Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#127 - The Woman's Number

"Sara's life was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, the years of Sara's life." (Genesis 23:1)

"It was in the days of Achashveirosh. He was Achashveirosh who reigned from Hodu to Cush - seven and twenty and one hundred countries." (Esther 1:1)

It won't take long to figure that there a few things in common between these two verses. They are both the first verse of their respective places in the Tanach/Bible. The former verse is the FIRST verse of the FIFTH Parsha of the Torah - Chayei Sara, and the latter verse is the FIRST verse of the FIFTH of the five Megillot. Both of these verses mention the number 127 (which is the number of this post), howbeit in two very different ways of mentioning this number. And finally, both of these verses have something to do with righteous women - Sara & Esther respectively.

In case anyone thought that these two verses that mention the same number 127 don't have any concrete connection between these two, we have to turn to the Midrash for this one. In the Yalkut Shimoni (Remez 102) on Parshat Chayei Sara, the story goes that students of Rabbi Akiva were falling asleep in the midst of his lecture. In order to arouse them, he asked: "What did Esther (Achashveirosh's wife) see that she should reign over 127 countries? But let Esther, the descendant of Sara who lived 127 years come, and reign over 127 countries."

Now, from this alone, some may come to the conclusion that Rabbi Akiva merely was attempting to find a way to keep his students awake mentioning riddles of Torah, but not necessarily because there is a connection of the number 127 between Sara & Esther. Perhaps if it would be a Bible professor giving this kind of lecture, one may indeed come to this conclusion. However, as our Rabbis tell us, even the mundane talk of Torah scholars need study, for a true G-d fearing Torah scholar doesn't just talk words for no reason to shoot the breeze, or tell over a nice catchy story. In other words, if such a Torah scholar mentions something, it is for a reason. Hence, there has to be some type of connection here between Sara and Esther here as per the number 127.

To be sure, there are various explanations given for this, including the point Rabbi Akiva was making to his sleeping students with this point that he made so they would have to motivation to stay awake from now on during his lectures. However, taking one look at what this Midrash recounts, I have a question. What does it mean "What did Esther SEE that she should reign...?" If anything, it was Hashem who was pulling the strings, and as a result of Sara living her life to the fullest as implied by the wording of the verse describing Sara's years of life as Rashi notes, Hashem rewarded Sara with having a descendant who would reign over 127 countries, who would be a righteous woman under whose rule Jews would be able to practice their religion freely as Jews without fear of persecution.

As we know, Esther being the most righteous Jewish woman of her time, would never begin to consider marrying a non-Jew for the sake of materialism. The fact that she did in fact marry the non-Jewish anti-Semitic Achashveirosh was not of her own choice
as the king picked her out from all the other women in the harlem to be his wife. While in fact, the sin of a forbidden sexual relationship is one of three things (the other two being idolatry and murder) that one is forbidden to commit under all circumstances should one be threatened to do based on the cost of one's life, Esther did not resist from marrying Achashveirosh because she knew that she was put in this situation for the benefit of the Jews at that time. It must be remembered that the Jews were in the midst of the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, and it was a time of Hashem's hiding His face, so to speak, from the Jewish people, as indeed, Esther's very name denotes this very concept. Hence, the miracles that happened to the Jewish people that led to the holiday of Purim happened in a concealed way that wasn't obvious to the average person that miracles were taking place like what happened in the era of the Exodus.

Thus, Esther SAW, knowing that Achashveirosh was the ruling power of the time, and wasn't merely king over his immediate country of Persia, but of all the existing countries at the time, which were 127 countries. No doubt that Esther realized that there was a unique reason why she was being put in this position to be Achashveirosh's wife, and as queen, she would in effect be ruler of these countries as well. She knew that it was not a mere coincidence that the number of countries were the same amount as the years of Sara's life, and that just as Sara made the best use of her life, despite the challenges that she had, including being taken by two different kings to have sex with them but was saved as the end, so too, Esther realized that after all was said and done, the king asking to marry her was meant to be, and that it was meant for her to have rule over the 127 countries for the benefit of the Jews. (Note: No doubt that if Mordechai would have been against Esther giving in to the king's demands of being his wife, he would have made it crystal clear to her not to do so, but he knew that this was meant to be for the sake of the Jewish people, and this was what is called a Heiter Sha'ah, a permit in Jewish law for the moment, though otherwise, it would be forbidden to marry a non-Jew).

Now, while we notice that the wordings of the number 127 are quite different from each other in the two verses, I am not here to list the explanations for these as they are two totally separate issues. However, there is a major difference between the use of the number 127 in these two verses. In the verse about Sara, the number has to do with the concept of time. In the Book of Esther, the number has to do with the concept of place.

In Kabbala, there are three general categories of the influence on the materialistic world. They are called Olam/world (place), Shana/year (time), Nefesh/living being.
As we see in the two verses above, the number 127 is in fact used in all three concepts. The living beings are Sara & Achashveirosh/Esther, the time as 127 years, and the place as 127 countries.

Just as I mentioned earlier about the number five being connected to both of these verses, we see in the Talmud (Berachot 10a) that there are FIVE connections between Hashem and the Nefesh or Neshama - soul, corresponding to the five times that the word "Bless" is mentioned in Psalms 103 & 104. The following are these five connections:

1)Just as Hashem fills up the entire world, so too does the soul fill up the entire body.
2)Just as Hashem sees but is not seen, so is the same with the soul.
3)Just as Hashem nourishes the entire world, so does the soul nourish the entire body (meaing, that if the soul leaves the body for good, then the body ceases to live).
4)Just as Hashem is pure, so is the soul pure (as long as it doesn't have sins).
5)Just as Hashem resides in rooms within rooms, so is the same with the soul.

As we see here, some of the points here also have to do with the concept of time.

Now, the Talmud here also notes that the five mentions of "Bless" also hints to the fact that King, David, the author of these psalms, lived in five "worlds" and sang song, mentioning the respective "Bless" verses. These five "worlds" are:
1)His mother's womb
2)Air of the world
3)Nursing at his mother's breast
4)Seeing the downfall of the wicked
5)Looking at the day of death

Very interesting, this list are called five "worlds", even though not all of them are technically what you would call places. O.K. - the womb is one place, the physical world is another place, and you can technically call the breast area of the body as a place on the body. But what do the last two things on this list have to do with the concept of place?

The truth is that all of these concepts have to do with this physical world - the place that we are in for the time being. But it is very interesting to note that in fact, the last two on this list - seeing the downfall of the wicked, and looking at the day of death, have their respective counterparts in the two verses related to the number 127.

Well, as for seeing the downfall of the wicked, it is quite obvious that the Book of Esther shows just this with the downfall of Haman, just when he thought that he was going to bring the downfall of Mordechai along with the rest of the Jews, but the tables turned on him.

As for seeing the day of death, it is precisely in the place of the Torah regarding Sara's passing away that it begins mentioning the life of Sara's years, and hence, the concept of place (this world) and time is bound together in this verse, along with the concept of a living being or a soul, and hence, encompasses the trio of Olam, Shana & Nefesh. It is no coincidence that in fact one of the 54 Parshiyot/sections of the Torah is called Chayei Sara "Life of Sara", for although this is the very mention of Sara's passing, we learn from this that we live in this world not as a end of a means by itself, but that in order to be able to live eternally. With this said, the emphasis is not on death, but rather, on the productive life that one has lived, for in fact, whether we like to put it this way, but for someone who lived a good, productive, righteous life, death or the time of one's death is the celebration of that person's life. True, there are mourners for him from close relatives to the many friends, students, etc. that he had, but this is in essence mourning merely the physical loss of that person's presence. However, deep down inside, the mourners feel a bit of happiness and pride knowing that it was well worth being connected to such a wonderful person who made a positive influence on their lives. For anyways, all of us are going to die sooner or later, so when the passing of a loved one occurs, it is just one more reminder for us to think of our purpose in life and bearing the above three concepts in mind, the goal is to live our lives what will most benefit our souls during the brief lifetime that we have been provided in this finite world.

As per the connection of these concepts to the number five, we know that the holiest object on this earth is the Sefer Torah/Torah scroll which while it may be one scroll, it consists of FIVE books, and aside from being called the "Five Books of Moses" in English, the Hebrew word in referring to these five books is Chumash, based on the word for the number five. To note, for a kosher Torah scroll, we use animal hide as its parchment. While this may sound a little far fetched for the most holy object on the face of this planet, the idea here is that we use materialism to be uplifted for holy purposes. In our own lives, we do the same when we do our mundane activities as eating, sleeping, and working in order to serve Hashem and be able to fulfill the Mitzvot/Commandments properly in the best of health.

In a very similar idea in Judaism as also related to the number five, in order for an animal or object to be offered in the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple, the item had to first be consecrated, to declare that one is designating the item as a holy object, and hence, even though it may be an animal who has no concept of what holiness is, there is an aspect of holiness that now applies to the animal, and it is forbidden to henceforth be used for mundane purposes. And as connected to the number five, the offerings were one of FIVE categories - 1)Olah/Burnt Offering, 2)Mincha/Meal Offering, 3)Shelamim/Peace Offering, 4)Chatat/Sin Offering, 5)Asham/Guilt Offering. Also, the section in the Mishna about the various offerings is the FIFTH volume of the six orders of the Mishnayot that is called Kodoshim/Holy Things, especially in its first tractate Zevachim/Sacrifices.

Now, the word Yisrael, the last word of the Chumash which is the name of the Jewish people, consists of FIVE letters that begin the words Yeish Shishim Ribo Otiyot L'Torah "There are 60 myriads of letters to the Torah." While in fact, there are 304,805 letters in the Chumash, just a little more than a half of the 600,000 number that is the number of adult male Jews who left Egypt, the point here is that each and every Jew has a share in the Torah, regardless of the spiritual level that one may come from or is presently in. The only question is how connected we wish to be with the Torah. Yes, we all have a share in the Torah, but do we show this to be so? Do we seriously set aside time every day to learn some Torah as the Torah commands us to - and not just a set period of time everyday and then play hookey in our non-working hours, but when we know we can spend more time on it as something that we feel hooked to?

True, there are many distractions in life, but this is precisely why we are here in this world, to combat the distractions and focus on what is important - and if we are not able to learn Torah at any particular time, it is only because we are addressing a basic physical need, and not spending time everyday chatting with friends that gets us nowhere in the long run. We learn from the verse about Sara's years of life from the wording separating each unit of hundreds, tens, and singles with the word years, teaching us that each and every year (Note: The Hebrew word for year is Shana, this word also being the number 355, the maximum amount of days in a non-leap Jewish year) or each day of Sara's life for that matter, was used for a constructive purpose, and not wasted on one's personal pleasures to take a vacation from the daily routine (I'm not saying that it is forbidden from the Torah to take a vacation, but that whatever we do is supposed to ultimately be serving Hashem, but one can discuss this in detail with one's rabbi).

Yes, we live in a world that is full of illusions. Indeed, the word for world in Hebrew is Olam, which is related to the word Helem/hidden, for this world hides spirituality with what takes place in this world. While some may be drawn to spirituality through nature, one would not necessarily come to the same conclusion when one turns on the tube and sees how the Hollywood "world" is so glorified, full of movies that are full of actors just to make money, and then on top of this, some of them win awards for something that they enjoyed doing and making millions on while so many hardworking people who are actually doing something constructive in their jobs who watch these movies when relaxing at home usually don't get types of perks with millions of dollars or awards. And this is just one out of many such examples of how this world, especially today more than ever, are reflective of how this is such a "hidden" world, a world full of falsehood, just as the idols that used to be worshipped and are still worshipped in some places of this world until today.

And in connection with this, there is the book of Esther, which is also a word which denotes the concepts of hiding, implying in this context that is was Hashem Who was doing the hiding in this Biblical book. For indeed, Hashem does not do what we call miracles every day, for otherwise, we would not have free choice, and realize that Hashem is speaking to us. While in fact, the greatest miracles is nature and how our bodies survive, since these are things that happen everyday to us, it is easy to take these things for granted instead of taking time to think how wondrous this world is including the complexities of each subject and object in this universe as shown in science. For a short while, Hashem did miracles for us in the Torah in the times of the Exodus from the Egypt to the entering the Promised Land, and Hashem still continued doing miracles for us from time to time, but this was a gradual weaning process in order for us to get trained to serve Him even without what may be obvious miracles but rather from our own imput of our actions.

Being that the number 127 ends with the number seven, and as the Torah lists the years of Sara's life, ending with saying "seven years," it is significant to note that this Shabbat, the SEVENTH day of the week, is the SEVENTH of Kislev, on which we read the SEVENTH Parsha - Vayeitze. And in this Parsha that we will be reading this Shabbat, we see that Jacob worked for Laban for SEVEN years in order to marry Laban's daughter, Rachel. After the switch of sisters was made on Jacob, and after marrying both Leah and Rachel, he proceeded to work for another SEVEN years on behalf of Rachel. Anyways, we see that these seven years where in Jacob's eyes "as a few days"
in Jacob's great love for Rachel (Genesis 29:20). For while when one may be waiting for something exciting to happen, each second may seem to be eternity; when one truly loves someone or something and prepares oneself for the upcoming occasion, he feels that every moment in preparation for the big day is worth it, and hence, the time period involved doesn't feel boring because it feels just like when one is having fun, time flies. The translation of this is that one's whole being seems to be based on what one is striving for, and so, the time feels that at the end, "it was all worth it."

And this is the same thing that we must feel in our Jewish lives. We must feel that every moment in our lives is worth living, even when materialistically, we have challenges, for we must remember that in fact, we ultimately are working for the Big Boss, and so while we may enjoy some of the frills in life, these are only temporary and fleating, and could at times be detrimental to our eternal, spiritual life if we don't focus on the real reason why we are living to begin with.

And while we are still speaking of the number seven, we see that both Aaron, the head ancestor of the Kehuna/Priesthood and King David, the head ancestor of the Davidic dynasty, married wives whose names ended with the word Sheva/Seven. Aaron's wife was Elisheva/Elizabeth and King David's wife whose son Shlomo/Solomon became the successor king was Batsheva/Bathsheba. And in reference to the above concepts of place, time, and living beings, we Jews observe the Seventh Day of Shabbat since we emulate Hashem who so to speak worked for six days in creating this world, and then rested on the Seventh Day.

Perhaps it is most fitting that the concept of seven is represented specifically by women such as Sara, Esther, Elisheva & Batsheva. For it is the woman who carries the womb, which is a whole world by itself for the nine-month resident who is preparing spiritually and phsyically to live in the next world - which in this case is this physical world. And the beginning growth of the newborn is the drinking of the mother's milk at the breasts. And it is the woman who experiences time from her periods to the pregnancy time of nine months, unlike a man who only experiences time in terms of his body when he begins to loose strength in his older years, realizing only then that it is just a matter of time before he is replaced by the next generation.

Now, let's do a little math trick here. Take number one and add it to another one and it becomes two. Then, two added to itself yields four, etc. Let's demonstrate here in number forms: 1+1=2+2=4+4=8+8=16+16=32+32+64. Now, let's add the seven different numbers involved here: 1+2+4+8+16+32+64=127. As you can see, after the number of the seventh generation is yielded following the first six numbers in the line here being added to themselves, the total sum of the numbers of the first SEVEN generations of this mathematical equation equals 127. Coincidence?

In conclusion, the only woman in the entire Tanach whose age of passing is mentioned is Sara. It is most fitting that it is Sara of all people to have this distinction, for she was the first Jewish woman, and additionally, had the unique privilege of being the mother to bear the first Jewish born child - Yitzchak Avinu. And in her unique situation, this was at the unusual old age of 90 years, after being barren for so many years in her younger years. In any case, she well deserved to be the mother of the first Jewish born child, because along with her husband Abraham, she helped people to be "under the wings of the Divine Presence" exposing them to the truth of one G-d, instead of just staying put at home as the earlier righteous people did until Abraham came out in the open to reach out to other people. Hence, it was only fitting that for such a righteous couple, they would bear the first Jewish born child to be the ancestor of the people for whose sake Hashem created the world.


FIFTH Day of the Week of Parshat Vayeitze/FIFTH of Kislev, 5772

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