Saturday, December 3, 2011

#128 - Our Reaction to G-d Given Talents

As we know, pride in the form of haughtiness is virtually the worst characteristic trait that the Torah condemns. This has caused the downfall of many with good spiritual qualities. And on the other side, humility is considered the greatest characteristic trait that one can possess. The Torah makes it very clear about Moses, who despite his great love for his people and was even willing to give up his spiritual benefits to save the Jews from perishing following their sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, is ultimately praised in the Torah for his humility "The man Moses was very humble, more than anyone living on earth" (Numbers 12:3). Hence, it was to Moses of all people that Hashem wished to transmit the Torah to, earning him the title of Rabbeinu "our teacher", for it wasn't only the Torah that Moses taught the Jewish people which he didn't actually learn all on his own, but all taught to him in the course of 40 days by Hashem; but it was his own example of being someone who was so worthy of being the one to teach the Torah to the entire nation that is part of why he is called Rabbeinu. Additionally, he wasn't the teacher of just his immediate generation, but the teacher of all future generation of Jews, partly in due to his desirable character traits that everyone could learn from.

There is one tractate of all the 63 tractates of the Mishnayot that does not deal with Halacha/Jewish Law per se. It is called Avot ("fathers") or Pirkei Avot/Ethics
of the Fathers. What distinguishes this ethical work from all other ethical works of the non-Jewish world is that the teachings about ethics in Avot, just as Halacha, are all part of the Torah that Hashem transmitted to Moshe; as indeed, the very first word of this tractate is Moshe's name, mentioning that Moshe received the Torah from Mt. Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua...

The question can be asked - Isn't there ever a time that you need a little pride or haughtiness to accomplish something good, just like for example, anger or hatred is needed at times to protest evil that is used to hurt good people? Otherwise, people with no sense of self worth will at the very least be taken advantage of, and will feel useless at the end, not wishing to contribute to society.

Before I answer this question, while a person who is humble is far more liked in society in the long run than someone who is haughty, regardless of their accomplishemnts, a person does have to have a balance that won't throw him off base of being taken advantage of. While it may not always be obvious where to draw the line, it can be agreed upon for the most part that self-worth and haughtiness are in essence two different creatures.

Actually, it is the Talmud (Sota 5a) that answers this question: "Rav Chiya Bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: A Torah scholar needs to have within himself an eighth of an eighth of haughtiness" The reason for this is so that he can maintain his respect as a Torah scholar by not being made fun out of and having his teachings accepted. This is of course assuming that beyond this, he will not let haughtiness get to his head.
Even at this, not all the rabbis agree with this. "Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak said: No part of it whatsoever, as the verse states: "All haughty of heart is an abomination of Hashem" (Proverbs 16:5)."

Regardless of whose opinion we follow, the obvious question here is - What is the particular significance of an eighth of an eighth? The Vilna Gaon comes to the rescue and points out to us the eighth Pasuk/verse of the eighth Parsha of the Torah - which is this week's Parshat Vayishlach. The verse reads "I have been made small of all the kindnesses and truth that You have done for Your servant..." (Genesis 32:11) which what was Jacob was saying to Hashem in his request to be saved from his evil brother Esau. The lesson that we can learn from this is that although we feel humble from all the things that Hashem has given us as truly we are not really worthy of all the goodies that we receive in life, especially as virtually all of us have sins due to which not only are we not really worthy of anything good, but according to the strict measure of justice, we are worthy of death. However, the fact that Hashem does provide us with various measures of good means that we are worthy to some extent, however small it may be; and hence, rather than feeling so proud and haughty about it, we should rather be most grateful to Hashem, in fact recognizing that Hashem found favor in us to grant us the good that He showered on us. It is only based on this type of way of thinking that we will not loose focus on our purpose in life is.

Of course, the lesson that we learn from the EIGHTH verse of the EIGHTH Parsha is ultimately the most important thing here. However, perhaps the fact that the number eight, or more particularly, an eighth of an eighth, has something to do with permitted haughtiness, must mean that this number or fraction of a number has some significance here, more than just the fact of the position of what number verse of what number Parsha sounds kind of catchy.

The secret here is the number 64, or more specifically, a sixty-fourth piece of the pride pie. With this said, making the connection between this number or fraction number with the concept of humbleness/haughtiness, I saw two different Torah factoids on this.

One involves the time when the Torah was going to be given to the Jewish people as to which mountain on which it was going to be delivered. Various mountains argued to be THE mountain to be the one to have the Torah given on (yes, inanimate objects also have a life force, which is of course given to them by Hashem). However, Hashem chose the lowly looking mountain Mt. Sinai for this unique honor. Anyways, one of the high mountains is Mt. Tabor. The Talmud (Bava Batra 73) mentions this mountain as four Parsaot or 16 Mil tall. Now, the maximum amount that a person is allowed to walk outside of town on Shabbat is one Mil, or 2,000 Amot/cubits; hence 16 times 2,000 Amot yields the total of 32,000 Amot, the total amount of Amot of Mt. Tabor.

Now, bear in mind that Mt. Sinai where the Torah was given was not located in the Holy Land of Israel. And so, while the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, it could not be
selected as the mountain on which the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple would be built on. The lucky mountain chosen for the Beit HaMikdash was Mt. Moriah, or known as the Har HaBayit/Temple Mount, bearing in mind that the Great Sanhedrin's headquarters was located in a room of the Beit HaMikdash, who taught the Halachot of the Torah that was originally given on Mt. Sinai. With this said, the Har HaBayit, as we see in Mishna Midot (2:1), is 500 Amot tall. And as 500 times 64 is 32,000, the Har HaBayit is one sixty-fourth of Mt. Tabor.

Another connection of the 64 number is what the Maharsha mentions that the Gematria of the Hebrew word Gas/arrogance, is 63. Hence, only if we have 1/64th of arrogance, and not 1/63rd of arrogance, can we hope to maintain our healthy spiritual balance in the humbleness/arrogance scale.


The Pool Game

As Jews who believe in Hashgacha Peratit/Divine Providence and that there is no such as coincidences, as even the Hebrew word for coincidence or happening - Mikreh, spelled with the letters Mem, Koof, Reish, Hei - when its letters are rearranged, reads as Rak Mei'H' (Hei (H) spells short for Hashem) - Only from Hashem. In fact, the word Mikreh itself is the same Gematria as the name/word Hashem (which literally means the Name which we say in lieu of pronouncing Hashem's real name except in prayers and in full verses from the Torah) - 345!

With this said, let's turn a moment to the game of pool. No, not swimming pools, but the game pool in which balls are hit with large sticks in order for them to enter the hall. Now, in a game of 15 balls, the ball that is used to hit other balls is the EIGHT ball. Perhaps the reason this number ball was chosen among the others is because eight is the middle number of the first 15 numbers, or because the way that the number eight is shaped, it is a never ending number (just like the number zero which isn't the number of one of the 15 balls) that can be continously written without interrupting the flow of the pen as it is with the other numbers. In any case, the bottom line is that it is the ball with the number eight that is always used to hit the other balls.

While I don't know all the varied forms of ball games on the pool table, from what I do know is that as long as there isn't a winner of the game yet based on the amount of total balls that were knocked down into the hole, the game is not over. However, if a player, in his attempt to knock another ball down the hole, pushes the EIGHT ball which itself falls down into the hole, the game is over, which means that the other player wins.

With what I wrote about pertaining to the number eight, perhaps what we can learn from here is that as long as we know how to utilize our position of self worth in accomplishing what we need to in life without letting pride/haughtiness/arrogance get into our way, we can hope with G-d's help to be successful in life, since it is G-d' wish after all that we use our G-d given talents to benefit the world - and this is applicable both for Jews and non-Jews, just as we constantly use the EIGHT ball to hit the other balls in our goal to win the game without letting the EIGHT ball itself go down the drain. On the other hand, when we forget that our talents are nothing less than G-d given talents and instead associate these talents as OUR talents as the verse describes "my strength and the power of my hands have accomplished these things", this is hitting the EIGHT ball right down into the hole, loosing the game. For that matter, if Hashem wants something accomplished, He can find numerous ways of doing this. However, it is His will for whatever reason that a certain person or people are the one(s) picked by Him to be in essence His messenger(s) to accomplish certain things with the G-d given talents given to him/them.

Imagine that an earthly king appoints certain people to be in charge of certain things on his behalf. While certainly, the ones that the kings appoints feel most privileged to be in the positions that the king placed them at, and would be more than happy to do what the king says to do even for no financial recompensation feeling lucky to be able to do something for the king, it is almost certain that they won't feel such pride to the extent that they are better than anyone else, for first of all, they realize that they themselves are hardly considered in worth in sharp contrast to the king. Also, they realize that with privileges, they also come with immense responsiblities, and that any deviation from what the king orders them to do will result from being fired, to being thrown into prison, to being executed. And so, bearing this in mind, the uppermost thought in the minds of these people hand picked by the king is that while they may be luckier than some other people, they hardly have any reason to be any more proud than anyone else because ultimately, it is about servicing the king, and NOT servicing themselves.

This is exactly how we have to view ourselves in our observance of Judaism. Of course we feel most privileged to be Jews as a small percentage of this world population. However, the purpose of the talents that Hashem has provided us is not in order to service ourselves, to make ourselves look important in front of other people, but ONLY to service Hashem. Of course down the road, people will respect us for our good service to Hashem, for our knowledge in the Torah, for our fine characteristic traits. In fact, one of the 613 Mitzvot/Commandments in the Torah is to fear/respect Torah scholars, and another one of the Mitzvot is attaching ourselves to Hashem by following in the footpaths of Torah scholars. However, this is not a reason for a Torah scholar to grow haughty. What a Torah scholar must remember is that he is supposed to be example of a servant of the King of Kings, a soldier of the Top General in His army, in order that other Jews will emulate his example so they too can follow in Hashem's ways the proper way following Halacha. Yes, a Torah scholar has to use his EIGHTH of an EIGHTH of haughtiness (and not all rabbis agree with this by the way) in order to maintain his basic dignity so he won't loose respect, but not because he feels that he is better than anyone else to the point that he uses his position to G-d forbid step on other people towards his own benefit, for ultimately, all the benefits belong to Hashem, and if one is entitled to any benefits, it's only because Hashem chooses this as such, but not because one "deserves" it per se.


There is hardly an adult in a normal civilized society that does not know that a chess board consists of 64 boxes, which when measured by the number of boxes on any given side, is eight by eight. But perhaps what is striking here is that the word chess is very similar to the name of the Hebrew letter Cheis (or Cheit as pronounced the Sephardic way) which is the numerical value of eight. In similar fashion, the popular Japanese food called Sushi is called by this name, as the meaning of this word which means six, was called as such because the original sushi consisted of six pieces, noting that the Hebrew word for six is Shishi, similar to the name Sushi.

The popular story that goes about the person who invented chess about what he requested as his reward from the king, whether is actually happened or not as such, perhaps describes the depth and breadth of what seems to be the countless amount of different game positions that exist with this most mental sports game, which echoes the Torah which is limitless, as it is Hashem's wisdom.

In recent times, chess has become a professional sport, and no doubt has changed the lives of many who made a living out of being professional chess players. With this said, some consider Bobby Fischer, a Jewish American, to be the greatest chess player of all time. However, he is not the only Jewish chess player to have played as a champion. Chess history would certainly be incomplete without the mentions of Samuel Herman (Shmuel Chaim) Reshevsky, who was an observant Jew throughout his life until his passing at the age of 80 in 1992, and Daniel Abraham ("Abe") Yanofsky (who passed away at the age of 74 in 2000, and has a street named after him in Jerusalem). In fact, the only one who ever beat Bobby Fischer after becoming a chess champion was the observant Jew Reshevsky, as in one game, Fischer walked out on Reshevsky not wishing to take a chance loosing a game, making Reshevsky the winner.

As with anything else, chess brings out the best or worst out of everybody. You see,
there are major differences between Fischer and these other two Jewish chess champions. First, Fischer was a professional player, as he never worked as any other profession or job, as he quit school at the age of 16, the end of his formal education. The other two Jewish champions, however, while they certainly had great talents for being professional players, didn't let chess be the overriding factor in their lives, who both went to college and became professionals in other fields of study while still playing chess on the side, both having accomplished things in their lives other than what related to the chess world.

Secondly, while Fischer didn't have a stable life when it came to having a family, and even after his death, it took a while for the courts to figure out who was to inherit him, only at the end to award his Japanese wife his estate; both Reshevsky and Yanofsky were married (both to Jews) and had children, showing that family was an important factor in their lives.

But perhaps most importantly here, we see the end results of these chess players. While Reshevsky and Yanofsky didn't at least seemingly become haughty from being master chess players, Fischer clearly showed plenty of his haughtiness - both in playing chess and his general outlook in life. To him, chess was the end of a means.
Few other things mattered to him if he couldn't be the top chess player in the world, and he showed how much it bothered him if he thought that there was even a possibility that someone could beat him on the 64-boxed game.

In time, he became anti-American, anti-Jew i.e. anti-Semitic, and a Christian as a Seventh Day Adventist. It's interesting to note that two Jewish players would not play chess professionally on the Sabbath/Saturday - Reshevsky because he always kept Shabbat, and Fischer because he was a Seventh Day Adventist. But on a more universal level, while I don't blame Fischer for being anti-American to an extent, as it is true that he was once arrested for something that he may not even have been guilty of, and then he fled the States, what is true is that if he would have been around in Hitler's time in Europe, Hitler probably would have hired him to be his mouthpiece instead of sending him to the concentration camps, as virtually no one spoke against Jews the way that Fischer did it.

While there may be questions as to what motivated Fischer following stopping his playing chess for a while to become the monster that he became, which included him praising the terrorist actions of 9/11 only hours after it happened, there is no doubt that this is related to the haughtiness that he developed as the chess professional that he became. While he may never have been aware of what the Torah says about the "eighth of an eighth" or "one out of sixty-four parts" of haughtiness concept, the chess game of 64 parts eventually became an evil force for Fischer, who used haughtiness in the most evil way instead of feeling humbled about having had the great privilege of the G-d given talent that he attained. Perhaps Fischer had a mental illness, but it wasn't something that he always had, or at least wasn't developed in his system until much later in life. Certainly in his case, the mental illness mostly developed as a result of his actions and warped thinking processes earlier in his life, rather than the other way around.


Anti-Semitism from Jewish Origins

Having mentioned the self hating Jew Bobby Fischer, who spoke such anti-Semitic statements that would have blown off Adolf Hitler's mustache, it is actually hardly of much surprise after reading Parshat Vayishlach. You see, it is in this Parsha that mentions the birth of Amalek, the name of the nation who was the first to attack the Jews shortly after the Exodus, when the rest of the world was too frightened to take up arms against the Jews following the Egyptians drowning in the Reed Sea. You see, baby Amalek's grandfather was Esau, who was born and raised in the most holy and righteous family in the world at the time - with parents Isaac & Rebecca and brother Jacob.

We see that pertaining to the seven Canaanite nations, Hashem is clear when He tells us "Do not let a soul of them remain, utterly destroy them" which was what the Jews were supposed to do upon entry to Israel being led by Joshua. However, we see that Joshua gave these nations a menu of choices - 1)Run away, 2)Agree to servitude and taxes, 3)Fight it out. In fact, the Girgashites, one of the seven Canaanite nations, took up the first offer, and picked up their tents for pastures outside of Israel, while the other Canaanite tribes decided to fight it out. However, when it comes to Amalek, there are three Mitzvot about getting rid of this evil nation - 1)Remember what they did to you, 2)Erase the memory of Amalek, 3)Don't forget what they did to you.

Now, the question can be asked. As we know from our Sages, one who causes others to sin is worse than a murderer who only takes away a physical life, for one who makes other sin murders one's soul, one's spiritual life. Hence, the Caanaite nations, about whom Hashem makes very clear that they have a terrible spiritual influence with their idols and immmorality, were actually given a chance by Joshua to stay alive; while with Amalek, who merely wanted to kill the Jews without attempting them to change their religion, is eternally hated by Hashem, and not given any chance to repent or move elsewhere. Isn't this a cotradiction to what the Sages said?

True, the Canaanites had a terrible spiritual influence, and in fact, we see this to be the case later on when the Jews worshipped idols, as the Canaanites weren't all wiped out. However, they didn't necessarily go out of their way to entice Jews to another religion. They didn't hate the Jews per se, so long as they could also live in the land and do as they pleased. However, Amalek with pure hatred for the Jews, went out of its way to reach the Jews in the desert to fight them, and didn't even maintain the fear of the Jews as the other nations had at that time. While there is discussion among the Sages about the Amalekites mocking the Jewish religion, and attempted to "cool off" the Jews' enthusiasm for the Torah, the bottom line is that whatever the Amalekites did in relationship to the Jews was pure hatred and was determined to get rid of the Jew. Period.

So, why did Amalek hate the Jews so much, even before the Torah was given which in itself was a reason for the world to hate us after we were the ones chosen to receive the Torah? Well, we know that Amalek is directly descended from both Abraham & Isaac (unlike the Arab descendants of Ishmael who are only descended from Abraham) and as such, knowing that the Jews had unique spiritual status, was most jealous of the Jews carrying bitter hatred, just as their ancestor Esau had for Jacob following the latter's receiving the blessing from their father Isaac instead of Esau. And so, bearing this in mind, nothing would stop Amalek from advancing their hatred towards the Jews. It is for this reason that Hashem made it clear that for Amalek, there would be no exceptions made, not even with the deal that Joshua made for the Canaanites.

From Eight to Eight in the Eighth Parsha

Well, we already established that Parshat Vayishlach is the eighth Parsha in the Torah, as well as the significance of the eighth verse of this eighth Parsha. Now, turning to the end of this eighth Parsha, we see that there were a total of eight kings of the nation of Edom before there were kings of the Jewish people, which began with King Saul.

We see something amazing here. The Torah is not speaking of current events or what the Torah wants us to do in the future. The Chumash is relating something that would occur in the future, writing exactly what would happen not in the times of the Chumash itself, but hundreds of years later after Moses' death mentioned at the end of the Chumash.

We see another thing here. While it mentions at the end of this Parsha about the death of the first seven kings, it doesn't mention the death of the last king named Hadar. What made this eighth king of Edom so special that the Torah doesn't mention his death even though he eventually died just like the first seven kings?

As the Maharal of Prague mentions in his writings, the number eight is the number that represents what is above nature. For while the number seven represents the concept of Shabbat as the Seventh Day, the Shabbat of today is within the natural order of things in this world, and it will only be in the future that the number seven will be associated with eternity (see the end of Tractate Tamid of the Mishna).
However, the number eight to begin with is goes beyond the natural order of this physical world to begin with. And as such, a Torah scholar who lives a righteous life, relating basically to spirituality, knowing his purpose in life, can afford to have an "eighth of an eighth" of haughtiness, for he knows that the little haughtiness that he needs to use is in order to maintain the other 63 parts of humility. He knows that the Hadar - name of the eighth Edomite king - which means splendor or glory, the results of one's accomplishments if merely a prototype of the orginal Hadar - splendor/glory of Hashem. We are merely messengers of Hashem who do our best to replicate in our own way the amazing tapestry of Hashem's wisdom through the G-d given talents that He gave us. Then and only then can a Torah scholar be able to show himself as a Torah scholar that will attract honor, as ultimately, it is the honor of Hashem that is the focus, that will bring other Jews to the splendor and glory of the Torah.

Intersting to note, we always read Parshat Vayishlach, the eighth Parsha of the Torah, in the month of Kislev that we begin celebrating Chanuka, the eight day holiday that celebrates our freedom of practicing Judaism from the vicious attempts from the anti-Semitic Syrian-Greeks who attempted to prevent us from observing the Torah. Moreover, we begin the holiday with lighting one light/candle on the first night of Chanuka, concluding with the eighth night lighting eight lights. To come to think of it, there were also Hellenistic Jews who betrayed the Jewish faith and attempted to stop other Jews from observing the Torah. But thanks to the Maccabbees, we won at the end. However, the main emphasis of the observance of Chanuka came about not due to our physical victory of winning the war against the Syrian-Greeks, but our spiritual victory, for at the end, victory belongs to Hashem, and we are only soldiers in Hashem's army, who are doing our job not because it makes us look better, but because
this is Hashem's will, and we are only worthy of being Hashem's Chosen Nation when we behave as the Chosen Nation, not just because we have the title of Jews who have brains and win international championships in the fields of science and sports, for ultimately, even the secular accomplishements are based on the talents that Hashem gave us, but they only mean something if we use these talents in serving Hashem and setting an good example for the rest of the world to have everyone want to emulate the Jews when we behave as good Jews.


Regarding the number of this post - 128, it is the EIGHTH generation of numbers when added to themselves. Hence, one added to another one is two, two when added to itself equals four, etc. The following demonstrates this:
1+1=2+2=4+4=8+8=16+16+32+32+64+64=128. So, as you can see, the eight numbers in this equation are: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128.

Regarding the SEVENTH generation of these numbers - the number 64, this is the amount of boxes on the chess board. And as per the number seven, I had mentioned earlier that both Sherevsky and Fischer would not play chess on the Seventh Day - though for diametrically spiritually opposite reasons. Coincidence? This surely resembles the opposite spiritual lifestyles of the twins Esau and Jacob.

And at a close examination of this number 128, we see that it consists of two numbers: one (1) and twenty-eight (28). As we know about the Alef-Beit, there are 22 basic letters, and five of these letters take on a little different looking shape that are used exclusively at the end of a word; hence making a total of 27 different shapes in the Hebrew alphabet. And as used in Gematria sometimes, these five letters that are used as the end of a word have the respective numerical values (in order of the letters) of 500, 600, 700, 800, 900. Following this, the "28th letter" is the letter Alef once again, but instead of having the numerical value of one, it now has the numerical value of 1,000 - demonstrated by the fact that the word for the letter ALEF, can also be read as ELEF - which means one-thousand - using different vowels.

Parallel to this, we see in the chess game that the chess pieces represent people of various ranks from the plain soldiers - the pawns, to the king and queen. However, unlike the ones with positions inbetween the soldiers-pawns and the royal couple, the pawns, if they advance all the way to the other side of the board, then can become queens themselves. Of course, this is another example of chess that is based on a concept in the Torah. You see, the angels are very spiritual beings who are very close to G-d, while human beings are very material and physical people. However, if people overcome their physical temptations, urges, and addictions while looking to be spiritually close to G-d, they can potentially be even on a higher spiritual level than the angels. The difference reflected between these two groups are represented by the name of two Parshiyot that are read just around the time of the Jewish New Year, and in some years, they are read together on one Shabbat rather than on two separate Shabbatot: Nitzavim - which means standing as the angels are in the same spiritual position without moving ahead or backwards, and Vayeilech - which is related to the word Halicha/walking, for people have the freedom of choice to walk closer to G-d or G-d forbid away from G-d, but as the pawns in the chess game, people have the chance of reaching the highest spiritual heights possible, even higher than the level of the angels who may be compared to the other pieces of the chess game between the pawns and the king/queen.

Looking forward to writing my next post around Chanuka time which will of course be about one of my favorite Jewish holidays...

Week of the EIGHTH Parsha Vayishlach/EIGHTH of Kislev, 5772

1 comment:

BestMake said...

Shalom, truly fascinating divray Torah, baruch H-shem for the berachot, as every Torah chidush H-shem gives is a bracha.

Did you notice this post was posted at 324PM, which is 18 x 18, chai times chai, chai squared.

May you and your family be blessed with beautiful life in this world and the next.