Friday, August 31, 2012

#150 - DAF YOMI - No Better Time To Start

Have meant to write the basic content of this post weeks ago, especially before the start of the 13th cycle of the Daf Yomi (literally means "daily page") of the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) that commenced on the most special date of 15 Av. Was quite busy as of late, but one reason among others why I wasn't able to write until now is because I made a solemn commitment, Bli Neder (without expressing a vow), to learn the daily Talmud page.

You see, many of us go through this exciting phase of starting something off, including beginning learning whatever Jewish book in Torah learning it may be, and then...well, we have work, we have families, and then the day is over - without having had a chance to learn the daily portion of Torah learning that we began so excitedly just the other week.  And then, well we want to catch up, but then the hour is late, and since it is now at least two days learning material, it will have to wait until the next day.  And then...well it is true that it was Erev Shabbat, (Friday before Shabbat) when we had to do certain chores to get ready for Shabbat, which took up most of the day, and then before you know it, you find yourself quite behind to catch up in your designated Torah learning anytime soon.

I think you get the idea.  I admit, it's not always 100% of the time that I succeed learning the Daf Yomi of that day, or I get to learn only part of it that day.  But that is O.K. - meaning, perhaps I didn't have sufficient time one day, but I am absolutely determined, TO CONTINUE THE NEXT DAY.  Maybe I will catch up with the Daf Yomi of the present day, maybe not, but there is a simple secret to catch up - PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME.  For me, it means waiting to learn other things in Torah until I catch up, as it happened to me falling a bit behind recently over one Thursday and Friday, and then Baruch Hashem (thank G-d), I had enough time on Shabbat to catch up.

In the past, I learned Daf Yomi for periods of time.  But then there was other things in Torah learning, or periods of busy work.  But from this cycle on, if the last thing I do is to learn that Daf Yomi, as far as I am concerned, IT WILL BE DONE.

You see, this commencement of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi began at a most special time - not just because the beginning date of 15 Av was Tu B'Av, but for a number of other reasons as well, as especially related to the number 13 and the Parsha of the week (V'Etchanan).  However, it will take a little more than a couple of minutes to explain the uniqueness of this timing, and how it all blends together.

But before I do this, I think it is quite important to express the importance of the Talmud, as some of the readership of this blog may not quite understand its special significance among other things in Torah learning. You see, in a comment on an article on the Arutz Sheva news (www.israelnationalnews.com) about one of the recent Talmud celebrations of concluding the past Daf Yomi cycle, one guy commented that the Tanach (Bible) - the "word of G-d" is more important than the Talmud).

My response to this is - yes and no.  Let me give you an illustration.  You are taking a college course in which you are assigned a book to read.  To be sure, this is no fluffy, easy reading book.  It's more like one of these books of poetry that you have to keep reading over and over again to understand its underlying meaning if you ever will on your own.  But at least in this scenario, you hear the professor twice a week lecturing on this book, and writing notes on the board.  To be sure, the finals for this course will be the material on this entire book.  However, you know before long that if you were to skip going to class on this course, and just take the final exam, there will be no way in the world that you will pass, no matter how many times that you read this book.  Why?  For one simple reason.  Yes, it is a hard book to comprehend, but more importantly, the professor will be testing everyone on his lectures on the book, which will include his detailed notes and comments - not just what he writes on the board, but his long winded lecture that you can barely jot a few words on before he goes on to the next sentence, and then you can hardly read your own handwriting because you wrote it quite fast to "not miss anything".  But one thing is for sure. Regardless of how good your memory is, without understanding what the book is really all about, there won't be a chance that you will pass this course; and without finding at least one classmate to discuss the professor's detailed content, even just passing this course will be a sure challenge.

With this said, the Tanach (Bible) is the written word of G-d's word(s).  However, reading the Bible literally will not only not give a full picture of what is really going on, it can even be misleading at times.   This is especially true of the Chumash (Penteteuch), which encompasses the Taryag Mitzvot (613 Commandments),
of which if one were to perform certain Mitzvot based on the literal meaning of the verse, it will either be doing the Mitzva the wrong way, or missing the boat.

An example of doing the Mitzva the wrong way is about wearing Tefillin (phylacteries).  The verse states "It shall be a sign for you on your hand, and they shall as frontlets between your eyes".   Now, when you look at everyone wearing Tefillin, you don't see anyone wearing the Tefillin Shel Yad ("hand" Tefillin) on their hands, except for a part of the large strap, but the main part of the Tefillin - the box part - is worn on the arm, and for the Tefillin Shel Rosh (head Tefillin), it is just that - the box part is worn on the head, and not between the eyes; but rather, on the part of the head where if you were to go straight down towards the face, you would reach between the eyes.

And an example of missing the boat in the performance of Mitzvot is regarding the cessation of work on Shabbat.  One verse pertaining to Shabbat observance is "You shall not kindle a fire in all of your habitations on the day of the Sabbath".  Now, there is a discussion of the Talmud as to the ultimate purpose of this verse in relationship to all the other categories of work that are forbidden to be performed on this day.  And as far as the Taryag Mitzvot goes, this verse is the source of the commandment of the Beit Din (Jewish court) not to perform executions on this holy day, which includes burning.  But the main point that I want to mention is that there was this sect that was in existance some 2,000 years ago called the Karaites (there are still remnants of this group today most unfortunately), whose name is based on the Hebrew word Mikra (Scripture) which literally means what is read, in sharp contrast to what is dictated orally, that kept the literal meaning of this verse - they had no light lit in their homes on Shabbat.  The truth is that the real literal meaning of the verse is not to light fires on Shabbat, and not that you shouldn't have fires be in existence for Shabbat, pending having a fire lit cooking food on Shabbat.  But perhaps the significance of the Karaites living in their dark homes over Shabbat is more than the actual practice of them doing it - it signified the spiritual darkness that they were living in, not adhering to the truth of what the Torah wants to relate to us.

Yes, the Chumash, the Tanach, is that textbook that we need to always have handy.  However, just reading it without understanding the real meaning of its verses is at best good for a preacher preparing good material and then lecturing on following the "word of G-d", and exclaiming Hallelujah, as it typically performed in churches.  However, L'Havdil, this is NOT the path of Judaism.  Oh sure, it is important to give motivational speeches to encourage Jews to follow their Judaism.  However, without understanding the mechanics of proper Jewish living, this won't go very far.  We need the detailed notes and comments and winding arguments and reasonings of our rabbis of some 2,000 years ago, some of whom had to put their foot down when facing these anti-Judaism groups like the Karaites, for without these footnotes that should really be called "headnotes" that are strewn throughout the Talmud/Gemara and outlined in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) in the from of Halacha (decisive decisions of Jewish Law), we Jews as a nation would be truly lost.  Oh yeah, some will say that the rabbis just want power, and declare what they want to make sure that everything goes their way, or else.  But not only is this nothing further from the truth, it is the greatest Lashon Hara (evil speech) to ever declare, to denigrate rabbis who are mostly the only ones who learned the entire Torah, or at least the entire Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, hence causing, G-d forbid, Jews to not observe Judaism if they view the rabbis as outlandish and not caring.  Look, I won't deny that there are those individual rabbis who don't do things quite right, some of whom are more worried if the Nasdaq is up or down.  But an authentic rabbi in terms of being a teacher, instructor and moral guide for our Jewish nation is well recognized in the observant Jewish world, for without appreciating such rabbis, there really is not point to observing Judaism, unless our perception of it is doing things what "best suites us", which is exactly what Conservative and Reform sects, like the Karaite sect, attempt to do in presenting their watered down Judaism, but at the end, have a hard time showing how they really represent Judaism.

It is this Torah She'B'Al' Peh (Oral Law/Torah) that has spiritually sustained the Jewish people for over 3,300 years since we officially received the Torah.  But even Moses' accomplishment of writing the content of the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) which comprises the Chumash wasn't his own words - this was dictated to him by Hashem, word for word.  The practical difference between what is the Chumash and everything else that Moses told the Jewish people is that the Chumash is the basic textbook of Judaism, while the bulk of the teachings of Judaism is what Moses transmitted to us - what he heard directly from Hashem Himself.

Now to be sure, what Moses told us directly from G-d is not the only thing that comprises the Oral Torah.  It won't take long to realize when starting to learn the Talmud/Gemara that decisions in Jewish Law are determined by how a verse of the Torah is interpreted.  And not just any interpretation that may sound logical, but rather, based on one of the 13 ways of how we interpret the Torah.  Additionally, the rabbis over the milleniums have instituted various laws and customs to safeguard our practice of Judaism.  And in case anyone thinks that this is all about "rabbi power", you have no one to complain to but Hashem Himself who wrote in the Torah, in fact, as mentioned in this very week's Parshat Shoftim "By the "mouth" of the Torah that they (the Beit Din) will instruct you, and by the judgment that they will tell you to do; do not turn astray from the word that they will tell you either by the right or left".  Now certainly, if Hashem would have seen that far more harm would have resulted from giving this power to the rabbis; then Hashem would make it clear in the Torah to this effect.

So, in my conclusion to my response to the one who wrote the anti-Torah comment on the Daf Yomi article, while in fact according to Halacha, we do not place any other type of holy book on top of a Chumash/Penteteuch/The Five Books of Moses, even if it is not a Sefer Torah, because the Chumash is the foundation source of G-d's words which encompasses the Taryag Mitzvot; following G-d's word cannot be accomplished the right way without the words of our rabbis who have both the tradition of G-d's non-written words thjat He transmitted to Moses, as well as the rabbis' own interpretations of what the Torah says based on the principles of how the Torah may be interpreted, which today make up the Mishna, Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch.  And for those who think that they mean well by following G-d's word via the literal meaning of the Chumash or the whole Tanach, each and every one of them will have to give an accounting to G-d after their time on this earth as to why they did not listen to the rabbis or learn what the Oral Torah states.  Why?  For one simple reason.  You see, if they really looked to follow the "literal" meaning of the Torah, then how do they interpret the verse "By the "mouth" of the Torah that they (the Beit Din) will instruct you, and by the judgment that they will tell you to do; do not turn astray from the word that they will tell you either by the right or left"?  

And as we see so clearly in this verse, the Torah is not left necessarily for our own interpretation, but rather, to the ones who learned the Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai and other detailed laws that the rabbis instruct us in.  And hence, one who claims to follow the "word of G-d" by following the Chumash, while he totally ignores the Mishna, Talmud, and Shulchan Aruch, is considered no less of a Sabbath violator than a Jew who never learned a thing about Judaism; for most certainly, he is doing types of work that go against Halacha; and even if it were to happen that as a result of his strict adherence to the Chumash with his folded hands in his dark abode during the Shabbat, he is not performing any work that is in violation of the Torah, he is observing the Shabbat only on his own terms, and NOT according to the terms that the rabbis, or judges of the Jewish court, set out for us.  For by rejecting the rabbis, such a person is not keeping the Shabbat or other Mitzvot based on what the Torah really wants, but only based on how he wants to observe the Torah, which is in essence blasphemy, telling G-d that he doesn't accept His appointed ministers to have himself follow the true Torah path.

DAF YOMI - GEMARA AND GEMATRIOT

While the words "Daf Yomi" literally means "daily page", not mentioning any specific work of Torah; when mentioned anonymously, it synonymously refers to the double sided page of the Babylonian Talmud that is studied on a daily basis.  But did you know - the Gematria of the words Daf Yomi is 150, which is the number of this most special Gematriot post on www.gematriot.blogspot.com.  Does this number sound familiar to you?  

Well first, just about all of us know, at least if you ever opened a Tehillim (Book of Psalms), that it consists of 150 chapters.  But there is more.  Just as his father King David's Book of Psalms consists of 150 psalms, the final 22 verses of King Solomon's Book of Proverbs (Mishlei), the famous paragraph of Eishet Chayil ("lady of valor") that is chanted right before the Kiddush on Shabbat night, consists of 150 words.  And then the section of the Torah about the Mitzva of Birchat Cohanim (Blessing of the Cohanim) - Numbers 6:22-27, that we recite as the very first words of Torah that we recite following the Birchat HaTorah, the blessings that we recite thanking Hashem for giving us the Torah, consists of 150 letters.

150 chapters, 150 words, 150 letters.  Coincidence?  Well, there seems to be a unifying thing between these three sections of the Tanach.  As for the Tehillim, you will see in virtually every printed edition of it showing that it is divided up into five Seforim (books) corresponding to the Five Books of Moses.  As for King Solomon's finale in Mishlei, one of the interpretations of this most beautiful piece of Bible liturgy is that it refers to the Torah.  And the six versed passage from the Chumash about Birchat Cohanim is the very first words of Torah that we recite each morning.  

With this said, it is hardly deniable that the number 150, which we see is most associated with the Torah, should be the Gematria of a phrase that refers to the most studied Torah work in Yeshivot, the crux of Torah learning through which our greatest Torah scholars became who they are.  It was not uncommon, especially in the pre-Holocaust era that in Europe, that young Yeshiva students would be studying the Talmud some 16 hours a day if not more, subsisting on little food and sleep.  And of course, this is bearing in mind that in some of the poverty stricken ghettos of Jews, there were not even always sufficient of the particular Talmudic tractate being studied in Yeshiva, and the students had to manage either by sharing the old, yellowish Talmudic volumes, or even at times learning them upside down.  In stark contrast to those earlier hard times that came along with the ever possibility of a sudden anti-Semitic attack; aside from living in relatively easier circumstances, some editions of recently published Talmudic volumes come with translation, especially in English, along with detailed notes that clearly explain the issue at hand as found especially in the Artscroll Talmud, and something not dreamed of half a century ago - the Talmudic text which largely consists of Aramaic words as opposed to the easier Hebrew words - complete with vowels for the Hebrew letters, considered taboo in the Talmudic world at one time!  And this is not to mention the various study guides to learn the Talmud better - including study books, cards, charts, including a recent method of using the Hebrew letter/number of the standardized Daf as mnemonic for a word or two or three (depending on the amount of letters used for the number of the page) as the first letter of (a) word(s) to remember the subject matter.

And since I am writing this for the internet, it would be sacrilegious not to mention that in the pre-internet days, there was a phone program for Daf Yomi at one point for which subscribers paid $36 a month to listen to the daily Talmudic page by phone!  And in the earlier years, if you didn't have a chance to listen to the daily Daf one day; well, you would have to wait like seven and a half years before hearing it again, for it only played the page of the day.  Then, with a little more sophistication in modern technology over the course of time, you could then access any Talmudic page using the numbers on the phone pad.  And then...pooof!  Internet killed the phone star, and now - you can see the Talmudic page on the screen and hear a recorded lecture on it from a number of different teachers of your choice - FOR FREE!

Actually, as we learn in the laws of Talmud Torah, one is mandated to teach Torah - especially the Oral Torah which includes the Talmud - FOR FREE.  Now, the only reason why it is permitted for Talmud instructors to receive money these days is because it is for their time, for if they wouldn't be teaching, then they would have to do something else for a living.  So in essence, we have entered a page in history that is essentially making Torah learning far more accessible and free than ever; though ironically, the self-sacrifice of learning Torah, especially the Talmud, seems to be found relatively with fewer people, even though many of the excuses for not being able to learn well have been taken away for the most part - including the lack of food and proper shelter for sleeping quarters that were luxuries when there were sufficient funds for the Poland based Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin that was founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the one who instituted the Daf Yomi nearly 89 years ago.

TIMING OF THE BEGINNING OF THE 13TH CYCLE OF DAF YOMI


TU B'AV

It cannot be denied that the beginning of this new cycle of Daf Yomi began on Tu B'Av.  Of course, there are only 355/385 days in the Jewish calendar, and so eventually, just about every day of the year will have a chance to be the first day of the new cycle.  Of course this would take over 2,500 years for this to happen, but even if just for the fact that the beginning of this cycle fell out on this date, without any other Gematriot or timings, it would be a most significant timing.

In a past post on this date of Tu B'Av, there was much emphasis on this date in terms of what used to take place of dances of single women that happened twice a year in Jerusalem, as mentioned at the end of the Mishna on Tractate Ta'anit.  Now, among the lists of various happy events that occurred on this date, the Gemara mentions the importance of increasing our Torah learning at nights beginning with this date which is around the time that the nights become longer (Ta'anit 31a).

So O.K., it's not Shavuot when we learn Torah all night as it is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, or Simchat Torah when we celebrate the annual cycle of reading the Sefer Torah, but a date that without knowing the Talmud or Halachic sources, it is just another date for Jews who follow the minimal observant practice praying in the synagogue to skip the Tachanun (supplicatory prayers) after a reminder from the rabbi, without hardly knowing, at least until recently thanks to singles events held on this date, as to the special significances of this date, let alone know that the ultimate reason to celebrate is increased Torah learning.

Now, I personally feel a special connection to this date, as I have mentioned in the past, as it relates to my namesake.  But without getting into the details of this in this post, as I want to stick to the issue at hand, suffice it to say that after all is said and done, if I am not going to stick through with the Daf Yomi this time beginning on the right foot, then I might as well not even try to fool myself.  Personally, I am in my 43rd year, and though I would like to add, that the Hebrew number describing my 43rd year - Mem Gimel - begins the words Mishna & Gemara, the basis of the Oral Torah, adding Daf Yomi to my Torah learning, as Tu B'Av is the time to add Torah learning to our nights, is most crucial in both knowing the Oral Torah, and joining the most unified Torah learning course in the world, aside from the Chumash in the form of Parshat HaShavua.  I

Speaking of learning more Torah at nights in relationship to Daf Yomi and Tu B'Av, we see in two places in the Talmud that the verse "He (Hashem) has placed me in darkness" (Book of Eicha/Lamentations) refers to the Babylonian Talmud (Avoda Zara 19 & Sanhedrin 24).   Now the obvious question from some is "If Torah is supposed to represent the greatest spirituality, the greatest light, then how come the Babylonian Talmud, the core of Torah learning, is described as darkness?"  Well, for one thing, we see that the Talmud is not a point blank method of learning with "This is the law and that's it"; but quite to the contrary, it is full of differences of opinion (based on the Torah of course, not how the rabbis "feel" about it), and in fact has led to more than one provocations among rabbis where either a rabbi was demoted from his position (Talmud Berachot) or was excommunicated (Talmud Bava Metzia).  Also, this Talmud (in contrast to the Jerusalem Talmud which was composed in Israel) was composed in the exile - Babylonia, the country whose leaders and fighters destroyed the first Temple.  In fact, the Hebrew name for this country - Bavel, means confusion, being mixed up. 

Yes indeed, the Babylonian Talmud was studied in some of the most trying times of the history of the Jewish people, including the Holocaust, which included Daf Yomi for some even then with either sneaked Talmudic volumes in the concentration camps, or individual Torah scholars learning their Talmud by heart.  But it is precisely through this self sacrifice that the greatest light of Torah learning is able to shine through.  But as is also explained as to the meaning of Bavel in the context of the Babylonian Talmud, it is "mixed" with the different parts of the Torah to come up with the explanations that form the basis of Halacha and Aggadic tidbits.  And as most significant in relationship to Tu B'Av, it occurs on the month in which some of the greatest tragedies happened to the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples, representing the greatest spiritual darkness.  Kabbalistically, the month of Av is represented by the letter Teit=9, which is associated with darkness, as we see that the NINTH plague that hit the Egyptians refusing to let the Jews go was darkness.  And so, the destruction of both Temples took place on the NINTH day of the month that is represented by the Hebrew letter that is the numerical value of NINE.  And so, Tu B'Av, in sharp contrast being the date of various happy events for the Jewish people, is the light that shines through the darkness of the month, just as the Babylonian Talmud.

I recently saw a most interesting explanation about the month of Av from the writings of Rabbi Yekutiel Fish, Shlita.  In essence, the first half of this month of Av represents judgment that is related to the concept of a Nidda, referring to a woman who is terms as such from the time of period until she is purified from the Mikva  (ritualarium) nearly two weeks later.  Now, this word literally means "pushed off"", for now, husband and wife cannot spend their time together the way that they did before, and is literally "hands off" from each other, to prevent even the slightest contact that could possibly lead, G-d forbid, to be together when she is in an impure state.  To make this clear, this does not mean that the woman is in a spiritual low, or is degraded, G-d forbid.  If anything, this separation period helps the couple not take things for granted, and it is a time to be best friends with each other without the exterior romance aspect that is so sadly confused in the non-Jewish and non-Torah world, where at the end of the day, there isn't too much around other than what is under the sheets.  

However, what is important to understand here is that there is a spiritual impurity associated with a woman's period that forbids them most importantly from being conjugal together, of which the violation thereof bears the punishment of Karet (spiritual extinction) from being allowed in the eternal spiritual bliss.  And as we see in the Tachanun prayers that are recited on Mondays and Thursdays, we mention that we have been treated by the anti-Semites in exile as "the impurity of a Nidda", the idea being as that we have been treated as outcasts, being looked down upon, not because we deserved it as far as our relationship with non-Jews goes as far as they are concerned, but because of their pure hatred for us no matter how much we try to please them, and it is only by keeping the Torah the proper way that we will be guarded from their "trick and treats" (coming from the phrase used to get candy on Halloween, a holiday which is solely based on anti-Semitism involving scaring Jews).

With this said, the first half of Av, until the 15th of the month, represents this concept as mentioned by Rabbi Fish, for even after the fateful day of Tisha B'Av, the remnants of our mourning lingers for a few days while it is still on our minds.  However, once the 15th of the month arrives (although technically, the second half of the month begins on the 16th) when the moon, which represents the Jewish people, appears full, then we are at the peak of our glory as celebrated on Tu B'Av.  As it turns out, in the conclusion of this past 12th cycle of Daf Yomi, the final tractate of the Talmud, named Nidda of the numerous laws pertaining to a woman in her period, WAS LEARNED THIS YEAR UNTIL THE NEW DAF YOMI CYCLE ON TU B'AV!

In fact, this final Talmudic tractate deals much with the various types of blood that a woman will see, some of which may in fact not be considered spiritually impure.  But the point here is that the Hebrew word for blood - Dam, is the same Gematria as the word Bavli (Babylonian) - 44.  And having mentioned the exact timing of the conclusion of the learning of this tractate in the first half of Av, we are in the final throes of exile under the world leadership of the United States which is presently headed by its 44th president, who while ironically, was quickly awarded the Noble peace prize by various anti-Semitic nations, he represents quite the opposite of what it represents - bloodshed, his policies hurting both his own country, increasing poverty which has lead to death literally, as well as his pressure on Israel as never seen before among the previous presidents of the United States, which will G-d forbid ultimately lead to the world nations wishing to attack us, including his present conspiration with the left wing leaders and reporters to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, on whose timetable, it is just a matter of time before G-d forbid, the imminent attack will happen.  

However, one thing which will for sure save us at the end is our Torah learning.  And as I have mentioned in the past, the 36 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud correspond to the 36 lights of Chanuka (one on the first night through eight on the eighth night) that we light specifically in the NIGHT time, and around the time of the year that the night is the LONGEST in the year.  Now, aside from this, we also light what is called the Shamash candle, the candle that lights the other Chanuka candles, so while in itself is not among the mandatory Chanuka candles or lights, it still has significance, making for a total of 44 lights lit during Chanuka, the holiday that celebrates our victory over the Syrian Greeks, whose main purpose of fighting us was for us to abandon particularly the ORAL TORAH, highlighted with finding a seal of oil from the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) which wasn't spritually defiled by the Syrian Greeks, who saw no purpose in what we call spiritual impurity, anymore than the impurity that is associated with the blood of a Nidda.

And so correspondingly to the 44 lights of Chanuka, the essence of the 36th and final tractate of the Babylonian Talmud - Nidda, is based on the blood of a Nidda, whose Hebrew word is the Gematria of 44.
And being that this was tractate was now completed as the conclusion of the 12th cycle of the Daf Yomi; as another parallel to Chanuka, in the Torah reading for this holiday, we read all about the offerings that the leaders of the 12 Tribes of Israel (aside from the Tribe of Levi whose Cohanic descendants were responsible for the holiday of Chanuka) offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) which is concluded about the Mitzvah for the Cohanim to light the Menorah in the Sanctuary.  

And so, after the first 12 cycles of Daf Yomi, we are now beginning a most special time in Jewish history with the beginning of the 13th cycle.  But how is this present Daf Yomi cycle special aside from the fact that it began on Tu B'Av?  Read on...






THE 13TH CYCLE

Though I have written about the significance about the number 13 in past Gematriot posts, there is no better time to write of this most significant number as it especially relates to the Oral Torah.

First off the bat, as I mentioned a little earlier in this post, are the 13 principles through which the Torah is expounded - recited in our daily morning prayers - as told to Moses on Mt. Sinai by Hashem Himself.  And so while every number in the context of the Torah has significance, it is this number 13 that is the most beloved to the Oral Torah.

I will make a sure bet that everyone reading my blog has heard before of "Friday the 13th".  I think it is quite understood by now that unlike for non-Jews, for whom the number 13 is such an unlucky number that when numbering the floors in the elevator, they pretend that this number doesn't exist, counting "11, 12, 14, 15"; aside from the fact that in Israel, you will see the number 13 in elevators, the number 13 is a most lucky number for Jews.  However, as pertaining to non-Jews, the question may be asked as to why of all days, Friday is considered especially unlucky when associated with the 13th of the secular month.

Now, while for Jews, the day/date begins with the night, so while "Yom Shishi" may be translated as Friday, it really starts on Thursday night, the beginning of the "sixth day".  But it is true that in Hebrew, the word for the letter Vav having the numerical value of six, can be spelled (there are actually three spellings to this word)  - Vav, Aleph, Vav - these three letters together being the numerical value of 13!  In any case, as it turned it, the beginning of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi began on Yom Shishi.  Now, the next time that this will take place will be the beginning of the 20th cycle of Daf Yomi, for each cycle begins on a different day of the week.

We see that at the end of the first chapter of Genesis about the creation of the world in six days, it states Yom HaShishi "THE sixth day", unlike the first five days of creation where it doesn't mention the word THE.
Our rabbinic sources tell us that this hints to THE sixth day of Sivan, the slated date of Matan Torah (Giving of the Torah).  And according to the opinion of Rabbi Yossi, the sixth of Sivan fell out on Yom Shishi, but the giving of the Torah was pushed off until the next day which was Shabbat.  It seems that originally, it was meant for the Torah to be given on Yom Shishi, for it was on this day that mankind was created, which of course was for the purpose of serving Hashem via the Torah.  And the main purpose of the Jewish people receiving the Torah, is in order to perform the Mitzvot - the commandments of the King of kings, whose details of how to perform them is learned in the ORAL TORAH!

With this said, we see that the Oral Torah, including the Mishna, Gemara and Halacha, is meant to be more than just to learn, though the Mitzva of learning Torah - particularly each and every word of Torah, is greater in eternal reward than ALL of the other Mitzvot combined.  However, for non-Jews who at most believe in the Bible, are not able to relate to the concept of what the number 13 ultimately represents.

With this said, the number 13 is not just representative of the Torah, but is also especially to the Giver and the receivers of the Torah.  As receivers of the Torah, the Jews are made up of...13 Tribes.  You read right - even though we have all been taught that there are a total of 12 Tribes.  True, Jacob had 12 sons whose descendants are the 12 tribes, but we know that Joseph had two sons whose descendants became tribes themselves.  And as we see with the offerings of the leaders of the tribes following the dedication of the Mishkan, there were 12 leaders of tribes who brought their offerings corresponding to the aspects of their particular tribe.   However, the one tribe who was seemingly left out of being represented by the unique offerings that the leaders of the tribes brought was the Tribe of Levi; and it is on this point that we see Hashem instructions for Aaron the Cohen Gadol to light the Menorah.  This is especially highlighted during the first 13 days of Nissan; when on the first 12 days of Nissan, there is a custom to read (from the prayer book or Chumash) the corresponding paragraph of the offerings that the leader of his tribe brought on its corresponding day that occurred during these first days following the dedication of the Mishkan, and then on the 13th of Nissan is when we read about Aaron being told to light the Menorah, even though he was already told to do this before the Mishkan dedication.

Speaking of dates in reference to the number 13, let us note significant dates in the Jewish calendar of the passing of various rabbis who were majorly involved in the Oral Torah process who passed away on the 13th of a month.  To begin with, the date of 13 Nissan that I just mentioned is the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) which is learned and refered to by both Sephardim (he was a Sephardi) and Ashkenazim).  Then for 13 Elul, it is the Yahrzeit of the famed Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad) who composed numerous Torah works, including the famed Sefer "Ben Ish Chai" after whom he was named, which includes a synopsis of the Halachot (Jewish laws) for each of the Parshiyot of the year (it is set up for one regular year one leap year), which is for many Sephardim or Eidut HaMizrach their quick Halacha reference book the same way that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Concise Code of Jewish Law) is for Ashkenazim.  Then for 13 Kislev, it is the Yahrzeit of Ravina son of Rav Huna, who together with Rav Ashi, wrote down the Gemara - the Babylonian Talmud.  And finally, 13 Adar (II) is the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who was the top decider of Halacha of the previous generation until his passing in 5746 (1986), who wrote both Dibros Moshe - his explanations on many volumes of the Gemara, and Igros Moshe - a collection of some 2,000 letters of questions from people and his responses to them on all parts of Halacha.

Now, noting that we are now in the beginning of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi, let us take a note of what begins the Mishna and Gemara - the Mitzva of reciting the Shema in the evening, which by the way is the VERY FIRST MITZVA that a boy, who after 13 years of life, is able to perform on becoming Bar Mitzva, as according to Halacha the day of the date on the Jewish calendar begins at night.  With this said, what is the last word of the first verse of the Shema paragraphs that we recite in fulfillment of this Mitzva that we perform once at night and once in the morning? The word Echad (one), stating that Hashem is one.  It won't take long to figure out that the letters of the word Echad - Alef=1, Cheit=8, Dalet=4 add up to 13.  In fact, the Gemara on the first Mishna which begins off asking when we may begin reciting the Shema in the evening, asks why the Mishna begins talking about the timing of saying the Shema rather than focusing on the obligation of,  reciting the Shema itself, as well as why it begins talking about the Shema of the evening rather than of the morning, when our daily routine is from morning until we retire at night, even though the halachic day begins at night.  On this, the Gemara brings two sources - the first from the verse that tells us of the obligation of reciting the Shema "You shall speak of them...when you lie down (at night) and when you get up (in the morning)", the very first quoted source in the Talmud; and the second from the end of the account of the first day of creation where it states "It was evening and it was morning - Day One".  Anyways, the very first page of the Talmud quotes from a verse mentioning the word Echad in reference to the order of the day that the Mishna chooses for the obligations of the timing of the Shema, which is the same word as the final word of the first verse of the Shema.

Now, let's turn to another major work of Halacha - the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam (Maimonides).  The 14 volume work is a composite of all the laws of the Oral Torah from the Talmud and Midrashic sources.  Now, for each of these 14 volumes, there is a designated name.  The first volume includes the Mitzvot and Halachot about the belief in Hashem and His being One, loving and fearing Him, the various prohibitions related to idolatry, learning/teaching Torah, and reprentance.  The second volume, which begins off with the Mitzva of reciting the Shema, and includes the laws on prayers and blessings, the same basic content as the first volume of the Talmud - Tractate Berachot, is called Ahava (Love), WHICH IS THE GEMATRIA OF 13!   So as you can see so far, the number 13 is not only a number that is especially related to the Oral Torah, it is also especially related TO THE BEGINNING OF THE ORAL TORAH - the Mishna and; Gemara!

But we do see here a little phenomenon or irony regarding how and where the Rambam placed some of the above Mitzvot.  You see, the Mitzva of loving Hashem, which is actually the basis for the name of the volume called Ahava, IS NOT in this volume, but in his first volume.  But taking a little closer look, it isn't so hard to understand, for in the first section of the first volume, which is called Yesodei HaTorah (foundations of the Torah), the Rambam includes the basics about Judaism - believing in Hashem, loving Him, etc., for without these basic foundations of the Torah, we don't have any reason to practice Judaism anymore than any other religion.  It is only in the second volume which is called Ahava that we have various Mitzvot that demonstrate our love of Hashem, besides the Mitzva of loving Him in itself, but the Mitzvot in the "Love volume" are open demonstrations of our love for Him. (Note: Even though the rabbis make it clear that learning Torah helps us love Hashem, the Mitzva of learning Torah is not included in the Rambam's volume called Ahava, since it is also what we would call a foundation Mitzva as part of the Rambam's first volume, for without Torah, we would not know of Judaism).  In any case, following the first verse of the Shema, aside from reciting the Baruch Shem sentence which is not part of the first paragraph of the Shema as written in the Torah, immediately following the word Echad, it continues V'Ahavta Et Hashem Elokeicha - "You shall love Hashem your G-d", which is the actual source of the Mitzva of loving Hashem.  So in essence, the first paragraph of the Shema includes mention of the Mitzva of loving Hashem; and hence, the very beginning of the Rambam volume called Ahava is well named for this volume.

And speaking of the Rambam and some of these basic Mitzvot, there is what is called the Shelosha Asar Ikarim, the 13 principles of faith, based on the Rambam's commentary on the 10th chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin of the Mishna, that is recited by many following the conclusion of the daily morning prayers, which includes the belief in Hashem and in His being One.  Accordingly, there is the poem called Yigdal recited by many in the midst of the beginning of the morning prayers, which is based on these 13 principles of faith, the first one of this poem beginning with the word Yigdal "May the Living G-d be magnified", in which the first letters - Yud Gimmel - spells the Hebrew number 13.  No doubt that the composer of the Yigdal poem carefully chose this word to begin the Yigdal poem.

Now, with all this nice stuff as related to the number 13 being said here - Hashem being One, love for Him, etc. being connected to the beginning of the Mishna and Gemara, various dates in the Jewish calendar of the 13th of a given month which are Yahrzeits of composers of major works of the Oral Torah; aside from the fact that the word Echad being the Gematria of 13 means one; hence, being a new start in learning Daf Yomi as also beginning on Tu B'Av as I wrote earlier, there is another major factor that relates the number 13 to the Gemara, which absolutely convinced me TO LEARN DAF YOMI - ESPECIALLY IN THIS 13TH CYCLE, and G-d willing, to continue doing so for life as long as Hashem grants me to live in good health.

As you may be aware, the Tashlich prayer that is customarily recited on Rosh Hashana afternoon at a body of water that includes fish to signify throwing our sins away begins with three verses which are the conclusion of the section in Tanach called Micha - Mi E-l Kamocha "Who is like you..." As you will note in some prayerbooks, there are tiny words on top of these three verses that make up the Shlosh Esrei Midot HaRachamim "Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy", as each phrase of the Mi E-l Kamocha verses correspond to one of these 13 Divine Attributes.  In fact, the Sefer called Tomer Devorah, composed by the Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, is based on this very concept.  With this said, the last phrase of these verses, corresponding to the 13th Divine Attribute, is Mimei Kedem "as in the days of ancient".  Amazingly, this Hebrew phrase has the same Gematria as the word Gemara - 244!  And as we see that the 13 Divine Attributes are called Shlosh Esrei Middot - THE VERY SAME PHRASE that is used describing the 13 principles through which the Torah is interpreted, a major facet of the Oral Torah, we see that there are no coincidences here.  In fact, the Chasidic Sefer Bnei Yissoschor notes that the 13 principles of the Torah correspond to the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, but I am not going to start getting into detail about this.  However, I will comment on the word Kedem of this phrase Mimei Kedem - which means ancient or early, which is the Gematria of 144, of which the square root is 12.  So, what I am saying here is that just as there were 12 cycles of the Daf Yomi until now, we can now make A FRESH START being the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi as though it were the very beginning of the learning of Daf Yomi as it started on Rosh Hashana 5684 (1923)!  Indeed, there has never been a better time to start learning Gemara as a good Jew, with all the learning resources that we have today more than even 20 years ago, especially through the internet, to help us accomplish learning Gemara better than ever!

But just when you thought this part about number 13 was over, there is more.  After all, the Mishna/Talmud begins with the letter Mem, the 13th letter of the Alef Beit - where it begins asking Me'ai'matai - "FROM what time do we begin to read the Shema in the evening?" .  And at least for the Mishna, it ends with a Mem Sophit (at the end of tractate Uktzin) which ends with the verse Hashem Oz LeAmo Yitein Hashem Yevareich Et Amo VaShalom - "Hashem will give strength to His people, Hashem will bless His people with peace" (Psalms 29:11).  In any case, even if we are talking just about the Mem at the beginning of the Mishnayot, the word for the letter Mem consists of two letters - Mem & Mem Sophit (Final Mem).  This indicates a special power to this letter Mem, unlike most other words for the letters which do not end with the same letter as the beginning of the word.  In any case, it is most appropriate that the Oral Torah begins with the letter Mem, for it both begins the word Mishna and the name Moshe, the one who received the Torah from Hashem which included the oral dictation of the Oral Torah and transmitted it over to the Jewish people, also begins with a Mem, which is also the beginning word of Tractate Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) which begins with Moshe Kibel Torah M'Sinai "Moses received the Torah from Mt. Sinai".  And as a comparison, both the first Mishna in Berachot & Avot begin with the letter Mem and end with the letter Hei, just as the word Mishna and the name of Moshe.  Moreover, the first chapter of Avot begins with a Mem & ends with a Mem Sophit, just like the entire Mishna that begins with a Mem & ends with a Mem Sophit.

Now, here comes a BIG surpirse, making another major connection between the 13th letter Mem and the number 13, which may have never been noticed by anyone before.  As regards the paragraph of the 13 ways that the Torah can be interpreted that we recite in our daily morning prayers, the first of these 13 is Kal Va'Chomer "from minor to major".  Right?  Wrong! It states M'Kal VaChomer "FROM minor to major", starting with the letter MEM, because without this FROM, it would not be an accurate description of this way of interpreting the Torah, even though you may find in other sources in the Talmud and Midrash where it will state "Kal VĂ¡Chomer".  And the last letter of the 13th Torah interpretation method, concluding with the word Beineihem, ends with a MEM SOPHIT!  And mind way, there are exactly 13 words in this 13th Torah interpretation method.  In any case, we see that just as the Mishna, THE FOUNDATION OF THE ORAL TORAH, begins and ends with a Mem (Mem and Mem Sophit are in essence the same letter, but is shaped differently when spelled at the end of a word), so does the THIRTEEN WAYS OF TORAH INTERPRETATION!  If all of this were to be a mere coincidence, then I don't know what is not a coincidence.

And having mentioned just a little earlier that the THIRTEENTH and final phrase of the Mi E-l Kamocha paragraph is the SAME GEMATRIA AS THE WORD GEMARA, this phrase itself - Mimei Kedem - BEGINS AND ENDS WITH A MEM, and this paragraph that corresponds to the 13 Divine Atttributes of Mercy BEGINS AND ENDS WITH A MEM!  In fact, the phrase Midot HaRachamim "Attributes of Mercy" - ALSO BEGINS AND ENDS WITH A MEM!  And as I mentioned a little earlier, the 13 Attributes of Mercy and the 13 ways of Torah interpretation - THAT BEGIN AND END WITH A MEM, corresponds with each other.

Since we are still on the subject of the number 13, let us note the 13th and last of the ways of Torah interpretation "And so with two verses that contradict one another, until a third verse comes and makes sense of the first two verses".  Now first, I want to note the Hebrew for the translation that I used "one another".  The words are Zeh Et Zeh, which literally means "this and this".  In any case, the word Zeh is the Gematria of 12.  And being that this word is used twice, it hints to the (last) word of the 13th and last of the phrases of the Mi E-l Kamocha paragraph - Kedem, which literally means earlier, which is the Gematria of 144, of which the square root is 12.  

This seems to hint to the fact that there are 12 Tribes of Israel (aside from the Tribe of Levi when including the two sons of Joseph - Ephraim and Menashe - when included as separate Tribes) which each have their own unique quality features.  However, all of the tribes had their spiritual downfall - not once but twice; first the sin of the Golden Calf and then the sin of the Spies.  This is aside from the fact that they didn't give circumcisions to their sons in the wilderness because they were afraid of the dangerous wind elements.  However, among the Tribe of Levi, THERE WAS NOT ONE who sinned either time which nearly caused Hashem to destroy the Jewish people, and had FULL FAITH IN HASHEM in giving circumcisions to their baby sons even in the wilderness.  Hence, it is particularly the Tribe of Levi, represented by Aaron the High Priest, who lit the Menorah, representing lighting the Torah for the Jewish people.  And as especially connected to the number 13, we see that Aaron's name, when adding the numbers that comprise the Gematria of his name - 256, as 2+5+6, it equals 13.  And indeed, Aaron's Yahrzeit - THE ONLY YAHRZEIT MENTIONED IN THE ENTIRE TANACH - was Rosh Chodesh Av, and the name Av which means father, represents the concept of Rachamim (mercy) as in the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, for as we see in a verse in Psalms (103:13) - KeRachem AV Al Banim Reecham Hashem Al Yereiav  "Just as a father has mercy on his children, so does Hashem have mercy on His fearful ones".  And note the numbered chapter and numbered verse of this sentence.  You see, the words for the Hebrew number 13 - Yud=20 and Gimel+83
have the total Gematria of 103, and there are 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy.  Amazing!

Now, let's turn to Moses, Aaron's brother.  On the final day of his life, he miraculously wrote 13 Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), the first ones ever written, which were all dictated by Hashem Himself.  In any case, when he showed the Sefer Torah representing his own Tribe of Levi to the Jewish people, the people complained that he only wrote one Sefer Torah for his own tribe.  Moses in fact praised the Jewish people for their wanting to have Sifrei Torah representing them as well, which he then provided them - one for each tribe.  However, the Sefer Torah for the Levite tribe, the "13th Scroll", was to be kept in the Sanctuary with the Cohanim, and if there ever would be a question as to what would be the correct letter or word in the Sefer Torah, they would refer to the Sefer Torah kept in the Sanctuary.

Hinting to this, we see that in the 13th and LAST method of Torah interpretation, we see that it is worded as "V'Chein Sheni Chetuvim", calling verses by the word Chetuvim/Ketuvim -writings, and then Katuv HaShelishi, the third verse that was to make sense between the contradiction of the other two verses.  And as we know, the LAST of the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah is WRITING A SEFER TORAH, demonstrated by Moses writing 13 Sifrei Torah, on the LAST day of his life.  

And as another connection of the Oral Torah to the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, which is referred to by the word Mishna in the Torah, there is an opinion that states that before Rebbe wrote down the Mishnayot, there were 600 chapters of Mishna that were orally memorized.  And then of course, we have the 13 ways of Torah interpretation as it especially related to the Talmud.  Hence, the total of 600 and 13 is 613.  Coincidence?

If you notice, both the words Mishna & Mitzva, Mishnayot & Mitzvot, begin and end with the same letters.  And in terms of the latter set, we see similarly that the Babylonian Talmud begins with a Mem of the first Mishna, and ends with a Tav in the word Halachot (laws).  Now, if we add up the Gematriot of the words for the letters Mem & Tav, as Mem=80 and Tav=416, the total value is 496, which is the Gematria of the word Malchut (Kingship), which also begins with a Mem & ends with a Tav itself.  And as we see in the daily morning blessing that begins with the word Yishtabach, there are 15 words that are various types of praise of Hashem; and the 13th on this list is Malchut.  So again, we see another key connection between the Gemara and the number 13.

Now as for the Mitzva of Shema itself, the subject of the beginning of the Oral Torah - Mishna & Gemara, this consists of three paragraphs.  Now, while the 248 words of the Shema are considered complete with the word Emet (true), this is only to complete these amount of words that correspond to the 248 organs of the body, as well as the 248 Positive or Active Mitzvot.  But technically, the third paragraph of the Shema ends with the word Elo-he-chem (your G-d), ending with a Mem Sophit, as it is in the original text at the end of Parshat Shelach.

Now, let us turn to the first word of the Shema, which is the word Shema, the Gematria of 410.  What else has to do with the number 410?  Some will remember that this is the amount of years that the First Temple lasted for.  I am sure that there is a connection between the two, but there is something else that is also related to 410, but I don't expect anyone to know, because for this, you have to count the amount of words of a certain text.  Well, that certain text is the first chapter of Tractate Avot, which contains exactly 410 words, and begins and ends with the letter Mem.  And since the Shema is the first subject of all of the Mishnayot that begins and ends with a Mem as well, it is of no big surprise, aside from the fact that the letter Mem is the middle letter of the word Shema.

And finally on the subject of the number 13, let us show a connection here between the date of Tu B'Av - 15 Av, the date that the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi began, and the number 13 itself.  Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are exactly 150 letters in the section of the Torah about the Mitzva of Birchat Cohanim.  Now, an aspect of this Mitzva is that the Cohanim bless with Jewish people with LOVE, which in Hebrew is AHAVA, the Gematria of 13.  Now, as we see in the Beracha (blessing) for the Mitzva of Bircat Cohanim, which mentions that the Cohanim are commanded to bless the Jewish people with love, the last word of this blessing is B'Ahava, which is the Gematria of 15, which is also the amount of words in the actual blessing of the Birchat Cohanim.  Also to note, there are 60 letters in the Birchat Cohanim, which are representative of the "60 Tractates of the Mishna" (even though in fact there are 63 tractates today, but a few tractates were divided up for easier study).  In any case, both in the actual Bircat Cohanim that ends with the word Shalom (peace), and the last word of the Birchat Cohanim section which is Avaracheim "I (Hashem) will bless them", the last letter is a Mem Sophit, again attesting to the connection of the letter Mem to the Oral Torah, as it especially pertains to Daf Yomi, this phrase being the Gematria of 150, as the 150th and final letter of the Birchat Cohanim portion of the Torah (and it contains SIX verses which can be said corresponding to the SIX Orders of the Mishna) is the letter Mem Sophit.  Indeed, it is no wonder why we say this section of the Torah as the very first words of Torah that we recite following the daily morning blessings for learning Torah.

And as for the 150th and final psalm of Tehillim, it is also connected to the number 13.  You see, in its six verses, there are 13 mentions of the root word Hillul (not to be confused with the word Chillul which means desecration), one of the synonyms for the meaning of praise, which includes the wordings of Hallelujah, Hallelu, Halleluhu, and Tehallel.  And being that the phrase Daf Yomi is the Gematria of 150, this comes to show that this 13th cycle of Daf Yomi is most significant in one more way!

As far as other usages of the number 13 in reference to the Torah, we see that the number 13 ends with  numbers 613 - the number of Mitzvot of the Torah, 713 - the Gematria of the word Teshuva (loosely translated as repentance, but really means returning - to Hashem - from after having sinned), and 913 - the Gematria of the word Bereishit, the first word of the Torah.  And perhaps as a connection between all three numbers, when we conclude the Torah, we immediately RETURN to the BEGINNING of the Torah which consists of the 613 Mitzvot, the first being the Mitzva of Pru Urvu "Be fruitful and mulitply", mentioned in the first chapter of the Torah.

And as for the date of Tu B'Av itself, it is one day in the Jewish calendar that Hashem showed his intense love for the Jewish people with the various happy occasions that occurred on this date; and in turn, Hashem expects us to increase our Torah learning at nights, beginning with Tu B'Av, which is around the time of year that the nights become longer, as it states that the nights were created solely for learning Torah; and as we may have noticed, it is easier to learn something at night when the distractions of the day have died out.  And as we see particularly in the Gemara, the word darkness in the context of a particular verse (see my previous post) hints particularly to the Babylonian Talmud.  Hence, while it may be a physical darkness at night, it is a time of the greatest spiritual light, demonstrated especially in earlier times before electricity when the sole candle in the house late at night in a Jewish home meant that someone was learning Torah.  And it is the Babylonian Talmud that has the distinction of being called Daf Yomi without describing what it is referring to, unlike with other Torah learning, even with the Jerusalem Talmud which also has a Daf Yomi to it as there are those who have a regular learning schedule of learning daily a double sided page of this other Talmud; as the phrase Daf Yomi in reference to other Torah studies have to be identified in order to know what is being talked about.


THE SIXTH ALIYAH OF PARSHAT VA'ETCHANAN

Noting that there are 54 Parshiyot to the Torah, it would take approximately 400 years for each new cycle of Daf Yomi to occur on a different week of one of the Parshiyot of the Torah.  With this said, being that the subject of the beginning of the Talmud is about the Shema, and especially quoting from the first paragraph of the Shema in terms of the detailed Halachot of reciting the Shema, the question is - what Parsha does the first paragraph of the Shema appear?  Well, the winning Parsha is called Va'etchanan, particularly at the beginning of the sixth Aliyah of this Parsha.

Now for the beginning of this 13th cycle of Daf Yomi, when did this fall out on?  The sixth day of the week of Parshat Va'etchanan.  And as there are those who learn each of the seven Aliyot of the Parsha on the corresponding day of the seven days of the week, the corresponding Aliyah for the sixth day of the week of Parshat Va'etchanan is...the first paragraph of the Shema!  Imagine - of the 378 Aliyot of all of the Chumash,
this 13th cycle of Daf Yomi began on the day that corresponds to the Aliyah that begins with the first paragraph of the Shema, which is THE VERY SUBJECT OF THE BEGINNING OF THE TALMUD!  And as especially connected with the number 13, the last word of the first verse of the Shema is Echad, which is the Gematria of 13!  Moreover, in our recital of the Shema which includes the sentence of Baruch Shem, the 13th word is V'Ahavata "YOU SHALL LOVE Hashem your G-d..." which is based on the root word Ahava (love) which is also the Gematria of 13.

As there are plenty of connections with the cycle of Daf Yomi where one can say Dayeinu - enough, there is already something special about this particularly cycle of Daf Yomi, we see the whole blend here: the 13th cycle, Tu B'Av, and the sixth day/Aliyah of Parshat Va'Etchanan.  But there is something else about the Daf Yomi that some people who learn it regularly may not know - especially if they were born only within the last 40 years.

You see, there is one Talmudic tractate within the Daf Yomi cycle that is NOT part of the Babylonian Talmud at all, but is in fact a tractate in the Jerusalem Talmud - Tractate Shekalim, noting that this is the sole tractate in Seder Moed, the Order/Volume of the Mishna about the Jewish holidays that has no Babylonian Talmud to it.  And hence, when the Daf Yomi began some 89 years ago, this tractate of the Jerusalem Talmud was not included.  But it seems that after the first seven cycles of Daf Yomi, it was decided to include this tractate of the Jerusalem Talmud, being that in standardized volumes of the Babylonian Talmud, this tractate is included where it comprises 21 Dafim (in the regular Jerusalem Talmud volume, it has 33 Dafim).  Hence, had this tractate been included from day one, we would still be within the 12th cycle of Daf Yomi, and would only conclude the Talmud months later in the following Hebrew year 5773.  Or, if tractate Shekalim would never had been included, the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi would have started some five months earlier.  So as we see, the fact that Tractate Shekalim was included when it was included - and not a Daf Yomi cycle earlier or later - allowed for the beginning of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi to start when it did - on Tu B'Av AND the sixth day/Aliyah of Parshat VaEtchanan!  By the way, the word Shekalim, which means Shekel coins, has the same Gematria as the word Talmud - 480.  What timing!

Actually, I need to make a little correction.  You see, in order for each beginning cycle of Daf Yomi to fall out on each day/Aliyah of the 54 Parshiyot, even if this were possible, it would take around 2,800 years for this to happen.  So, the fact that this 13th cycle fell out on the particular Aliyah that began with the first paragraph of Shema is really truly amazing!

And being that this cycle of Daf Yomi began during the midst of the month of Av, it should be noted that there are 12 combinations of Hashem's main name YKVK corresponding with the 12 months of the Jewish calendar, and the particular combination for the month of Av is KVYK, the initials of the phrase Haskeit U'Shema Yisrael HaYom  "Be attentive and listen O Israel today" (Deutronomy 27:9), which includes the beginning words of the Shema - Shema Yisrael, and the word Hayom "today" is reminiscent of the word day as in Daf Yomi "Page of the DAY".

Moreover, it should be noted that the Mitzva of Talmud Torah - learning and teaching Torah, is found in the first paragraph of the Shema.  So, even if the beginning topic of the Talmud has nothing to do with the Shema, the fact that the beginning of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi fell out on the sixth day/Aliyah of Parshat Va'Etchanan which includes the very Mitzva of Talmud Torah would still in itself be an amazing thing!


WHAT HAPPENED ON 1 ELUL, 5772?

As I had mentioned in the past, there is what is called the Mitzva Yomi - study of the Mitzva of the day, that began over half a century ago.  Presently, we are in the midst of the 31st cycle, and on Rosh Chodesh Elul - the First of Elul, the Mitzva of the day was the 420th Mitzva: the Mitzva of Talmud Torah.  Now, of all the over 23,000 verses in the Tanach, THE ONLY VERSE IN THE ENTIRE TANACH that is the Gematria of the word Torah - 611, is the last verse of Chapter 31 of Tehillim (Psalms) - Chizku V'Ya'ameitz Levavchem Kol Hameyachalim LaHashem "Strengthen and encourage your hearts - all those who await Hashem".  So, as pertaining to the 31th cycle of Mitzva Yomi, we see a unique connection about the Torah to the number 31, being that the only verse in the entire Tanach that has the same Gematria as the word Torah is at the concluding verse of Chapter 31 of Tehillim.  Also, it has 28 letters, just as the first verse of the Torah has 28 letters.

(On a coincidental note, the first word of this verse in Tehillim - Chizku, is similar to the name of one of the kings of Judah - King Chizkiyahu, descendant of King David, compiler of Tehillim, by parental line, who very well lived up to his name of strengthening the Torah among the entire Jewish people literally, having even little children be familiar with all the laws of purity and impurity, a section of the Torah that is considered most hard to comprehend in the Torah world especially today.  Moreover, at the conclusion of each of the five Sefarim of the Chumash when reading it from the Sefer Torah, we exclaim Chazak, Chazak, V'Nitchazeik - "Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened".)

Interesting to note, the word Levavchem "your hearts", can also be found in the first verse of the second paragraph of the Shema, where it states "to love Hashem your G-d and to serve Him with all your hearts".  In fact, if one were to spell this word backwards, one would find the spelling for the word Bavel (Babylonia) which makes up the name of Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud).  Moreover, adding the two numbers - the chapter number 31 & the verse number 25, it adds up to the number 56, the Gematria of the word Yom (day), as in Daf Yomi "Page of the DAY".  And as connected to the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, according to the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), this list of 13 begins with the word E-l (G-d), which is the Gematria of 31, aside from the fact that the numbers 13 and 31 are the reversed spellings of each other.  

Now, counting the amount of weeks in the Daf Yomi cycle, there are exactly 387 weeks and two days.  Now, if we were to count the amount of weeks starting from this date of 1 Elul, 5772 on which was the Mitzva Yomi of the 420th Mitzva of Talmud Torah, we count exactly 385 weeks - which in this case are the days of the week in order from Yom Rishon to Shabbat - until the end of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi .  And as we know, the number 385 is a familiar number in the Jewish calendar, because the maximum amount of days that are possible in a Jewish year are 385 DAYS, which occurs in a Jewish leap year of 13 months.

Connecting the dots, Hashem first revealed the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy to Moses on this very day of 1 Elul!  This is why the Sephardic Jews start their Selichot prayers from the beginning of Elul (actually from 2 Elul since Selichot prayers are not recited on Rosh Chodesh) through Yom Kippur - the very period of time that Moses was on Mt. Sinai for the third and final time (unlike Ashkenazic Jews who began Selichot within a  week or two before Rosh Hashana).  Moreover, the first two letters of the name of this month Elul spells Hashem's name E-l, the first of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy; and as we know, the month of Elul is called the Chodesh HaRachamim "Month of Mercy".

Now, on a personal note, 1 Elul of this year - the date of the Mitzva Yomi of Talmud Torah - began my 524th month of life in this world.  You see, the Gematria of the phrase Talmud Bavli is 524!  And my Masechta, Mishnaic tractate that is the one that I have picked to be my lifetime tractate for study is Masechet Makkot, as the word Makkot is the same Gematria as my first name Shimon - 466 (and my second name Matisyahu, which I gave myself a few years ago, is the Gematria of Mishna Makkot - 861!), whose first chapter is about the laws about false witnesses who attempted to have someone punished by the Beit Din (Jewish court), which is based on the 524th Mitzva of the Torah - to do (punish) the false witnesses the same way as they attempted to do to someone else (Deutronomy 19:19), excepting in certain cases where for technical reasons, the exact punishment isn't meted out but are given lashes instead.

And as this date 1 Elul fell out on the first day of the week of Parshat Shoftim, it is most interesting to note that the 524th Mitzva of the Torah is in Parshat Shoftim.  And it is this Parsha that is especially connected to the concept of learning Torah from our rabbis/judges (Shoftim) as it especially related to the Oral Torah, as well as a hint to the Mitzva of reading the Shema that is still currently the topic in Daf Yomi of this date.  We see in the first Aliya of Parshat Shoftim - corresponding to the first day of the week - where it is written Al Pi HaTorah Asher Yorucha  "According to the "mouth" of the Torah (law) that they (the judges) will instruct you..." (Deutronomy 17:11) which includes a situation where one has a question in Halacha and goes to the Temple where the Sanhedrin sessions took place to find out what their decision in the Halacha is, one must follow exactly as they say, being that they are the ones who know the Oral Torah the best, as noted by the wording of the verse "according to the MOUTH of the Torah".

And as related to the Mitzva of reading the Shema, in the midst of this Parshat Shoftim is about Jews going to war to fight their enemies, at which beforehand, a Cohen made announcements at the battlefield beginning with the words Shema Yisrael (Deutronomy 20:3).  On this, Rabbi Yochanan states in the name of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: "The Holy One Blessed Be He said to Israel "Even if you only fulfill the Mitzva of reading the Shema morning and evening, you will not be handed over to the hands of your enemies" (Talmud Sota 42a).


WHAT ELSE HAPPENED ON 15 AV, 5772?

It didn't seem to be too much of news, but at least for Israeli news, Amos Hakham, first winner of the Israel Bible Contest and International Bible Contest, passed away on the night of Tu B'Av.

Perhaps if Mr. Hakham been a major Talmudic scholar or scientist, there would have been much more publicity about his passing.  But regardless of what either Ultra-Orthodox or secular Jews may have thought of him, he certainly had something major to bring to the table that Jews of all backgrounds - at least in Israel - can admit to if they want to be honest.

As a brief synopsis of his 91 years of life, as a result of a fall in infancy, which resulted in speech difficulties, and so his father home schooled him.   Following the passing of his parents, he was offered work despite his disabilities, studying the Tanach in his spare time, which was no doubt partly influenced by his father who taught Tanach in school.  But the turnaround events in his life was his winning the first national and international Bible contests in Israel in 5718 (1958) in his later thirties.  This resulted in him all of a sudden having much publicity, better work pay, and getting married allowing him to have a family.  And in the long run, he studied for a degree in Bible studies, and in time, was an editor of the Da'at Mikra series of the Tanach.

It is true that only one who is well versed in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch can be called a Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar) as opposed to one who is well versed particularly in the Tanach.  However, it is also true that according to Rashi on Exodus 31:18, a Torah scholaralso needs to be well versed in the 24 books of the Tanach.  You see, the Talmud is full of quotes from the Tanach, so only by knowing the context of the verses quoted in the Talmud can one truly claim that he knows the entire Talmud, even if one understands and has memorized all the halachic discussions of the entire Talmud.  After all, the Tanach is the foundation of all other Torah learning.

Since this is a Gematria blog, I think it would be most noteworthy to mention that the Gematia of Amos  Hakham's name is 244, the same Gematria as the word Gemara!  This sounds a bit ironic, since he was particularly a scholar, as you will, in the Tanach.  Another most interesting connection of Mr. Hakham with the Gemara other than Gematria is the startling fact that he passed away at the very beginning of the 13th cycle of the Daf Yomi!  One would think that with these connections, that he misused his time learning Tanach instead of spending more time with at least the Gemara.   However, aside from the fact that he was in fact an observant Jew, certainly being involved in learning and teaching a part of Torah, even if not in the Talmud or Jewish law, is being a little better spiritually off than working in a non-related Torah job or career, so long as one does not get distracted from knowing his purpose in life, which is of course to serve Hashem, which includes working to support our families, coupled with spending some time in Torah learning and praying every day.  It must also be remembered that it was the result of Mr. Hakham's mastering the Tanach which allowed him to win the very first contests that opened the doors for him both financially and family wise, bearing in mind of his disabilities which made it difficult for him otherwise to easily find a woman to get married to and be able to fulfill the first Mitzva of the Torah to have children, which is mentioned in the very first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:28).

Anyways, speaking of Amos Hakham's connection to the Tanach, having mentioned that he passed way at the very beginning of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi, the 13th book of the Tanach is what is called Trei Asar, these words actually being Aramaic for the number 12, which is loosely translated in English as the "Twelve Minor Prophets".  The reason that they are called minor prophets is not necessarily of their status as prophets, but rather, of the amount of material of their prophecies in contrast to some of the other books of the Bible in terms of prophecies, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.  Moreover, in this 13th book of the Bible, the third of the 12 sections of the Twelve Minor Prophets book is called Amos.  (In terms of the connection between the two numbers 12 & 13, just as the 13th Sefer of the Tanach is called in Aramaic "Twelve", as it consists of 12 sections, so do the final three verses of Micha, the sixth of the 12 sections of this Sefer, consist of 13 phrases corresponding to the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, and the last word being part of this 13th phrase "Mimei KEDEM" is the Gematria of 144, and the square root of this number is  
TWELVE).

Now, as far as the name Amos is concerned, the Gematria of this name is 176.  This is a most significant number for BOTH the Tanach and the Talmud.  First, there are 176 verses in Parshat Naso - the Parsha with the MOST verses of the 54 Parshiyot of the Torha.  Second, there are 176 verses in Psalms Chapter 119 - the chapter in the Tanach with the MOST verses in the 929 chapters of the Tanach.  Third, there are 176 Dafim in Tractate Bava Batra of the Babylonian Talmud (actually, there are 175 Dafim since it starts with Daf 2, but it ends on Daf 176), the Talmudic tractate with the MOST Dafim.  Actually, there is a direct connection between the name Amos and these parts of the Torah.  You see, the name/word Amos means loaded, and literally, the above Parsha, chapter, and Talmudic tractate are loaded with material in terms of verses or pages.  

Now, I am about to write the following, which I had in mind to write anyways for this post on the Daf Yomi, before the news of Amos Hakham's passing, but it comes to show the great Hashgacha Peratit (Divine Providence) here.  You see, even as I mentioned in this post, there are 24 books of the Tanach - as far as the sages in the Talmud are concerned.  However, there is something that I recently came across that will prove that in a way, there are actually 36 books of the Tanach, just as there are exactly 36 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud.  After this, it will be obvious of the connection that Biblical scholar Amos Hakham had with the Gemara, aside from the Gematria of his name and timing of his passing, even though his specialty of Torah studies was the Tanach.  

You see, the Twelve Minor Prophets book is what it is called - twelve sections from their respective 12 prophets.  Hence, forgetting about size, these should then be considered as 12 separate books, even as the smallest one Obadiah consists of only 21 verses.  Additionally, the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, while considered as one book among the 24 books of the Tanach, can also be considered as two separate books, for after all, they are from two different narrators, even though Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries.  Hence, you now have a total of 36 books (Note: The divisions of the books Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles and I and II are strictly divisions decided by Christian editors of the Bible, and have no basis whatsoever in the Masoretic divisions of the number of books of the Tanach).

Now, the information that I am referring in connection with stating that there are 36 books of the Tanach is what I find in a Sefer called Shem U'Neshama, authored by Moshe Batzri, about the kabbalistic significance and connections between Hebrew names and the Biblical figures who had these names.  He notes that all of these 36 books of the Tanach, they begin with one or another of only eight of the 22 letters of the Alef Beit - which are Alef, Beit, Dalet, Hei, Vav, Cheit, Mem, Shin.  This post is not the place to get into detail about the significance of these letters in particular being the only ones to begin any given book of the Tanach.  But what is important to know is that nothing here is mere coincidence.

With this last point mentioned, I want to list here the list of the 36 books of the Tanach (with all my due respect to the Sages of the Talmud who note that there are 24 books of the Tanach, both numbers are true, as mentioned in the Talmud, "These and these are the words of the Living G-d" referring to differing opinions in Halacha, even if the Halacha is decided according to one Sage and not the other), in parallel to the 36 Tractates of the Talmud in respective order.  You will find a number of similarities between the corresponding Tanach book and Talmudic tractate.  The following is the list, which I will write as transliterations, rather than the English translation, of these names, as it will be easier to see the connections between the matches, even as this is written in English words rather than in Hebrew words:

1) Bereishit-Berachot
2) Shemot-Shabbat
3) Vayikra-Eruvin
4) Bamidbar-Pesachim
5) Devarim-Yoma

6) Yehoshua-Succah
7) Shoftim-Beitza
8) Shmuel-Rosh Hashana
9) Melachim-Ta'anit
10) Yeshaya-Megilla
11) Yirmiya-Moed Katan
12) Yechezkel-Chagiga
13) Hoshea-Yevamot
14) Yoel-Ketuvot
15) Amos-Nedarim
16) Ovadia-Nazir
17) Yona-Sota
18) Micha-Gitin
19) Nachum-Kidushin
20) Chabakuk-Bava Kama
21) Tzephania-Bava Metzia
22) Chagai-Bava Basra
23) Zecharia-Sanhedrin
24) Malachi-Makkot

25) Tehillim-Shevuot
26) Mishlei-Avoda Zara
27) Iyov-Horayot
28) Shir HaShirim-Zevachim
29) Rut-Menachot
30) Eicha-Chulin
31) Kohelet-Bechorot
32) Esther-Arachin
33) Daniel-Temura
34) Ezra-Keritut
35) Nechemia-Meila
36) Divrei Hayomim-Nida

Won't take much time, but there are a few obvious connections here:

1)The first two on the list: Bereishit-Berachot and Shemot-Shabbat both begin and end with the same letters of their corresponding match.  Now, in the first one - Bereishit, the name of both the first Parsha and Sefer of the Torah, is also the first word of the Torah.  Particularly, the Torah begins with the letter Beit, since Hashem wanted to start the Torah with the letter that begins the word Beracha (blessing).  Indeed, on Simchat Torah, when we conclude the Torah (Chumash), we read the last Parsha of the Torah called V'Zot HaBeracha "This is the blessing" and we immediately afterwards read from the beginning of the Torah.  Hence, it is of no surprise that just as the name/word Bereishit begins with a Beit and ends with a Tav, so too does the name/word Berachot, the first tractate of the Talmud begins with a Beit and ends with a Tav.

2) Similarly, the second of the list - Shemot begins with a Shin and ends with a Tav, and so does Shabbat begins with a Shin and ends with a Tav.  Moreover, all five of the Taryag Mitzvot that have to do with Shabbat - resting on Shabbat, not working on Shabbat, not walking beyond 12 mil (or rabbinically 2,000 cubits) outside the city limits, not carrying out court executions, making Kiddush and Havdala - are found in the book of Shemot.  Coincidence?

4) Bamidbar-Pesachim.  The Mitzvot about Pesach (Passover), at least as far as the observance of this holiday in Nissan, including all the Mitzvot related to the Korban Pesach (Pascal Sacrifice), are actually found in the book of Shemot.  But, we see for the first time of the makeup Pesach, as you will, of offering the   Korban Pesach in the following month for those who didn't or weren't able to do it in the month of Passover, in the book of Bamidbar.  In fact, the reason why the Talmudic tractate is called Pesachim, in the plural, rather than Pesach, the name of both the holiday and the Korban Pesach, is because it refers to the two times that the Korban Pesach was offered, as a portion of this tractate deals with the Pesach Sheni, second Passover sacrifice in the month of Iyar.

8) Shmuel-Rosh Hashana.  Quite obvious.  We read from the beginning of the book of Shmuel for the Haftara on the first day of Rosh Hashana (the first Haftara read in the first day of every Jewish year).  In fact, the Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashana tells us that Shmuel's mother Chana was visited with pregnancy bearing Baby Samuel on Rosh Hashana.

11) Yirmiya-Moed Katan.  Maybe not so obvious.  But then again, the final chapter of tractate Moed Katan is about the laws of morning, which is among the permissible things of Torah that can be learned on Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, on which the destruction of the First Temple happened in the days of Yirmiya, who was in fact born on Tisha B'Av, and warned the Jewish people of the impending doom if they would not repent.

12) Yechezkel-Chagiga.  Both the Biblical book and the Talmudic tractate make mention of the Ma'asei Mercava, the Kabbalistic subject which was only taught to the greatest of Torah scholars who maintained a high level of spiritual purity.

25) Tehillim-Shevuot.  It's true that King David, author of the Tehillim was born and passed away on the holiday of Shavuot.  But, the name of the holiday, while the same exact spelling as the name of the Talmudic Tractate Shevuot, don't seem to have too much in common with each other, since the tractate is actually about oaths.  But actually, there are connections between the name of the holiday and topics with this tractate, but in fact, we took an oath at Mt. Sinai that we would observe the Torah and Mitzvot.  Also, this tractate makes mention of the Ten Commandments, as well as the specific Commandment of "Thou shalt not take the name of the L-rd, thy G-d in vein..."  The truth is that according to the original list of the books of the Tanach, the book of Rut is the first of the Ketuvim (Writings) part of the Tanach, and not the book of Tehillim.  But that is O.K., because in fact, we read the book of Rut on Shavuot, being that Rut herself was the great grandmother of King David, and his name is the last word of this book. 

And on a personal note, the 24th on the list is Tractate Makkot, which ends on Daf 24 of the Babylonian Talmud, and this is my lifelong Talmudic tractate for study as I mentioned early in this post.  And the corresponding Bible book is Malachi.  And as for direct connections between Malachi and Tractate Makkot is that both consist of three chapters, and both of these names - Malachi & Makkot - begin with the letter Mem. Now near the end of Malachi, it notes Zichru Torat Moshe Avdi "Remember the Torah of Moses My servant..."   How significant that this is mentioned particularly in Malachi.  You see, our rabbis tell us that when the Bible mentions of one who serves G-d, that it refers to one who has studied his Torah learning 101 times, in contrast to one who learned it for only 100 times, in terms of committing the Torah learning to memory.  It has been noted that the difference in Gematria between the words Shachoach=328 and Zechor=227 is 101, the amount of times that it takes to permanently remember the Torah learning in the conscious part of the brain.  This is all nice, but the the particular connection of the concept of learning Torah 101 times to permanently remember it to Malachi, other than the fact that it states Zichru Torat Moshe Avdi is that the Gematria of the name Malachi is 101!  And as for the 36 parts or what we are calling in this context the 36 books of the Tanach, the ONLY one of these 36 that BEGIN AND END WITH THE LETTER MEM is Malachi!  

Noting earlier in this post of the various places in the Torah that begin and end with Mem, the one that I especially want to mention here is that the six orders of the Mishna also BEGIN AND END WITH A MEM.  Thus, the fact that Malachi is the only one of the 36 sections of the Torah that begins and ends witha Mem as well, which mentions the concept of remembering the Torah; we know that being that the Mishna is the foundation of the Oral Torah, it seems that we have a "little" work to do to learning all of the Mishnayot 101 times if at all possible (though Hashem doesn't necessarily expect everyone to do the same, depending on their circumstances, we have to do our part to learn and understand the Torah as much as possible, learning it in our spare time even if we are busy with work and family.  As Rabbi Tarfon tells us at the end of the second chapter of Pirkei Avot - "The work is not necessarily left up to you to finish, but neither are you free to be exempt from it". Hence, one should not hold back from learning Torah, even if he thinks that he will never be able to conclude the entire Talmud or be able to learn it so many times during his lifetime in this world).  Luckily for me, this Talmudic tractate Makkot is only 23 Dafim, compared to most of the other Talmudic tractates that have many more pages and material.  

It has been most enjoyable writing this post, though due to time constraints, I wrote this post in several segments during the month of Elul until the last hour before I leave for Selichot services.  Part of this reason is because I am now committed to learning Daf Yomi, and knowing myself writing these posts, spending many hours on some posts can easily take away my orderly schedule of Torah learning if I am not careful.  However, what I can tell you is that in the future, you can probably expect some posts to be based on Daf Yomi, though there will be more interesting subjects for me to write about via the world of Gematriot.


The Month of Elul 5772

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