Sunday, September 9, 2012

#151 - The 1st Gematria of the Gemara

While Gematriot is not something that you will see in the Gemara every day; when they do appear, there is a very good reason for this.  Now, this can be divided into two categories - Halacha and Aggada.  You see, there are times that to prove what the Halacha is, Gematriot come into play.  For example, the Gemara tells us straight out that we learn that the minimum amount of time that a Nazarite vow is applicable is 30 days, which is learned out as the Gematria of the word Yihyeh (will be) which is the Gematria of 30, as in the verse “until the days are filled up that he has made a Nazarite vow to Hashem, holy he WILL BE” (Numbers 6:5).  And amazingly, we learn that there are 39 categories of forbidden work on Shabbat, which is learnt out specifically from the verse where it says Eileh HaDevarim “Therse are the things...” which is only the introuductory verse for the next two verses which is about the prohibition of violating the Shabbat.  But how we learn out the 39 forbidden work practices - since the word Eileh (these) is the Gematria of 36, the word Devoraim (things) represents the minimum of two, and HA-Devarim (THE things) represents the minimum of one.

Certainly, there are many ways in which Hashem could have told us the minimum time that a Nazarite vow is applicable or how many different categories of work that are forbidden to be performed on Shabbat. This could have been written out explictly in the Torah, Hashem could have just said this straight out to Moses on Mt. Sinai as with many other general rules that He told him, or through one of the 13 ways through which the Torah is expounded. However, the fact that we see that particularly, Gematriot are employed to teach major halachic principles, this comes to show us of how important Gematriot can be in our study of the Torah. Indeed, it has been said that the phrase Ki Lo Davar Reik Hu Mikem "for there is nothing that is empty for you" (Deutronomy 32:47), which refers to the Torah, is the Gematria of the word Gematriot.

Now that we have clearly established how Gematriot play a role in the aspect of Halacha (Jewish law), we are now going to see its usage in the aggadic part of the Talmud. In fact, in beginning the very first tractate of the Babylonian Talmud - Berachot, which by the way is full of aggadic material, perhaps more than just about any other Talmudic tractate, it won't take long to discover the very first Gematria of the Gemara; and particular, in the first week of learning the daily page of Daf Yomi. The word in question is Totzaot, in a verse in Psalms (68:21) (Berachot 8a), quoting the phrase LaMavet Totzaot - "issues of death".

Now, before getting into the Gematria of this word, the reason why this was brought to begin with, is because of another verse in Psalms where it states "for this, every pious person will pray to You at a time of FINDING" - Eit Metzo (Psalms 32:6). The Gemara gives five different interpretaions as to what this finding refers to - 1)Good wife, 2)Torah, 3)Death, 4)Burial, 5)Restroom. Now, as you can see, the Gematria word of Totzaot is related to the third of this list. I think that hands down, most will agree that death is the worst thing on this list, at least outwardly. For while we believe that the main place of living is in the world to come, the eternal place of enjoying bliss; death is not something that most of us look forward to to say the least. And so, why should the very first Gematria of the Gemara deal with rather an unpleasant topic?

In attempting to answer this question, I would like to first get into the Gematria of this word - 903, indicating that there are 903 types of death; meaning, there are 903 "issues of death". Now, in all of the Chumash, there is exactly one word, mentioned only once, that is the Gematria of this word - Geirashta - "You have chased", what Kain, who just committed the first murder of history with the murder of his brother, pleading with Hashem "Behold, You have chased me from the face of the earth, and I will be hidden from Your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer on earth, and hence, whoever finds me will kill me".  Actually, what Kain may have realized is that Hashem wanted to punish him Mida K'Neged Mida "Measure for measure", the typical way of how Hashem punishes. You see, Kain literally chased his brother Abel's soul from his body by murdering him; and so, after Hashem telling him of how He wanted to punish him for this, Kain came to this realization telling Hashem "You have chased me..."

In fact, the connection between chasing and killing or the prevention of living is mentioned just a little earlier in the previous chapter of the Torah, when after the first sin of mankind of eating of the forbidden fruit, Hashem showed his concerns "...for he might stretch out his hand and eat of the tree of life and life forever". However, since Adam & Eve were so tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit before being smart by eating from the tree of life, Hashem would now not allow them to eat of the tree of longevity, and subsequently - Vayegaresh Et HaAdam "He chased mankind" from Eden where the Tree of Life was.

And in terms of the soul, we see that the word for divorce in Hebrew is Geirush, and a woman who is divorced from her husband is called a Gerusha. We learn in Kabbala that at one time, the souls of the destined or basherte couple was at one time one soul, but was divided into two - one for male and one for female, and it is through the holy marriage that the souls of the husband and wife unite to be as one once again; so that now they are still technically two souls being that they reside in two separate bodies, the two souls still became one on a certain spiritual level. Hence, if G-d forbid, a divorce happens between the two, then while the ex-husband and ex-wife may still be living while their souls remain in their body, the connection between the two souls that at one time was one soul is not only completely divided once again, but they are now also being chased way from one another, which is the result of the death of their marriage.

As it turned out, due to Kain's pleadings, Hashem took a little pity on him, and allowed him to settle down for some time until he would eventually be accidentally killed by a descendant of his. But what we do see here is an incredible match here of the ONLY WORD IN THE ENTIRE CHUMASH THAT CONSISTS OF NEARLY 80,000 WORDS that has the same Gematria as the word in the Tanach refering to the number of types of death, in the very verse that the first person in the world who physically brought death to another human being is pleading his own case, worried that he would be killed as result of being chased away in this world! Moreover, as Kain concludes in this verse, "Whoever will FIND me will kill me", the word "find" in the above verse "time of FINDING", of which one of the five interpretations of the Gemara is death! In fact, as our rabbis tell us, we die in this world against our world, which is an indication that we are being chased out of our bodies, especially in view of the fact that we are not anxious to leave when it is our time, unless it is someone who has been suffering plenty due to sickness and all, and is prepared to leave this world to stop suffering.

Now, let us play with the number 903 itself. Noting that this number is used as the very first Gematria of the Gemara, both the words Gematria and Gemara begin with the letter Gimel, having the numeral value of three. With this said, let us first divide this number 903 by three - 301. Yep, this is the Gematria of the word Eish (fire). I think it is quite obvious that fire is one of the 903 forms of death, and can have a number of similar forms to this in terms of burning, noting that one of the four methods of execution by the Jewish court in the old days was pouring down hot molten lead down one's throat, a use of fire, but not using fire itself to burn someone at the stake. In fact, in the very paragraph that I quoted earlier as to how we see that there are 39 types of work on Shabbat, the next two verses state "...whoever does work in it (on Shabbat) will die. You shall not kindle a fire in all of your habitations on Shabbat." While one may wonder why the Torah picked kindling a fire of the 39 types of work as an example of forbidden work on Shabbat, this is the source of the final Mitzva of Sefer Shemot (Exodus) that the Jewish court does not perform executions on Shabbat, of which burning, which is related to fire, is one of the four executions that it employed. Hence, it seems that the Torah picked the one item that is related BOTH to the forbidden types of labor on Shabbat AND related to one of the executions that the Jewish court employed which weren't performed on Shabbat. In any case, as we see, immediately after the Torah mentions that the person who violates the Sabbath is put to death, which refers to the death of stoning employed by the Jewish court, it immediately mentions the prohibition of kindling a fire.

Now that I showed a co-relationship between the word Eish, which is exactly a third of the Gematria of the number of types of death, let us now multiply the number 903 by three, which is 2709. We find that one of the verses in Tanach has the exact same Gematria - "He shall say on that day - "This is our G-d, we hoped for Him and He saved us, this is Hashem Whom he hoped for, let us exalt and be joyous in His salvation" "(Isaiah 25:9). This is a special verse on two accounts. First, this is one of the 17 verses that are recited aloud right before the Hakafot, the dancings that we have on SImchat Torah celebrating the CONCLUSION of the reading of the Sefer Torah with the last Parsha of the Torah. Second, this is the very CONCLUSION of the Gemara in Tractate Ta'anit. Now, let us note the word Ta'anit, which means fast as in not eating, which is an act of withholding a bit of physical needs from ourselves, just as death is a total cessation of this. We see an amazing resemblance between the words Totzaot=903 and Ta'anit=930. Both of these words begin and end with the same letter - Tav - the LAST letter of the Alef Beit". Moreover, we see that the Gematriot of these two words employ the same numbers - 0,3,9. In fact, as you can see here, we can spell the number 039 which is 39; and aside from the 39 forbidden labors on Shabbat, this is also the number of total lashes that one used to receive for certain sins in the old times. In Hebrew, the word for lashes is Malkut, whose word can be read as the same letters as Mavet Kal - light death, for while the punishment of lashes may have seemed to be quite cruel, this was the guy's atonement in lieu of death; as technically, death is really what one deserves every time one does a sin, having disobeyed the King of kings. However, in Hashem's great mercy for us, there are many substitutions of death. In fact, after Adam and Eve committed their sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, Hashem technically could have kept his promise of "on the day that you eat of it, you will die", and had them die on that very day. However, since in Hashem's book, a day is considered like a thousand years, he spared the immediate death of the ancestors of mankind, and allowed them to live for 1,000 years (at least for Adam). Since then, Adam gifted 70 years for King David, who was originally slated to live for only three hours; and hence, Adam actually lived for 930 years. But what is interesting is that the number 930 is the Gematria of the word Ta'anit, the name of the Talmudic tractate that concludes with the verse which is the Gematria of the number that is three times the number of the types of death! Moreover, for the first 130 years of his life since his sin, Adam fasted in penance of his misdeed.

But before leaving the number 2709, this is very close to another number - 2711. Looks familiar? You are right. As you may have read recently about the celebrations of the conclusion of Daf Yomi, there are exactly 2711 pages of Talmud that are learned in the Daf Yomi cycle. Moreover, in the Holocaust memorial in Germany (though it would be better if all the Jews in Germany would pack up their bags and move to Israel), thousands of pillars were placed in the midst of this memorial, but had to reduce their planned amount due to the lack of space. As it turned out "accidentally", there are exactly 2711 pillars, which can be called Dafim in Hebrew! As we see an amazing resemblance of numbers between these two factors, no doubt that the ultimate message here is that the TRUE AND EVERLASTING memorial for the Jews murdered in the Holocaust is the study of the Talmud. But as we see, the number 2711 is used to memorialize the Jews who were murdered. And noting that the multiple of 903 by three times is 2709, the number 2711 is adding to two thirds to the next number. Hence, the next number 904, if multiplied by three, is 2712, but the number 2711, though not completing the fraction, is still two thirds towards completing the multiple of 904, being the majority of the number.

Now, the reason that I mention this is twofold. First, by studying the Talmud, we come closer to spiritual life, taking ourselves one step away from spiritual death. However, the difference between 903 and 904, while two-thirds of a number, via their multiples by three, bearing in mind that the word Gemara (Talmud) begins with the letter Gimel=3, has to be completed by our observance of what we learn in the Talmud to be complete - espcially through Gemilut Chasadim - doing acts of kindness, being that the word Gemilut is similar to the word for the letter Gimel. Second, on a personal note, I was born at 9:04 in the morning.

The bottom line is, it is the letter Tav that is most associated with the concept of death; for after all, just as Tav is the CONCLUDING letter of the Alef Beit, so is death the CONCLUSION of life in this physical world. And while death in this sense is the conclusion of physical life, rather than spiritual life, at least for those who lived a righteous life (unlike for those who led an evil life, death is indeed the end of their spiritual life as well, because now, it is too late for them to repent), it is true that Hashem created the world using the Alef Beit. Indeed, the word Mavet (death) ends with the letter Tav.  And so accordingly, the word in Tanach that hints to the number of types of death both begins and ends with Tav.

In sharp contrast, we see that the letter Tav in the beginning of the word is found with words that represent some of the most importance concepts or Mitzvot in Judaism - Torah, Tanach, Tehillim, Talmud, Tefilla, Tefillin, Teshuva. But more than simply the position of Tav in the word, what explains why Tav, as the last letter of the Alef Beit, should be the first letter of some of these most important concepts in Judaism can be explained in one word - Tachlit (purpose). You see, the word Tachlit itseld both starts and ends with a Tav. In another words, if we understand what our purpose in life is, this means that we understand the ultimate purpose, or the end result, of life, which is of course, what our good deeds will accomplish at the end - both in this world, and in the next. Even though our purpose in serving Hashem is to do just that and not for any reward, even though that may be Hashem's main purpose in having us serve Him is in order for us to earn our eternal reward by how we perform serving Him.

We see a phenomenal thing about the letter Tav in the Talmud Bavli. It is the letter that begins the Gemara text, where we see that the Gemara begins off following the first Mishna in Tractate Berachot - Tana Heicha Ka'ei D'Katanei Me'aimatai- "To what is the Tana (the rabbi in the Mishna) referring that he asks when we begin reading the Shema (instead of first asking about the source of the obligation of reciting the Shema itself)?"
And the very end of Talmud Bavli in Tractate Nida concludes with the word Halachot (laws), ending with a Tav. Hence, the Gemara text begins and ends with a Tav! Truly amazing.

But wait, there is more to this! The very last Perek (Chapter) of the Talmud Bavli - in Tractate Nida - is called Tinoket, the first word of this final chapter of the Talmud (beginning of the 10th chapter of Tractate Nida in the Mishna) - referring to a young girl who hasn't begun having her period yet and gets married as to what the status of her virginity blood is whether it is considered to be impure blood like it is with a woman who already had her period (Note: Though the literal meaning of Tinoket is a female baby, this is not the meaning in this context). And then at the conclusion of this chapter that ends the Talmud, the very last piece of Talmud is the following: Tana Devei Eliyahu - A Beraita of the school of Eliyahu (Elijah the prophet) teaches (this is the well famous Sefer called Tana Devei Eliyahu - teachings of Eliyahu who taught them to the Amora - Rav Anan): Whoever learns Halachot (literally means laws, but according to some - this refers specifically to the teachings of the Gemara that leads to Halachic conclusions) every day is granted that he will have a share in the world to come. For it states: Halichot Olam Lo "The ways of the world belong to Him". Do not read the word as Halichot (interpretation wise, not that the literal meaning is not applicable) "ways", but Halachot." Thus, we see that the FINAL piece of the Talmud, in the FINAL chapter of the Talmud that is called by a name/word that begins and ends with the last letter Tav, also BEGINS AND ENDS WITH THE LAST LETTER TAV! Yes indeed my friends, this phenomenal feature of the letter Tav in the Talmud cannot simply be ignored!

Now, even if I were not to mention anything else about the concept of the letter Tav being related to life or death, it would be what we would say Dayeinu "It would be enough". However, we see a clear proof from the Talmud about the letter Tav being most related to this very concept.

In Talmud Shabbat 55a, it is mentioned that before the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash (Temple), as per Hashem's instructions to the angel Gabriel, he was to mark the letter Tav of ink on the foreheads of the Tzadikim (righteous people) to mark them for life, as the verse states "You shall mark the letter Tav on the foreheads of the people who sighed and moaned over all the abominations that have taken place..." (Exekiel 9:4), and the letter Tav of blood on the foreheads of the Reshaim (wicked people) to mark them for death in the ensuing destruction of the Temple. Now, it is true that before this could take place, the Attribute of Justice accused the Tzadikim of not protesting the evil of the Reshaim; and despite Hashem knowing that even if the Tzadikim would have done so, it wouldn't have made a difference, since they didn't do their job of reproving the people, the Tzadikim were also marked with the Tav of blood to mark them to be killed by the Babylonian enemies as well. But what we do see here is that it is particularly the letter Tav that can denote either life or death, depending on how this letter is used.

There is one more prominent word that I have yet to mention that also begins and ends with a Tav - Tosfot, one of two commentaries of the Talmud that surround the Talmud text (the other being Rashi), which is considered a hard commentary to understand and seems to be even harder understand than the Talmud itself, and requires much application to understand it. Indeed, the biggest Torah scholars of any given generation have learned, understand, and remember all of the Tosfot, something that few of us ever dream of accomplishing. Speaking of what is hard to understand, one of the three most difficult Talmudic tractates to understand is the final one called Nida whose final chapter begins and ends with the letter Tav. And so, we see that the letter Tav, being the conclusion of the Alef Beit, represents the hardest study of the Talmud.

Now, I mentioned before that unlike the Tav ending in the word Mavet (death), it is the beginning of words that represent the greatest accomplishments of spiritual life. However, with words such as Tosfot, that begin and end of Tav, just like the word Totzaot that represents the number of types of death, does it carry just the same meaning as the other words that just begin with a Tav?

We see near the end of the first Talmudic Tractate called Berachot (63b): "Reish Lakish said: From where do we learn that the words of Torah lasts only with one who kills himself over it? As it says: Zot HaTorah Adam Ki Yamut B'Ohel "This is the Torah (law) about a person who dies in a tent" (Numbers 19:14) (the original text discussing the laws of impurity when it comes to a dead person in a tent)". So as we see, one who truly wants to understand the Torah and maintain his Torah learning, needs to toil over his studies, rather than reading it as a comic book on the beach. O.K., just about all of us would not learn Torah like this at the beach, but the point is that truly Torah scholarship involves self-sacrifice. Some may think that it is only possible to master a subject if one has all the right circumstances of maximum physical needs with sufficient food, and comfortable temperature in the room, etc. But at least when it comes to Torah, quite often the opposite has been proven true. This was especially true of the hard times in Europe when young students, barely having a meal a day and sleeping either on the floor or bench not allowing them to even sleep half decently in the few others that they slept having learned Talmud for some 16 plus hours a day from old, yellowish texts, wound up mastering the Talmud, some of whom became the biggest Torah scholars of the day, who in turn wrote explanations to the Talmud.

Today, we are quite spoiled in stark contrast to the times of yesteryear, when most students in Yeshivot today are far from starving, and at least have a bed to sleep on. While students are expected to learn the Talmud the same way as it was in earlier times, from a text with no vowels or translation; just about everyone else has various ways to their disposal of being able to learn the Talmud so much easier, from voweled texts with translation on fresh, white paper with very legible type sets, to the free lectures that one can listen to online, choosing any page of the Talmud. However, one thing that can be agreed upon that without some sort of toiling over the Talmud to understand its basic meaning, one will not remember too much of it, and for one simple reason. You see, if something means a lot to you, you spend time with it until you find yourself dreaming about it, because of your heavy involvement with it. Well, this is the same way that Torah is meant to be learnt. The more time that one spends with it, not continuing on until one has spent the time needed to master the particular subject, the more of a chance that he will remember it long afterwards.

So as we see, the phrase "killing onself over it", while not meant to be literally when it comes to learning Torah, is used in this very wording to illustrate what it takes to master the Torah. Accordingly, the Tosfot commentary, which is obligatory learning in Yeshivot, is considered the ultimate challenge in terms of Talmudic learning; and hence, is demonstrated by the fact that this word Tosfot begins and ends with a Tav, just like the Hebrew word for death ends with a Tav; for certainly, it is far better to apply oneself to Torah study, than to pursue the physical pleasures in life that sometimes lead one to both a physical and spiritual death. I think that this is not hard to understand when we know that in the non-Torah world, people pretty much do what they want in terms of physical pleasures, and won't hesitate, pending the law of the country, to follow through with their desires, whether it comes to money or sex. And as some learned the hard way, HIV infections stole away the lives of many, which began with homosexuals who most certainly live a perverted life, continuing on with those who were quite sexually active, not even having the self-control of using condoms if they already were going to be sleeping with more than one partner. And so, while unfortunately, there are some non-observant Jews who are critical of "Orthodox old men with white long beards praying in the synagogue all day", it is due to their ignorance that they have been living with all their lives, who were less concerned about their maximum of three children living even a drug-free life. But even they themselves have to admit that the biggest accomplishment of their life, especially the ones who had failed marriages, is when their children became doctors, lawyers, etc. which in itself involved learning for their profession countless of sleepless hours, exams, and serious application to their studies.

On a personal note, having mentioned earlier the a good wife is one of the five meanings of the word finding in the context of "time of finding", the Gematria of my wife's name Yael Miriam is 400, the numerical value of the letter Tav. Moreover, I named my Tinoket - baby girl - with the first name of Tamar, which begins with a Tav, and was born on 15 Kislev, the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Judah the Prince, the one who compiled the Mishnayot. Indeed, the letters of the name Tamar begin the words - Torat Moshe Rabbeinu, the Torah of our teacher Moses, for he was the first one to teach Torah to the Jewish people as a nation. So, while females do not learn Mishnayot as males do, there are those who do learn Tractate Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) in Yeshiva day schools, for this unique tractate is not about the laws of the Torah, but rather about the ethics of the Torah, which even women are expected to acquire to live as good Jews. And it is this tractate that begins with Moshe Kibel Torah M'Sinai "Moses received the Torah from Mt. Sinai..." And the second chapter on this tractate begins with Rebbe Omer "Rebbe (Rabbi Judah the Prince) says..."

And so in conclusion, the word Totzaot, which also means results or accomplishments, can carry rather a positive message more than just the meaning of the original text LaMavet Totzaot - the Totzaot of death. For indeed, the word representing the first Gematria of the Talmud, wasn't picked by the Sages of the Talmud at random to be the very first Gematria in the midst of Aggadic text. It is chosen to teach us a most valuable lesson in our approach of studying Torah, and especially the Talmud. In case one thinks that studying the Talmud with Tosfot is quite hard, let him try dealing with the outside world which involves cut-throats who will stop at nothing to make the big bucks on everyone else's expense. But, even if one winds up needing to make a living outside of the confines of the Yeshiva world, the Torah learning that one acquired during his Yeshiva years helps him cope with life's challenges, knowing that if we follow the ways of the Torah, then we will have Hashem's help in our need of supporting our families, so long as he devotes some time to learning Torah every day, which involves the learning of Daf Yomi for many. In fact, the word Totzaot is mentioned one more time in the entire Tanach - "Keep your heart at all diligence, for from it are the ISSUES OF LIFE (Totz'ot Chaim)" (Proverbs 4:23). Indeed, with due diligence to our Torah studies - both in study and practice, we will live a meaningful spiritual and physical life, living life to the fullest extent, for even it is our time to take leave of this world, we will leave this world knowing that the life that we had on this earth was well worth living, and that death is only a transition from the physical state to the spiritual state of eternal bliss.

And just as we conclude the Torah on Simchat Torah with the last Parsha called V'Zot HaBeracha and then immediately begin the Torah again from Bereishit, so too we can say, at least as a sign if not a hint, that we end off with the word Totzaot - that begins and ends with the LAST LETTER Tav - which can refer either to the meaning of life or death, but that even in death, it is the transition for the righteous to their eternal life, so is the Torah, in Aramaic - the main language of the Gemara - called Oraita, which begins and ends with the FIRST LETTER Aleph, and is the same Gematria as the word Berachot (blessings), the name of the FIRST tractate of the Talmud. And at this, we see another amazing phenomenon. Typically, as we know about how babies are raised, their very first words are "daddy" and "mommy". Well, in Hebrew, as you will see in Israel, their first words are Abba and Imma - both of these words beginning and ending with the first letter Aleph, signifying the beginning of their speech with words that begin and end with the first letter of the Aleph Beit. Coincidence?

Written on Motzoei Shabbat Parshat Ki-Teitze 5772

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