in the midst of the 45th year from the liberation of Jerusalem - particularly the part of Jerusalem that includes the Holy Temple grounds, and the name Adam is the Gematria of 45, bearing in mind as to what the Midrash notes, Hashem created the head of Adam from the area of the Holy Temple grounds. And as we see the word for red(dish) mentioned in the verse Ha'Adom, without the prefix of the letter Hei, the word Adom being spelled as the same letters as Adam is the Gematria of 45, and as connected with Edom as mentioned at the end of this verse.

Yes, there will come a time that our DREAM OF A LIFETIME - the arrival of the Redemption, rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and Resurrection of the dead - will finally come to fruition. As per the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, we have a verse that also hints to the concept of 70 - "For EYE TO EYE - Ayin B'Ayin - will they see when Hashem returns to Zion", for the letter Ayin is the numerical value of 70. And as for the concept of a circle that in this physical world, denoting change in the sense of changing hands as people do not live forever in this world the way that it is created until the time of the Resurrection, we see that in the future, the concept of a circle will represent Eternity, as the conclusion of the Babylonian Talmud on Tractate Ta'anit states:

"Ulla Bira'ah said in the name of Rabbi Elazar: In the future, the Holy One Blessed Be He will make a circle for the righteous, and He will sit between them in Gan Eden, and every one of the righteous ones will point his finger towards Him, as it says: "He will say on that day: Behold (Note: In Hebrew - the word is Hinei which is the Gematria of 60, perhaps hinting to the concept of a circle which is resembled by the circular letter Samech that has the numerical value of 60) this is our G-d, we had hoped for Him and He has saved us, this is Hashem to Whom we had hoped, let us exalt and rejoice in His salvation." Amen.

Motzoei Shabbat Parshat Toldot/Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5772