Monday, October 8, 2012

#154 - A Portion of Torah Please?

Once again, welcome to a new year at, which began exactly four years ago on the night following Simchat Torah.

Looking back at this past year, I had the great fortune of becoming a daddy of my now 10 month old Tamar Tzadika, something that I could merely dream about years ago doubting if I Hashem would allow me to get married.  But I believe that if you truly want something, that it will happen unless Hashem does not want it to happen; and as it happened in my case, aside from prayers, an idea came to my head upon seeing an English publication in Israel to have a full page ad written about my quest, leading to me making fliers of that page, and the one flyer that I posted in the Old City of Jerusalem is what led to a phone call from my wife-to-be on her way to the Western Wall who was visiting from another town in Israel, who saw it the next day after I posted it.

Now, on the universal side, the once in seven and a half (or close to it) year Daf Yomi cycle celebrations took place,  having concluded the universal learning of the daily folio of the Babylonian Talmud for the 12th time, and the 13th cycle beginning on Tu B'Av, which is among the happiest days in Jewish history.

On this note, the day that we just celebrated - Simchat Torah, combines both of these aspects - it is also among the happiest days of the Jewish calendar - because on this day, we conclude the annual reading of the Sefer Torah, and we immediately begin it anew.

Now note, my description of the two days of Tu B'Av and Simchat Torah are a little different from each other.  You see, Tu B'Av became the happy day that it is today specifically because of various happy events that occurred on this day.  In this past year 5772, it became one more reason to celebrate due to the fact that it began the 13th worldwide Daf Yomi cycle of the seven and a half year study of the Talmud.  In stark contrast, Simchat Torah became the day that it became due to the decision of rabbis that it should be the designated day of concluding the reading of the Sefer Torah with its last of the 54 Parshiyot, which was set to be on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

You see, while Moshe Rabbeinu instituted that we should read from the Torah every Shabbat, Mondays and Thursdays, so that there should not be three days without the Torah being read from, there was no set Parsha that was to be read from.  Whether it began from day one or during the course of time, the Torah was read in order, but there was not necessarily a time frame that it had to be concluded by.  Eventually, there was a more orderly fashion in terms of dividing the Torah to be read as Parshiyot.  However, even at that, not everyone always read the same exact thing every Shabbat.  What we may take for granted today as 54 Parshiyot with combining a few of the Parshiyot in order to conclude the entire Chumash every Simchat Torah, there were communities that finished it more like in three years - as 154 Parshiyot, exactly 100 more than today's 54 Parshiyot.  Oh yes, this is my 154th Post, but aside from this, the 154th Parsha of the early days was the exact same Parsha that we now call V'Zot HaBeracha.

Anyways, looking at the number 154, we can divide this number into two parts - one (1) and fifty-four (54). And indeed, immediately upon concluding the Torah with its 54th Parsha on Simchat Torah, we immediately begin with the 1st Parsha starting with Bereishit.  With this said, the one who is called for the final Aliya of the Sefer Torah is called Chatan Torah (Bridegroom of the Torah) and the one who is called for the first Aliya of the Sefer Torah is called Chatan Bereishit.  In fact, before each of these two people are called, it is proceeded by a special paragraph that is recited in honor of these respective Aliyot.

It was only today, on this Simchat Torah, that I thought of the following question.  Why do we call specifically the person called for the last Aliya of the Torah as Chatan Torah, with the name Torah rather than the one for the first Aliya which is named after the first word of the Torah?  Why don't we call this the opposite way, naming the one for the final Aliyah after either the name of the Parsha as Beracha, which means blessing which would be a most beautiful word, being that it is the name of the last Parsha, or the word Yisrael which is the last word of the Torah; and call the one with the first Aliya of the Torah as Chatan Torah instead?

Of course if it were to be the opposite, then I would be asking the same kind of thing - why is it this way and not the reverse?  But while I can't swear that I have the full answer, there is one thing that I did notice - a reason why we call the one for the first Aliya as Chatan Bereishit.

As it is well known, this first word of the Torah - Bereishit, makes up the same letters as the date Aleph B'Tishrei (One in Tishrei), meaning, the date of 1 Tishrei, the (first) day of Rosh Hashana, which is the first day of the Jewish New Year.  And while we learn that the world began to be created on 25 Elul, it was five days later, on the 1st of Tishrei, that Adam and Eve were created by Hashem.  As Midrashic sources tell us, Adam and Eve wed on that very day that they were created, their wedding being attended to by Hashem and the angels - the first wedding that ever took place.  And so indeed, Adam was a Chatan on the 1st of Tishrei, this date having the same letters as the word Bereishit.  O.K, let us not forget Eve the Bride, but since only men are called up to the Torah, this explains why they are called Chatan, aside from the fact that in Hebrew, the word for wedding is Chatuna, which is based on the word Chatan (or the other way around).  So as you can see, the word Bereishit is most related to the word Chatan via the date the Adam wed Eve.  (Ironically, being that the date of 1 Tishrei is now the date of Rosh Hashana, it is forbidden for a Jewish wedding ceremony to take place on this day).

This is all very nice, but what does Adam's wedding have to do with our beginning the Torah other than a historical fact that is related to the first Parsha of the Torah?  True, the whole world are descendants of Adam and Eve, and hence, we the Jewish people are in existence.  However, I believe that what is meant to teach us here is that we should feel the happiness of the Torah in the same way as we felt on what most of us would call the happiest day of our lives - the day of our wedding to our beloved spouse.  After all, in Adam's case especially, he felt very desperate being that he saw all other moving creatures having a mate for themselves, but none for himself; at which point, Hashem created Eve from his rib.  Sure, Hashem could have created both Adam and Eve the same time the same way that He did it for all other creatures, but as our rabbis tell us, He didn't want Adam to take his mate for granted.  As it is, following the sin of eating the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed Eve for having brought him to eat of it.  In any case, at least at his wedding, he
had to have been most happy, especially after what he went through, including being put to sleep by Hashem to create Eve (the first surgical operation in the world).  And so, we in turn have to learn from this not to take the Torah for granted, for in fact, we too went through various hardships, including exile and slavery, to officially receive the Torah once we became a nation.

Now, when many people get married, they don't quite know everything about their significant other.  In fact, even in relationships where boyfriend and girlfriend shack it up for several years living together most romantically, the ball ends once they get married because now, things are viewed in a very different manner, and everyone's true colors "all of a sudden" appear.  But one thing is for sure - if it is a good marriage, there is more appreciation than ever for each other after so many years of marriage, as many will be able to attest at their golden wedding anniversary.

With this said, this would explain why particularly for the one called up for the last Aliya of the Torah, he is called the Chatan Torah, using the word Torah particularly for the end of the Torah rather than the beginning, for it is only after once we go through the entire Torah that we can appreciate the true value of the Torah more than ever.

We see another major connection of the word Torah as related especially to the last Parsha of the Torah.  The fourth Pasuk (verse) of this Parsha begins with the word Torah - Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe Morasha Kehillat Yaacov "The Torah that Moses commanded us is an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deutronomy 33:4).  The Talmud in Tractate Succa (42a) informs us that this is the very first verse that a Jewish child is taught.  That's right, the very first word of Torah that a Jewish child is taught is the very word Torah, though in his mental self, he has a very limited concept of what Torah represents, and it is largely through the example of others - between family and school - of living the Torah way of life, that the young child will understand more and more as time moves on as to what Torah is about in addition to his increasing studies in Torah.  (Note: On Simchat Torah 5767 ('06) in Israel - 22 Tishrei - the Daf Yomi page was Succa 42 mentioning this very verse that is read in the Sefer Torah as part of the last Parsha read on this day!)

Now, getting back to numbers, we know that each Parsha is divided up into seven Aliyot.  This was always the case - whether they read the Torah based on the 54 or the 154 Parshiyot of the Torah.  However, with the number 154, we see another significant thing.  This number can be divided as 77 plus 77.  Thus, we see that there is an intrinsic connection between the number seven and the Torah, which of course also has to do with Shabbat, the seventh day.  For in fact, the very first Aliya of the Torah is about Hashem creating the world in the first week of this world's existance on each of the seven days of the week, culminating with Hashem resting on Shabbat, and indeed, the first of the 154 Parshiyot is this very section of the Torah, hence beginning with a special connection to the number seven.

And in the final three verses of this first section which is about Shabbat, it mentions "Seventh Day" three times.  I already wrote about this in my previous post, but today, it is relating the number seven to the number four, for as we see, it takes four of the number seven as 77+77 for the amount of Parshiyot that used to be in existance for the weekly Shabbat reading.  For in fact, the Mitzva of Shabbat is the FOURTH of the Ten Commandments as it mentions Shabbat as the "Seventh Day".

With this, we see a little irony.  The only Parsha that is not read on Shabbat is the last Parsha of the Torah (except when Shemini Atzeret falls out on Shabbat in Israel).  And the question begs to be asked - since we know that in fact, Shabbat is holier than the other Jewish holidays, why was there a date fixed for reading the final portion of the Torah over which we rejoice rather than designating a certain Shabbat, let us say the Shabbat after Shemini Atzeret, as the one day in the year to conclude the Torah?

For this, let us mention Rashi (on Numbers 29:35) who quotes the Talmud (Succah 55b) which gives the reason for the observance of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret; which in sharp contrast to the seven days of Succot on which animal offerings were brought in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) corresponding to the 70 nations of the world, on this final "Eighth Day", it is devoted exclusively between us and Hashem, offering animal sacrifices only on our own behalf.  Similarly, we see in the Talmud in the first chapter of Tractate Shabbat (that we are presently learning in Daf Yomi) that Shabbat in particular is Hashem's special gift to the Jewish people, and is not meant for non-Jews to celebrate.  You see, with the other Jewish holidays, they are quite obvious that they are meant only for Jews because of events that happened to the Jewish people which would give no other nation any reason to celebrate.  However, the concept of rest, which is related to Shabbat, isn't such a foreign idea, and so, Hashem makes it clear that Shabbat is in fact His special gift only for His Chosen Nation.

This is all nice, but why is Shemini Atzeret THE designated day to conclude the Torah as if it is on an equal footing with Shabbat?  After all, we have Passover - a SEVEN day holiday, the birth of the Jewish nation, which would seem to be a good time to not only conclude the Torah, but to begin it corresponding to our birth?  Or better yet, Shavuot - the day that marks the Giving of the Torah would seem to be most appropriate for this, even as the name Shavuot itself means weeks, which is also based on the word Sheva or Shiva (seven), as there were seven weeks of preparation for this momentous occasion, thus having a special connection with Shabbat, the Seventh day.  Or, why not Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, for after all, the very first word of the Torah is Bereishit, which makes up the same letters as the date "1st of Tishrei" - A(leph) BeTishrei, and thus we would perhaps think to begin the Torah on the beginning day of the year.  And then of course we have the most solemn day of Yom Kippur, though it probably would not be a very good idea to celebrate on a day of major fasting.  And then we have the SEVEN day holiday of Succot, except for the fact that since on this holiday, animal sacrifices were brought on behalf of the nations of the world, and so this is not exclusive time between us and Hashem to celebrate without distractions from the outside world so to speak.

There is one common theme between Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret.  Shabbat follows a week of work that involves much toil, suffering, working hard to earn a half decent living, etc.  In the old days of the Jews living in the poor ghettos of Europe, Shabbat was truly a day of happiness to help them forget how they half starved during the week, along with the worries of threats or attacks from Anti-Semites which was bound to happen at any time; and truly felt the loss of Shabbat when the sky darkened on Saturday night.  And so with Shemini Atzeret, we first celebrate Succot, which is in fact a most joyous time in the Jewish calendar, but we are reminded of the non-Jewish nations who hate us, even as on our part, we brought offerings on their behalf to atone for them, even if they didn't have any appreciation of this.  And so, Shemini Atzeret steps forward to remind us that at the end of the day, it is our relationship with Hashem that counts the most, just as it is with celebrating Shabbat.

Now, just as we have similarities in almost any two items, so too will there be differences between the two.  And so, while even Shabbat relates to the realm of nature, as there are six days of work and then one rests on Shabbat from the work week, only to face another such week; Shemini Atzeret follows a week of major joyous celebration so that by the time we have Shemini Atzeret, even though it is technically a separate holiday not celebrating with the Succa or Lulav, it is called Shemini "Eighth", highlighting the fact that this number is ABOVE the number seven, being that it represents what is ABOVE nature (as noted in the writings of the Maharal of Prague).  And so, it is most fitting that on this day that we read the concluding portion of the Torah, as after all, the Torah is after all above nature, as evident with stories of many holy rabbis who were hardly affected by nature due to their most highly spiritual state.

Now, there is something that I want to mention from the Hidden Codes of the Torah.  The phrase Simchat Torah (having a total of eight Hebrew letters) can be spelled equidistantly only one time in the entire Chumash - every 1444th letter.  This code is spelled in the three Parshiyot in the Book of Genesis - Vayeishev, Miketz, and Vayigash, which is largely about Joseph from his time in prison to being Pharaoh's viceroy.  In any case, upon a little observation in the Jewish calendar, one will notice that the holiday of Chanuka can only occur during one of the three weeks that these Parshiyot are read on the coming Shabbat (obviously only on two of the weeks on any given year, but will vary as to when Chanuka begins from year to year).   And while Chanuka is not one of the holidays from the time of Moses, but is only some 2,150 years old, it does celebrate our victory over the Syrian-Greeks who wanted to de-sanctify our Torah as a mere nice book of wisdom in the form of Bible stories, G-d forbid taking away the holiness from our holy Torah.  You see, if the Torah is just another nice book of wisdom, then why celebrate the reading of the Torah any more than any other book?  Hence, it is precisely because our holy Torah is "our life and the length of our days", which the cause of us having eternal spritual bliss, that is has such value, and all the materialism that the Syrian-Greeks, who were the world leaders at the time of the Chanuka story, had to offer, even their warped wisdom from Aristotle, Hippocrates, Plato, and Socrates, was of no lasting value to Jews understanding their purpose in life.

Having mentioned that the phrase Simchat Torah is spelled equidistantly every 1,444th letter in the Chumash,
there is a phrase in Tehillim (Psalms) that is the Gematria of 1,444 - Ahavti Toratecha "I love Your Torah" (Psalms 119:97).  Now, the first word Ahavti is the same Gematria as the word for the letter Cheit - 418, and the numerical value of the letter Cheit is eight.  So as you can see, it is the letter eight, that represents what is above nature, that above all represents the eternal value of the Torah which is way above nature that is of a limited existance in the physical world that the Syrian-Greeks worshiped.  And hence, realizing the eternal value of the Torah which is above all other wisdoms and philosphies, one cannot help but love the Torah, which we most express on Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, singing among the more popular songs dancing with the Sifrei Torot (Torah Scrolls) - Ma Ahavti Toratecha Kol HaYom Hi Sichati "How do I love Your Torah, it is my conversation all day long".  OK, not all of us are big Torah scholars who learn in Yeshiva all day, but one who does have a love for Torah will undoubtedly start speaking words of Torah without even thinking twice at times when others would be talking about everything else under the sun.

And in terms of Gematria of what is known as Mispar Katan "Small Number" when adding the immediate sums of the numbers of a give word, the word Torah being the Gematria of 611, becomes eight when we add the numbers of the Gematria of Torah like this: 6+1+1=8.  In fact, in terms of the eight days of Succot-Shemini Atzeret, following the first six days, the final day of the seven days of Succot is called Hoshana Rabba, being that we say special prayers called Hoshanot "Salvations" asking Hashem for His salvation, especially in terms of bringing water/rain to the world so we can survive, as Hashem judges the world especially in terms of water during the course of this holiday, sealing our fate on this final day of Succot.  But the point that I want to mention here is that it is customary among many Jews in terms of the importance of this day to learn Torah the whole night as all good healthy Jews do on the night of Shavuot.  Then, we have the final day of Shemini Atzeret which is also uniquely marked in term of the Torah.  Hence, the equation of 6+1+1 seems to hint to this breakdown of this eight day holiday period.  This doesn't seem coincidental to me.

On a personal note, being that my daughter was born in this past year, having celebrated her first Simchat Torah with me in the synagogue dancing around with dozens of other young children and babies, as well as having received her very first Aliya along with the other children who are given an Aliya that is entitled Kol HaNearim "All the Lads", both of her names have similar roots in this last Parsha of the Torah.  First, for her first name Tamar, right before Moses' passing, Hashem showed him both the entire land as well as the history of the Jews in the land until the end of time.  Among the places in Israel mentioned is Yericho Ir HaTemarim "Jericho, the city of date palms", as Temarim (dates or date palms) is the plural of the word/name Tamar.  And for her second name Tzadika, which is the feminine form of the word Tzadik (righteous person), earlier among the blessings that Moses gave the various Tribes, there is a phrase that refers to Moses (which he said prophetically rather than look just to praise himself being that he was the most humble person to walk this earth) - Tzidkat Hashem Asa U'Mishpatav Im Yisrael  "He performed the righteousness and ordinances of Hashem with Israel (the nation)".. Additionally, there is another phrase among the blessings that states Yizbechu Zivchei Tzedek "They will offer sacrifices of justice", for the word Tzedek (justice) is etymologically related to the word Tzadik or Tzidkut.

Ther is one more thing pertaining to my daughter Tamar as related to the last Parsha of the Torah.  There is a custom among a group of Jews to learn one or more tractates of Mishna corresponding to the Parsha of the week as related to a common theme between the two.  For example, the tractate Berachot (Blessings), which is the first tractate of the Mishna, is learned during the week of Parshat Toldot in which Isaac gave his blessings to his son Jacob.  It would seem to make more sense for this tractate to rather be learned along with the last Parsha of the Torah called V'Zot HaBeracha ("This is the blessing"), but instead, we see that it is Tractate Temurah.  Now, the word/name Tamar is very similar to the name of this tractate, as even the three Hebrew letters of Tamar is spelled in order within the name of Tractate Temurah, though the meanings of these two words don't seem to have any direct connection.  Perhaps they got the idea for this tractate from the phrase in the Parsha - Ir HaTemarim, but first, we need to note that the meaning of Temurah is exchange, referring to the laws and prohibition of exchanging a sanctified animal for the Temple with a different animal, even if the latter is a superior animal; in which case if done, the one who did this was lashed while both animals were now considered sanctified.

Now, in this final Parsha of the Torah, Moses confirms his love and Hashem's love for the Jewish people with the blessings that he granted them.   Along these lines, Hashem has promised us that He will never exchange us with another nation to be the ones to be His nation to observe the Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), which may be the symbolic reason as to why once an animal is sanctified as a sacrifice for the Temple, that it is forbidden to be exchanged for a different animal.  Additionally, the Talmud compares the Jewish people to the Tamar (date or date palm) in terms of its positive qualities, aside from the fact that it is one of the seven species of the Land of Israel (described in the Torah as honey, referring to date honey).  And in connection to Succot, where the Torah commands us to take for ourselves various items to shake which are called the Arba Minim "Four Species", which are the Etrog, Lulav, Hadasim, and Aravot, the Torah describes the Lulav as Kapot Temarim "branches of date palms"; and in fact, the blessing that we say on the Arba Minim mentions specifically the Lulav of the four species, being that it is the tallest.  But perhaps, it is also related to the fact that it is related to one of the species of fruit of the Land of Israel.  Guess it wasn't a bad idea to give the first Sabra (born in Israel) of my side of the family in 2,000 years - a name like Tamar, which seems to be most representative of the Holy Land of Israel of all the other fruits and plants.

Looking forward to many more exciting Gematriot posts in this year.

Motzoei Simchat Torah 5773

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