Thursday, February 16, 2012

#131 - The Mentchlich Way of Living

This post is so to speak a follow up on my previous post pertaining to the birth of my daughter Tamar. This post will highlight a few Mishnayot that are connected to themes of my previous post.

But first, I want to point out that this is Post 131. This number is the Gematria of the Hebrew date Teit-Vav Kislev (15 Kislev), the Yahrzeit of Rebbe, the compiler of the Mishnayot, as well as the birthdate of my daughter Tamar.

With this said, as I mentioned in my previous post, there are a number of connections with both the name Tamar as well as the timing of her birth. And so, let us begin...

The first Mishna of the second chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers begins with the word Rebbe, referring to none other than the compiler of the Mishnayot. And so, let us see what he has to tell us in terms of Jewish living. "Rebbe says: Which is the straight path that a person should choose for oneself? Whatever is beautiful for its doers (the ones following the straight path) and beautiful for people (those who benefit from the ones following the straight path)."

To explain this in more practical terms, one of the foremost commentators on the Mishna - Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenora, explains that what is beautiful both for the ones following the straight path and everyone else around such a person is the balance that one maintains without being too extreme either way. As pointed out by the Rambam/Maimonides, a person should not be too much of one way or another, but rather of the medium path. For example, one should not be too stingy when it comes to giving Tzedaka/charity, for one should be very happy to give something to poor people. On the other hand, one should not give so much away that will necessitate himself to require charity. Hence, one needs a balance between the two extremes. Both the Mishna referring this as the STRAIGHT path, and the Rambam calling this the MIDDLE path refer to the same basic thing.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the word Yeshara/straight is the Gematria of 515, and as I had mentioned, the birth of my daughter which was on the same date as Rebbe's Yahrzeit was in the midst of my 515th month from my birth. In fact, being that the month Kislev in this year had 30 days, and my daughter was born virtually at the end of the 15th day, coming very close to the midpoint timing of the month of Kislev, virtually in the MIDDLE of this month. And so, it seems that there is some kind of sign or hint in this Mishna to the birth of my daughter, based on the word Yeshara.

And speaking of birth, the word describing what is called the straight path in the Mishna is Tiferet. Literally, it does mean beauty or beautiful. This is in fact one of the Sephirot, whose function is to combine the aspects of Chesed/kindness and Gevurah/strength or severity to be a compromise of these two preceding Sephirot to have a maximum balance of what a person should behave like. In fact, a child born to parents combines physical qualities of both of them. But more importantly of course, is the course of behavior that this child will adopt as he or she becomes physically older. Ultimately, a good way of behavior is what is beautiful or best for both the child himself/herself as well as the child's parents who quite often have a good percentage of influence on their children, aside from the influence of the teachers and classmates.

And speaking of the MIDDLE path, the Mishnaic tractate Bava Metzia, which literally means MIDDLE Gate, the 32nd tractate of the 63 tractate of the Mishnayot, is also the MIDDLE TRACTATE of the Mishnayot! Now, to first understand why this tractate is called as such, the first three tractates of the fourth volume of the Mishnayot - Nezikin/Damages are called Bava Kama "First Gate", Bava Metzia "Middle Gate", and Bava Batra "Last Gate", for originally, these tractates were in fact one huge Masechta/tractate, and so was divided accordingly. And so, aside from the unique connection of Tractate Bava Metzia to the concept of being MIDDLE, it is also the 32nd tractate, and as we know the Hebrew number for 32 - Lamed, Beit, spells the word Lev/Heart, as we normally say about a concept for example "the heart of the matter", figuratively speaking of what is in the MIDST - or MIDDLE so to speak - of the matter.

In my previous post, I mentioned how tractate Bava Metzia is related both to my name Shimon, and my wife's full Hebrew name Yael Miriam. But for today, I will focus on the beginning words of this tractate - Shnayim Ochazin B'Talit "Two are holding on to a garment..." You see, both of these guys claim that this thing that was found now belongs to himself, since holding on to an ownerless item gives the status of ownership to the present now holding it. However, the problem here is that both of them claim to be the ONLY one to have first held on this ownerless garment. And so, after both swearing to their status of ownership, each receive the value of half of the garment.

So as we can see, the Torah looks to make compromise between two people who would otherwise continue to be cut-throats claiming everything for themselves. For in fact, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that BOTH are telling the truth, that BOTH held on to the garment for the purpose of ownership at the same time, even though both would claim each on his own that it was he himself alone who was the first to hold on to it. And so, unless there is evidence pointing out to one being more likely to being the rightful owner of the garment than the other, the Torah offers a solution to maintain an equal balance between two Jews who have differences with each other.

Perhaps it is the child who is born to parents who come both from similar AND different backgrounds, who can solidify the unity between his or her parents, for the child born is a joint effort of the two. And regardless of the differences of background or opinions between the two parents, both naturally have a tremendous love for their child, and the only question at times is how to raise the child, how to take care of the child, etc. If both of them truly want what is best for their child, they will not always argue that he himself or she herself has the right opinion and the other one is wrong. Precisely by discussing what both of them are thinking, they can be much more hopeful to come to a solution that will more or most likely be better beneficial to the child at times, rather than one superimposing his or her opinion over the other, which would otherwise sometimes lead to disastrous results without discussing the pros and cons of any given situation.

There are those who claim that love conquers all. This statement could be very true - if it is giving love, rather than selfish love. Noting the similarity of the words Lev (heart) in Hebrew and Love in English, which is certainly not coincidence, it is quite often reaching middle ground between two parties - husband and wife, business partners, etc. that is satisfying to both parties, realizing that it is sometimes part or all of the opinion of the other that will maximize the benefits or results that both parties wish to accomplish. However, if one has a personal agenda, especially if it will be in bad taste to others, while one may get his or her way for a while; however, as time goes on, this can lead to disastrous, if not fatal, results. Ultimately, even if one cannot achieve their own way every time, but rather looks at the big picture, this is what we call a win-win situation, for both holding on to something that they wish to accomplish to its maximum potential will equally achieve the same results, plus continued marriageship or friendship for life, carrying a legacy for the next generation for whom we as parents, teachers, etc. are supposed to set a role model for.

And speaking of the next generation, let us see what the next generation of Rebbe has to say in Pirkei Avot; meaning, what his son Rabban Gamliel, who succeeded Rebbe as the Nasi/leader of the Jewish court in Israel, has to say: "Rabban Gamliel, son of Rabbi Judah the Prince says: How wonderful is Talmud Torah with Derech Eretz (literally means "way of the earth", refers to work), for both of these are instrumental in forgetting sin, for Torah without the accompaniment of work, causes the Torah to be abandoned at the end and brings on sin."

Now, we see a concept here that seems to be used as different words interchangeably - the concept of work. First, the term Derech Eretz is used. The next thing you know, the word Melacha is used. Why is this concept addressed by Rabban Gamliel this way? Why not used one uniform word or phrase, whatever one that may be?

Perhaps the answer to this question can be found in the literal meaning of the phrase Derech Eretz. The truth is that in today's terminology, this phrase is used to describe manners. In fact, in Talmudic literature, this phrase is used to describe a couple of other things. For one, as we use this phrase today, it states: "Derech Eretz comes before the Torah". Now, make no mistake. It is not like the assimilated Jews in Germany who could hardly wait to be the best German possible claimed that the important thing is to be with that type of lifestyle, the "menchlich" way of living. True, a Jew who only professes Torah, but does not behave right with other people, does not exactly do a service to Judaism to say the least, and it is to such people that the Talmudic phrase is most applicable to, for without understanding the underlying purpose of the Torah as practiced in this world, such as "Love your neighbor as yourself, this is the big principle of the Torah" and "Don't do to others what you don't want done to you, this is the Torah; the rest is commentary", one defeats the whole purpose of what the Torah stands for, making the Torah look like a disgrace in the eyes of non-Jews and non-observant Jews. For that matter, Hashem could have hired angels instead to observe the Torah in this world, for they don't have the physical limitations to overcome in the quest of Torah observance. However, Hashem created us with the circumstances of the world as "the way of the world". In other contexts, the Derech Eretz phrase is used to describe the sexual act, for this is a natural thing that Hashem implanted in human nature in order for the next generation to produce.

The bottom line is that Derech Eretz refers to the activities of this world that help society survive, live in harmony with one another, and enable the human race to continue, indeed "the way of the earth". These matters are done in a NATURAL way, the way that Hashem planted and wished things to be. There are no special "miracles" performed here. And while one may see what we call a miracle to be an open-mouthed shocking thing to witness, truly the biggest miracles are the natural matters that happen in this world, and especially, how new life gets formed. Imagine, from the combination of the sperm and egg, when combined the right way, produces a whole another being. Of course in science, this is explaned through the concept of DNA, but then again, who else created the DNA but Hashem?

And so, we can now understand better why the phrase used in Pirkei Avot to describe work first as Derech Eretz, and then as Melacha, the literal meaning of work. You see, when it comes to reproduction and being well mannered with other people, it is understood that the Torah does not replace these, for these matters have to be physically performed. However, some people think that just because they learn Torah, that "Hashem will provide, so I don't need to do anything". Of course Hashem provides, and even though we see that animals don't need to go to work to earn their food; for the human race, this is not necessarily the case. Even for those who own farms from which food will grow to feed them, if the land is not worked on, vegetation will eventually cease for a lack of the land being cared for. Now, for those who learn in what is called Kollel all day, year after year, without using one's Torah skills to help others such as teaching, writing books, etc. or eventually going out to do something else to provide as one promises one's wife in the Ketuba (marriage contract), or provided by some benefactor to allow him to learn all day, it is this teaching in Pirkei Avot that comes into factor.

Yes, for the great righteous ones who have full faith in Hashem, perhaps for them it is OK to learn Torah all day, even if it seems that their families are suffering. However, we have to realize that while learning Torah is the greatest of all Mitzvot/Commandments, Hashem did not put us in this world ONLY to learn Torah, but rather, to use it in practical ways, to show the beauty of Torah to others, for even an observant Jew in a non-Jewish work environment can sanctify G-d's name when he shows himself to be pleasant and honest with his work to others, and at times, have brought non-observant Jews close to the Torah, and non-Jews have converted to Judaism. In stark contrast, how much good does the Torah do for someone if when very pressured by his wife to make a living instead of "sitting on your butt all day", he then gets into some kind of scam that ends up being publicized for the world to know, aside from the possibility of spending good time in prison, and have one more excuse for non-observant Jews not to want to ever consider being observant Jews?

I mentioned in my previous post how the Gematria of the full name of my daughter - Tamar Tzadika - is related to the concept of Parnassa (livelihood). Well, the phrase Derech Eretz used by Rabban Gamliel, just as the word Yeshara used by Rebbe his father, is the Gematria of 515, noting again that my daughter was born within the midst of my 515th month from my own birth. In fact, both the concepts mentioned by Rebbe and his son Rabban Gamliel are related to one another. You see, living a straight forward way of behavior that defines one as a balanced person AND doing something productive in society in the way of work, BOTH help oneself and others. And so, it is hardly surprising that a key word or phrase of both of these teachings add up to the same Gematria of 515. These methods, as supported by the Torah, are truly THE MENTCHLICH WAY OF LIVING.


Continuing on with the statements of Rabban Gamliel in Pirkei Avot, he states, "Whoever is involved with the community, should occupy themselves doing so for the sake of Heaven, for the merits of their forefathers assist them, and their righteousness will last forever".

Here, he goes one step further. It's not enough that one lives a mentchlich way of living, even with the Torah, but that even in our doing things for others, for the community, it only has lasting value if we do so for the right reasons, because it is what Hashem wants us to do. Perhaps for non-Jews, doing things for the community may be a very good thing for them, for after all, it makes them feel good about themselves patting themselves on the back, for others, it means that volunteering keeps them from crime. But for a good Jew, it is not enough to say that just because one does everything right,
to what we perceive as pleasing both Hashem and our families, that we are OK. Sometimes, one may do things for others, do things for the community, as a way of showing oneself in power, or attempting to derive honor from this. Even if one's actions may not seem on the outside for others to see upon one's ulterior motives, it doesn't mean that one's "volunteer" activities make him a star. For if one does forget about when one does what is called volunteer work or being a community leader, serving the Jewish community, then in essence, one is serving oneself rather than Hashem, for he forgets that Hashem is the Big Boss, and that is why he is supposed to be doing his activities to begin with. Otherwise, he should just continue on with his daily routine of work and attending the daily Daf Yomi class with his daily attendance of prayers at the synagogue. Only if one always keeps in mind that when serving the Jewish community, that one is ultimately serving Hashem when having the right motives in mind, then this is something that is of eternal value, and a Mitzva, rather than some nice "volunteer" work or having a plaque on the wall to show off to others who also only care about themselves making it in what is spiritually called the minor league, for it is only in the major league - the area of serving Hashem, even if it isn't always the most popular thing to do, that one can hope for eternal reward and benefits.

There is an amazing comparison of phrases involved here. In Rabban Gamliel's statement, describing the reward of good community leaders, he states "their righteousness lasts forever". In Psalm 112, the psalm that is designated to be recited corresponding to Parshat Vayeishev, the Parsha of the week in which my daughter was born, it mentions the phrase "his righteousness will last forever" not once, but twice! Moreover, this is well related to my daughter's second Hebrew name Tzadika, the feminine form in Hebrew for a righteous person.


Now, speaking of my daughter's first name, the word Tamar itself is used in quite a few places in the Mishna. Well, the Tamar - date palm tree - or referring to its fruit as Temarim in plural, is mentioned among other fruit or fruit trees when it comes to various laws of the farm land in the order of Zeraim "Seeds", the first of six volumes of the Mishna.

Then, we see the name Tamar as referring to a person. In fact, in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot, it mentions Tamar as referring to a daughter of King David in the context of an example of what is considered love based on a particular thing, describing King David's son Amnon who loved Tamar only due to the lust that he had for her, and when he satisfied his lust, then he had no more use for her.

Now, let us turn to the last Mishna of Tractate Megilla (Note: In the Mishnayot, this is indeed the last Mishna, as part of Chapter Four. In the Babylonian Talmudic text, it is part of Chapter Three, as the last two chapters are reversed). This Mishna mentions, as it used to be in ancient times of how the Torah was read and expounded or translated in public, that the story of (King) David & Amnon, referring to the story of what took place between Amnon & Tamar, is not read or translated, the reason given is because of its most shameful nature. However, in this Mishna, the name Tamar is not mentioned in reference to this story. However, the name Tamar is mentioned in this Mishna, as the original Tamar, refering to the story of Judah & Tamar, after whom I named my daughter, as this Mishna states "The story of Tamar is read and translated". This is unlike certain other parts of the Torah, due to their sensitive nature is either not translated or is not even read in public. However, in the original Tamar story, even though if one were to read this story knowing only its literal meaning, that it would seem that Tamar indeed misbehaved as a prostitute, even as Judah sentenced her to death for being as such for all that he knew, there is no cover up for this story whatsoever, because knowing the purpose of this story taking place, one will realize that though on the outside things didn't look quite right, but Judah's one "night stand" with Tamar his former daughter-in-law was allowed by Hashem to make way for the seed of Moshiach to be descended from this union. And so, even though Judah wound up admitting the truth threatening his reputation in the end of the story for this, not only do we see that unlike his three older brothers who were castigated by their dying father Jacob, Judah was not only not castigated, but was given the greatest of blessings, which included his descendant the Messiah. And speaking of which, Judah most certainly merited that Rebbe, compiler of the Mishna, bearing his namesake, would also be a descendant of his. And this very story which is called Ma'aseh Tamar "Incident of Tamar" consists of 30 verses, and Yehuda's name is the Gematria of 30.

Connecting the concepts of the date of 15 Kislev, the number 30, and the heart; as I mentioned in my previous post, the six phrases in Psalms 19:8-10 correspond to the six orders of the Mishna, consisting of 30 words. Noting that Rebbe's Yahrzeit is the 15th of the month of Kislev, which in this year, as in the majority of years, consists of 30 days, we see that the 15th word of these three verses is the word Lev/Heart, which also spells the number 32 in Hebrew. (By the way, when dissecting the number of this post- 131, as One (1) and Thirty-One (31), the total of these two numbers when added is 32). And as I mentioned earlier in this post in connection to 15 Kislev being part of the middle of the month, so is Tractate Bava Metzia, which means "MIDDLE Gate", the 32nd tractate and the MIDDLE tractate of the Mishnayot. This is noting, as I mentioned in my previous post, that the first letters of these six phrases corresponding to the six orders of the Mishna add up to the same number as the Gematria of my daughter's first name Tamar. And shortly, we will see here another connection between the name Tamar and the heart.


This is how I described my daughter via her name as I made the subject title of my previous post. In that post, I showed a number connections between the two names, as shown in Scripture.

In today's post, I will show you a connection between these two names straight out in the Gemara, though the concept of her second name is mentioned before the first name, but the same basic idea exists.

Let's turn to the Talmud in Sanhedrin 93a: "When Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah (three righteous Jews in the Babylonian exile who were thrown in a fiery furnace for refusing to idol worship) exited the fiery furnace (without any harm), all the nations of the world slapped Jews (who gave in to idol worshiping by threat of King Nebuchadnezzar) in the face, exclaiming "You have such a powerful G-d as this One (Who miraculously saved the three righteous Jews), and yet you bowed down to the idol?" Upon hearing what was going on, these three righteous Jews declared "To You Hashem, is RIGHTEOUSNESS; while for us, it's shamefacedness as this day (the day that they were thrown in the furnace) (Daniel 9:7)"."

The very next statement in the Gemara reads as follows: "What is the meaning of the verse "I (Hashem) said that I would be elevated through the PALM TREE, but I held only to its branches". This means, "I said that I would be elevated through the Jews, but the only thing that came up in My hands was a branch, that is, Chananyah, Mishael, and Azariah"."

Now, we see in another Gemara that the Jews are compared to the palm tree (Succah 45b): Rabbi Levi says: The Jews are compared to a date palm. Just as the date palm has only one heart (refering to the sap that is located exclusively in its trunk, but not in its branches or leaves), so too do the Jews have only one heart for their Father in Heaven".

Yes, we Jews, as compared to the Tamar, the date palm, have wonderful fruit, wonderful talents to implement and use to help others. However, we need to recognize our hidden talents, and not let others direct us, or rather misdirect us, in our way of life, whether through enticements or through threats. Without referring not only to the Torah, but to rabbis who embody both Torah scholarship AND RIGHTEOUSNESS, we cannot hope that we will be doing everything right in serving Hashem. It is crucial to recognize that first and foremost, we are here to serve Hashem, and while others may seem to have a relatively easier time in doing so, each and every person has his or her unique challenges. However, what does remain true for all is that in whatever profession or living lifestyle that one maintains, we must always bear in mind that our actions must fulfill the criteria that will be pleasing to both Hashem AND people, for it is only IN THIS WORLD that one can earn and accomplish our unique mission that Hashem has given us, to be a light to everyone surrounding us, influencing them to feel how good it is to serve Hashem.

23 Shevat 5772

1 comment:

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