Thursday, November 3, 2011

#122 - The Finished Product

In this week's Parshat Lech Lecha, we see the story of the Brit Bein HaBetarim "Covenant Between the Parts" (Genesis 15). Following Abraham cutting the animals, and falling into a deep sleep, Hashem informs him that his descendants will be slaves in another land for 400 years, promising him at the end that they will afterwards inherit the Land of Israel.

In a previous post #116 - Years of Slavery (Aug '11), I made it clear that in fact, the Jews were slaves in Egypt for only 116 years. The 400 years until the Exodus began with Abraham's first Jewish descendant - his son Isaac. The basic explanation given for why Hashem's statement to Abraham about the 400 years is not contradictory is that since the bad news about the slavery was already given, the period of 400 years of slavery was considered to begin with Abraham's first Jewish descendant Isaac's birth, whose descendants in turn would be slaves. Another explanation given for this is that in fact, the Jews were destined for 400 years of slavery, but since the Egyptians oppressed the Jews far more than what Hashem intended for them, they were released from Egypt in less than a "third of the time" (perhaps this is where the concept of releasing prisoners for sometimes a third of their sentence for "good behavior" comes from).

While in fact, in the chapter of the Exodus, it mentions that the Jews sojourned in Egypt for 430 years, referring to 430 years earlier when Abraham was told the bad news of the slavery; taking the Bible literally, it states that the Jews were to be slaves for 400 years, and that the Jews were already settled in Egypt 30 years earlier. In fact, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) records a debate that took place in front of Alexander the Great in which the Egyptians of his time claimed that the Jews need to return the gold and silver that they borrowed from them. There was a Jew named Geviha Ben Pesisa who pointed out that the Jews worked for the Egyptians for 430 years, and so, the gold and silver was payment for this. The Egpytians of Alexander the Great's day then asked him to give them three days to answer this point. However, the Egyptians not being so familiar with the Torah, had no answer, and fled their country. So while it wasn't true that the Jews were slaves for so long, what was true that had the Jews not "borrowed" the gold and silver that Hashem mentioned to the to do, the Egyptians wouldn't have paid the Jews anything, since after all, the Jews were slaves to Pharaoh, and as such, were not employees who work for pay.

Anyways, we will concentrate today on the 400 years window of time. With this, the question can be asked, why did Hashem assign the Jews specifically 400 years of slavery, even as Hashem knew beforehand that they were not going to be slaves for that long. As it is, Hashem told Abraham how many generations it would be for the Jews to return to Israel. So, why was it even necessary for Hashem to mention a number, unless there is some significance to that number?

And this is where Gematriot come into play. As we know, there are 22 basic letters of the Alef Beit, which concludes with the letter Tav, which is the numerical value of 400. But before getting into details of the Gematria of this letter, let's mention a few points about this letter itself.

To begin with, both near the beginnings of the Zohar and the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (Note: The names of the authors of the teachings of these two holy books is the name Shimon, my namesake) mention the story of the letters of the Alef Beit wanting to be the first letter of the Torah (yes, the Alef Beit that Hashem created are real spiritual creatures, like the angels). In both sources, the letters waiting in line for the request began from Tav - the last of the letters to the beginning of the letters. However, there is a major difference between the two sources. The Zohar states that the Tav's claim to be the first letter of the Torah is because the letter Tav ends the word Emet/truth, and since Hashem is called Emet, it would only be fitting then for the Torah to begin with this letter. In the Yalkut Shimoni, the Tav's claim is that it begins the word Torah, and "it is through me that Moses will begin teaching the Torah, as mentioned in the verse Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe "The Torah that Moses commanded us..." Indeed, most logical. After all, if the name Torah itself begins with a Tav, it only makes sense to begin the Torah with this very letter.

However, Hashem had different plans. The truth is that He wanted the letter Beit to be the first letter of the Torah; so in fact, what Hashem told the other letters were so to speak "excuses" for not being the letter to start the Torah. However, only Hashem is entitled to give excuses without being a Torah violation of stating a lie. For in fact, Hashem doesn't speak any falsehood, for the reasons that Hashem turned the letters down for the letter position was a good enough of a reason for all those letters not to be qualified. And so, in both sources mentioning this story, Hashem told the Tav that in the future, it would be this letter that would mark the forehead of even the Jews in the time of the destruction of the First Temple who kept the Torah "from Alef to Tav" to be marked for death, as the last letter of Mavet/death is Tav.

The letter Tav, in whatever version it was, for in fact, both accounts of what the Tav said had to have been true, or otherwise, it would be false Torah - had excellent points. For that matter, the word for the letter Beit that began the Torah ends with the letter Tav - Beit, Yud, Tav.

In any case, we do see a parallel of the various concepts as related to the letter Tav. First, it states in the Talmud (Sabbath 55a & Sanhedrin 64a) "The seal of the Holy One Blessed Be He is truth", and as we know, the seal on a letter is the final touch on the letter itself before being mailed out, just as Hashem seals our fate on Yom Kippur. And just as the letter Tav ends the word Emet, so too does it also end the word Mavet, for death concludes the life of a person in this world. And as being a sign on the forehead of those slated for death at the destruction of the First Temple, it was more than just the death of many Jews, but the death - or at least the temporary cessation - of the spiritual glory of the Jews with the destruction of the First Temple. On a positive note, it was built by King Solomon, whose name Shlomo means completeness, not only in the sense that everything was in place for the Jews physically "everyone under his vine and fig tree", but also spiritually, for it was the long awaited Temple for nearly 450 years since the Jews came to Israel was finally built. And even though the Second Temple was built a mere 70 years after the destruction of the First Temple, it was missing five things which meant that the Second Temple was not on a high spiritual level as was the First Temple, and it will be only the Third and Final Temple that we await for its speedily construction that will be the ultimate Temple in spiritually.

It is significant to note that according to the version of the Yalkut Shimoni, the Tav referred to the concept of beginning the word Torah as it relates to the verse Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe which is found in the LAST Parsha of the Torah. And this LAST Parsha of the Torah is read on Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah which occurs on the 22nd day of Tishrei (the way it is according to the Torah, and celebrated as such in Israel; Jews outside of Israel observe two days of this holiday, concluding the Torah on the second day), just as the letter Tav is the 22nd and final letter. And while we never finish learning the Torah, for in fact, we show this by immediately beginning with the reading of the beginning of the Torah (that begins with the letter Beit for the word Bereishit "In the beginning"), there is a special concept of celebrating the conclusion of learning a section of the Torah, both when we conclude reading the final section of the Sefer Torah/Torah scroll on this holiday, and when we conclude a volume of the Mishna or a tractate of the Gemara/Talmud.

In a few weeks from now, we will be reading in Parshat Toldot about Jacob, who is described as Ish Tam "man of simpleness". The Torah describes Jacob in this fashion, to teach us that unlike his brother Esau who used cleverness, craftiness, and cover ups for his evil lifestyle by pretending to be a righteous Torah scholar to his father Isaac, Jacob learned Torah for the right reasons without resorting to money, power, politics, etc. to assert his own position or comforts of life.

Relating to this, the word Tam has another meaning - finished. In fact, you will see a phrase at the end of some holy works - Tam V'Nishlam Shevach L'E-l Borei Olam "Finished and completed. Praise to G-d, the Creater of the world". And as we know, Jacob was the 22nd generation from Adam & Eve.

O.K., it's nice to note that Jacob was the 22nd generation, just as the letter Tav that begins the word Tam in describing Jacob is the 22nd and last letter of the Alef Beit. However, what does this have to do with the concept of finishing? If anything, Jacob - the one who is called the Bechir She'B'Avot "Chosen one of the Forefathers", since he represented the pillar of Torah, the greatest of Mitzvot/Commandments was the one who stared the concept of a Jewish people with the birth of his 12 sons, the Twelve Tribes of Israel?

To answer this, we have to take a step and two back in history. You see, Abraham had several sons, and the only one who fit the role of being the ancestor of the Jews was Isaac. Similarly, Isaac had two sons, and it was Jacob who fit the role of being the ancestor fo the Jews. However, ALL of Jacob's sons were righteous and fitting to have a part of being ancestors of the Jewish people. Hence, it was Jacob who was the one, as the 22nd generation from Adam & Eve, who FINISHED the refinery process of having sons who would ALL be part of the Jewish people.

And this explains why Jacob, after receiving the blessings from Isaac, and was instructed by him to go to his mother's brother's place to start a family, made a detour by learning in the Yeshiva of Shem & Ever for 14 years. True, he learned much Torah already, but as explained by others, in order for him to be prepared for the outside world without being influenced, it would be necessary for him to spend these extra years before beginning the seed of the Jewish people. For while both his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were very righteous people, there was apparently some kind of spiritual mutation in their genes that led to begotting wicked children.
However, Jacob would have none of this. He realized that despite Abraham bringing so many other people to serve Hashem instead of the idols and Isaac being a "complete sacrifice" when Abraham brought him up to the altar and hence never left the Holy Land of Israel in his entire lifetime of 180 years, these spiritual achievements did not totally filter out bad spiritual genes that led to descendants such as the Arabs, Hindus, Amalekites, Vikings, Germans, etc. And so, Jacob made sure that through the Torah, the ultimate spiritual value, this would not happen through his descendants (Note: The fact that many evil Jews have existed does not take away from this fact because these are/were individuals in sharp contrast to whole nations who inherited the evil characteristics of Ishmael, the sons of Ketura, and Esau.)

An interesting observation to be made of a SIMPLE two letter Hebrew word Tam which means SIMPLE - Tav & Mem; when in reverse, spells the word Meit/dead. For while Jews who seem to be simple and naive without "dreying their cop" with all kinds of "narrashkeit" may seem not to be in sync with reality, the truth is that these good Jews are the very ones who are the cause of the world being in existance with their knowledge and performance of the Torat HaChaim - the Torah of life, for without it, the word Tam spelled in reverse is the spiritual death which is an eternal death, cut off from the eternal reality that is in the next world. And while there are those who boast of the physical and scholarly accomplishments of secular Jews who may have made a difference in the standards of living for the world or for their particular country, these accomplishments of Jews are meaningful to Hashem only if coupled with a life of Torah, knowing what the true purpose of life is. This is why according to Jewish law, while we say a special blessing upon seeing a non-Jewish scientist, we do not make a blessing upon seeing a Jewish scientist. Sorry Albert Einstein, but this also means you. Wait a minute - I don't think he can hear me anyways, for he willed himself to be cremated (mind you, after the Holocaust that he escaped where many Jews were cremated against their will), which means that he is now eternally damned, and as mentioned in Jewish law, not even Kaddish is said on such a person who willed to have his "image of G-d" burnt, since it won't help.

Now, getting back to the story of the Covenant of Between the Parts, Hashem made it clear that it would take 400 years for the Jews to go through the slavery process to refine them at the end. For while unfortunately, there were those Jews who still had the slavery mentality in the wilderness following the Exodus and in fact perished there because of their lack of faith in Hashem Who promised that He would take them to a land "flowing with milk and honey" without worries of being decimated by the giants that the evil Spies scared the Jews with, the ultimate purpose of the slavery was for the Jews to most appreciate wanting to serve Hashem. And so, while the physical slavery lasted only 116 years, it was a 400 year period of time related to this concept that was needed in one form or another to refine the Jews at the END, just as Tav, the numerical value of 400, marks the END of the letters.

Two more examples of the number 400 as related to death can also found in Sefer Bereishit - in the beginnings of Parshat Chayei Sara & Parshat Vayishlach - both of which we will be reading within the next several weeks. In the beginning of Parshat Chayei Sara where Abraham is looking to find a plot of land to bury his wife Sara, he is asked to fork over 400 Shekalim of silver; and then in the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach, we see that Jacob was informed that his jealous brother Esau was on his way with 400 men to kill Jacob.

And now back to the subject of slavery and serving Hashem, we note a double lettering of two words in a row in more than one place of the letters Ayin & Beit. In the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21), we see that an Eved Ivri "Hebrew servant" was to serve his master no more than six years, using this wording in Hebrew where these consecutive words begin with these two letters. And then we see in Parshat Behar where Hashem states "For the Children of Israel are servants, they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 25:55). Again, we see two consecutive words Avadim Avadai (servants, My servants) beginning with these two letters.

These two letters spell the Hebrew number 72, which is the Gematria of the word Chesed/kindness, for even within the slavery of the Jews in Egypt, Hashem showed His kindness in several ways, including shortening their slavery term, recompensating them with gold and silver, providing for their needs in the wilderness, and of course the ultimate kindness of Hashem giving us the Torah, through which, we are Hashem's servants. For it was Abraham, the first Jew, who represented the pillar of kindness, and served Hashem not only by himself, but actively going out to get others to serve Hashem, including inviting them as guests to his home, providing them both physically and spiritually. And in connection to the Eved Ivri "Hebrew servant", we see that Abraham was called Ivri/Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) in this week's Parsha.

And as related to the number of this Hebrew year which ends with Ayin-Beit (72), we anxiously await Hashem's kindness of redeeming us to end our present bitter exile. Perhaps for some Jews in the United States, it may not feel quite bitter when they seem to enjoy prosperity until this day, but this only means that they are in a most bitter spiritual exile, not feeling it being covered with the fat of the land, who think that the United States is JerUSAlem. However, we must not forget the great kindness that Hashem did for us when we regained the holiest part of the world on 28 Iyar 5727 - Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day, as was declared "The Temple Mount is in our hands!" Looking at the number of the Hebrew year when this occured - 5727, you reverse the last two numbers, and presto! - we are within the 45th year since this took place, presently in 5772. For it was Adam - whose name is the Gematria of 45 - whose head was created by Hashem from the dust of this very area in the world.

In conclusion of this post - #122, we see that it consists of the numbers one (1) and twenty two (22), just as there are 22 letters of the Alef Beit, from the first letter Alef which is the first letter and Gematria of the number one, to the last letter Tav which is the 22nd letter and the Gematria of 400. And in connection to Jerusalem, let me conclude with the following words from Psalm 122 which describes the eagerness of the Jews who wanted the Temple in the times of King David "Happy was I when they said to me "Let's go to the House of Hashem". Our feet were standing in the gates of Jerusalem. Jerusalem the built city..." May this take place speedily in our days, Amen!

7 Cheshvan 5772

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