Sunday, November 6, 2011

#123 - Momentum Climbing Up

In the existance of this blogspot, there is something special about today as it relates to Gematriot and numbers. You see, today - 9 Cheshvan - is the 1,111th day from the founding of Not with the counting of every day do you see quite often a four digit number that consists of only one of the 10 numbers zero thru nine, for this can occur only nine times; and the number 1,111 is the first of these nine times.

While I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the significance of the number 11, and as you can see, the number 1,111 can be read as two of the number 11, I will be focusing today on the totals that make up the number 1,111; namely 1,000 and 111 - and of course the connection between these two numbers.

In Hebrew, this is not to hard to figure out. To begin with, the Gematria of the first letter of the Alef Beit - Alef is ONE, the Gematria of the name of this first letter is ONE HUNDRED ELEVEN (111), and when this name has its vowels changed to read this as Elef, its meaning means ONE THOUSAND (1,000).

Now, turning to the beginning of Sefer Vayikra/Leviticus, it starts with Vayikra El Moshe "He (Hashem) called to Moses..." This first word Vayikra in the Sefer Torah/Torah Scroll is spelled with a small Alef. The basic reason given for this is that Moses in his great humbleness did not feel so worthy to be the one to whom Hashem called to at any time in sharp contrast to the other prophets, for it was only to Moses that it was a direct communication without any need of prior preparation. As far as he was concerned, the word could have been written as Vayikar "He (Hashem) chanced upon", the same word used for when Hashem appeared to the wicked Bilaam who wished to curse the Jews. So while Moses had to write every letter of the Torah exactly as Hashem dictated it to him (just one more proof that every word of the Torah is from Hashem - NOT man made), he still wrote the letter Alef at the end of this word, but as a smaller Alef than usual. And since as we know from the Sages, when we run from honor, honor runs after us, it turns out that not only Parshat Vayikra is named after this word, but one of the Five Books of Moses is also named after this word - testifying to Moses' great humility!

And in case anyone thinks that the phrase that I used "Five Books of Moses" comes from a non-Jewish source, our Rabbis tell us that after the Torah was given and Satan wanted to know where the Torah went, he asked Moses at last as to where the Torah was. Not wishing to admit that it was himself who gave over the Torah to the Jewish people, he denied knowing of its whereabouts. After Hashem asked him why he lied like this, Moses replied "How can I be worthy of such a valuable item?" Upon this, Hashem replied "For this, you will be rewarded that the Torah will be named after you". As it says Zichru Torat Moshe Avdi "Remember the Torah of Moses My servant..."
(Malachi 3:22). Hence, it is not only one book of the Torah that is named after a word demonstrating Moses' great humility, but the entire Chumash/Penteteuch, or for that matter, the entire Torah, is named after Moses; for in fact, he gave over both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.

This is all very nice, and indeed, I want to use Gematriot to teach important Torah lessons, especially a most important characteristic trait as humility, but in terms of Gematriot and numbers, it is true that there was a commentator who wrote a Sefer (Torah book) called Megaleh Amukot (literally means reveals deep secrets), the contents of which was 1,000 explanations on the small Alef of this word Vayikra; unfortunately however, it got lost. In another sense, there is a BIG Alef in the Tanach/Bible - the very first letter of Divrei Hayomim/Chronicles, the 24th and final Sefer of the Tanach, just as Vayikra with its small Alef is the 24th Parsha of the Torah. I had mentioned in the past of the significance of a letter being larger than unusual as representing it to be a 1,000 times its worth; hence, it's as though the Alef in Chronicles beginning the word Adam is the Gematria of 1,000 - and indeed, Adam was slated to live 1,000 years following the sin of the forbidden fruit (but gave 70 years of his life for King David who was originally destined to live for only three hours).

Now, as per Parshat Vayikra, there are 111 verses in this Parsha, and the name of the letter Alef is the Gematria of 111. While one may say, "That's nice with the numbers, but what does have to do with Parshat Vayikra?" As we know, this Parsha is all about the various Korbanot/offerings, consisting of either animals, birds, or flour for all types of situations from atonining for sins to thanking Hashem for giving one a new lease on life. Now, the word Korban, which I translate as offering usually, while some others will translate this as sacrifice, actually comes from the word Karov/close, for through the offering that we bring to Hashem, we become closer to Him. For in fact, Hashem does not need our offerings, but these offerings are supposed to make us feel more closer and humble to Hashem. This is especially true when we bring an offering to atone for our sins, and seeing the animal being slaughtered and all should remind us that in fact, we are the ones who deserve this for every time we do a sin, but Hashem in His great mercy allows us a chance to repent and return to Him, and it is the offering that is supposed to make us feel humble and contrite. For that matter, when we bring an offering to Hashem to thank Him for allowing to continue to live despite some danger that we lived through, this is also supposed to bring us to feel humble and contrite that in fact, it is only thanks to Hashem's wishing us to continue serving Him and not necessarily because we did everything right is why we are still in existance. Hence, the humility of Moses being hinted to at the beginning of this Parsha is most apropo to the theme of this Parsha.

While I will being mentioning shortly here about Aaron, Moses' brother, this part wouldn't be complete without adding that Sefer Vayikra is given a surname Torat Cohanim "Torah of the Cohanim", for most of the laws in this Book are related to Cohanim, the priestly descendants of the male line back to Aaron the first Cohen Gadol/High Priest. And while Moses may have been the one chosen by Hashem to be the Lawgiver, and called the most humble of men, Aaron his brother was not far behind him; in fact, he excelled in the trait of peacemaking between Jews, as I have mentioned about him in the past in this blogspot. In fact, Hillel in Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (1:12) states "Be of the disciples of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love human beings, and bring them close to the Torah." The last part of this phrase in Hebrew is Mekarvan L'Torah. As we see, the word Mekarvan "bringing people to the Torah" is related to the word Korban, and it was only the Cohanim who were allowed to perform the Korban, the ritual offering of the animal (aside from the Shechita/slaughtering that was able to be done by a non-Cohen); hence it made only sense for Hashem to award Aaron to be the head of all the Cohanim his descendants. More on this in a moment. But first...

COUNTING TO THREE...1...2...3!

Sounds familiar? To just about anyone who had a parent or teacher who gave him or her a chance to stop fooling around or to do what he or she was told to do. Believe it or not, not all children get it right even after the three number is pronounced. But one thing that is certain is that a humble child will not attempt to assert his or her authority by rebelling, and usually, it will not even lead to a warning like this type.

It is true that I mentioned earlier the number 24, and so when you add the numbers within the number of this post 123 - that is, one (1) and twenty three (23), the total is 24. But, I plan to write more about the number 24 in my next post. Meanwhile, I want to focus on something in the Torah that has something to do with this number 123. You see, Aharon HaCohen (Aaron the Priest), Moses' brother, passed away at the age of 123. In fact, not only is his age mentioned, but even the date of his passing of 1 Av, the sole Yahrzeit that is mentioned in the entire Tanach!

But while in a past post, I discussed while Aaron, unlike anyone else, has the unique privilege of having his Yahrzeit mentioned in the Tanach, today I pose a different question. How come when the Torah records the event of Aaron's passing at the time that it occurred, it doesn't mention any of these details of when or what age in Parshat Chukat, but only at a later Parsha when it mentions the list of places that the Jews traveled to during its sojournings in the desert for 40 years in Parshat Mas'ei, unlike with everyone else practically in the Tanach when it mentions their age of passing when they pass away or at the beginning description of them such as with the kings of Judah and Israel? In fact, we see with Moses' age when he passed away that his age of 120 years is mentioned both when he passed away and even before he passed away "I am today 120 years old...", but with Aaron, his age isn't even mentioned at his passing, but only at a later time?

Perhpas the following story will shed light on answering these questions. Once, there was someone who asked one of the great Roshei Yeshiva (heads of a Yeshiva consisting of college age and older men learning Torah) of yesteryear in Europe if he knew the Yahrzeits of the various rabbis in the Talmud. To this, the Rosh Yeshiva replied, "Yahrzeits? These rabbis are very much alive. I learn their teachings everyday. In fact, what would our Torat Chaim (Torah of Life) be today without these rabbis? I can't live without these rabbis!"

Perhaps this Rosh Yeshiva said this a little differently. But the point here is that if we are in touch with what we are in this world for, there is no question to us as to what is considered real living. True, we are living presently in a very physical and materialistic world. But, as Jews learning Torah, we should know only too well as to what is considered really real and really fake. Oh sure, money for example is very tangible to us when it makes the difference between paying the bills or not at times. Some of us won't even care to be rich if we know that we will be provided sufficiently to go through life, even without a trip around the world. But, then there are other issues that sometimes we get carried away with, and we wind up taking sides with others, which can sometimes lead to some bittle quarrels.

This is where Aaron comes in. He was the one who mastermindedly was able to bring former enemies of each other to become present friends to each other. He knew early on that fighting doesn't get you far in the long term, and after our existance, we are back to Hashem - the only question is how close we will get to Hashem, depending on our deeds of course. Now while there is a special reason while only Aaron's Yahrzeit is mentioned, the fact that not only this is not mentioned at the time of his passing in Parshat Chukat, but even his age isn't mentioned as that time, teaches us that in fact, he should still be considered very alive in our lives.

True, the ages of our Patriarchs, and particularly the ages of the Tribes of Levi & Joseph are mentioned (Levi's age is not mentioned by his passing either, but his individual passing is not mentioned, only as part of the brothers' passing unlike Joseph's whose individual passing is mentioned along with his age) around the time of their passing, but this was before the Torah was given. However, now that the Torah was given, it is now that the Torah wants to teach us, and moreover remind us, that while there may be a physical death for the righteous; however, we have to look beyond that. True, we will not have a chance to see them in this world while we are still living this physical world until the time of Techiyat HaMeitim (Resurrection of the Dead), but their teachings and way of life are the eternal life that we should be pursuing, for they already accomplished their part of serving Hashem. Now, it is up to the rest of us to learn from this, and continue on. For indeed, the Sages tell us that the wicked are called dead even while alive while the righteous are called alive even while dead.

Now with Moses, it is a little different story. It is obvious with Moses, since he is the one who directly taught us the Torah as He heard it from Hashem, that it doesn't really matter if his age of his passing is mentioned. In fact, the Torah even went so far to hint to Moses in the first Parsha of the Torah mentioning 120 years (see my 120th Post - Oct '11). But from here, we learn a different point. You see, even with someone as righteous as Moses, he didn't live forever in this physical world. So certainly, the wicked, especially in the times of the pre Flood of Noah when people lived much longer, they felt that they could do what they want whenever they wanted. Towards changing the evil ways of the world, Hashem gave the world 120 years chance to do it right. The only difference is that then, people didn't have many examples to follow to do it right. Today, especially with the Torah, we have plenty of examples.

Now, getting back to Aaron, the details of his passing are mentioned specifically in the section in the Torah within the list of places that the Jews traveled through in the desert. While the Jews could have been in Israel long earlier had they now played around and then become crybabies when they believed the propraganda and rhetoric of the blues of the Israel news brought to them by the evil Spies. However, there is a kabbalistic significance to the 42 journeys of the Jews in the desert on their way to Israel. What they needed to realize is that journeying in the desert wasn't just because it was convenient to live in a certain place while there, but one step closer to being spiritually ready to enter Israel, getting ready to making "Aliyah". In fact, this very word is also used on a Yahrzeit wishing the Neshama/soul to have an "Aliyah", which ultimately means a spiritual elevation, just as Aaron who sought to elevate Jews by bringing out the best in them making peace with one another, rather than making friends with some of them putting down their enemies, behaving politically as unfortunately some even in the Torah world today get caught up with. In short, one has a choice of either bringing out the best in people, or in bringing out the worst in people.

Speaking of Aaron who was the first Cohen Gadol/High Priest and Aliyah, we just read yesterday in Parshat Lech Lecha about Malki Tzedek, about whom we are told was Shem the son of Noah, who was a Cohen L'E-l Elyon "Priest to the High G-d". The ironic thing here is that Abraham just came back from killing some of the evil descendants of Shem/Malki Tzedek (he lived for 600 years); and yet, Shem came out to greet him and his group to feed them with bread and wine. Shem, as a righteous person in his own right, knew that his descendant Abraham did the right thing of killing some of Shem's other descendants, for in fact, we are all here in this temporary world to serve Hashem, who is the High G-d, the Big Boss, and sooner or later, we are all going to die anyways. When one thinks along these terms, there are NO POLITICS, and certainly not only will there be no fighting (and if there is fighting, it's either fighting who is truly evil or fighting those who are not - there is no inbetween), but there will be only peace. And what do we see, Shem was the "King of Salem". Shalem/Salem means complete(ness), and is related to the world Shalom/peace, for one can only have completeness with peace.

And here is a perfect example of this as pertaining to this name Shalem itself. You see, this was the original name of Jerusalem. The Midrash tells us that Shem called it Shalem, and Abraham called Hashem Yireh (Hashem will appear). In order to make peace between these two, Hashem combined these two names to create the name Yerushalayim, which in time led this city to be nicknamed "The City of Peace".

As we see, after the encounter between the two, Abraham gave to Shem his Ma'aser, tithing of what he had. The word Ma'aser is named as such because it is read as May'Eser "from ten", that is, the Mitzva of Ma'aser as we learn in the Torah is to give one tenth of the produce or crops to the Cohen. Interestingly, we see that this is the very first time that this word Ma'aser is mentioned. We know that Shem lived for 600 years, and the world is slated to exist for 6,000 years. Hence, his own life was a literal fulfillment of this concept of Ma'aser, for he had lived his whole life righteously, living one tenth of the world's existance serving Hashem.

Eventually, this Kehuna/Priesthood that Shem had was handed down to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, and in time it was the firstborn of the Jews who had this status until the sin of the Golden Calf after which time it was permanently handed over to Aaron and his descendants through parental line. But what did not change is that the one who is most worthy of the Kehuna or being the Cohen Gadol is expected to be one who has the quality of peace. We see that Shem is called Cohen L'E-l Elyon. The word Elyon/High describes the fact that we need to aspire to go up higher spiritually, to get spiritually closer and higher towards Hashem. By the way, the word Cohen itself is based on the word that means serving. So, it is not that we just serve Hashem everyday as robots or the angels who don't get higher spiritually. We are the only beings that have the opportunity to work on ourselves to go HIGHER, to go UP. We have to first of all of course have momentum, and then work on getting up even spiritually higher - learning more Torah, becoming more happy with serving Hashem, bringing other Jews closer to the Torah, etc.

It's like driving a car. When you first start it, you usually don't immediately drive off unless someone is coming after you. Chances are is that you will need a minimum of a few seconds until you know that your car is running fine. Older cars or cars with problems could take longer until they sound like they are running because if you do attempt to start driving immmediately, chances are is that the car will stop running its motor and then you will need to start it again. Now, once it is running, then you can eventually accelerate the motor to drive faster, but then again, you can't immediately expect to drive 55 miles the second after you are driving only 30 miles. You have to accelerate, and gradually, you will get to drive faster.

Of course there are times when serving Hashem when we may fall down, and feel like what we did earlier doesn't mean anything because now we have to start all over again. For this, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches us that every attempt to serve Hashem, even if we fall down afterwards, is precious to Him. Moreover, the steps that we took earlier aren't just isolated steps, but are part of the process of continuously serving Hashem, just as a toddler learning to walk will fall down at one point, so that even though at first the toddler didn't walk steadily at one time but fell down here and there, but all of the early steps were part of the process of eventually being able to walk all on his or her own one day.

So, we have to have in mind two basic processes here. First is the momentum - always having Hashem the One in mind, as illustrated with the number 1,111, one of today's special numbers; and then we have to bring this MOMENTUM CLIMBING UP as illustrated in today's other special number 123, as the individual numbers in this three digit number ascend in amount value. Now, before I conclude, this number 123 reminds me of a verse in NUMBERS - in Chapter 12, Verse 3, get it? You can call this a coincidence, but let me first write the verse "The man Moses was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth".

Perhaps we will never be as humble as Moses or have the privilege of being the High Priest as Aaron. However, in our own way, in our own set of circumstances, we can learn from the lives of these two most righteous people in the Bible, as well as from the Patriarchs and others how to live a life the way that Hashem wants us to live, not because we are simply following "orders", but because every step that we take in the service of Hashem is going to benefit everyone spiritually in the best way possible, and without feeling haughty as we ascend higher. If one thinks along these terms, then indeed, politics will not even be an issue, as politics is a way of promoting oneself or one's group above the others which sometimes steps on the Torah very unfortunately. Indeed, the righteous are called alive even when are physically dead, because it is especially after their passing, even more than when they were alive, that their teachings and righteous ways of life are more appreciated than ever, as evidenced in the passing of time.

9 Cheshvan 5772

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