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

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