Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#115 - House of the Father

Yesterday - Rosh Chodesh Av - was the Yahrzeit of Aharon HaCohen/Aaron the High Priest. And while I have written about this Biblical figure in the previous two years pertaining to his Yahrzeit, each time comes with a new dimension pertaining to this very holy figure, not just because he was the first High Priest of the Jews, or was Moses' brother, but because he was the peacemaker par excellence, both for Jews fighting on the street and for spouses fighting at home.

In Hebrew, the phrase used for domestic tranquility describing a peaceful marriage is Shalom Bayit, which literally means "peace of the home". And so being that today's date is Beit Av (2 Av), as Beit and Bayit/home is the same word, just with different vowels, it is very appropriate today to write a little more on this subject of peace, Aaron's superior quality.

As we are find ourselves in the time frame of the Nine Days which concludes with Tisha B'Av, the date that marks the destruction of two Holy Temples, the Talmud (Yoma 9b) notes that while the First Temple was destroyed due to idolatry, adultery, and murder, the Second Temple was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam/baseless hatred for other Jews, which comes to teach us that this one sin is equal to the other three sins.

Sometimes, it's easy for some of us to loose focus of what it is all about. For example, when we fast on a Fast Day, especially like Tisha B'Av when we start the fast from sunset on one day and conclude it at nightfall the following evening, coming out close to 25 hours, just as it is with Yom Kippur, we may tend not to feel in such a good mood that could affect us with our relationship with other people. But perhaps the idea of this fast, besides the fact that we are repenting for the sins that caused us to fast to begin with, is that we should feel what it is like to suffer in some measure; and hence, we will feel for other people and be more understanding of who they are, even if we don't always agree with their viewpoint or if they come from a very different culture than we do.

It happened once back in Europe where a good percentage of Jews used to live that there was this fight going on in a Jewish home that took place on Tisha B'Av of all days. People witnessing this approached Rabbi Rephael of Barshid, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, to help out, "but", they advised the rabbi, "you probably will want to go tomorrow, since today is a fast day". However, the rabbi insisted on going to help out on the spot, as he put it, "The Temple got destroyed due to the sin of Sinat Chinam. Hence, it is most fitting that on this very day of the destruction of the Temple, that we are supposed to be involved with making peace".

Now, getting to the number of this post, and as related to Aaron, it is Psalm 115 that includes the phrase "House of Aaron" not once, but twice. In fact, since we do recite Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, which includes the Yahrzeit of Aaron since he passed away on Rosh Chodesh Av, since psalm is included in Hallel, consisting of Psalms 113-118. Now, it is true that on Rosh Chodesh, unlike with most other holidays, we do not recite Hallel in its entirety, leaving out the first half of both Psalms 115 & 116. Hence, when reciting the Hallel prayer yesterday, we mentioned the phrase Beit Aharon in Psalm 115 only once as the first half of it also mentions this phrase. However, we also mentioned this phrase in Psalm 118 of Hallel, so yesterday, we had the uniqueness of mentioning Aaron's name twice in celebrating Rosh Chodesh, as it so happens that Aaron passed away on a Rosh Chodesh.

But before we get stuck on saying that it "so happens", Aaron's passing away on this date is the furthest thing away from a mere coincidence. As I have mentioned in the past, including my previous post, Aaron's Yahrzeit is the ONLY Yahrzeit mentioned in the ENTIRE BIBLE! Moreover, of all days, he passed away on the beginning of a month. But even this is an understatement, because the phrase Rosh Chodesh literally means - Head of the month, as it isn't merely the beginning of something, or the first of something, but THE HEAD, which includes the rest of the month. In fact, at the recounting of Aaron passing away in Parshat Chukat, it mentions that the Jewish people mourned for him for 30 days. Hence, the Torah makes it clear to us that the ENTIRE MONTH OF AV is related to Aaron, though Rosh Chodesh Av is the date that he passed away on.

So the question can be asked, what does the month of Av in particular have to do with Aaron other than the fact that he passed away on the first day of the month, though it was on Rosh Chodesh Av? Perhaps it should be his birth month, or the month of Nissan, since Aaron began his Priestly duties on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. And also, why is it that only Aaron's Yahrzeit is mentioned in the entire Bible?

First of all, the date that a Tzadik/righteous person passes away marks the day that he completed a lifetime of righteous accomplishments. In the long run, though it may be hard for some to comprehend in this world, there is far more of a reason to celebrate the day of one's passing than one's birth (I have heard more than once from whatever rabbi who was officiating at a funeral saying that everyone has gathered for the celebration of the deceased's life); since after all, who knows how a person is going to behave during his or her lifetime? If a person will not live to contribute something to society, is there a genuine reason to feel happy about someone else's birthday? Perhaps for the person himself or herself, that person wants to annually celebrate it as a reason to party or have a good time with family or friends. But in essence, if a person fails in the mission of serving Hashem, then if anything, the birthday may be a reason to mourn, because if one fails to understand why a person became born in this world, then at the end of one's lifetime, it will be a true reason for mourning, not just in this world, but in the fires of hell for failing his or her mission of what Hashem as the Father or King asked this person to do.

While it is true that Moses, Aaron's brother, is considered the ultimate Tzadik, and so while the rabbis tell us in very clear terms as to what his birthday and Yahrzeit is, which is the same date of 7 Adar, not everyone could necessarily relate to him. You see, when Aaron passed away, the Torah makes it very clear that both men and women mourned him - "the ENTIRE house of Israel cried thirty days for Aaron" (Numbers 20:29), as he clearly was most appreciated for his peace making efforts between husband and wife. However, when Moses passed away, it was basically only the men who cried "The children of Israel cried thirty days for Moses". Of course Moses had nothing against women, but he had a very different role where he didn't directly relate to women as he related to men, unless he was approached as we see with the daughters of Tzelaphchad. However, the point here is that since Aaron was the greatest righteous person that EVERYONE could relate to - it was his Yahrzeit that is publicly displayed in the Bible. More than this, the Torah is not interested in jotting down dates or giving a history or social studies lesson. When the Torah does mention a date, it is obviously for an important reason, but for mentioning when people passed away in the Bible, the Torah found it necessary to mention only Aaron's Yahrzeit to teach us this lesson.

The name of the month of Av, though not the original name for this month as until around the time of the Babylonian exile, the Jewish months were only known by number - the first month, the second month, etc. beginning with Nissan, means "father". It is true that sometimes, this month is called Menachem Av, being that Menachem which means "comforter" is related to the theme of this month since we read Haftaras following Tisha B'Av which relate Hashem's comforting the Jewish people for the troubles that happened to them and that we will be redeemed one day, never to suffer again. But in any case, as Aaron, as the representative of Hashem was the FIRST Cohen Gadol/High Priest, the Av/father in fact refers to Hashem as Av.

And now another question. Why is it specifically the title of Av in describing Hashem, and not as Melech/king or some other title describing His G-dliness, rather than some other theme showing Hashem's mightiness. While it is true that a father is an authority figure that a child is expected to honor and fear, but a father, in contrast to a king who will sometimes have someone killed with no warning due to some infraction, usually loves his child unconditionally, though usually he will take steps for a child who disobeys him.

In fact, we are describing the very conditions of Tisha B'Av. True, Hashem as King made his point clear that the Jews as his servants disobeyed him and hence they were punished in various ways culminating with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews. However, if we were to describe Hashem particularly as king, this could denote G-d forbid that since now we disobeyed him, then we have no more rights to be his "Chosen Nation". Maybe some would think that now it is too late, and we will never again have another Temple or permanent homeland. However, despite all our shortcomings, Hashem behaved more like a father, who may punish a child, but will much more likely have it in the best interest of the child than a king would for a subject of his who punishes basically to show who is boss.

At times, a father will punish a child in some way which is in lieu of doing something much worse, not just to teach a lesson or doing it for his child's benefit, but to spare his child the worse. Similarly, Hashem punished the Jewish people with the destruction of the Temple, not just to teach a lesson or do it for our benefit, but to spare us the worse. In fact, Hashem's wrath on the Temple was in lieu of his full force wrath on the Jewish people; and hence, while all the other nations were lost in the due course of time - the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans who enslaved us, we are the only nation that has survived despite every reason according to the rules of nature as to why we should have disappeared long ago due to anti-Semitism.

And so, Aaron, representing Hashem who is the Av HaRachaman, "Father of Mercy" as we say in our prayers in his role of the FIRST Cohen Gadol in the Mishkan/Tabernacle - the forerunner of the Temple, passed away on the Head of this month called Av. Indeed we have a few things here beginning with the letter Alef - the HEAD of the letters. Aaron's name begins with an Alef, the date of his passing is Alef Av, and the name Av begins with an Alef. Accordingly, Hashem is called the Alufo Shel Olam - Chief of the World, as Aluf/Chief is related to the first letter of the Alef Beit. It was indeed most fitting that Aaron served in his capacity as the ultimate peacemaker, who had mercy on his brethren, looking on their good side rather than on their bad side; and hence, had the unique ability to make peace between everyone, even lying to both parties to make this happen.

It's also interesting to note that the word Av consists of the FIRST two letters of the Alef Beit, the same letters that are the name for the Hebrew alphabet. The connection here is that letters are used to put together a word; hence, showing a sense of unity, despite the differences of sound and looks. To note, the Vilna Gaon pointed out that you will never encounter a word in the entire Tanach/Bible where the letters Gimmel & Teit are together, since these two letters spell the word Get/Jewish divorce, as divorce is the opposite of marriage that binds two people together; and accordingly, the fact that these two letters will not be spelled together indicate this fact.

Though in effect, Hashem "divorced" us in the sense that he chased us from our land and destroyed the building that housed our main line of communication with Him, Hashem has promised us many times in the Scriptures that he will take us back once again. At the very least, He is still our Father if nothing else, and at the very least, we can still talk to Him in holy places such as in the synagogue; and as the Talmud (Berachot 3) states, when we answer in the Kaddish - Y'hei Shmei Rabba..."May His great name be blessed...", Hashem proclaims Ashrei HaMelech... "Fortunate is the King Who is praised by His children like this". Mah Lo L'Av... "Woe is to the Father
Who exiled His children between the nations, and woe to the children who were exiled form the table of their Father".

We see clearly here that when it comes to us praising Hashem, He is referred to as King, as we have shown that by serving Him, that we have in mind to Whom we are serving. However, when it comes to what Hashem did to us for not obeying him, He is calling Himself "Father", not once but twice! Hashem doesn't want to punish us as a king who does away with a subject of his when he disobeys orders, but rather as a father who is sometimes in fact hurt when he has to punish a child, but has every intention of continuing to love his child despite the wrongdoing that the little boy or girl has done.

And while Tisha B'Av may be the date that commemorates what happened to us and the Temple, the number Tisha/nine as the date that this happened isn't isn't only connection to the month of Av. In fact, we see kabbalistically, that of all the letters of the Alef Beit, it is the letter Teit=9 that corresponds to this month, for in essence, it is the ENTIRE MONTH OF AV - the very period of time for the Jewish people crying upon Aaron's passing - that is related to this concept of Hashem behaving towards us like a father, combining the actions of Chesed/kindness & Gevurah/strength or severity to yield the result of Rachamim/mercy as the Av HaRachaman/Father of Mercy.

And hence, the ultimate Shalom Bayit between Hashem & the Jewish people, compared to the bridegroom & bride respectively, is when we have peace amongst ourselves, just in a situation when a father wants to bestow goodness on his children, but the full force of this is only possible when there is peace between his children. It is then and only then when we work on peace between each other that we can expect Hashem to once again build the structure called the Third Temple - Beit HaMikdash HaShelishi - that will house our ultimate expressions of love for each other.

And as I mentioned just before, the letters Gimmel=3 and Teit=9 are never together in a word in the Bible, we know that the Third Temple will never be destroyed - connected with the letter Gimmel=3 beginning the words Gemilut Chasadim/bestowing kindnesses, unlike what happened with the first two Temples which are connected to the concept of a Father who shows both kindness AND SEVERITY, demonstrated by the letter Teit=9 or the word Tisha/nine, because unlike in most marriages that end off with divorce which is usually permanent, marked with a Jewish divorce called a Get where the permanence of the Gimmel is combined with the Teit of chasing away, Hashem chased us away only for a limited period of time, and thus has no permanence as connected with the letter Gimmel. And in the future when we finally have the Third Temple, only then will we see the full range of Hashem being the ultimate Merciful Father, as the word Av is the Gematria of THREE, the numerical value of Gimmel.

And relating Aaron further to the concept of the Beit HaMikdash/Temple, the Talmud (Berachot 58a) notes that Hod/splendor corresponds to the Beit HaMikdash, and of the seven active Sephirot, it is the FIFTH Sephira Hod that corresponds to Aaron, the FIFTH of the seven "Shepherds" or Ushpizin/Heavenly Guests of the Succah, bearing in mind that the first letter of Hod is Hei=5. Accordingly, Aaron passed away on the HEAD of the FIFTH month of the Jewish calendar that is most related to the concept of the Beit HaMikdash. And there is a custom among some Jews to learn a particular chapter of Mishna on each of the seven days of Succot as related to these seven Biblical figures; and for Aaron, the corresponding chapter is the FIFTH and final chapter of Middot, the tractate about the various dimensions of the Temple and its rooms and vessels, ending off with the qualifying of those deemed worthy to serve as Cohanim as Aaron's descendants in the Temple. And speaking of the Mishna, Seder Kodoshim, the volume of the Mishnayot that deals with the Korbanot/offerings or animal sacrifices and the Temple relating mostly to Cohanim, Aaron's parental descendants, is the FIFTH of the six volumes of the Mishnayot. And speaking of which, in the section about the Temple offerings and incense that we recite in our daily morning prayers, it is the FIFTH chapter of the first tractate called Zevachim of the FIFTH volume of the Mishnayot that we recite daily.

And just as we describe the Temple as BEIT HaMikdash or BEIT HaBechira - (The Chosen House as the Rambam describes it), so too does Psalms describe the Cohanim as BEIT Aaron; and unlike Moses where it says that it was the B'nei Yisrael - Children of Israel - who mourned him, of Aaron, it was that is the BEIT Yisrael - HOUSE of Israel, which not only hints to the concept of the Temple as related to the month of Aaron's passing, but also denotes a sense of unity, unlike with the phrase B'nei Yisrael which sometimes denotes the individuality, rather than just the totality of everyone, as demonstrated as the beginning of Sefer Shemot/Book of Exodus, where it states that "These are the names of the Children of Israel..." and then lists their individual names. However, a HOUSE or household denotes the entirety of a family, a tribe, a nation. And as I mentioned a little earlier about Hashem's response to us responding the phrase Y'hei Shmei Rabba... in the Kaddish, this response immediately follows the words (following stating that Hashem will reign and bring the Redemption) in our lifetimes and the life of ALL THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL...", the capitalized words being THE VERY WORDS describing who mourned for Aaron! And speaking of a Yahrzeit as related to Aaron, the Kaddish prayer is one of the prime ways that memorialize the passing of a loved one.

On a personal note, Rosh Chodesh Av - the Yahrzeit of Aaron - began my 511th month. You see, the number 511 is the Gematria of a very unique word in our prayers, which is especially related to Tehillim/Book of Psalms - Ashrei/fortunate. It is this very word that begins this most recited book in the history of the world - both as part of the Bible and as prayers. This word also begins the longest chapter in the Bible - Psalm 119, consisting of 176 verses.

And in our daily prayers, we also say a prayer three times a day that begins with the word Ashrei. There is a little irony here, because in fact, as we see in the Talmud (Tractate Berachot), this prayer is actually called Tehilla LeDavid - Psalm 145, but in time, there were two extra verses added to the beginning of this psalm and one verse at the end. Hence, the word Ashrei beginning this prayer actually comes from a different place in Tehillim (Psalms 84:5) - Ashrei Yoshvei Veitecha Od Yehalelucha Selah "Fortunate are the ones who sit in Your House, they will yet praise You forever". In my Kavanat HaLev prayerbook, it translates this as "Fortunate are the Cohanim & Levites in the Beit HaMikdash...". Indeed, I am a Levite, and the 511th month of my life is the month of Av that most relates to the concept of the Beit HaMikdash! And in terms of the Levites who sang in the Temple, the word for song in Aramaic is Shira, spelled with an Alef at the end (unlike the word Shira in regular Hebrew which is spelled with a Hei at the end), which have the same letters as the word Ashrei. By the way, I didn't have time to write this special post yesterday, since instead, I was at the Kotel HaMa'aravi/Western Wall, part of the environs of the Temple. Yes, it was a great way of celebrating Aaron's Yahrzeit yesterday, as well as the personal connection that I have with this month.

Moreover, I have another major connection with this month, since as mentioned in the Chasidic Sefer B'nei Yissaschar which correlates the months with the particular tribes, this FIFTH month of Av corresponds with the Tribe of Shimon, my namesake! In fact, a most worthy descendant of Aaron, the first High Priest was Shimon HaTzadik, one of the early High Priests of the Second Temple, who passed away on 29 Tishrei, which is the FIRST day of the FIFTH week of Tishrei, just like his ancestor Aaron the High Priest who passed away on the FIRST day of the FIFTH month!

We then see that regarding Tu B'Av (15 Av), at the middle of the month, that the Mishna (Ta'anit 4:5) tells us that among the nine dates of the year that there was a wood festival celebrating the times that wood was donated in the beginning of the Second Temple when there wasn't much wood at one time, becoming annual dates of celebration, one of these times was Tu B'Av, when along with the family who celebrated their ancestor's donating the wood on that date, THE COHANIM AND LEVITES also celebrated on this day as their personal Yom Tov. And then at the end of this chapter of the Mishna (4:8), it was none other than Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel, a Rabbi with my namesake, who stated that on this date (as well as Yom Kippur), the unmarried women danced in the vineyards with the hope of attracting men to marry. And the end of this Mishna, which is also the end of this chapter, as well as the conclusion of this Mishnaic tractate, ends off stating that the phrase "on the day of the happiness of his heart" coming from Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs, refers to the building of the Beit HaMikdash "that it will be built speedily in our days, Amen!" And it was on this date of Tu B'Av that Rabbi Shimon Lavie, the one who wrote the most popular song about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the teachings of the Kabbalistic book called the Zohar (who passed away on the FIFTH day of the FIFTH week of the Sephira - Hod She'B'Hod!) "Bar Yochai", passed away in the year 5348 - Hei Shin Mem Cheit, these letters when rearranged spell both the words Chamisha/FIVE & Simcha/HAPPINESS! (In another few days is the Yahrzeit of the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Arizal) who opened up the teachings of Kabbalah to the world, who passed away on the FIFTH day of the FIFTH month - 5 Av). Also to note, this date of Tu B'Av - 15 Av is connected to the Sephira of Hod, as this word Hod is the Gematria of 15, the Sephira that corresponds to Aaron who passed away on the beginning of this month and the Beit HaMikdash.

To mention the number of this post - 115 - as related to all this - you can dissect this number into two parts - 1 & 15. Hence, you have the number one which is the numerical value of Alef that begins the words Aaron, Av & Alef; and 15 is the Gematria of Hod as well as representing the date of Tu B'Av. Also, when you add these two numbers together (1+15) yielding 16, and then you multiply this number by itself (16*16), the total is 256, both the Gematria of Aharon's name, as well as the name of this week's Parsha in which Aaron's Yahrzeit falls out on this year - Devarim.

And just when you thought it was over - the four consecutive numbers beginning with the number of this post, which are 115, 116, 117, 118 add up to the total of 466, the Gematria of the name Shimon! In fact, when reciting Hallel in the Seder of Passover night, we split up the Hallel into two parts - Psalms 113 & 114 at the end of Maggid, and then Psalms 115-118 at what is called Hallel near the end of the Seder. The reason for this division of Hallel into two parts at the Seder is that the first two psalms focuses on the redemption from Egypt while these latter four psalms focuses on the future Redemption. Hence, we have the concept of both the concept of the Temple & the Redemption all into one package.

A hint to the month of Av as related to the month of Nissan can be seen in the Torah which describes Nissan as Chodesh Ha'Aviv "Month of the Spring". If you dissect the word Ha'Aviv/the spring into a few parts, what you will see is that this phrase can be read as Chodesh Hei - Av "Month 5 - Av"! In fact, there is a source that states that the reason why this month is called Av/father is that in the future, this month will be the FATHER of the months. This is probably on the assumption that the future Redemption will take place in this month, just like the redemption of the Exodus took place of Nissan, giving it the reason of being the "head of the months".

Anyways, getting back to the Psalms 115-118, the phrase of Beit Aharon is mentioned in both psalms 115 & 118, the first and last of these four psalms, whose numbers add up to the total of the Gematria of Shimon, the name of the Tribe who corresponds to the month of Av that is also especially connected with Aaron. And to mention, the Radak on the first mention of Beit Aharon in Psalm 115 "House of Aaron, trust in Hashem" and the Malbim on the second mention of Beit Aharon in Psalm 115 - "He (Hashem) will bless the House of Aaron" as well as the mention of Beit Aharon in Psalm 118 - "The House of Aaron will now say - for His kindness is everlasting", refer to BOTH the Cohanim & the Levites, the same as referred to by the verse that begins the thrice daily recited Ashrei prayer.

May we merit and be fortunate to see the day that we will be able to see and experience once again what it means being both Beit Yisrael - House of Israel & Beit Av - HOUSE OF THE FATHER.

2 Av, 5771

P.S. A note to all commentors. While I have no objection to non-Jews writing comments on my blogs, this does not include comments talking about or leading to Christian theology. I just noticed today a comment about a link pertaining to Christianity that a guy named Erin sneaked like a month after a post which was also about Aaron that I wrote a year ago, which I deleted of course. In the future, G-d willing, I will be checking the comments periodically to see if there are any unwanted comments. THERE IS ZERO TOLERANCE for comments that are written that attempt to snare Jews away from Judaism or entice them to another religion. Period!

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