Friday, April 27, 2012

#139 - Beginning the SEVENTH Period

Having celebrated my annual birthday anniversary a few days ago, I was mindful of the significance of my age. Well, for one thing, this was my first birthday that I was able to say that I am now a parent, and I will mention something more on this a little later on in this post. But more than referring to my past 42 years of life on this earth, the significance that I want to highlight today on is having begun entering my seventh period of seven years.

This sounds something similar to a couple of Mitzvot/Commandments in the Torah. Well first, we are presently within the midst of the Sephira period in which we count each day for a total of 49 days beginning from the second day of Passover when the Omer barley offering was offered in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), hence, being called Sephirat HaOmer - counting of the Omer, after which we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the annual anniversary of Matan Torah/Giving of the Torah, as well as the annual wheat offering. And then, there is the Shemitta cycle in which for six years, we work the land in Israel, and then in the seventh year - we are commanded to let the land rest, the same way that we work for six days a week and then we observe the Sabbath with the cessation of work. However, in Temple times, the Shemitta cycle paralleled the Sephira period in that there were seven such cycles of six years work and one year rest, and then was the 50th year - the Jubilee year, which meant two consecutive years of not working the land, and then a new Shemitta/Jubilee cycle began.

Presently, I am writing this on 5 Iyar, which while may sound like music to some who celebrate the annual Yom HaAtzmaut/Israel Independence Day which in fact was first declared on this date on a Friday the way that it is this year; though presently, it is celebrated the day before to have an extra day of vacation since many if not most don't go to work on Fridays in Israel anyways, this date - or rather the 20th day of the Omer (since before our fixed Jewish calendar nowadays, there were times that the previous month of Nissan could have had 29 days instead of the fixed 30 days nowadays), is exactly 30 days before Shavuot. You see, we learn in Hilchot Pesach/Laws of Passover, that we are supposed to learn the laws of the holiday starting 30 days before the holiday. Now, this is well understandable for Passover, since there are numerous laws related to making Matza, getting rid of Chametz (leavened products) and preparing & performing the Seder. However, as for other holidays, we don't necessarily have so many laws, at least as far as Shavuot is concerned, as well see in the Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law, there is only one chapter consisting of three paragraphs for the laws of this holiday (Orach Chaim Chapter 494). But as with almost everything else in Judaism, there is a difference of opinion as to how long before the other holidays, at least as far as Shavuot is concerned, we are supposed to learn the laws of that holiday. There are some who don't require a lengthy period, but only from Rosh Chodesh Sivan, beginning the month in which we celebrate Shavuot a few days later. However, others require 30 days before every holiday across the board.

Of course, the question that may be asked it, "Well, if there aren't many laws about this holiday, then how much time does it take to learn how to observe this holiday. Certainly, it would be better to learn these laws shortly before the holiday rather than 30 days before so we will have a more refreshed memory as to what to do when the holiday arrives?" Well, it is true that there are various customs and words of Torah as related to this holiday, and a quick stop at the local Judaica bookstore will make you wonder as to what is the best book on the holiday to spend your money on. But just as there are numerous laws about observance of the Sabbath, which if we don't learn all of the laws to ensure that we will not be in violation of this holy day even by accident, so too there are laws about the observance of Yom Tov/Jewish holiday, so while other holidays involve the special commandments of the particular holiday that we have to annually refresh our memories on, including Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur & Succot, there are those who especially learn the laws of Yom Tov at this time of year to be prepared to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Shavuot properly, since there are no special Mitzvot to study about attached to this holiday.

Actually, this holiday is unique, because is actually celebrates the GREATEST Mitzva of all - the learning and teaching of Torah. In fact, the men have a custom to staying up all night long (outside of Israel where the holiday is celebrated for two days, this is done on the first night) learning Torah, and there is even a collection of Torah learning that is especially meant to be learned on this night, called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which includes for the most part, the first three and last three verses of the 54 Parshiyot of the Chumash as well as of the remaining books of the Tanach, the first and last Mishnayot of each of the 63 Tractates of the Mishna, and the Taryag Mitzvot/613 Commandments.

Interestingly, one of the 63 Mishnaic tractates is named Shevuot, which in Hebrew, aside from the vowels, is spelled the same way as the name of the holiday Shavuot. In fact, there is a custom among learned Jews to learn the Babylonian Talmud on this tractate, which consists of 48 Dafim (double sided pages) - which begins with Daf 2 like the other Babylonian Talmud tractates, and ends with Daf 49, during the Sephira period which consists of 49 days. However, believe it or not, this tractate doesn't discuss the holiday of Shavuot, except to mention the third of the Ten Commandments that were given on Shavuot - the prohibition of saying Hashem's name in vain, in reference to oaths, the subject of this tractate, the meaning of the name of Tractate Shevuot.

As far as the meaning of the name of the holiday of Shavuot is concerned, it means "weeks", the plural of the word Shavua, which in turn is based on the word Sheva/Seven, for as we all know, a week consists of seven days. This is especially illustrated in our count of the 49 Sephira days, in which we not only count how many days from the beginning of the Sephira count, but we also count weeks, starting from the seventh day of the Sephira when we state "Today is seven days which is one week from the Omer", and then the next day, aside from the number of the total amount of days, we also mention that this is one week and one day, continuing on to the end of the Sephira accordingly. With this said, the first time that we mention the word Shavuot in the count of the Sephira is on the 14th day of the Sephira when we mention that this is two weeks from the Omer, as Shavuot means weeks in plural form, and the minimum number for the plural form is two.

While mentioning this, perhaps there is a hint here to the holiday of Shavuot in the fact that we mention this word - howbeit in a little different meaning than the name of the upcoming holiday per se - for the first time on the 14th day of the Sephira. You see, the name of King David, who was born and passed away on Shavuot, is the Gematria of 14. Moreover, the spiritual aspect of this 14th day of the Sephira is Malchut She'B'Gevura - Kingship within Strength. And while Malchut is especially related to King David, the Sephira of Gevura is also related to King David in a way, for as we see in the introduction of the Tikunei Zohar, Gevurah corresponds to the left arm of the body, the arm on which the majority as righties put on Tefillin/phylacteries, which is called Tefillin Shel Yad (phylacteries of the hand), and the word Yad/hand is the same Gematria as King David's name. Also to note, this 14th day of the Sephira is virtually at the end of the month of Nissan, which corresponds to the Tribe of Judah, the parental ancestry of King David. Moreover, when the 14th day of the Sephira falls out on the Sabbath as it did this year, being that is is Erev Rosh Chodesh - the day before the new Jewish month, the Haftara that is read on this Sabbath is not the usual one for the Parsha, but rather is a special one for the Sabbath that is immediately followed by Rosh Chodesh/New Month. This is the Haftara about the story about King David's concern of not being found by King Saul who was on a witch hunt to do away with him due to jealousy. Luckily for King David, King Saul's son Jonathan was best friends with him, and when Jonathan saw how his father King Saul had vengeful feelings for King David, Jonathan informed King David saw he would know to now escape. So as we see, the 14th day of the Sephira is connected to King David in more than one way, especially when it falls out on a Sabbath, aside from the fact that of the seven days of the week, the Sabbath is connected especially with King David via the Sephira of Malchut; and also, King David passed away on a Sabbath.

With this said, the word Shavuot in the counting of the Sephira from this 14th day and on continues until the end of the count of the Sephira, making this a total of 36 days of mentioning the word Shavuot. And as the holiday of Shavuot is when the Torah was given, there are 36 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud of the Gemara, the hardcore of Torah learning, the explanation of the Mishna being the foundation of the Oral Torah without which, we would be, G-d forbid, no different than the non-Jews who only know Judaism via the prism of the Bible, from which the practice of Judaism would not be understood with the explanations of the Oral Torah. And since we accepted the Torah with its 613 Mitzvot for us to receive the Torah on Shavuot, I should mention that via the Gematria method of Atbash, in which the first letter Alef is exchanged with the last letter Tav, the second letter Beit is exchanged with the next to the last letter Shin, etc., it turns out that when we take the word Gemara (Gimel, Mem, Reish, Aleph), and exchange the letters of this word accordingly, when rearranged, we see that we have the very letters of the Hebrew number 613 (Tav, Reish, Yud, Gimel)! For indeed, the Gemara is the details explanation of the Mitzvot of the Torah - the detailed explanation of how we perform these commmandments, explaning the various verses of the Torah from which we derive the 613 Mitzvot.

This would not be complete without mentioning that the connection between King David and the holiday of the Giving of the Torah goes way beyond the fact that he was born and passed away on this special Jewish holiday. The Talmud in Tractate Berachot notes how King David used to arouse himself at midnight to learn Torah until the morning. Elsewhere, the rabbis note that King David learned more in one night than what a Talmid Chacham/Torah scholar learns in an entire lifetime (they said this during the Talmudic era)! While we are at it, unlike my usual style of translating Hebrew words for the masses, I didn't mention the usual given English translation for the holiday of Shavuot in this post until now. OK, the word is Pentecost, which is based on the number 50, as it is the 50th day from the beginning of the count of the Sephira/Omer period, but I have a good reason why I didn't give this translation until now. Giving credit to Jews who don't know much about their own heritage, many of them will at least minimally celebrate certain holidays, such as Passover and the High Holidays. However, the holidays that ultimately represent the most important gift that the Jewish people has ever received - the Torah, are either hardly known to some of these same Jews, or they don't feel a special need to commemorate these days. It is true that for some non-observant Jews who go to the synagogue or temple for Yizkor services on four times every year, one of these days is the second day of Shavuot, though it is not the day of Shavuot on which we read of the Giving of the Torah, which includes the Ten Commandments, in the Sefer Torah/Torah Scroll. However, in terms of celebrating the essence of our Jewish living, few non-observant Jews who don't keep the Sabbath, keep Kosher or observe the family laws of purity have a clue of what it is really all about.

As a good rabbi friend of mine, Rabbi Dovid Bryn of blessed memory, whose 10th Yahrzeit will be on this Shabbat (6 Iyar) used to say in his sermons, he would rather see everyone come to his synagogue for Simchat Torah (the final holiday following Succot when we celebrate the conclusion of the reading of the Sefer Torah) than for the High Holidays. You see, Judaism is all about learning the Torah, being happy that we are Hashem's Chosen People to serve him rather than speaking endlessly about being the Chosen for the Holocaust. For it is the Torah, and the celebration thereof, that highlights our purpose as the Jewish people, and not simply perform a few rituals to satisfy our guilty conscience as Jews when we aren't doing more or looking to understand our purpose. There is one practical difference though between how we celebrate Shavuot and Simchat Torah, which literally means "Happiness of the Torah". On Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates having first received the Torah, we learn all night to show our eagerness of wanting to learn Torah, even at the expense of our usual sleep time. On Simchat Torah, when we conclude the Torah by reading the last Parsha in the Sefer Torah, instead of sitting in one place to learn what the Torah says, we dance all around the synagogue to celebrate this most special day. Now mind you, both of these customs on these respective holidays were not always around, at least when we first received the Torah. However, the fact that at one point, having accepted these customs shows that we don't just do mere rituals the way that we celebrate the other holidays with their particular Mitzvot, but that we don't take the Torah for granted, and on our own, we adopted practices showing how much the Torah means to us. And so, it is crucial for secular Jews especially in the United States, most of whom sadly know more about the Ten Commmandments from the Ten Commandments movie than from the Bible, to learn first hand what these Ten Commandments are saying, following which perhaps some of them will at least make some effort to observe the Sabbath to some extent, for after all, it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments, aside from the fact that the Giving of the Torah took place on the Sabbath.

Now, getting back to where I am holding in my life, having already began my 43rd year of life, it is reminiscent to the 43rd day of the Sephira, when 45 years ago on this day, the holiest area in the world was regained under Jewish sovereignty once again; and today, this day (28 Iyar) is known as Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day. Three years ago, I wrote a post about Jerusalem Day when it was the beginning of the 43rd year, titled Jerusalem: The END of our Journey (May '09). While I am not going to rehash everything from that post over here, one thing that I do want to mention as far as my special connection to Jerusalem is that the verse corresponding to my name Shimon that I recite at the end of every Shemoneh Esrei that begins with the letter Shin and ends with the letter Noon Sophit as does my name is Shabechi Yerushalayim Et Hashem Haleli Elokayim Tzion "Praise Hashem - O Jerusalem, laud your G-d - O Zion" (Psalms 147:12). While I presently don't live in Jerusalem, I lived in Jerusalem for two and a half years when I first moved to Israel some seven years ago.

And as related to King David, one of the many names of Jerusalem is called Ir David - City of David, since he was the one who declared it as the capitol of Jerusalem with him move to Jerusalem as king; and subsequently, his son King Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple. Moreover, Jerusalem day is the beginning of the SEVENTH week of the Sephira, and King David was born and passed away on Shavuot, the wording of the holiday that is based on the wording of Shiva Shavuot - SEVEN WEEKS, since it immediately follows the seven weeks of the Sephira that the Jews originally counted following the Exodus until they received the Torah seven weeks later.

With this said, I want to mention something that I came across a while back. The Shir Shel Yom (Song of the Day) that was sung by the Levites (and I am a Levite) for the Sabbath was Psalm 92. To note, the beginning verse of this psalm is the ONLY place in the entire Tehillim/Book of Psalms composed by King David that mentions the Sabbath. This first verse is Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat "A psalm song for the day of the Sabbath". Now, let's take the two middle words of this verse Shir L'Yom, and you will see that when the letters of these two words are rearranged, it spells the word Yerushalayim! Now, as this city is especially related to the number SEVEN as we see that Jerusalem Day is the beginning of the SEVENTH week of the Sephira, the last word of this verse HaShabbat - The Sabbath, is the Gematria of 707, which is certainly no coincidence with the fact that the Sabbath is the SEVENTH day of the week, which was the day of the week that the Giving of the Torah took place and the passing away of King David which both occured on Shavuot, This is also noting that the word Shabbat is included in the word Shavuot being spelled in order of the word. Also by Hashgacha Peratit (Divine Providence), the Talmud Yerushalmi (JERUSALEM Talmud) on Tratate SHABBAT consists of exactly 92 Dafim (double sided-pages)!

To note, the number 43 is related to Shimon in another big way. When mentioning the birth of Shimon of the 12 Tribes of Israel, his mother Leah notes that "He (Hashem) gave me ALSO this one", being Leah's second son following Reuven's birth. In Hebrew, the word GAM for "also" has the same letters as the Hebrew number for 43. And as I noted, a verse in the Tanach that begins with the letter Shin and ends with the letter Noon Sophit as does the name Shimon mentions the word Jerusalem, and Jerusalem Day is on the 43rd day of the Sephira - the beginning of the SEVENTH week of the Sephira.. And as related to the word Shabbat, Shimon is the only one of the 12 Tribes whose name begins with the letter Shin as does the word Shabbat, the SEVENTH day.

Another connection pertaining to the letter Shin deserves its own paragraph. The paragraph Ana B'Koach that is recited among the prayers following the counting of the Sephira consists of 42 words, and at the end of every sentence that consists of six words, as shown in the Siddur (prayer book), it shows the mnemonic of the six word sentence. Thus, for the 49 days of the Sephira, one has in mind - including the mnemonic which is the seventh "word" of each line of the Ana B'Koach prayer, one word per day of the Sephira. At it works out, the one letter SHIN in this entire prayer corresponds to - the 43rd Day of the Sephira! I sure hope that I am in for some good look in my present 43rd year!

And as pertaining to this Hebrew year 5772, which is spelled with the letters Hei-Tav-Shin-Ayin-Beit, both words HaShabbat (the Sabbath) and Shiva (seven) can be spelled from the letters of this year, which is including the letter Beit (2) of this particular year which won't end with this letter again until the next decade. Moreover, aside from the letter Hei from the year, and aside from the one or two letter Vavs of the name of the holiday Shavuot, the word Shavuot and the Hebrew year also share four letters. And in this year, THE FIRST TIME IN 14 YEARS, the final day of the Sephira will fall out on Shabbat, and when counting the weeks of the Sephira, we state that they are SHIVA SHAVUOT - SEVEN WEEKS, hence combining ALL three words as related to this Hebrew year. Coincidence?

Additionally, adding up the numerical values of the letters of this year, bearing in mind that the letter Hei that is used at the beginning of the number of the year as the numerical value of 5,000 is the normal numerical value of 5, adding this up with the rest of the number of this year - 772, the total yielded is 777. Hence, this Hebrew year that is related to the words Shabbat, Shiva, and Shavuot is hinted to by the regular Gematria of the letters of this Hebrew year as well as connected particulary with the number SEVEN.

Being that this is my 139th Post, I would like to make mention of another psalm - Psalm 139. This psalm gives an account of Hashem's wonders in the creation of mankind. In the midst of this psalm in psalm 16, it states "the days were formed, and for Him was one of them". One of the explanations for this as given by Rashi is that this is the day of Shabbat, which is Hashem's special day.

And before I conclude, as I promised in the beginning of this post, I have something to mention pertaining to my baby daughter. Well first, she was born on the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) - 15 Kislev, who was the SEVENTH generation in parential line from Hillel, the patriarch of the dynasty of Jewish leaders in Israel, who in turn was descended from King David. And as connected to Shavuot, there are quite a few connections. First, as I had just noticed the other day, Tamar - the one who had the one night stand with Judah from whom is King David and Moshiach descended, after whom I named my daughter, is also mentioned in Megillat Ruth that is read on Shavuot, being that Boaz who consummated the marriage with Ruth as the end of this Megilla was descended in parental line from Judah and Tamar. Also, the initials of my daughter's name Tamar Tzadika - Tav & Tzadi - spelling the Hebrew number 490, is the Gematria of the word Matan as in the phrase Matan Torah - Giving of the Torah. And as connected with the day of Matan Torah, as I have mentioned before, there are three verses in Psalms (19:8-10) that speaks in praise of the Torah, starting with the words Torat Hashem..., which consists of six phrases corresponding to the six orders of the Mishan, and the first letters of these six phrases add up to the Gematria of my daughter's first name Tamar. This is along with the fact that the letters of the name Tamar are the initials of the phrase Torat Moshe Rabbeinu.

And with this, I end my first post of my 43rd year.

5 Iyar, 5772

No comments: