Friday, July 15, 2011

#110 - ONE Way Up

Typically, when people are counting the moments to something exciting, they have what's called a countdown - such as from ten to one. The most classical example of this is when the moments are being counted until the space rocket is going to be travelling up to the sky and beyond.

In our Torah, we count things the reverse - from one and up. As our rabbis tell us time and again in the Talmud - "We go up in holiness, but we do not decrease". Hence, when it comes to a spiritual journey which is an elevation, a going up of some sort, we go up in the numbers. Among the prime examples of this is Sephirat HaOmer - counting of the days from when the Omer offering was brought on the second day of Passover until the 50th day which is celebrated as Shavuot/Pentacost - in which we count the days as Day 1 through Day 49. Another example of this in a little different way is lighting the Menorah on Chanuka from one candle on the first day to eight candles on the eighth day.

As the number in this post - the number 110 is composed with the numbers 1 & 10. But before I continue elaborating on the above concept of going up on numbers, let us mention today about two Biblical figures who both lived 110 years - Joseph & Joshua.
In fact, Joshua was a parental descendant of Joseph (see I Chronicles 7:27).

To note, Joseph & Joshua have quite a few things in common, which are the following:
1)Both of their names start with the letter Yud - which is the numerical value of 10.
2)Both of them were leaders - Joseph was the viceroy to Pharaoh, and took care of his entire Jewish family, and Joshua led the Jewish people as the successor to Moses.
3)Both got married later in life than most others in their respective generation: Joseph got married at age 30 after spending 13 years between slavery and imprisonment, and as we see with his younger brother Benjamin, he came to Egypt nine years later with 10 sons, so undoubtedly, even the youngest of the brothers of Joseph was already married long before age 30. Joshua was a bachelor until after he led the Jews into Israel which was already in his seventies. He already was a grown man at the time of the Exodus, and faithfully served Moses for 40 years, not having time for a married life. It was only after entering Israel that he married the convert Rachav who was saved with her family while everyone in Jericho was killed by the Jews in their first war in Israel because she saved the two spies sent by Joshua from the king of Jericho who sought their arrest.

On the other hand, we see a sharp contrast between Joseph & Joshua. Joseph spent only the first 17 years of his life in Israel until he was sold into slavery by his brothers, the least amount of time that he spent living in Israel compared with the rest of his family. On the other hand, after the ugly incident with the spies that Moses sent, only Joshua & Caleb of the men between ages 20-60 aside from the Tribe of Levi lived to enter Israel, and so while most other men in Joshua's generation never even stepped foot in Israel, he lived on to enter Israel and live in the Holy Land for 28 years.

It seems that over time, that Hashem made it up to Joseph for the years that he missed out living in the Holy Land. The only other time that Joseph was in Israel since being sold into slavery was for Jacob's funeral. However, he made his brothers swear to him that when the time would come for the Jews to leave Egypt, that they would not leave without removing his bones, as he was going to be buried in Egypt as the viceroy to Pharoah, and did expect to be allowed to be buried outside of Egypt, especially as he had to fight to even get his father Jacob to be buried in Israel, as related in the Midrash. As we are writing about Joseph's request to be buried in Israel when the time would come, he was finally laid to rest in Shechem, whose burial place has been one of a big challenge in the last many years thanks to Arab pressure, and is a big deal to the Communist secular Israeli government that a little more than a few Jews want to visit Joseph's burial site. In fact, it was not even three months ago that a young Breslover guy was murdered by Arabs at the site on the sixth day of Passover.

While it may not be that noticeable to everyone, this week's Parshat Pinchas is very related to Joseph. When Pinchas behaved as a brave Jew should be and slew the evil Zimri, leader of the tribe of Shimon, for daring to have relations with the princess of Midian in defiance of Moses, there were those Jews who dared to criticize Pinchas, excusing themselves by stating, as noted in the very first Rashi on this Parsha, that since Pinchas' grandfather Jethro was someone who fattened calves for idolatery (though he since converted to Judaism as Moses' father-in-law), that he had no right in his "lowly" background (of course forgetting that his other grandfather was none other than Aaron the High Priest who recently passed away) to "murder" the leader of one of the tribes of Israel. Of course we see that right from the start of the Parsha, Hashem rewarded Pinchas for his brave, righteous act and declared him from henceforth to be a Cohen, something that he was not granted to be up to that point in time.

But the question can be asked, why was the particular complaint from those Jews who would today be called anti-Kahane Jews, or left-wing Jews, that Pinchas' grandfather Jethro fattened calves for idolatry? Why couldn't they simply say that his grandfather was an idolworshipper. Who cares about the particular details of what Jethro did in his worship of idolatry, unless he would have shown some cruel way of behavior such as human sacrifice?

First, let's rewind back to Parshat Va'era, the first time that Pinchas' name is mentioned. It states in the verse (Exodus 6:25) that his father Elazar married one of the daughters of Putiel - one of the names of Jethro. On this, Rashi has a double meaning to this name. The first ist that this is referring to Jethro who fattened calves for idolatry, as in Hebrew, the word similar to Putiel is Peetame - "fattened". The other meaning is on a very positive note, that this name Putiel refers to Joseph who opposed his evil inclination (especially when it came to sexual immorality), as in Hebrew, the word similar to Putiel is Pitpate - "opposed".

It is true that it is very important not to criticize others before examining one's one behavior. But that is it - one's own behavior. Even if at the worst scenario, Pinchas wouldn't be considered 100% holy like his grandfather Aaron the High Priest because his other grandfather was an idolworshipper, Pinchas himself was a righteous individual, and his pedigree did not have to define his own virtuous life. In fact, there are those today who claim that they are descended from some big rabbi, but at the same time, they don't want to make the effort to follow in that rabbi's footsteps, not even being a basic observant Jew such as keeping the Sabbath or eating only kosher food. The truth is that almost everyone has some sort of "skeletons" in their backyard, and there are some great rabbis today whose own parents or grandparents were not observant Jews.

The point that the Jews who dared criticize the righteous Pinchas were attempting to bring out is that Jethro wasn't just another idol worshipper in the congregation. He was someone whose whole life was devoted to everything that was impure in terms of idolatry, and made business by fattening calves to have more meat to offer as sacrifices. In fact, our rabbis tell us that Jethro worshipped all the idols of the world at that time, as implied by the statement that he made when he came to convert to Judaism "Now I know that Hashem is greater than ALL of the gods..." (Exodus 18:11). However, Jethro himself already came to the correct conclusion nearly 40 years earlier. But in any case, even Jethro wasn't such an evil person; for in fact, he was motivated by the truth, and worshipped the various idols in his quest for the truth, and at the end, he found it.

Joseph, on the other hand, was raised in the holiest family in the world at that time, and had a unique relationship with his father Jacob, especially when it came to learning Torah from him. In fact, we learn that the very last thing that Joseph learned from his father before being sold into slavery was the portion in the Torah about a calf being decapitated to atone for a slain individual found on the road whose murderer has yet to be found. While there is an obvious connection between the calves that Jethro fattened and the Torah about a calf that is decapitated, there is a deep significance here. You see, while Joseph had sexual temptation when he was far removed from his righteous father stuck in Egypt, a land of idolatry and sexual immorality, it was the image of his father that stuck in his that reminded him not to give in to temptation; and hence, opposed his evil inclination. He never forgot that last piece of Torah that his father taught him, considering the fact that he didn't know at the time that that would be his last Torah lesson. He never forgot where he last came from, and so he would not brake the chain and sleep and live with a non-Jewish woman.

And so, if anything, Pinchas had every right to slay the evil Zimri who did give in to temptation, not just for the lust of it, but also in defiance of Moses, whom Zimri challenged as Moses did in fact marry a daughter from the land of Midian, the same place where the woman that Zimri started mating with came from. But what Zimri and the Jews who criticized Pinchas forgot is that besides the fact that Moses' wife, daughter of Jethro, did convert to Judaism, but that once someone takes upon himself or herself to live a holy, Jewish life and lives accordingly henceforth, then they are no less important than any other Jew. If anything, there is a Mitzvah in the Torah to love a convert to Judaism, hence, earning twice the reward of loving a fellow Jew when loving a convert - and NOT the other way around, as some "observant" Jews to this day who think otherwise, and look down on converts, and refuse them to be part of their own family, or don't treat them the same as other Jews who were born as such. They forget - or wish to forget - that these converts to Judaism - though these "religious from birth" Jews have no problem reading the story of Ruth every year on Shavuot, whose own great grandson was none other than King David - are JEWS BY CHOICE.

And so, Pinchas, who was born as a Jew no less than the other Jews in Egypt, and in fact, descended from the Tribe of Levi on his parental side, so he never was a slave in Egypt, but instead had all the time in the world to learn Torah, was certainly in a great spiritual position to slay the evil Zimri, as also evidenced from the fact that he also was descended from Joseph who conquered his evil inclination when it came to sexual immorality. And so, Pinchas was certainly no hypocrite; and if anything, he was the very one fit for the job of doing away with evil people, especially someone who was sexually immoral such as Zimri who was a leader of a tribe in Israel, who not only did not set a good example, but set a most evil example to possibly cause other Jews in his tribe to follow in the same evil path.


As we see the two significant meanings of the name Putiel as provided by Rashi - one of a negative nature & the other of a positive nature, we see that there are two letters that are the center of attraction here - Pei & Teit. Together, it is the number 89 in Hebrew. Very significantly, it is the Gematria of the name of the holiday Chanukah. Of course the questions begs to be offered - what does all this have to do with Chanukah?

For those who don't keep a whole lot of traditions of Judaism, and don't even go to synagogue on Saturday morning, let alone keep the Sabbath, they could never guess. You see, the Parshiyot of the Torah that fall out during Chanukah focus on one person - Joseph! These are the Parshiyot of Vayeishev, Mikeitz & Vayigash - beginning with Joseph's slavery to his rise to power to reuniting with his family and supporting them, along with his managing the affairs in Egypt to keep everyone from starving to death. In some years - the first and the second Parsha fall out during Chanukah, during other years - it is the second and third Parsha (though we never read Parshat Vayigash on a Shabbat Chanukah, in some years the week of Parshat Vayigash falls out during the remaining days of Chanukah).

This is all very nice - but what does Joseph in particular have to do with Chanukah other than the fact that we happen to read all about him during this holiday?

You see, the reason why we have Chanukah to begin with is because the Syrian-Greeks wanted us Jews to adopt their evil and immoral lifestyle, but some brave Jews refused to not only give in, but to fight them in battle to put an end to their spiritual and physical domination. The basis of this lifestyle was that in essence, though of course the Syrian Greeks worshipped various gods, they worshipped their body. Now, while in Judaism, we are supposed to take good care of our bodies, including to be health conscious, as even the Torah says "You shall take care of your beings", and there are some observant Jews who use the gym to stay fit, this is not supposed to be the end means of our lives. Our ultimate purpose of taking care of our bodies and health is in order to serve Hashem properly. However, the Syrian Greeks made this the main focus, and exemplifying this, they held the Olympic games (where the Olympics of today comes from) and men raced on the track while being naked.

Another prime example showing the immoral lifestyle of this evil nation is that they worshiped various gods about whom they wrote fictional stories of them fooling around with women; hence, justifying their own immoral, lustful behavior, since if the gods were doing what they wanted with women, then what could be wrong with it for anyone else?

Now, getting to the wording that Rashi used for Joseph opposing his evil inclination - Pitpate, this word spells the number and letters Pei Teit - which is the Gematria of the name Chanuka - twice! So as you can see, there is an intrinsic connection between Chanuka and the concept of conquering one's evil inclination, especially when it comes to sexual immorality.

And the significance of this being twice - we see this a number of times in the Torah connoting a strong confirmation, such as in oaths, and in Parshat Mikeitz - the week of this Parsha ALWAYS falling out during Chanuka - where Pharaoh had two different dreams connoting the same interpretation, about which Joseph noting that this was Hashem's way of making it clear that there was going to be seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine, and not just a couple of random dreams. Also significantly, in the beginning of the section in the Torah about what sexual relationships are forbidden that we read especially on the afternoon of Yom Kippur (Leviticus Chapter 18), it begins with (beginning Shishi of Parshat Acharei-Mot) -
Ish Ish which literally means the word man twice. While the Torah may write in similar fashion in other places in the Torah as the way it is written grammatically, we know that the Torah isn't just a fine piece of well written literature or stories.
In fact, the Torah does not use seemingly extra words unless it comes to teach us a lesson.

You see, sexual immorality doesn't compare with most other sins. Sex, women, and all are very tempting issues, and hence, we need extra guarding from falling into temptation. Hence, it isn't enough just to resolve not to sin with women, but that we take steps to ensure that this won't happen. Even Joseph after continuous attempts from Potifar's wife almost gave in, as the Midrash tells us, until Jacob's image came to his mind warning him not to sin. And so, the particular word in Hebrew used for Joseph winning the battle against sinning, as related to the name Putiel, is Pitpate, reminding us of Chanukah which was due to the Maccabbees fighting for the spiritual rights of the Jewish people, putting their lives on the line.

In fact, we see that the name Potifar, the name of Joseph's master whose wife attempting to lure Joseph with sleeping with her, also bears the letters Pei & Teit!
And as the rabbis tell us, one's wife is like one's body; and hence, it is Potifar's wife that was using the spiritual impure side of the letters Pei & Teit, the same letters used for the Hebrew word for FATTENING the calves of idolatry as the other meaning of the name Putiel. And as we know in Kabbala, there are equal forces of good & evil, as exemplified in words of opposite sides of the track with the same Gematria, such as the name Esav, Jacob's evil brother who represented bloodshed & the word Shalom/peace - both having the Gematria of 376. Another prime example is the word Nachash/snake, the creature that caused mankind to sin and allow the world the way that it is today & the word Moshiach, the Messiah who will come to rectify everything that was put on a bad spin due to the snake - both words having the Gematria of 358.

One more aspect as it relates to Joseph, is that he is commonly referred to in the writings of the Talmud, Midrash, etc. as Yosef HaTzadik - Joseph the righteous one. Not just any Biblical figure is given this special title, though there were many righteous people. As Joseph showed special strength in conquering the sexual temptation that was placed in his way, he earn this special title.

In connection with Chanukah, the word Tzadik shines out through the spiritual lights of this holiday. As there are eight days of Chanuka, and we light one additional light each night, what we do is that we multiply the first eight numbers by their same number. Hence, when we add up 1*1, 2*2, 3*3, 4*4, 5*5, 6*6, 7*7, 8*8, the total is 204, the Gematria of the word Tzadik! And as we see here, the first eight numbers are repetitive to bring out the Gematria of this word, connoting the concept of repetitiveness or being extra vigilant to prevent ourselves from sinning, which is a mark of the Tzadik, who does not want to take a chance being tempted to sin, and so unlike most others who may live as simple, nice Jews, the righteous person goes the extra mile to do everything right.

On this note, we see that though we always refer to Joseph as Yosef in Hebrew; in fact, there was a Hei added to his name, as we see in Tehillim (Psalms 81:6) in the Psalm for the FIFTH day of the week, the letter Hei - which is the numerical value of FIVE - is added to Joseph's name as Yehosef (Jehoseph). And pertaining to the seven active Sephirot, Chanuka corresponds to the Sephira of Hod/splendor - the FIFTH Sephira.

We see that the letter Hei, the letter that Hashem used to create this world which is full of materialism, is a letter that is open on the bottom, signifying that the letter is open for repentance (see Rashi on Genesis 2:4) so that even if people get caught up with the materialism in this world and are rock bottom spiritually, so long as they are breathing, they have a chance to repent. Perhaps the fact that the letter Hei appears twice in Hashem's main four letter name YKVK shows that no matter how materialistic this world seems to be, we can convert the materialism to something spiritual, and the fact that the letter Hei is repeated in Hashem's name echoes what I wrote earlier here about taking extra steps to maintain our high level of spirituality.


One thing to note off the bat is that the Yahrzeit of Joseph is in the month of Tammuz. There are varied differences of opinion as to what date of this month this is - 1st, 2nd or 27th. But what is also true is that Parshat Pinchas is ALWAYS read during this month of Tammuz.

Hence, it's not surprising that aside from the fact that Pinchas is descended from Joseph, this Parsha mentions good things as related to Joseph from BOTH of his sons (remember what I wrote earlier about the spiritual significance of something being repeated or being double) - Menashe & Ephraim. When the Parsha mentions the story of the five daughters of Tzelaphchad requesting a portion in the Land of Israel being that their father had no sons, as the laws of inheritance in Judaism grants the sons of any given family the inheritance, Rashi notes that Joseph was someone who cherished the Land of Israel, as implied in his statement to his brothers when he said to "bring up my bones from here (Egypt)" (Genesis 50:25) to eventually being buried in Israel; and similarly, these women who were descended from Joseph's son Menashe exclaimed to Moses "Give us an inheritance".

And then from Joseph's son Ephraim, we have Joshua whose name as "Joshua son of Noon" is immediately followed by the story of the women from Joseph's other son Menashe. In this context, the verse notes that the generation of the wilderness, which were the ages of 20-60 all died in the wilderness (aside from the Tribe of Levi who was all righteous) except for Caleb & Joshua, the two spies who didn't fall for the rhetoric about the Land of Israel that the other 10 evil spies poisoned the Jewish people with to the point that not only the grown up men cried as babies, but some of them even suggested to return to Egypt, and as Rashi notes, they wanted to turn to idolatry. And then immediately after the story about these five women, Moses asks Hashem to appoint a leader for the Jews after his passing. In response to this, Hashem tells Moses that Joshua would be the man for this position.

So as you see, there is a very strong connection between Joseph & Joshua pertaining to Israel. And as I mentioned in the beginning of this post about both of their names beginning with the letter Yud=10, the Land of Israel possesses 10 levels of holiness (Mishna Tractate Keilim 1:6-9), the holiest of which is the Kodesh Kodoshim/Holy of Holies, the room in the Temple in which only the Cohen Gadol/High Priest was allowed to enter, and at that, only on Yom Kippur, which is the 10th of Tishrei.

Now, getting back to the same age of 110 that both Joseph & Joshua passed away, we learn in the Midrash about both of them (mentioned in their respective places) that Hashem shortened their lives by 10 years for something that they each had done.

We learn that because Joseph heard his brothers, before knowing that Joseph as the viceroy to Pharaoh was their long lost brother, called their father "Your servant" 10 times, and hence correspondingly, he lived 10 years less than he was originally was supposed to live. While Joseph was not making it known to his brothers as of yet that he was their brother, and objecting to their saying this could have possibly made them suspicious, as he wanted to first make sure that they were truly sorry for their sin of selling him into slavery, he was still held accountable by Hashem for not protesting this lack of respect that he silently implied hearing his father being called a servant, because Hashem held the righteous Joseph to high spiritual standards, but he failed to uphold his father's honor.

Then, we learn about Joshua that the verse in the Book of Joshua states that he took a long time to fight the battles that the Jews had over the course of seven years. Now, while some people would think that indeed, it takes a nice while to fight 31 kings, and that seven years sounds pretty reasonable, but Hashem knew differently. You see, it seems that Joshua was informed early on that his passing would be dependent on fighting the wars; meaning, that he would die after finishing the battles that he was supposed to fight in order for the Jews to inherit the Land. Now we do see that in fact, Joshua lived another 21 years - seven years of dividing the Land for the Jews according to their tribes, and 14 years of retirement. However, these years were going to be granted to him anyways, and the only years in question were the time that it would take him to fight the battles. This means, that had Joshua would have let's say done everything in three years - he still would have lived another 21 years PLUS 10 more years, a total of 31 years. However, since Joshua thought he was smart by taking his time fighting in order to increase his amount of years of living, Hashem showed him who was smarter.

You see, the sooner that Joshua would have finished the wars, the sooner the Jewish people would be able to inherit the land, and move on with their lives at home with their families, their work, and their spiritual service. But this was not possible so long as the Jewish people had wars to fight. Sure, Hashem could have made things easier for them, but he wanted them to WORK for it. However, Joshua took advantage of this to so to speak prolong his life.

For this, Hashem deducted 10 years from the total life that he was meant to live. Why 10 years? Why not just deduct the amount of years that Joshua tried to save beyond the years that he actually needed to do all the fighting; meaning, the amount of the extra years that he didn't need, plus the corresponding amount of years to make it less than the total amount of years originally meant for him? But as I mentioned just a little earlier, this was about the delaying the Jews from inherting the land to continue their spiritual life instead of just fighting being away from their families to have more Jewish children - and the Land consists of TEN levels of holiness, which the Jews were deprived from benefiting so long as they couldn't continue just living on the land as Jewish families. Hence, it was also "measure for measure" that Hashem deducted 10 years from Joshua's life, the same way that Hashem deducted 10 years of life from his ancestor Joseph.

Now, while Joshua may have had good intentions, since after all, the longer he lived in this world as a righteous person doing the Mitzvot/Commandments, the better it would be, not only in terms of spiritual accomplishment, but in more spiritual eternal bliss, when Hashem tells us to do something, we are not supposed to be smart and do things our way. Joshua had a responsibility to take care of the Jews in the best way possible, but in this instance, he thought selfishly about himself, howbeit with what we would say good intentions. However, this was not for him to decide, this was up to Hashem. And so, since Joshua didn't behave properly in this regard, he indeed lost out - not just in the physical sense of the amount of years, but obviously in the spiritual sense, since years were deducted from his life to be able to earn more eternal brownie points.

On the positive side, the number of the amount of years that Joseph & Joshua lived - 110 - hints to the ascent in holiness, though it may not be the number in Hebrew, as nothing is a coincidence. As we mentioned earlier, both Joseph & Joshua were very connected with Israel. Now, we call moving to Israel as "making Aliyah". The word Aliyah means an elevation, just as we say that someone who is called up to the Torah receives an Aliyah, as it is a spiritual elevation. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, Joseph told his brothers to "bring UP my bones..." as in Hebrew, the word for "Bring up" is V'Ha'alitem, cognate of the word Aliyah.

And as I mentioned earlier, there are 10 levels of holiness connected with Israel; hence from one (1) to ten (10), the 10th one being the Holy of Holies that the High Priest entered on Yom Kippur, which is the TENTH of Tishrei (this word being the Gematria of nine hundred and TEN!), the holiest date of the year. Indeed, "we go up in holiness, but we don't decrease". In fact, the Hebrew number for 110 is Koof Yud, the first letters of the words Yud Kedushot - TEN (levels of) HOLINESS.

13 Tamuz 5771

P.S. Stay tuned for my upcoming special post celebrating...All I will say is that I will be writing this timely post, G-d willing, on Sunday night or on Monday, but I promise you, it will be a most special post on

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