Saturday, January 15, 2011

#96 - The SHOFAR of Today

Even someone of a limited Jewish background who attends High Holiday services will know what the word Shofar means. Certainly, writing here about the Shofar at this time of year when it's not the High Holiday season may raise eyebrows, just like I wrote about Purim in my previous post, though it is true that Purim is the next major holiday following Tu B'Shevat - the Jewish New Year for trees - in a few days. For those who will be reading the Parsha of this week - Parshat Yitro - will realize before long that the word Shofar is in fact mentioned in this Parsha, but this is not my immediate reason for writing about the Shofar, though it is most connected with my original reason for writing about it today.

But first, I must mention that today - 11 Shevat - is the birthday of one of our most mentioned rabbis of our Gematriot post - known most popularly as the Chofetz Chaim, who hardly needs any introduction here. In fact, I have written in the past two years around the time of his Yahrzeit of 24 Elul of this legendary rabbi. But this year, his birthday of 11 Shevat has an added significance.

It has to do with the the Sefer/Jewish holy book whose title Chofetz Chaim gave him this nickname, for a lack of better wording. As with many works of Jewish learning, there are schedules for learning a piece of such Sefarim/Jewish holy books on any particular day. Among the most popular of these is the daily/weekly learning of the Parsha of the week - which is the Five Books of Moses, and the Daf Yomi schedule of learning a Daf/double sided page of the Babylonian Talmud, instituted by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a contemporary of the Chofetz Chaim who very much praised Rabbi Shapiro's innovation. And speaking of birthdays, both Moses & Rabbi Shapiro were born on 7 Adar. Coincidence? I hardly doubt that - this is nothing short of Hashem's Hashgacha Peratit/Divine Providence.

O.K., so let me get to the point here, the Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which is a compilation of the laws of forbidden speech, mostly involving speaking badly about another Jew or Jews to others, is also apportioned for daily learning. Unlike most other Jewish works that take a year or longer to learn - the Chumash is a yearly thing and the Daf Yomi takes over seven years - this Sefer is divided up to be learned three times a year.

Now, for a regular Jewish calendar year consisting of 12 months, it is divided up accordingly beginning with the Rosh Chodesh or first of the months of Tishrei, Shevat, and Sivan. However, for a leap year consisting of 13 months, such as this year, it is divided up a little more finely. This means that this year, the second cycle of the year does not begin on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, but on...the 11th of Shevat - the birthday of the Chofetz Chaim!

I would be remiss here if I would not mention who the rabbi behind this institution is. His name is Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, may the righteous be for a blessed memory, who passed away on 22 Shevat 5753 (1993). Having met the Chofetz Chaim in his youth, he was most impressed by him, and would later be the cause latter for this rabbi to institute a daily learning session from this Sefer, which began with his students of the Yeshiva that he was the head of. Today, this is a worldwide thing, and one can learn this for free over the internet, including audio and daily E-mails. (Check out for details on this). He requested that in being buried, that he should be buried with a calendar of the Chofetz Chaim learning schedule, as his ticket to Heaven.

Anyways, I would like to mention the very beginning of this Sefer, which we begin learning anew today on the Chofetz Chaim's birthday. He begins with the words Baruch Hashem Elokei Yisrael - "Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Israel" (Note: The Chofetz Chaim's Hebrew name is Yisrael Meir), continuing with stating that Hashem separated us from the other nations, gave us His Torah, and entered us into the Holy Land in order to merit to fulfull all His commandments. He then proceeds about our later Jewish history in which the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of Sinat Chinam/baseless hatred, which included the sin of Lashon Hara/evil speech about others.

Now, if one were to count the amount of times in the Chumash that the first two words that the Chofetz Chaim writes - Baruch Hashem "Blessed is Hashem" is mentioned, there are exactly five mentions of this phrase. The fifth and final time that this is mentioned in the Chumash is in the first Aliyah of this very week's Parshat Yitro (which is learned by many on the first day of the week), coinciding with 11 Shevat, the very day that we begin learning the Chofetz Chaim's work beginning with these very words! In the context of the Parsha, Yitro/Jethro, Moses' father-in-law who converted to Judaism, thanks Hashem for saving the Jews from Egypt & Pharaoh.

On a personal note, as the first four words of the Chofetz Chaim's work is Baruch Hashem Elokei Yisrael, this phrase can be found in the Tanach/Bible (not mentioned once in the Chumash) eight times. Among these times is the beginning of the final verse of Psalms 41 - Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Israel, from (this) world to (the next) world, Amen & Amen. The reason why I say on a personal note, is because I am presently in my 41st year, and there is a custom among many Jews to say the number chapter of Psalms corresponding to one's age.

Of course, this should be of no big surprise. The very phrase Chofetz Chaim comes from Psalms 34:13 "Who is the person WHO WANTS LIFE, who loves years to see good" Continuing into the next verse "Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceitfully". In fact, I will dare say that the birthdate of the Chofetz Chaim is hinted in this very verse (34:13) - The Hebrew begins Mi HaIsh HeChofetz Chaim. The letters of the word Ish/person - Aleph, Yud, Shin - begin the words of the date of 11 Shevat like this: Yud Aleph Shevat. Hence, these verses can in fact read something like this - "Who is the Chofetz Chaim who was born on 11 Shevat? He is someone who loved years to see good. His message was "Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceitfully"". Indeed, the Chofetz Chaim lived into his mid nineties. He was born in 5598 (1838) and he passed away on 24 Elul 5693 (1933), who lived as a prime example of someone who was most careful with his speech, and lived a long life. It would not have looked good for the one who lived and preached the laws of the Sefer that he compiled not to have lived a long life, even in this world. As you can see, he lived into his 96th year - and this is my 96th Post!

Also, as per Psalm 41, there seems to be another hint to the Chofetz Chaim as per his birthdate and compositions. Verse three begins - Hashem Yishmerahu Vichayehu VeUshar Ba'aretz "May Hashem protect him (the poor person) and allow him life and be fortunate on earth..." The Hebrew word VeUshar "AND be fortunate" is actually spelled in the text beginning with a Yud instead of a Vav; however, as with many other words in the Tanach, they are written one way and read another. Of course, there is a reason for each one of these. In this case, the reason for this word in this fashion seems to be in order to hint to the Chofetz Chaim. You see, when spelled beginning with a Yud, the first three letters of this word begin the words for the birthdate of the Chofetz Chaim, like this - Yud Alef (the numbers in order to spell the number 11) Shin - Shevat; however, linguistically, it only makes sense to pronounce this word beginning with a Vav instead of a Yud. Now, looking at the previous two words, they are similar to the titles of the Chofetz Chaim's two main words on the prohibition of Lashon Hara - Shemirat HaLashon "Guarding the Tongue" & Chofetz Chaim "Wants life". A mere coincidence here?

At this point, I would like to mention that there is a story about the Chofetz Chaim when he was given his late mother's Tehillim/Book of Psalms. Crying emotionally, he remarked to the one or to those present, "Do you know how many tears my mother shed into this Book of Psalms to have a son who would grow up to be a good Torah Jew?" Her tears and prayers of the Book of Psalms no doubt had a most literal answer from Hashem - her son would write the Sefer Chofetz Chaim named after a phrase from the very book that she prayed from!

O.K., this is all very nice, but what this have to do with a Shofar, other than the fact that the Shofar is also mentioned in this Parshat Yitro?

Ah, so this is where Gematria comes into play here. Indeed, the phrase Sefer Chafetz Chaim has the same Gematria as the word Shofar - 586! Shocking, isn't it? On an incidental note, the first of the three times that the Sefer Chofetz Chayim is learned begins on Rosh Hashanah, the holiday on which we blow the Shofar. Now, think about it for a minute - the sin of Lashon Hara, which involves the mouth, is in the long run the worst sin, as our Rabbis tell us, because first of all, EVERY SINGLE WORD of Lashon Hara is another sin, just like EVERY SINGLE WORD of Torah - the Mitzvah that is equal to all the other Mitzvot of the Torah - is another Mitzvah. Actually to say that every word of Lashon Hora is another sin is an understatement. You see, the Chofetz Chaim mentions that one can violate up to 14 Negative Commandments and 14 Positive Commandments for EVERY SINGLE WORD of Lashon Hara, equaling a total of up to 31 Commandments that could be violated for every single word of Lashon Hara. Imagine how someone who absentmindedly can committ hundreds if not thousands of sins in one short conversation! Quite scary indeed.

Now, there are quite a few commandments that can be performed by mouth besides the Mitzvah of Torah learning. The Mitzvot of reading the Shema, prayer, grace after meals, recounting the story of the Exodus on the Seder night, counting the Omer, etc.
Now, blowing the Shofar, though it does not involve speech, it does involve using the mouth. And this Mitzvah of blowing the Shofar is actually related to another Mitzvah - the commandment of Teshuvah/repentance, as the Shofar is supposed to arouse us to repent.

And so, the Shofar is mentioned in this Parsha in the context of Hashem sounding the Shofar as the signal for the Jews to arrive at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. However, if one looks at the three mentions of the word Shofar in this Parsha, it is not in fact spelled as the usual spelling of Shofar with the letters - Shin, Vav, Fei, Reish - because in this Parsha, it is spelled without the letter Vav. So, how come is it spelled without a Vav here, if the usual spelling is with a Vav, or is it?

Actually, there is exactly one place in the Chumash that the word Shofar is spelled in full (spelled twice as such in the same verse). This is located in Leviticus 25:9 "You shall sound the Shofar of Teruah on the seventh month on the 10th of the month, on Yom Kippur, you shall sound the Shofar in all your land". This is the 332nd Mitzvah of the Torah to sound the Shofar on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year, the 50th year following seven cycles of six years work and one year rest from agricultural work on the land of Israel. I had mentioned this particular Mitzvah in my 83rd Post (Sep '10) as the daily Mitzvah to be learned for this very past Yom Kippur!

Is there in fact a connection between the blowing of the Shofar in this week's Parshat Yitro & the Mitzvah of blowing the Shofar on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year mentioned in Parshat Behar Sinai (literally means "On Mt. Sinai", though the usual name of the Parsha is just the word Behar, but I mentioned Sinai here because this was the mountain on which we received the Torah as mentioned in our week's Parshat Yitro)?

Besides the fact of the connection about Mt. Sinai as I mentioned in parenthesis, I would like to point out to something that the Chofetz Chaim mentioned in the beginning of his work. As I wrote a few minutes earlier "(Hashem) entered us into the Holy Land in order to merit to fulfull all His commandments." With this being said, though the ultimately stage of spirituality had yet to be fulfilled - the Holy Temple, we did have the Tabernacle which served the same basic functions. However, in terms of the wholeness of the Land of Israel, it was this very act of blowing the Shofar on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year that was the final Mitzvah relating directly to the Land of Israel that was fulfilled for the first ever since the Torah was given. This took place in the Hebrew year 2552, over a hundred years since the Torah was given (the Torah was given in the year 2448). The point that I want to make here is that even though the Torah, upon which the world's existance depended upon for the Jews to accept for nearly 2,450 years; yet, it is only with the mention of the final Mitzvah that took place relating to the land of Israel that the Jews were commanded to settle in that the word Shofar is spelled with a Vav, and not once, but twice in the same verse - the only such spelling of the word Shofar in the entire Torah - to teach us that we are not complete with learning Torah except in the land of Israel. The repetition of the word Shofar with the full spelling in this verse emphasizes this concept. (NOTE: The Mitzvah of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah as mentioned in Parshat Pinchas ironically does not even mention the word Shofar!)

Anyone who is honest about what it says in the Torah, it is very clear that not only are we Jews supposed to live in Israel, but that the ultimate purpose of living in Israel is to fulfill ALL the Mitzvot of the Torah, which is not possible outside of Israel, as there are many commandments related not only to the agricultural land, but also all the commandments related to the Temple services and offerings.

And while the Chofetz Chaim never wound up even visiting Israel, though at one point in his life, he attempted to do so, but things happened beyond his control preventing him from traveling, it must be remembered that the Chofetz Chaim, like so many great rabbis before him who never stepped foot in Israel either living in the poor towns of Europe, he accomplished tremendous good for the Jewish people, and much of the results of his righteous life, learning, and writing Sefarim have a tremendous impact in the Holy Land today. However, he was a very strong believer in the possible coming of the Messiah in his days, and towards this, he promoted the learning about the Temple service and offerings, so that if the Messiah were to come anytime soon, the Jewish people, especially the Cohanim such as himself, would be prepared to know all the laws they would need to know once the Messiah would come and the Temple would be rebuilt.

Now, there is in fact another very significant word that has the same Gematria as Sefer Chofetz Chaim & Shofar - Yerushalayim! While in English, Jerusalem is always spelled the same way, except for five places in the Tanach, the Hebrew word Yerushalayim is spelled as such without a second Yud - 664 times - making this word to be the same Gematria of 586.

Well, being that Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel, it should be noted that during Temple times when the Jubilee year was in effect, the Shofar was blown by the great Sanhedrin/Jewish court which was located in a section of the Temple in Jerusalem, noting the same Gematria between the words Shofar & Yerushalayim. And as the Chofetz Chaim notes in today's portion of his work, the Temple - which was in Jerusalem - was
destroyed as a result of Lashon Hara.

I should note that in recent times, though the Temple has yet to be rebuilt, there was a tremendous miracle pertaining to the Temple area - the holiest area in the world. On 28 Iyar, 5727 (1967), the Temple Mount & Western Wall areas became available to Jews once again after 19 years of being in the hands of our Arab enemies. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, as a paratrooper at the time, blew the Shofar to announce that the "Temple Mount is in our hands". This day, which became Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day, was a day of great rejoicing among the Jewish people. Even those of the very religious sector of Jews who don't believe in celebrating Yom Ha'Atzmaut "Independence Day" of Israel, do not have an aversion to this day for the most part.

In any case, it should be noted that it was in this very year of 5727 that Rabbi Segal started a learning session of the Sefer Chofetz Chaim among his Yeshiva students (though then, it was arranged to be learned once a year, it would only be official later among worldwide Jewry of learning this three times a year). Also, the portion of learning of the Sefer Chofetz Chaim for Yom Kippur (both in a regular & leap year), the beginning of the Prohibitions violated for speaking Lashon Hora, is the same portion that is learned on 28 Iyar when it falls out on a leap year, the same way that 28 Iyar on which the miracle of the return of the holiest areas in the world to the Jewish people, the owners of this and all of Israel, occured on a leap year, when the Shofar was blown for this announcment; just as the Shofar was blown on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year which was the offical announcment for land in Israel that was purchased at one point had to be returned to its original owner. Truly amazing!

Now, there is in fact another Sefer that is also the Gematria of Yerushalayim - Sefer Devarim/Deutronomy. Now mind you, I did not say the same Gematria as Shofar or Sefer Chofetz Chaim. In this case, the phrase Sefer Devarim being the Gematria of 596, Yerushalayim is also the Gematria of 596 when there is a second Yud in the word.

So in short, Yerushalayim without a second Yud has the same Gematria as "Sefer Chofetz Chaim", and Yerushalayim with a second Yud has the same Gematria as "Sefer Devarim". So the question can be asked, is there in fact a special connection between the Sefarim of Deutronomy & Chofetz Chaim?

In fact, Sefer Devarim begins with the words Eileh HaDevarim - "These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel..." There is in fact mentioned that the first word Eileh - using the letters Aleph, Lamed, Hei - begin the words Avak Lashon Hara - "dust of evil speech" referring to a situation where for example, one says to someone looking for a place to eat that Mr. Fresser always has food to eat, saying it in such a way making the guy look bad for being too much into food. Though one may have accomplished helping someone finding a place to eat, he is spoiling such a Mitzvah by saying something that sounds derogatory about another Jew. Certainly, there is a better way of putting it, by presenting the householder as someone who has guests over (with this also, caution has to be taken for the nice guy not to have countless people showing up at his door at one shot).

Well, I thought of something similar. You see, the Aleph of the first word Eileh can begin a different word Issur/prohibition, that is Issur Lashon Hara - "Prohibition of Lashon Hara". Certainly, this was the number one issue in Moses' mind. The proof, it was thanks to the Lashon Hara of the Spies about the Land of Israel (mentioned in the learning portion of Chofetz Chaim for the following day) that the Jews were delayed in the desert from coming to Israel for almost 40 years. He wasted no time in the very first chapter of Deutromony speaking about this incident.

And so, there is a very strong connection between the Book of Deutronomy and the Jewish holy book called Chofetz Chaim - also having to do with the word Yerushalayim being spelled two different ways in terms of Gematria. But additionally, the date as mentioned in the beginning of Deutronomy that Moses spoke to the Jews as his final round of sermons for the following 36 days until his passing was on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the very same date that the Sefer Chofetz Chaim is learned anew for the second time in a regular Jewish calendar year of 12 months. Certainly, there is no shortage of Divine revelations here.

And speaking of the letter Aleph, the birthdate of the Chofetz Chaim is 11 (Yud Aleph) Shevat. The Gematria of the name of the month of Shevat is 311, ending with 11 as is the number of the date. And the Book of Deutronomy begins with Moses speaking to the Jews on the "first day of the 11th month", and this final book of the Chumash consists of 11 Parshiyot. Now, just focusing on the last number of 311, as the letters Shin (300), Yud (10), Aleph (1), we also see the date of the month, the 11th of Shevat - as the letters Yud & Aleph. And this Hebrew year is 5771 - which is Hey (5,000), Tav (400), Shin (300), Ayin (70), Aleph (1), hence this year ending with an Aleph. So thus, this year's birthdate of the Chofetz Chaim in essence ends with an Aleph - directly or through Gematria - three times! (Note: This is the very first time since the thrice-a-year worldwide learning of the Sefer Chofetz Chaim that the Hebrew year ending with an Aleph is a leap year in which the learning of this Sefer begins on 11 Shevat - the birthday of the Chofetz Chaim!)

If this was not enough, both Hebrew names of the Chofetz Chaim - Yisrael Meir, as well as the two names of his father - Aryeh Ze'ev - ALL consist of the letter Aleph!

And among the numerous compositions of the Chofetz Chaim, one that begins with the letter Aleph is called Ahavat Chesed "Love of Kindness", this phrase which is also borrowed from the Tanach (Micha 6:8). This other Sefer of the Chofetz Chaim has also been divided up to learn three times yearly; and hence, the portion of learning for today - 11 Shevat, birthday of the Chofetz Chaim - is also the beginning of this Sefer.

And speaking of using Gematriot to include the word Sefer/book as part of the phrase of the name of a Sefer, the following may be even more incredible that want I wrote earlier here. Hold on to your seat for this one - the phrase Sefer Ahavat Chesed shares the same Gematria as a most popular phrase and Mitzvah in the Torah - V'Ahavta L'Reicha Camocha "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) - 820! What I believe the ultimate punchline here is that it is not merely doing kindness in itself that shows love for another, for even a cold hearted doctor may do a few deeds of "kindness" in a show pretending that he cares for his patients when the only thing that he is thinking of is the big dollar sign. It is LOVING kindness, and if one is doing a favor for another simply due to his love and care for him/her, then it can truly be said that such a person LOVES to do kindness - at least for that individual.

One such person who could be described as a living loving kindness was Bernard Hochstein, may his name be for a blessing, who passed away a couple of years ago at the ripe age of 96 (and this is my 96th Post). He believed what the Torah tells us that if one gives charity, one can get back up to ten times as much as one gives - the one thing that we are permitted to test Hashem on. There are incredible stories of this happening to him, who became quite wealthy from the business that he started and ran until he sold it and moved to Israel where he lived for the last 34 years of his life. But it didn't just stop with his huge contributions to Jewish institutions and poor people. He believed that one should also be involved in the organizations that one supports.
To note, the famous outreach program & Yeshiva Aish HaTorah is only where it is at financially today thanks to this individual, who saw to it that this organization would have a building facing the Kotel/Western Wall. Another significant contribution that he had done during his lifetime, as mentioned in the Sefer Ahavat Chesed, was setting up a loan Gemach, that is, a fund for people to borrow money from (of course interest free as per the Torah's instructions) which is based in Jerusalem, regardless of how "religious" or not any Jew is, and is not asked any questions pertaining to his/her finances, only requiring one to own and bring in his/her credit card. For more on this individual, check this link -

And speaking of Aish HaTorah, today would be a prime day to write about the founder of this amazing institution - Rabbi Noah Weinberg, may the name of the righteous be for a blessing. You see, today - 11 Shevat - is his 2nd Yahrzeit, who passed away just a few months after his main philanthropist Mr. Hochstein passed away. Just as the Chofetz Chaim who was born on this date worked on various ways on bringing Jews closer to the Torah/Judaism, so was Rabbi Weinberg intent on doing just this, especially at a time that this was not popular or believed that it could happen that Jews who were totally non-observant and unlearned about Judaism would be willing to make the change. He was truly a pioneer of bringing Jews closer to their heritage in his days when few others cared to do the same. I believe that it is hardly coincidental that he passed away on the same date as the birthdate of the Chofetz Chaim.

Now, before continuing on with a word in this week's Parsha that begins with an Aleph, this is the one letter in the Aleph Beit that is a silent letter - that is, it does not have a sound to it. (NOTE: Though most of us do not have a sound for the letter Ayin either, in fact, this letter has a sounding, which Yemenite Jews seem to have a grasp on, but it had been lost for most Jews due to a change of accent based on the climate of where they were living - probably somewhere outside of Israel). From the fact that the Aleph - the silent letter - is the FIRST of the letters, we can learn a very valuable lesson. BEFORE we begin speaking in a conversation with someone else, FIRST we need to be SILENT and think of what we will say BEFORE saying it. All too often, problems occur when we say something so to speak absentmindedly, while in the meantime, we have either hurt the feelings of the one we are speaking to or have spoken Lashon Hara about someone else, or we may have said something from someone who wanted it to be kept a secret.

Isn't it interesting that the name of Megillat Esther which is read on Purim - which is the name of Esther, based on the word for being hidden, begins with an Aleph? We have to keep our thoughts hidden long enough so that we finally speak, our words will not do damage. And speaking of Purim, there was an incident where in the Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim in the town of Radin, his students were having a good time on Purim, but it started leading to saying Lashon Hara. Realizing that the jolly mood of Purim had the students being a little unaware of what they were saying, the Chofetz Chaim calmly told them that even on Purim, one is forbidden to speak Lashon Hara.

Now, in this week's Parshat Yitro, we have a most significant word that begins with the letter Aleph - the very first word of the Aseret HaDibrot/The Ten Commandments - Anochi - "I AM Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery". The Midrash in the beginning of Yalkut Shimoni tells us that when all the other letters attempted to be the first letter of the Torah, and it was the letter Beit that begin the Torah with the word Bereishit (Note: The Sefer Chofetz Chaim also begins with a Beit beginning the word Baruch/Blessed), the Aleph was silent. When Hashem asked it why it was silent, it replied that it is the only letter without a plurism, as Aleph is one, while Beit is two, etc. Hashem replied that just as He Himself is One, so the Aleph being the numerical value of the number one will begin the Aseret HaDibrot, beginning with the word Anochi, which refers to Hashem.

Yes, we have a new beginning here, beginning with the first letter of the Aleph Beit - from the Aseret HaDibrot, the first words of Torah that we received from Hashem at the Giving of the Torah, which literally (and actually) means The 10 Statements/Words beginning with the first letter Aleph - to the final Book of the Torah, Moses' final set of discourses, starting with Eileh HaDevarim - "These are the Words/Statements" that also begins with the first letter Aleph. Now is the time to begin anew, learning the laws about the prohibition of evil speech about other Jews and putting them into practice - bearing in mind that the final word of the Book of Deutronomy, the final word of the Chumash, is the word Yisrael - the first name of the Chofetz Chaim, referring to the Jewish people. It is the last word of the final Parsha of the Torah - V'Zot HaBeracha - "This is the Blessing", which consists of 41 verses, just like the final verse of Psalms Chapter 41 that reads "Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Israel, from (this) world, until the (next) world, Amen and Amen." And as far as the name Meir, the second name of the Chofetz Chaim is concerned, his title by whom he is known as "The Chofetz Chaim" - HaChofetz Chaim - the way it is worded in the verse in Tehillim, indeed shares the same Gematria as his second name Meir - 251!

Indeed, the Sefer Chofetz Chaim is THE SHOFAR OF TODAY - the Jewish book that should arouse us to repent of what is in fact the worst of sins. One meaning of the word Shofar is related to "make improvement/make beautiful". Indeed, instead of putting down other Jews because we think less of them for whatever reason, we should look forward to, if anything, making them sound good, especially with all the Anti-Semitism that surrounds us (which would decrease if we were to decrease the amount of Lashon Hara - and not by forming Jewish-Christian alliances, which is forbidden according to the Torah in any event). And then, when we improve ourselves, Hashem will look to improve our living standards - both physical and spiritual - the latter by rebuilding the true Jerusalem, not as the capitol of the "State of Israel", but as the holiest city in the world where we will have the Temple rebuilt, with no more Arab predators on our holiest spot - the Temple Mount - may it happen speedily in our days.

11 Shevat, 5771 - Birthday of the Chofetz Chaim & day of beginning Sefer Chofetz Chaim according to the schedule of learning this Sefer three times a year; 2nd Yahrzeit of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#95 - HaMan or Haman?

There is a custom among many Jews every year on the third day of the week of Parshat Beshalach to read the section in this Parsha about the manna (Exodus 16:4-36), the heavenly food that the Jews received for 40 years in the desert, reading each verse twice followed by its Targum, the Aramaic translation. This custom claims its origins to a Chasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rimanov.

While we don't dare knock down Jewish customs that don't contradict Jewish law, there have been questions as to if and what this Chasidic Rebbe actually said in terms of declaring this a custom. It is true that he wrote extensively on this portion of the Torah and the general topic of receiving Parnassa, substance from Hashem. There are those who question if he said to follow this custom particularly in the week of Parshat Beshalach, or if he had just mentioned about reciting this part of the Torah which comes from Parshat Beshalach - on Tuesdays - but not that it is recited particularly only in the week that this is read in the Torah. And then of course the question is asked as to why we would read this particularly on a Tuesday, and among other reasons given, this is the day of the week that Hashem brought forth vegetation which is a main healthy staple of people's food intake.

The truth is that it is mentioned in the very first chapter of the Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish law about reciting this section about the manna every day as an expression in one's faith in Hashem who provides sustenance, based on the statement in the Jerusalem Talmud that one should recite this every day to ensure that one's sustenance doesn't get decreased. Though not per se mandatory as other parts of our daily prayers, it doesn't mention anything in the Talmud or Halacha/Jewish Law about reciting this as twice the verse and then once the Aramaic translation. Also, it is not what is called a magic formula for becoming rich. Regardless of one's custom, the main thing is that we have to always remember that while we are supposed to do our part in making a living, it is ultimately Hashem Who runs the show, and it is the section in the Torah about the manna that reminds us of this.

With this being said, it is worthwhile to write about this part in the Torah about a food that was existance for only 40 years, wondering if we will have a chance to have this same food in the future during the Messianic Era. The Talmud in Tractate Ta'anit notes that the manna rained down on the Jewish people in the merit of Moses. In spiritual terms, it was Moses who transmitted to us the ultimate Jewish food - the Torah, and its counterpart in physical terms was this manna.

When did the manna actually begin raining down on a daily basis, except for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays? It was one month after leaving Egypt when the supply of Matzah ran out for the Jews in the desert. Following the Jews' complaint of being left with no food left, Hashem responded that he would start giving them their daily dose of heavenly food.

Perhaps in spiritual terms, it can be said that the manna replaced the Matzot. What I mean by that is that in Hebrew, the plural for Matzah is Matzot, which essentially spells the same letters of the word as Mitzvot - Commandments. In fact, on a play of words, the rabbis learn out a lesson about doing Mitzvot, is that when a Mitzvah comes your way, do not let it ferment, using the same basic Hebrew word for ferment using the word Chametz/leavened food as a verb. While this is a most important lesson about doing Mitzvot, not to delay doing them when the time comes for their performance, what is the special connection of Matzot, about which one of the 613 Mitzvot in the Torah to eat Matzot on the first night of Passover, with the general concept of Mitzvot, just because the two words can be spelled the same way?

While Hashem already commanded the Jews to eat Matzot on that last fateful night for them in Egypt, even naming a whole week of Passover as Chag HaMatzot, the festival of Matzot, the reason for this only became evident during that final night following the death of the Egyptian firstborn when the Egyptians rushed the Jews to leave the country following being enslaved by them for 116 years. As it turned out, the Jews didn't have the luxury time to wait until their baked product would turn into bread, but were finished being baked in a form that didn't allow the yeast to rise.

It is in this spirit that the rabbis want to remind us - based on a play of words - that this whole concept of the Jews eating Matzah on Passover which turned out to be a historical reminder of what happened, that in a similar vein, we are supposed to feel rushed, and not delay doing G-d's commandments. It is true that when actually fulfilling Mitzvot, that we don't rush doing them to get them out of the way as if to fulfill some obligation, and then when finished, to sit at the tube as though nothing happened. This certainly would defeat the whole purpose of doing a Mitzvah. The idea here is to JUST GET STARTED. Hashem, our King, has ordered us to do so many Mitzvot, and whenever they are applicable, not to first of all forget about them, and ultimately, that they should be performed with great joy and dedication to doing Hashem's will.

And so, while the replacement food of the manna was a most heavenly food, about which their body didn't need to get rid of bodily waste as done for other food, Hashem made it clear right from the start that this would test the Jews if they would follow Hashem's Torah or not. There were quite a few things pertaining to this that would separate the men from the boys, if you will. For example, the Jews were not to leave any of it over for the next day, but trust that Hashem would provide them with manna each and every day. On Friday morning, they beheld a double portion of manna, one of the portions to be saved for the next day of the Sabbath, during which it is forbidden to walk beyond a certain distance or carry things outside of the private domain. As it turned out, there were Jews who proved their lack of faith in Hashem in both of these matters.

During the course of this section of the Torah, the Jews did not know what to call this special food, about which the Torah gives it its name - Man(na), based on the fact that the Jews asked one another Man Hu "What is it"? for they didn't what it was.

Now, let's fast forward to the last couple of verses of this Torah section. It states that the Jews ate HaMan "THE MANNA" for 40 years, they ate HaMan "THE MANNA" until they became settled in Israel. And the Omer - the measure of manna per person daily - is one tenth of an Epha.

So for the first time, it is mentioned not once, but twice, calling the manna as THE manna, and in a very unusual deviation in the Torah, it devotes an entire verse, concluding the section about the manna, with a definition for what an Omer is, not including it earlier in mentioning the measure of manna that the Jews received. Is there a connection between these last two verses?

To answer this, we need to know a couple of dates here. Based on tradition, the manna first came down on the 16th of Iyar, the day after the 61 meals of Matzah that the Jews ate from Passover night became finished. And while in fact according to the Rabbis, the last day that the manna actually came down was on 7 Adar in their final year in the desert, the day on which Moses passed away; miraculously, their manna supply would last for over a month, the last day being the first day of Passover that the Jews were celebrating in Israel already. It was on the morning of the second day of Passover - 16 Nissan - that the Jews woke up to the reality that there would be no more manna, but instead, eating of the crops of the land.

Now my friends, as we know, the special barley offering, of which an Omer measure of it was brought in the Temple, was cut in the field on the night of the 16th of Nissan, and then that barley amount, along with animal offerings to mark this Mitzvah
of offering the barley offering, were brought on the following day during the daytime of the 16th of Nissan. Based on this, there is another Mitzvah of what is called counting Sephirah, counting 49 days from the date of 16 Nissan until the holiday of Shavuot. For this Mitzvah, we conclude the blessing "for counting the Omer", and then we state that today is so many days to the Omer.

This is all very nice, but the question that begs to be asked is, why name this Mitzvah, and making part of the Mitzvah, of counting the amount of days using the particular term of Omer, rather than the mention of the barley offering? An Omer is just a name of a measure of something after all, not an actual substance? And then of course another question can be asked, are we really counting the 49 days because we are supposed to remember this particular offering (some say that though there is a Mitzvah in the Torah to count the Sephira, we do it today only as a rabbinical Mitzvah since we presently do not have the Temple where we can bring the offerings), or is it really for the spiritual reason of preparing ourselves for the Torah, which seems to be the real reason because the Jews after leaving Egypt also counted 49 days until they would receive the Torah, showing their preparation for that most unique day in world history in which the world waited nearly 2,450 years for the Torah to be accepted by the Jews?

The answer to all this seems to have surfaced in the times of Mordechai & Esther when the holiday of Purim began. As a result of the Jews enjoying themselves stuffing their face at the feast of the non-Jewish anti-Semitic King Achashverosh, the fate was sealed against them to be destroyed, whose fate seemed to have been sealed thanks to Haman's suggestion to the king, who agreed with him wholeheartedly. In Megillat Esther/Book of Esther, this took place on the 13th of Nissan. Wasting no time, Esther declared a three day fast, which took place from the 14th to the 16th of Nissan. Now as we know, even in the absence of the Temple, anyone who has some sort of Jewish pride has a Passover Seder at least on the night of the 15th of Nissan, when it is in fact a Mitzvah among other Mitzvot of that night to eat Matzot. However, because of the severity of the situation, the first day of Passover was included in this three day fast.

Meanwhile, Haman wasted no time setting up gallows in the luscious garden of his own home with the intention of hanging Mordechai, the big Jew whom he loved to hate. As it turned out, on the night of the 16th of Nissan, which would mark the date that he himself would be hung on his own gallows the following day, he came to King Achashverosh during the middle of the night (how did he know that the king would be awake at that hour?!) with the intention of getting the king's green light to allow Mordechai to be hung. Instead, Haman received orders from the king to honor Mordechai for a past favor that Mordechai did for the king.

Meanwhile, Haman set out to find Mordechai. What you will not find in the Megilla, but from what our Rabbis tell us, is that when Haman arrived to where Mordechai was, he was in the midst of teaching his students, who were children, about the Mitzvah of the Omer offering that was brought on this very date of the 16th of Nissan. For all they knew, this was their end. Mordechai even told the children to escape; however, so strong was their devotion and dedication to the Torah, they refused to leave him, regardless of what Haman could have immediately done to them. Now it must be remembered, Haman knew more about Jewish history than unfortunately so many assimilated Jews in the United States who don't even know that the National Spelling in 1983 ended with the name Purim, let alone know the significance of this most special joyous day for Jews, who wish instead to view Judaism as a religion of only fearful days as the High Holidays and of sad occasions such as the Holocaust. In any case, Haman understood enough of Mordechai's lecture to ask him questions about the Omer. Upon Mordechai's reply, Haman declared that Mordechai's small Omer offering - which wasn't even offered then as the First Temple had been destroyed not long earlier, but it was the learning about it - overpowered his own 10,000 Shekels that he offered the king to destroy the Jews.

In this Gematria post, I didn't mention anything about Gematriot until now, but instead, I threw a few Jewish dates. Now, you will see that everything will come into play here.

The Torah, only at the end of the section about the manna, calls it THE Manna. In Hebrew, it is HaMan. In a play of words, just as I mentioned earlier about the Matzot-Mitzvot wording, so too here, the word HaMan can literally spell the name of this most evil person - the notorious Haman. To note, HaMan or Haman is in fact the Gematria of 95, and this is my 95th Post.

In any case, Haman and HaMelech/the king, referring in Megillat Esther to King Achashverosh about whom the Rabbis note in the Talmud of Tractate Megilla that he was the same rotten individual from beginning to end, who just did good things for the Jews at the end because of his Jewish wife Esther, but refused to allow the Temple to be rebuilt which had been started years earlier by a different king, but was stopped thanks to "good" Samaritans (the real ones), each have the same Gematria. In a spiritual sense, the mention of HaMelech in the Megilla refers to Hashem, who performed the miracles of Purim in a hidden way.

It seems that the portion about the manna in the Torah in fact hints to what would happen in the future about the date of the 16th of Nissan - the date that the manna was no longer available for the Jews to eat. In a similar vein, Haman would be hung almost a thousand years later on this very date, also disappearing from the Jews on the 16th of Nissan upon his demise on the gallows. And this resulted Haman admitted it himself, in the merit of the Torah learning that Mordechai taught the children, which symbolically was about the Mitzvah of the Omer offering brought on this very day. Yes, it was this very Mitzvah that saved the day, and indeed, HaMan/Haman ceased to exist on this anniversary date of 16 Nissan on which the Jews started eating of the produce of the land of Israel in lieu of the manna. And this explains why the final verse about the manna mentions "THE Omer", for it would be in the merit of this very Mitzvah that Haman would be sent to the gallows, who is hinted to in the immediate preceding verse.

According to Halacha, once the new grain grows, we are forbidden as part of the 613 Mitzvot to eat of the new grain until after the Omer offering is brought on the 16th of Nissan. While the Rabbis extended this to the following day now that we don't have the Temple in existance where we can bring this Omer offering, there have been allowances of eating the new grain beforehand, especially outside of Israel, in European times where and when Jews were relatively poor, and it was hard enough as it was to find basic food supplies to eat (sorry, they didn't stuff their faces with all the "heimishe" food that Boro Parker Jews have plenty of instead of moving to the land of Israel which is a real Mitzvah; at least these poor Jews didn't have a good time suffering under the rule of anti-Semites even if they never made it to Israel).

To note, this Omer offering was a public Mincha offering (offering consisting of flour as opposed to animals or birds). The word Mincha itself means gift, and it has been used as the name for the afternoon Mincha prayers. In any case, it's interesting to note that in mentioning the Omer offering in connection with the manna, the first two letters of the word Mincha spells the word Mahn/manna. And as for the last two letters of this word Mincha - the Cheit & Hei add up to the Gematria of 13. In the Mishna of Tractate Menachot 10:4, in describing how the Omer offering was prepared in the Temple, it mentions that it went through 13 siftings. The fact that this took place on 16 Nissan - the counting of the first day of the Omer is most significant, because we count the first day of the Omer as Hayom Yom Echad L'Omer - "Today is the first day of the Omer" where the word Echad/one is indeed the Gematria of 13! And as a further connection between the manna and the Omer offering, both of these were items were ground up before eating.

In any case, why name this Mitzvah of the Omer offering with this Omer name, and why is the ending of the manna section about the Omer measure of manna as the concluding verse? The Omer, as mentioned by the Torah, is indeed a measure - nothing more, nothing less. The Torah is telling us to measure ourselves. Hashem provided an Omer's worth of daily manna for the Jews. In turn, He expected for them to measure themselves accordingly, and behave as Jews - measure for measure, for the great kindness that Hashem did for them. In fact, the first day of the Sephira, of counting the Omer, corresponds to the Sephira combination of Chesed She'Be'Chesed - Kindness within Kindness. (And Chesed is most associated with Ahavah/love, which in turn is the Gematria of 13, as is the word Echad when we count this first day of the Sephira as Hayom Yom ECHAD LaOmer) Regardless of what food fills us up - the manna or the grain, everything is in fact from Hashem. And it was in Hashem's great kindness and love for the Jewish people as a result of the learning about the Omer offering, which is supposed to remind us not to behave as animals fressing at parties that have no connection to us that distract us from Hashem, which saved the day that sent Haman hanging from the gallows. Bearing all this in mind, we are supposed to immediately waste no time following Hashem's Mitzvot, and remember that we are supposed to demand from ourselves our measure of availability of following the ultimate King of Kings.

To note, the emphasis here was on LEARNING about the Omer offering, NOT bringing the Omer offering itself. Similarly today, when we are not able to bring the offerings in the Temple, learning about them is considered as though we brought them to the Temple. The Chofetz Chaim, based on Talmudic & Midrashic sources, emphasized the special quality of learning this section of the Torah about the offerings in the Temple, as in Seder Kodashim of the Talmud. Presently, the Daf Yomi learning is in the first Tractate of this order of the Talmud - Masechet Zevachim, which is exclusively about the animal (and bird) offerings in the Temple.


Speaking of spiritual food known as HaMan/manna which is the Gematria of 95, the name of one of the 12 Tribes of Israel is also the Gematria of 95 - Zevulun. It seems hardly a coincidence that both of these words share the same Gematria. You see, it was the manna that sustained the Jewish people for 40 years in the desert so they were able to learn Torah without needing to work. Similarly, it was Zevulun of all the tribes who supported his brother - the Torah scholar Yissachar, so the latter was able to learn/teach Torah all day without the need to interrupt with working. It was since then that the descendants of Zevulun supported their cousins the descendants of Yissachar. In more recent times, this idea spread to others who agreed to this type of arrangement, known as the Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. And consolidating this concept in relationship to Masechet Zevachim; as I had mentioned in a previous post, Shimon Achi Azariah is quoted in the first chapter of Masechet Zevachim. As pointed out by commentators, Shimon "brother of Azariah" was the one who learned Torah, while his brother Azariah (which incidentally means G-d will assist) assisted him with his financial needs.


The word manna is actually related to the word Emunah/faith, as it was the manna that tasted the faith of the Jewish people. As mentioned by the prophet Habakuk, as a summary of the 613 Mitzvot (see Talmud Makkot 24a & Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Shoftim), V'Tzadik B'Emunato Yichyeh "The righteous person lives by his faith". This is his ultimate spiritual food.

The last word of this phrase is Yichyeh - the Gematria of 33, which is also the number of Pesukim/verses in the section in the Torah about the manna, which is related to Emunah/faith. And being that the 33rd and final verse about the manna is about the Omer measure, this reminds us of the 33rd day of the Omer - Lag B'Omer, the anniversary date of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), author of the teachings of the Zohar. In his personal life, he showed that he had total Emunah/faith in Hashem, as we see that he had no hesitation about denouncing the ruling Romans of the day, when other rabbis either were silent about this or were quick to fall for the political correctness of making them sound good. As a result of this, he had to hide 12 years in a cave, learning Torah all during this time, living on carobs and water. As Rashbi's faith in Hashem was complete, it didn't matter so much what he had to eat - Hashem saw to it that what he would eat would be what would sustain him during his trying period of 12 years.

Indeed, only such a person such as Rashbi who displayed such Emunah without fear of what others would say or do, can truly be called a Tzadik/righteous person. Only such a rabbi such as Rashbi was worthy of learning and teaching the holiest, esoteric parts of the Torah, something that most other rabbis of his day, as great as they may have been otherwise in Talmudic learning, were not worthy enough to learn. Only one who doesn't stoop to politics such as Rashbi can receive the great revelations of Torah learning that he received.

And as connected to Purim, the holiday that resulted from Haman's downfall, it was thanks to the Emunah of Mordechai and Esther who realized that the real reason for the threat to the Jews wasn't because of Mordechai's refusal to bow down to Haman, which was the so called reason given by the very Jews who stuffed their faces at King Achachverosh's feast, but because of their very sin, who didn't have the faith that Mordechai and Esther had, but only because of their repentance with fasting at the end as well that averted the evil decree pronounced against them. It's interesting to note that in fact, Lag BaOmer will always fall out on the same day of the week as the past Purim (14 Adar), for in fact, the lesson of Emunah is applicable to both of these situations. (According to the Chasam Sofer, the manna actually began to fall down on 18 Iyar/Lag Ba'Omer, a couple days after the generally suggested date of the manna beginning to rain down).

Another key factor here regarding the connection between the manna & Haman is that as the manna rained down for the Jewish people particularly in the merit of Moses, when Haman was figuring out as to which month would be best to destroy the Jewish people, his decision was the month of Adar, as he knew that this was month of the passing of Moses, the greatest Tzadik who ever lived (another proof as to Haman's extensive knowledge of Jewish history). It seems that he didn't know that Moses was also born on this month, as attested to in the Midrash that recounts this part of the Purim story; however, it is clear from here that his ultimate fight was against the greatest righteous people of the Jewish nation; and that in his particular generation, it was Mordechai who was the Moses of that generation who refused under any circumstances to bow down to Haman.

Indeed, in the Talmud Tractate of Chulin (139), when it mentions a list of people whose names are hinted in the Torah/Chumash, it mentions Mordechai, Esther, Haman, and...Moses (though Moses is the Biblical figure with the most mention in the Chumash, the focus is on the hinting part about Moses if his name would never be mentioned in the Torah for whatever reason which in fact almost happened). Why these four in particular? But as the name of the Megilla for Purim is called Megillat Esther, which literally means revealing the hidden, which is the concept of Purim revealing the hidden miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people that led to this holiday, the Talmud illustrates this concept with the very people who are associated with the Megilla.

Regarding Moses, it was particularly because of his passing in the month of Adar that Haman chose to use this month to destroy the Jews. And if this would not be enough, as Moses was born on 7 Adar, his Brit Mila/circumcision assuming that it was on his eighth day (especially being the great Tzadik that he would become, it would be highly improbable that Hashem would allow him to be sick and not be able to have his circumcision done on time on the eighth day) was the very day of Purim - 14 Adar! And as our Rabbis tell us that Moses was born circumcised, according to Halacha/Jewish Law, if a baby who was born circumcised is born on Shabbat, the circumcision (which would be just drawing some blood from the member) does not take place on his eighth day - the following Shabbat, but can only be done the day after. Accordingly, if we would be technical about Moses, and say that if he were born on Shabbat, then his circumcision ceremony would have taken place only the following day on Sunday, then that day would be 15 Adar, which is Shushan Purim that is celebrated in the town of Shushan in Iran, as well as in Jerusalem. Hence, the circumcision of Moses, the greatest Tzadik, as an official member of the Jewish nation indeed took place on Purim!

And as a further connection of Haman to this Parshat Beshalach, the last section of this Parsha, consisting of nine verses that is read on Purim, is about Amalek, ancestor of Haman, who started up with the Jews resulting in a war destroying the strong elements of this most evil nation. This section in the Torah follows the story of the Jews complaining that they didn't have water to drink (by the way, Mahn/manna & Mayim/water, the eating and drinking elements respectively, both have the Gematria of 90!) and then being provided with water, where as a result of their lack of faith in Hashem, they got attacked by Amalek, which in turn immediately follows the section in the Torah about the manna, which also involved the concept of Emunah/faith. Yes indeed, Haman is very much hinted in this Parsha (Note: in the Talmud Chulin, there is a different hint in the Torah mentioned about Haman, but it doesn't mean that someone cannot be hinted to in the Torah more than once, especially in Haman's case, as he was the backbone for the cause of the holiday of Purim for the Jewish people coming into being).

Before concluding about a famous "Haman food", it was recently brought to my attention that this section in the Torah about the manna consists of 485 words. While the source didn't mention the following, you will be amazed to know that the word Tehillim/Psalms is the Gematria of 485! Is there a connection here between the manna & Tehillim?

Let's quote two verses from Tehillim to help answer this question: "You paid heed to the earth and watered it, You enriched it abundantly from G-d's stream filled with water; You prepare their grain,for thus do You prepare it. To abundantly water its ridges, settle its furrows; with showers You soften it, You bless its growth" (Psalms 65:10,11). There are two Hebrew words in a row here - the last word of the first verse and the first word of the second verse - each consisting of the same Gematria of 485. Techineha - "You prepare it" & Telameha - "Its ridges". In fact, the word Telameha has the same letters as the word Tehillim! Anyways, as you can see in the two verses here, Hashem cares for everyone to be sufficiently satisfied from the food and drink that Hashem provides for the world. In a similar fashion, Hashem provided the manna to the Jewish people so they could be satisfied from it, and then be able to learn Torah and keep His commandments. In another way, it can be said that Tehillim is food for the soul.

And bearing in mind that the manna rained down for the Jews in the merit of Moses, it was Moses who composed the Psalms 90-100. The median number of the chapter numbers of these psalms is 95 - the Gematria of HaMan - the manna!

Today, we have on the food market what is called Oznei Haman, in Yiddish - Hamentashen, and translated in English as Haman's ears. There are theories about why they are called as such, but no doubt that this Jewish food in fact mocks Haman, for now, we are enjoying the fruit of Haman's downfall, in the form of pastries. Regardless of the actual origins of the name of this food, what we should remember is that while Hashem's mercies is on "all His creatures", the ultimate purpose of food is in order that we can stay alive in this world to serve Hashem, even as there are Mitzvot that are associated with food. Bearing this in mind, if we do our part of measuring ourselves to the plate, doing Hashem's Mitzvot while having faith in Hashem, as well as doing some sort of making a living without relying on miracles, He certainly won't allow us to be deserted, and He will give us all of our basic needs; the only difference is that some have much more than others, but the ones who will shine the most in the future are the ones who had very little, but nevertheless served Hashem to the best of their ability with happiness, surviving on the handouts of none other than those of Hashem Himself.

7 Shevat, 5771

Saturday, January 8, 2011

#94 - Increasing our Numbers

The name of Parshat Bo, the Parsha that we just read this past Shabbat, is one of the words, in terms of Gematria, with the least number value, which equals three. There is no word in Hebrew using two Alephs, so the word in Hebrew with the least number value has to be three using the letters Aleph & Beit, spelling the name of Parshat Bo, the Parsha of Yetziat Mitzrayim - the Exodus, the first redemption of the Jewish people.

Conversely, these same two letters spell the name of the month of Av, the letters in reverse of the name of Parshat Bo, in which both Temples were destroyed by the nations beginning with the letters of the month - Edom & Bavel, which also marked our exiles by these nations, the reverse of redemption. But in the name of the month of Av also lies our redemption, as it is the Gematria of three, and we await our redemption with the rebuilding of the third Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Anyways, a reason given for the Gematria of the name of Parshat Bo is that in this Parsha, the last three plagues of the Egyptians took place, the first seven having happened in the previous Parshat Va'era. While this sounds fine and dandy, but what is the special significance of these Parshiyot being divided up with the plagues in this fashion? Perhaps half & half would have made more sense. Besides, we learn that after the first five plagues, Hashem basically took Pharaoh's free choice of deciding the let the Jews go away from him until after the death of the first born Egyptians, the final plague. So, why divided up with seven & three?

Perhaps an answer can be shed here by examining the inner meaning of the word for the eighth plague visited on the Egyptians, the first in this Parshat Bo - Arbeh/locusts. In fact, one will find in the Tanach/Bible that there are quite a few different names for locusts, including in Parshat Shemini, where is listed a variety of kosher locusts, including the brand name Arbeh (Leviticus 11::22).

In other parts of the Torah, we see that the word Arbeh means "I will increase". This word has been associated with both sides of the coin - curses and blessings. (Speaking of sides, the Hebrew word for side is Tzad, also spelling the number 94 - Tzadi Dalet, and this is my 94th Post). First, we see that as the result of the forbidden fruit, mankind got cursed, we see the curse that was given to women - Harba Arbeh "I will surely increase your anguish and your pregnancy" (Genesis 3:16). Rashi explains that anguish refers to the pain of raising children, and pregnancy as the pain of the pregnancy.

Another reference of Arbeh in terms of curse can be found in one of the Selichot poems that are recited on Tzom Gedaliah, the fast day that marks the murder of Gedalia, governor of Israel immediately following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. He was murdered by a wicked Jew named Yishmael Ben Netanya, and in this particular poem composed by the Sa'adya Gaon, this murderer is called an Arbeh/locust, because just as a locust wastes no time in devouring whole crops, so too, it was merely two months after the destruction of the Temple when Yishmael Ben Natanya murdered Gedalia, following which, the few Jews remaining in Israel panicked and left for Egypt for fear of retribution from the Babylonian government who appointed Gedalia to be governor of Israel.

On the converse side, we see that following Abraham passing his final test from Hashem by offering his son Isaac on the altar, that he is blessed "for I will surely bless you, and I will surely increase your descendants" (Genesis 22:17).

The verse is worded Arbeh Et Zar'acha, "I will increase your descendants". The word Arbeh is the Gematria of 208. This is most significant, since the name Yitzchak/Isaac, Abraham's first descendants is also the Gematria of 208. In fact, the name Yitzchak itself comes from a joyous background - Tzechok/laughter. Hence, instead of the word Arbeh being associated with something negative or painful in relationship to children, we see here how the word Arbeh is now being used for something positive, a blessing. And in reference to Gedalia's murderer whose name was Yishmael, the first person with this name was Yitzchak's own half brother, ancestor of the Arabs, whom, according to the Midrash, will be the biggest makers for the Jews right before the upcoming Redemption. (Ironically, the name Yishmael means G-d will listen, and Yitzchak's brother Yishmael was given his name by Hashem Himself. Very unfortunately, his descendants are using this fact for evil to pray for our destruction).

In a similar vein, we see that in fact, the name of the previous Parshat Va'era is also the Gematria of 208, the same Parsha that lists the families of the first three sons of Jacob, and if was from the last of these three - Levi, from whom descended Moses & Aaron, who did their part in paving the way for the first redemption of the Jewish people.

Locusts seem to demonstrate the concept of countless items, just as the stars of the sky and the sand of the beach that the Torah continues to compare Abraham's descendants to, especially in the plague for the Egyptians. Small wonder then that they are given a name that has to do with increasing numbers. As also a kosher species, they demonstrate the good side of things that are increased. However, the blessing for the Jewish people to increase would depend on their future good deeds, the same way that Abraham earned them. Otherwise, not following what Hashem wants will G-d forbid lead to the type of results as what happened to the Egyptians from these locusts "they ate all the herbage of the ground, and all the fruits of the tree..." (Exodus 10:15), serving as a curse just as the curse given to women pertaining to children, who have to be fed on a regular basis and given sufficient drink, especially when they are young.

We see another interesting thing about this particular plague. The Egyptians figured that at the very least, until they would get some produce supplies from some other country, they would have at least some pickled locusts from the massive amount of them who dared attacked their produce. It was a very nice atttempt, but before the Egyptians had a chance to actually eat any of them, a miracle happened, and even the pickled ones somehow escaped from the clutches of the Egyptians, and totally disappeared from them. This was not like virtually the other plagues where there was no benefit anticipated from the punishment that they received.

Yes, things in life can seem to be blessings. However, they can only be blessings if first of all, we are even worthy of them; and secondly, we have to show that we are worthy of them. Children may at first seem to be most taxing, but realizing the true purpose and reason for having them, we can't help but view them as blessings, and after many years, we will feel that though we slaved plenty for them, we well earned our pay, especially when we see how well they are behaved and are following in Hashem's ways. Hence, we don't have to feel that all our vegetation so to speak are being eaten. By training our children right from day one, Hashem will give us the strength and fortitude to continue on, despite what seems to be anything but possible.

This is unlike the Egyptians who wasted their time, thinking that they would accomplish more by enslaving us Jews more. However, we see that the results of their workforce ended in naught since at the end, the Egyptians didn't even have basic food supplies for themselves, as demonstrated by their vain attempt to save a few pickled locusts. It is with this plague of locusts that this Parsha dealing with the final period of the Egygptian exile begins with, showing us Jews that there are two sides to the coin here - multitudes of locusts doing G-d's will of eating the leftover Egyptian produce, while the Egyptians were not able to salvage any good from this.

We are a blessed nation, having started off on the right foot. However, for the next few millenium, Jews messed up time and again, with being a minority nation as a a result of much sinning. According to statistics, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, there were 12 million Jews and 12 million Chinese. While G-d created the whole world because of us Jews, numbers themselves didn't seem to reflect this, because the Chinese are the largest nation on earth with over a billion people, while we, at least according to statistics, are still only twelve million (though there are believed to be many more millions of Jews living in this world that aren't included in today's statistics). The good news is that in the near future with the upcoming redemption, we will, G-d willing, see a major increase in our numbers once again.

4 Shevat, 5771

Thursday, January 6, 2011

#93 - SHIELD of Protection

The name of Va'era "I will appear", the name of last week's Parsha, begins where it says Va'era El Avraham El Yitzchak V'El Ya'akov B'E-l Sha-dai - "I appeared to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob with (the name) G-d Al-mighty..."

Hashem's purpose of telling Moses this was because Moses complained last about how Pharaoh treated the Jews despite Hashem's promise of redeeming the Jews, when the opposite seemed to be happening here. Hashem was quick to remind Moses that in fact, Moses had first to learn from the Patriarchs who were also given promises that weren't fulfilled about Israel's future, and yet, they continued moving on with their lives.

Sometimes, we think that everything has to fit just right. But the truth is that it is Hashem who determines as to how everything will fit just right, not realizing ourselves as to how well fit everything is really set in place, especially when it comes to protection. This is especially applicable to Israel today, where we Jews are surrounded by millions of our Arab enemies who only wish for our annihilation for them to take over our land. Yet in most of the country, we aren't constantly rained by bullets and rockets. Most places of worship have been left safe until now. In recent years, Jerusalem was a potential target for terrorism several times, yet had been nabbed by the IDF time and again, nothing short of a miracle.

Now, let's take a closer look at the verse here. The verse says "I appeared TO Abraham, TO Isaac, and TO Jacob..." Why doesn't the Torah simply say that Hashem appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The word El/to is the Gematria of 31, and when mentioned three times, is a total of 93, the Gematria of the word Magen/shield (and this is my 93rd Post).

We see that the first blessing of the main prayer Shemoneh Esrei states "G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac, and G-d of Jacob", and then the conclusion of this blessing is
Magen Abraham "Shield of Abraham", as we see in the Torah that Hashem tells Abraham - Anochi Magen Lach "I am your shield," following Abraham's battle with several kings. While we actually see the world shield used specifically by Abraham, the ultimate purpose was also for his descendants, of whom Isaac his son and Jacob his grandson would be on the same footing as he was in terms of being the ancestors of the Jewish people. But perhaps the proof that the concept of shield is connected to all three of the Patriarchs is what we recite following the Shemoneh Esrei of the Sabbath night beginning with Magen Avot "Shield of the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob)..."

And just like Abraham was almost burned at the stake for his belief in one G-d, Isaac was almost offered at the altar for all that he knew, and Jacob suffered plenty while exiled from his home, they all showed being examples of keeping the faith and having Hashem's protection. Their ability of being able to stay devoted to Hashem despite major pressure is reflected especially when it says that Hashem appeared TO Abraham, TO Isaac, and TO Jacob, as His personal relationship to them, and since they felt like Hashem was their personal relationship so to speak, nothing else seemed to matter, despite the logic, temptations, and pressures of the time.

Now, the verse continues with the name that Hashem appeared to them as E-l Sha-dai "G-d Al-mighty". The name E-l is the same spelling of letters as El/to. Perhaps it is this name of Hashem's E-l, which denotes Hashem specifically as the G-d of kindness, that is reflected as such, because when adding up three times to equal 93, the Gematria of Magen/shield, this is indeed Hashem's kindness of being a shield to our Patriarchs.

It is well known that the three letters of the name Sha-dai - Shin, Dalet, Yud, - begin with the words Shomer Daltot Yisrael "Guardian of the doors of Israel", referring to Hashem protecting our homes in merit of the Mezuzot, the parchment scroll containing the first two paragraphs of the Shema, on our doorposts.

We see that in the past, Jacob had used this phrase of E-l Sha-dai in his hopeful prayers of his children going to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit Rabbah 92:1) "He Who said to the world enough, should say enough to my troubles," as Jacob was addressing the fact that his life was full of troubles, even as he had non known what happened to Joseph for some 22 years. As it turns out, the word Dai/enough is the Gematria of 14, and Parshat Va'era is the 14th Parsha, the Parsha in which Hashem indeed declares Dai "Enough of the troubles happening to My people! Now I will start punishing Pharaoh for refusing to let the Jews go!"

Another Biblical figure who lived throughout life with troubles, though his high status later in life would otherwise fool some, was none other than King David, whose name is also the Gematria of 14. Representing the Jewish people, he composed Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms, which represents the prayers and tears of the Jewish people in all kinds of troubles, who also cry out Dai - "Enough of our troubles. Please answer me, Hashem!" Counting the books of the Tanach/Bible, it turns out that it is this Sefer that is the 14th of the 24 Books of the Tanach, hardly a coincidence to be composed by the author whose name has the same Gematria as 14, which echoes the theme of Dai/enough which is also the Gematria of 14.

This then explains the concept of Magen David/Shield of David. While there has been much discussion about the origins of the "Star of David" which has been associated as King David's shield at war, one of the concluding blessings of the Haftara ends with this phrase, which denotes this same basic concept of Hashem being King David's protection despite everything that he went through throughout life.

And now, getting back to Moshe to whom Hashem had been speaking to. While it is to the Patriarchs that Hashem appeared to with the name E-l Sha-dai, Hashem appeared with His main name to Moshe. We do find a little irony here. You see, E-l Sha-dai and the name Moshe both have the same Gematria as 345. Moreover, Moshe and Hashem/"the name" in lieu of saying of saying Hashem's name when not praying or reading a verse from the Torah, can be read forward and backwards. In another words, Hashem used an alternative way to appear to the Patriarchs, the same way that we use the word Hashem in lieu of A-do-noy when not praying or reading a verse.

In another way of looking at this, perhaps Hashem was hinting to the Patriarchs with His promises of redeeming their descendants in the future from Egypt that just like Hashem was their shield of protection in their times of trouble, so perhaps, was he hinting to them with the name E-l Sha-dai that it would be someone with the same Gematria as this name - Moshe - who would be the leader who would lead the Jewish people out of Egypt when the time would come. And Moshe, the 26th generation parental line from Adam & Eve - just as Hashem's name YKVK is the Gematria of 26, and there are exactly 26 verses to Psalm 136 where the ending of each verse is "for his kindness is everlasting", which includes recounting about Hashem taking us out of Egypt - who showed himself from day one how he felt with his brethren the Jews who suffered tremendously, would be most worthy of being the G-d appointed leader to take the Jews out of Egypt.

As the verse in Tehillim states (Psalms 121:4): "Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps". Yes, Hashem has been quite kind to us, both on the national and personal level. In the long run, Hashem is our SHIELD OF PROTECTION when we feel that we are connected to Him, and follow in the footsteps of our Patriarchs who were able to feel that connection with Hashem.

2 Shevat, 5771

Sunday, January 2, 2011

#92 - The Weekly Sabbatical Vacation

Recently, Rebbetzin Tzviyah Eliyahu, wife of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu - may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing - called for a campaign for Jews worldwide to observe two consecutive Sabbaths, coinciding with the non-Jewish holidays occuring on Dec 25 & Jan 1 when most people do not work anyways. In the Jewish calendar, they coincided with the Parshiyot of Shemot & Va'era.

While I have yet to know the statistics on how many people actually took her advice since Jews at least in the United States who are terribly assimilated for example probably never even heard of her late husband, let alone her call to observe the Sabbath, her motive was to bring the Messiah ever closer.

This is based in the Babylonian Talmud - Tractate Sabbath 118: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai, "If the Jews would just keep two Sabbaths according to Jewish law, they would be redeemed immediately." There is another view which says that only one Sabbath needs to qualify for this purpose. In any case, one question can be asked is why particularly two Sabbaths?

We'll get back to this question a little later on. But first, as this is a Gematriot blogspot, I should note that as this is my 92nd Post, there are a couple of connections of the number 92 to the Sabbath. Before I get to the much more famous one, the first is that there are exactly 92 Dafim (double sided pages) in Tractate Sabbath of the Jerusalem Talmud. And then the famous one as just about everyone who prays and recites psalms know that it was Psalm 92 that was sung by the Levites in the Temple on the Sabbath. In fact, it is the ONLY psalm in the entire Tehillim/Book of Psalms that its introductory verse indicates when the Psalm is meant to be sung: Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat "A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day". Yet interestingly, the theme of the Psalm seems in fact to have nothing to do with the Sabbath. What's the deal here?

Rashi points out that in fact, this Psalm is not referring to the life in this world, but to the next world, where we will be able to get a glimpse of the true spiritual Sabbath. But this leads to the next question. If indeed, this Psalm refers to the life of the next world, why mention about evildoers during the midst of this psalm?

While one may be presented about the nice benefits of keeping Shabbat, both in this world and in the next, unless someone is born and raised with it, or gives it a try, the rest may not truly comprehend te significance of this. It is true that one who violated the Sabbath in times of an operating Sanhedrin which was basically during Temple times was given the worse form of punishment by the Jewish court - stoning. In the Torah, Hashem also warns that those who don't keep the Sabbath will be punished.

But this Psalm seems to have an extra dimension here. You see, the Sabbath reminds us to rest up from the rat race of work. To those who don't see it that way, they will continue working every day with no stop until they totally burn out. You see, they don't look at the long term picture. And this is exactly what this Psalm is addressing. For example, it mentions that the wicked & evil-doers sprout like grass and blossom. These people look for the quick gain, but don't realize that Hashem is the one who runs the show, and eventually, they will loose what they have in one way or another, or they will suffer even more in Hell. In fact, our Rabbis tell us that one does not gain even a little more by working on the Sabbath. Sure, in the United States, some business' best day is Saturday, but for one who is Jewish, he will eventually loose the Saturday earnings in one way or another - bills of all sorts, loosing a fortune in the stock market, etc. Since all sources of livelihood in fact comes from Hashem, working on the Sabbath shows one's disbelief in this fact.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the call for Jews to observe these two Sabbaths coincided with Parshiyot Shemot & Va'era. Indeed, Parshat Shemot - while it does not mention one word about the Sabbath, is very connected with this theme.


It is true that both the name of the Parsha Shemot & the name of the day of rest - Shabbat, both start with the letter Shin. Moreover, the word Shemot is an acrostic for the phrase Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum "Twice the Biblical text, and once the translation (the Aramaic translation of Onkelos)". The preferred time for this is on Friday before the Sabbath in preparation of the Sabbath and the Torah reading the next day, though if one did not have a chance to do so before the Sabbath can read this also on the Sabbath. One may wonder as to why it is particularly this Parsha that hints to this concept of reviewing the Parsha.

According to the Midrash, earlier on in Moses' life, as he grew up in Pharaoh's palace as his princess Batya's adopted son, he felt very connected with his brethren the Jews, and even looked to ease their slavery by assisting in their work. At one point, he wanted them to be able to have a day of rest as the Sabbath. Tactfully, he approached Pharaoh, and suggested that in order for the Jews not to totally brake down from working all the time, they should have a day's rest every week, and then be refreshed to work the next day. Amazingly, Pharoah agreed, and the Jews not working on the Sabbath spent their time reading scrolls pertaining to Torah (Note: The Torah was not officially given yet, but as Rashi points out, even Noach - who was a non-Jew - learned Torah). While this is not mentioned directly in the Torah, the period of time that this happened were included in the time frame that Parshat Shemot goes through. Indeed, this would seem to be the connection to the hint of the name of this Parsha telling us to review the Parsha in preparation for the reading of the weekly Parsha on the Sabbath morning, just as the Jews used to learn Torah in Sabbath as a day off from their rigorous slavery.

This continued on for several decades until Moses reappeared on the scene following a lengthy absence from Egypt which resulted from Pharoah attempting to behead him. Hashem told Moses that it was about time that the Jews would leave Egypt, but He wanted Pharoah to be the one to do that of his own volition. Anyways, after Moses submitted his request to Pharoah, not only did Pharaoh not agree to this, but as the Midrash recounts, he did away with the weekly Sabbath rest for the Jews. Of course it would be a very short time before the Jews would leave Egypt, but focusing on Pharaoh's motives, he felt that the Jews were starting to be lazy by Moses making his present request. While even Moses himself was skeptical about what Hashem was doing here since he felt that he made things worse by approaching Pharaoh, Hashem assured him that "now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh."


We see that there are several things about the number two that is related to the Sabbath. In the Midrash, the Sabbath once complained to Hashem, "Every day of the week has a partner, Yom Rishon has Yom Sheni, Yom Shelishi has Yom Revi'i, Yom Chamishi has Yom Shishi (NOTE: The definition of these terms means Day 1 through Day 6 of the week. While in English, they are typically translated as Sunday, Monday, etc, this is not truly accurate because in the non-Jewish calendar, these days begin with midnight, but in the Jewish religion, the day begins with the beginning of the night), who do I have as a partner?" Hashem replied "The Jewish people will be your partner."

During the three meals of the Sabbath, we make the blessing on the bread over two whole loaves, reminiscent of the double portion of manna that rained on the Jews in the desert on Friday morning when they received a double portion of what they received the rest of the week, so they would have the manna all ready to be eaten on the Sabbath since the manna did not fall down on the Sabbath. Moreover, the Temple offerings for the Sabbath called for two lambs. And as we noted earlier, when reviewing the Parsha for the Sabbath, one says the Biblical verse two times.

And so, while this is all nice and dandy, but why particular TWO Sabbaths for the redemption to occur according to Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai?

When one first tries something new, like a new job for example, he doesn't know exactly how things are going to be until he is there for the first day. It does happen occasionally that in fact, the guy may not like the job because he didn't expect things to be a certain way, as he had very different expectations. In any case, for most others who are serious about making money and supporting a family, they report to work the next day the same way they reported to work the first day.

There is a practical difference between the first day and the second day. When he walks to work on Day Two, he now knows at least on a minimal level about how things are supposed to be done, unlike the first day when he was just learning the particulars of the business on the job. Hence, the first day in all honesty is really a preparation day, though of course, he earns his pay just the same for his time and effort.

And the same applies to the Sabbath. True that one can be sincere about keeping one Sabbath. And even for a newly observant Jew who is keeping his first Sabbath, and is given exact instructions as to how to observe it - from not doing various types of work to celebrating the day through food, he didn't begin that first Sabbath knowing yet exactly how Sabbath is supposed to be like. It is only when going through the initial experience of keeping one Sabbath that one has a totally new outlook about the Sabbath when observing it the following week. And hence, these two Sabbaths in fact complement one another.

In the Yeshiva world, the system of learning is done through Chavrutot/study partners. Apparently, something is being done right here, because through these Yeshivot, so many Jews became big Torah scholars. It is the complementary learning between two people that will get them to know almost everything between the two of them. Only Hashem is really One. Everything else and everyone else has a duplicity in life, for example, the sun & moon for objects in the sky, and Adam & Eve for humans. It is only through the mating of two people that life can be born. And so, this reminds us that indeed, it is Hashem - the One & Only - Who rules the world, and that everything else who are of a duplicity nature is subservient to Him. And so, even the Sabbath itself, while a unique and very holy entity, also needs a partner - the Jewish people, Indeed, we are called in the Torah and prayers as "one nation on earth," as the Chosen Nation of Hashem, but even we as a nation need a partner, and it is the Sabbath that reminds us that Hashem is the Ultimate Ruler.

27 Tevet 5771