Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#144 - LAST of the TWELVETH

Today, the 2nd Day of Sivan, called Yom HaMeyuchas "Day of Genealogy", marks the event of Hashem's opening words to the Jewish people "You will be a Segula to Me from among all the nations, for the earth belongs to Me" (Exodus 19:5).

As you noticed, I did not immediately translate the word Segula in the verse that I just quoted. You see, many refer to this word when it comes to something that is performed or recited in order that Hashem will bless them with money, health, children, marriage partner, etc. I don't know how this word started to be associated with this concept. However, what I do know is that this word in the context of this verse means "beloved treasure", as Rashi explains in detail in comparing the Jewish people to the type of treasure that kings store away because of its preciousness. And while the whole world - all of mankind - belongs to Hashem - the rest of the world, with all of its wisdom, arts, skills, the fantasy Hollywood movies, etc. is considered nothing as far as Hashem is concerned, especially in sharp contrast to the Jewish people.

This is not to say that if this is the case, that all Jews are superior to all non-Jews. In a way, it is true only in the sense that a Jew is born with a special holiness that a non-Jew is not born with. However, it is only the end result that justifies saying that a Jew is lucky to be a Jew. For it is the Torah - Hashem's wisdom, though in fact all wisdom comes from Hashem, that distinguishes a Jew from the rest of the world. Oh sure, a non-Jew can read the Bible and feel inspired to come a little closer to Hashem. However, honest look at the Bible from a non-Jew will tell him/her that Hashem's Commandments are meant specifically for the Jewish people; and at best, will be lucky if left to live to be among the ones who will declare Hashem's praises, realizing that the Jewish people are Hashem's Chosen Nation.

So, what is the difference between the Torah and all other wisdoms if they all come from Hashem? The practical difference is that the Torah comes with holiness, with instructions of serving Hashem properly, with the chance to receive eternal reward with every word of Torah that is learnt. And so, while a Jew can live a long life, contribute to society with his expertise in business, science, computers, the big cure for cancer, etc., all this, despite all the help that these factors accomplish which includes saving lives, pales in insignificance to the learning of Torah. Yes, all these secular accomplishents can be good things, they provide a good living for some, but all these accomplishments can only be truly called that if they help with the purpose of Hashem's creating the world.

Now make no mistake. While the learning and teaching of Torah is the ultimate spiritual accomplishment; at least in this world, it is not an end in itself. For in fact, if one just is involved in Torah, but does not communicate with the world at least in a minimal way of doing deeds of kindness when the need arises, then it only defeats the purpose of learning Torah, for in that case, we are hardly better than most non-Jews who don't live a saintly life just because they read the Bible. While there are many Gematriot to illustrate our point here, perhaps the number one Gematria that stands out is that the words Torah & Gemilut-Chasadim (performance of kind deeds) have the same Gematria of 611.

Now it is true that as far as the Mitzva of learning Torah is concerned, it is the men who are specifically commanded to do so. It is true that women have to also learn Torah - but this is not because it is a Mitzva to learn Torah in itself, but because from this how to observe the Mitzvot (Commandments), most especially, the laws of family purity (Taharat HaMishpacha) - which women must be very fluent with in order to be spiritually pure after nearly two weeks from her monthly cycle and going to the Mikva (ritualarium) before resuming being together with her husband. This does not mean that Jewish women are of a lower status than the Jewish men - quite the contrary, the Yiddishe Mama is quite often the main one who begins the Jewish education of her baby singing Jewish songs to the little one while the husband is at work. In fact, our Jewish wives share the Mitzvah of our Torah learning as a 50%-50% deal, provided that she does her part encouraging her children to learn in Yeshiva as well as her husband to learn some Torah. In fact, if the husband likes to rather spend his time playing cards and watching football games every Sunday on the couch potato tube despite his wife's encouragement to learn Torah, she will still receive her full reward on her part, but he is the one who will eternally loose.

With this said, let's turn to today's message - the first words that Hashem told Moses on 2 Sivan following the Jews' encampment at Mt. Sinai - Ko Tomar L'Beit Ya'akov V'Tageid L'Bnei Yisrael "So shall you say to the House of Jacob and say to the Sons of Israel" (Exodus 19:3). While parts of the Bible may be claimed to be poetic, Hashem is not just throwing words at Moses for this purpose. Yes, it is true that Jacob had two names - Jacob & Israel, but Hashem wording his description of the Jewish people in these terminologies as "House of Jacob" and "Children of Israel" is a little more than noting various names. For why is the word "house" being used in addition to the regular usage of the word "children" in reference to the Jewish people?

Rashi notes that "House of Jacob" in fact refers to the women. But how he infers such a thing is that typically, the Hebrew word for "say" being used is Tomar - based on the usage for "saying" that is used in reference to speech that is of a soft nature, in contrast to something being said in a harsh manner. By nature, women are more delicate, and as such, should be spoken to in a more soft manner than the way we speak to men, though of course, we are supposed to talk nicely to everyone; but sometimes, we have to speak to people "in their language" to get the point across.

It's interesting to note that Hashem used the phrase in referring to the women as BEIT Yaakov "HOUSE of Jacob", for in fact, the date that Hashem said His message was on BEIT Sivan (2 Sivan). For while the usual usage of the word for house in Hebrew is Bayit - in an instance where it is used as part of a phrase - "house of" - the vowels for the word changes to be the exact word for the name of the second letter of the Alef Beit. And to note, Hashem FIRST addressed the women, and only afterwards - the men "Children of Israel". Similarly, we see in both the blessings of Jacob and Moses for the Jewish people, that in blessing the particular tribes, they first mentioned the younger brother Zevulun before the older brother Yissaschar. For while it was Yissaschar who did the Torah learning while Zevulun was so to speak an accessory to him by supporting him, it was only due to Zevulun's support of Yissaschar that made the all day Torah learning possible for Yissaschar. In the same way, it is ONLY due to the Jewish woman who creates the atmosphere that a Jewish HOME is supposed to represent that everything can be put in place. For while a Jewish child can learn Torah in Yeshiva all day, it is only at home that he or she receives the base of what Jewish living is like. And as we see in the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat, the Jewish wife is called a Bayit - and NOT because she is merely a Beit - "Number Two". For as we see in the Torah, while it was the letter Aleph that began the Ten Commandments - Anochi "I am", the letter Beit is the letter that begins the whole Torah - Bereishit "In the beginning"; and moreover, unlike the Aleph beginning the Ten Commandments, this Beit - the first letter of the Torah - is written in the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) as an extra large letter. Hence, it is most clear that it is the BAYIT of the Jewish people - the Jewish woman, who sets the tone for not just the immediate Jewish family, both for the entire Jewish people who is one family.

It is at this point that it is most worthy to note the chain of Jewish schools for girls called Beis Yaakov (using the Ashkenazic pronounciation for the typically pronounced word Beit as these schools started in an Ashkenazic environment and is pronounced as such in the observant Jewish world), founded by a seamstress, Sarah Schenirer in 1917 in Krakow,Poland in response to the sad plight of young Jewish girls/women who, because they didn't go to Cheder or Yeshiva like the boys did in Europe, were left to their own quite often, being exposed to non-Jewish ideas and philosophy, which resulted in many Jewish females most unfortunately leaving, rather than living, the Jewish fold for a totally Goyishe lifestyle, especially in the wake of the Enlightment movement in Europe which looked to cheapen Jewish observance. In her own experiment, Mrs. Schenirer taught a bit of Torah to Jewish women, but quickly realized that the only ones who were long term interested in what she had to say were the younger girls who were not yet tainted with the non-Jewish world. And so, nearly a hundred years later, a good percentage of girls/women from observant Jewish homes have been forever influenced to continue the beautiful Torah lifestyle that their parents wished for all their children to have. Imagine the terrible loss it would have been for the Jewish people if no such innovation would have been made (most rabbis at the time when the Beis Yaakov school began were skeptical of openly teaching Torah to women), aside from the eventual lack of observant Jewish women for the observant young men looking to get married!

To give you a glimpse of what one Jewish woman can accomplish, at the time of Mrs. Schenirer's passing in 1935, there were some 35,000 girls in the over 200 Beis Yaakov schools at the time, which became some 300 schools until the time of the Holocaust. Thank G-d, some of the greatest Torah scholars of her generation - including the Chofetz Chaim, the Gerrer Rebbe and the Belzer Rebbe gave their approval and blessings for her Beis Yaakov idea. This stemmed from when she was working in her earlier years as a seamstress to help support her poor family (her parents and siblings), she saw how particular women were in their insistence on how their dresses should be made, she wrote "People are perfectionists when it comes to clothing their bodies. But are they perfectionists when it comes to the needs of their soul?" Indeed, she can be compared to the first Jewish woman - Sara Imeinu, of whom Rashi notes that while Abraham brought men close to serving Hashem, Sara his wife did the same for the women.

In this year, the date of 2 Sivan takes on another special siginificance, and is related very much to the Jewish woman. Today begins the daily learning of Daf Yomi (double-sided page of the Babylonian Talmud) of the final tractate of the Babylonian Talmud - Tractate Nida. No, the word Nida is not another Hebrew name for women, though it may sound similar to some other Jewish female names. This word is used to refer to a menstruating woman who is in this halachic state for nearly two weeks until dipping in the Mikva. Now, in all honesty, this word is actually based on the Hebrew word Niddui, which means banishment or excommunication. Now, while there are women from an observant Jewish home or lifestyle who have had rather a negative experience with Judaism and felt this issue to be demeaning for women; it is more of a warning for men not to be over doing with their love/romance for their wives, and though they are forbidden to even touch each other being that she is in a spiritually unclean state (which doesn't mean that she is full of sins, which Christian philosophy would love people to believe), this is ultimately meant for men to respect their wives by not using them as s** toys, but rather to be a best friend to them. The fact that in some Hasidic homes (though this is hopefully not the majority of cases), the women are made to feel as mere children factories, their husbands having little use for them otherwise, especially when the women are in their Nida state, hides what this is really about, for even in Modern Orthodox homes having rather few children, and the woman is an educated, career stud, and aren't so strictly dressed as in Hasidic circles, the couple observe the same basic laws - it is only how they view it and relate to it, so the woman doesn't feel that she isn't wanted or looked down upon.

With this said, the question can be asked. Couldn't the ones who gave the names for the Mishnaic tractates have found a better word for this tractate, such as the later used term of Taharat HaMishpacha "family purity" that is used in the text of Halacha (Jewish law)? In fact, we see in the Torah that at times, it goes out of its way to say that something is "not pure" rather than "impure", using extra letters or words in doing so. If we truly don't want to give the impression of looking down on our wives for this sensitive time period for them, couldn't we find some better word, the same way that the Order or Volume of Mishnayot that includes this tractate is called Taharot "pure things" in reference to items that are "impure"?

Now, before I give my take on this, I have to note that while this is the last tractate of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, this is not the last tractate of the Mishnayot. Now, bear in mind that at the time that both Talmuds were written down, it was already centuries since the destruction of the last Temple; and as such, the laws of purity and impurity were not relevant the way that they were in Temple times when Jews had to be spiritually pure before entering the Holy Temple or eating sacrificial food. Hence, the main concentration of the rabbis writing their detailed explanations on the Mishna was on subjects that were relevant at that time (though we see that there is the Babylonian Talmud on Seder Kodoshim which is all about the Temple offerings, though they were obviously not brought at that time, but because of the special quality of being considered as if these offerings are being offered by learning about them). And so, so for the most part of the volume of Mishnayot dealing with pure and impure items, it is Tractate Nida that was most relevant to explain in great detail, and most crucial for the proper observance of the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha.

With this said about Tractate Nida being the LAST tractate of the Gemara/Talmud, let's take a look at the Hebrew word Nida - consisting of the letters Noon, Dalet, Hei. When rearranging these letters, putting the letter Hei in front of the Noon & Dalet, this can be read as Ha Noon Dalet - THE 54th. Does this ring a bell?

Now, turning to the Chumash (Penteteuch), we know that this consists of...54 Parshiyot! And what is the 54th and LAST Parsha? It is called V'Zot HaBeracha "This is the blessing..." What a sharp contrast to the name of the LAST tractate of the Talmud!

But this is what it is all about. You see, it is true that what happens to the woman being menstrous and all is the result of the sin of the first woman - eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. However, even in bad things, one can find the BLESSING if we but look for it. For if a woman would always be in close proximity and touch to the man, quite often, she is made to feel as a toy that men use for their own selfish, sexual purposes, rather than being respected for the times that she is not in a mood to be treated as such. And so, when the Jewish woman who goes through the whole process and is finally spiritually pure upon using the Mikva, she is like a renewed bride to her husband; and as we just noted that the word Nida is a rearrangement for the word "the 54th", the word Kalla (bride) is the Gematria of 55, which doesn't need an introduction of the word "the" as needed for the word Nida to remind the man that his woman is not someone to use, or rather, misuse; but is rather like a newled wed that he will feel fresh with, not taking their love for granted, as something too familiar with being described by the word "the", being used to describe something that one knows about.

Indeed, in the very LAST Mishna of the FIRST tractate of the Mishnayot called Berachot "BLESSINGS", it states that a person is obligated to thank Hashem for the bad just as he thanks Hashem for the good. For in this world that Hashem made, though things may seem to be bad, whatever is truly bad or evil is performed by ourselves, and we have only ourselves to truly blame for this. However, when something happens that seems to happen on its own - like a bad car accident due to a mechanical problem, or forces of nature wreaking destruction, although these things happen from Hashem's will and is because of man's sins, what comes from Hashem Himself only appears evil on the surface; but aside from the atonement of sin that these things accomplish sometimes, they sometimes lead to good things, though not necessarily immediately apparent.

And so, the fact that a woman is in a Nida state, looking like she is banished from even being physically touched by her husband, and not even like business partners who at least shake hands, the ultimate BLESSING is what comes out of this at the end when we learn not to take life for granted, and that everything, including our loved ones, come from Hashem. And when we celebrate the conclusion of the reading of the Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah with the reading of the 54th and LAST Parsha of the Torah called BLESSING, we immediately start the reading of the Sefer Torah with Bereishit "In the Beginning" as a new beginning, though we are simultaneously continuing our reading and learning of the Torah, as if the beginning of the Torah is the 55th Parsha, the same way that the woman formerly called a Nida is a Kala=55 "bride" once again in her newly spiritual pure state. Indeed, the one who is honored with the last Aliya of the Torah is called Chatan Torah - the Torah Bridegroom, and the one who is honored with the first Aliya of the Torah immediately following this is called Chatan Bereishit - the Bereishit Bridegroom.

Noting the beginning of the learning of Tractate Nida of Daf Yomi today, this is the last tractate being learned in the 12th cycle of the Daf Yomi cycle that began nearly 90 years ago on Rosh HaShana 5684 (1923). And as we see in the two phrases describing the women and men respectively in Hashem's first message to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, only days away before Hashem gave us the Torah, the first letters of both the phrases - Beit Yaakov & Bnei Yisrael - are Beit & Yud, these two letters spelling the number TWELVE. For indeed, the Jewish people consists of TWELVE Tribes, who were blessed by Moses in his last day of life as mentioned in the LAST Parsha of the Torah. And the LAST Chapter of the Torah - Deutronomy 34 which begins with Moses' ascent to Mt. Nebo where he passed away, there are TWELVE verses.

And in case you noticed the number of this post - 144, the square root of this number is TWELVE. Now, noting that the observance of the laws of Nida/Taharat HaMishpacha is the foundation of the purity and holiness of the Jewish family, which is what comprises the Jewish people which consists of the Beit Yaakov & Bnei Yisrael, comprises of the TWELVE Tribes, this is what is the ultimate level of the number 12 within the number 12, the same way as we speak of the Kabbalistic Sephirot that we refer to in our count of the Sephirah during the 49 day period - seven times seven days - between the first day of Passover and Shavuot, representing the time period that the Jews counted in their spiritual preparation for the Torah, just as the menstrous woman counts seven clean days prior to going to the Mikva. For each of the seven Sephirot - Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malchut - have an aspect of the seven Sephirot, making for a total combination of 49 types of Sephirot. And so too in this case, the ultimate spiritual level of the 12 Tribes of Israel - via the men or the women who are each represented by the concept of twelve as the mnemonic of their respective phrases describing their gender within the Jewish people, is represented by the number 12. For in this case, it is not simply 12 plus 12, but 12 TIMES 12, for it is the Jewish children that result from the holy union that represents multiplicity, which is mentioned in the first section of Bereishit that is read on Simchat Torah - the FIRST Mitzva of the Torah "Be fruitful and MULTIPLY" Pru Ur'vu, mentioned in the SIXTH day of Creation on which mankind was created.

And in the SIXTH (and last) chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), there are five things mentioned as a Kinyan - something that is acquired, as a Kinyan of the Holy One Blessed Be He - the first on the list being the Torah, quoting the verse "Hashem has acquired me (the Torah) the first of His way, PRIOR to his actions of old" (Proverbs 8:22). The word of focus in this verse KEDEM (prior) has the same letters of the Hebrew number 144. And as we know from the Midrash, the Torah is the blueprint of the world, Hashem having used it in creating this world. And in the FIRST verse of the Torah mentioning G-d creating the heavens and earth, the word HASHAMAYIM (the heavens) is the FIFTH word of the seven worded verse, the same way that the word KEDEM is the FIFTH of the seven worded verse describing the Torah as Hashem's Kinyan. The connection? The word HASHAMAYIM is the same Gematria as the word Mishna - 395. For it is the Mishna that is the foundation of the Torah She'B'Al Peh (Oral Torah), which parallels the FIVE books of the Chumash, the foundation of the Torah She'B'Ketav (Written Torah) which comprises the holiest object of Judaism - the Sefer Torah. And in the learning of the Oral Torah, though the Gemara which is the detailed explanation of the Mishna is the meat of Torah learning, one has to learn the entire six orders of the MISHNA - PRIOR to the learning of the Gemara for the maximum understanding of the Gemara, because as one will see as he goes through the entire Talmud, the Gemara quotes from all sorts of places of the Mishna, and it is crucial that one understands the source that the Gemara is quoting in order to have at least a basic understanding of the Gemara (this doesn't mean though that if one didn't wind up learning all of the Mishna in one's younger years that one shouldn't learn Gemara at all; this is just the ideal for a youngster who is learning one thing at a time, but one should make every effort possible to learn the entire six orders of the Mishna, besides the fact that not all of them have the explanations of the Gemara, which is not included in the cycle of the Daf Yomi learning).

And on a final note, the letters consisting of the Hebrew number 12 - Beit & Yud, can be read as Beit Yid - the Yiddishe Home. That is, the Jewish woman who is the Bayit of the Jewish home; and for the Jewish men who learn the Talmud, the mainstay of Jewish learning, the word Bayit consists of the letters Beit, Yud, Tav. And it is these letters that are the first letters that begin the phrases Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) and Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud). And as for the phrase Beit Yaakov - this is the same Gematria as the word Tzadeket (righteous woman) - 594. For it is only with the Tzadeket, that a Jewish man can truly be a Tzadik, fulfilling his role as part of the Jewish people in bringing up the next generation of Torah scholars and righteous children.

2 Sivan, 5772

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