Saturday, December 22, 2012

#163 - Are Miracles Always Good?

Well, aren't miracles always a good thing?  That depends on whom you ask.  You see, in the Torah, punishments happening to nations who oppressed Israel in saving Israel from further trouble were miracles for us.  For example, the 10 plagues that Hashem wrought on the Egyptians were meant for them to let the Jews go, and it finally took for the 10th plague of the death of all the firstborn to finally convince Pharaoh to let the Jews leave his land once and for all.

Now, the number 163 - the number of this post - is a number quite familiar to residents of North Miami Beach, Florida, my hometown until I moved to Israel eight years ago.  In fact, those who were living in this town in the eighties will recall that there was what was called "The Miracle on 163rd Street", referring to the 163rd Street Mall, which was completed in its finest in 1982.  For the next several years, it was the place where at least the residents of the surrounding area turned to for shopping and all.  However, over time, competition took over, between stores that moved out of the mall, competing businesses nearby, and then between the Intracoastal Mall which was more of a cool place to hang out at and the Aventura Mall that had just about all the major clothing retail store chains, things changed, along with the declining class of neighborhood which used to consist of more Jewish (though partly secular) residents who eventually moved away allowing for low elements to dominate the area, including the nearby public school.  And so, the place that at one time hosted the future president John F. Kennedy in 1960 is today for the most part a fragment of the yesteryear of financial success of the mall.

In fact, the word miracle in today's usage is not such a miracle.  For that matter, even atheists can describe something that unusually happens as a miracle, for after all, it is a relative term to describe something that happens less often than things that happen more often.  On the sharp end, even something that happens in nature is nothing less than the greatest miracle possible, both because of the complexity of the human being, animal, plant, or stone object, and because of its continued life force, without which, nothing would exist more than a tiny fraction of a split second.

In terms of the holiday of Chanuka that ended a week ago, there is a game that in Yiddish is called a dreidel, in Hebrew is called a Sevivone, and in English...I never heard an English word used for this game.  Anyways, on this dreidel, are the four Hebrew letters - Noon, Gimel, Hei, and...well, that depends on where the dreidel comes from.  You see, most dreidels that you will see in the United States, at least from what I can speak of, has the letter Shin; but the dreidels from Israel has the letter Pei.  The reason is this.  You see, the letters are the beginning words of Neis (miracle) Gadol (great) Haya (was)...for dreidels from out of Israel, it is Sham (there); for dreidels from Israel, it is Poh (here).

Makes sense.  You see, what is unique about the holiday of Chanuka, in sharp contrast to the other holidays from Passover to Purim, is that the miracles of this holiday TOOK PLACE IN ISRAEL.  And so, rightfully so, the Israeli dreidel, excuse me, the Sevivone, which is based on the Hebrew word which means surrounds, or goes around in a circle, is a Hebrew word, and so Hebrew, the ONLY holy language, should be spoken especially in Israel in sharp contrast to Yiddish which is at least a one-third German language; yes, the Sevivone, includes the letter Pei which means HERE, for we are supposed to live in Israel and be able to declare that we live HERE, in Israel, our only true homeland.

For me, it may be a little ironic to promote the letter Pei over the letter Shin, for the letter is what begins my name Shimon.  But I have to admit, when I was a young boy, I somehow received a Sevivone that was clearly from Israel with the letter Pei, and this was my favorite Sevivone, or dreidel if we are including the other dreidels that I owned, until at one point, it goes lost or misplaced somehow, never again to reappear.  But though it would be many years before I ever even visited Israel, I already knew that the fact that even a Jewish toy can be different between Israel and elsewhere had significance.

Anyways, since this is a Gematriot blogspot, let us note the Gematriot of these letters for both types of dreidels (O.K., we'll leave it at this name for its usual usage in the English language).  The letters for the ones outside of Israel - Noon, Gimel, Hei, Shin - add up to the numerical value of 358, which is the Gematria of the word Moshiach, and the letters for the ones inside of Israel - Noon, Gimel, Hei, Pei - add up to the numerical value of 138, which is the Gematria of the name Menachem.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the late Luavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson is Moshiach just because Menachem is his first name.  For after all, several Hasidic Rebbes had this same exact name.  But rather, the connection begins with the Gemara which mentions Menachem as a name for Moshiach.  But as I explained in my previous Post #138, this name more describes Moshiach's function as a comforter, rather than necessarily being his actual name given to him at his Bris.

In fact, the name Menachem is also the name of a month - Menachem Av, the month in which both Temples were destroyed by the nations represented by the letters of the original name of the month Av, as Aleph begins the word Edom (Rome) and Beit begins the word Bavel (Babylonia).  In any case, our rabbis tell us that Moshiach was born on Tisha B'Av, the date of the destruction of the Temples; which means that the potential of Moshiach coming began then; meaning, that if the Jews would have repented right then and there, then Moshiach would have come immediately.

This is all fine and dandy.  However, what does this have to do with Chanuka other than some letters on a Jewish or Hebrew toy?  After all, Chanuka, in sharp contrast to Tisha B'Av, is rather a very happy time?

You will understand the answer to this question by turning to my 36th Post in which I address this basic issue.  But basically, on Chanuka, we can catch a glimpse of what we lost on Tisha BAv.  For as we see for example, the word that begins Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations - is the word Eicha, which is the Gematria of 36, and we mention in this Megilla in the next verse "Cry at night", which we know is a time of darknesss.  And during the course of eight days of Chanuka, we are mandated to light a total of 36 lights.

As the Jewish nation, our ultimate miracle has been our survival throughout the milleniums despite the odds is our survival were to be based strictly by nature.  For as much as we have been scattered as a nation, and constantly harmed due to hatred that has been specifically geared towards Jews, we should have been exterminated as a nation, just like the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans of long ago.  So while this anti-Semitism phenomenon which is not rational for the most part, has been used against us throughout the years, it didn't determine our chances of  survival, for through the hand of Hashem, our existance as a nation is certainly nothing less than truly miraculous.

So, the only variable at this point is whether the nations choose to look back at history, or ignore it, and it doesn't have to mean whether they believe in the Bible or not, for some of the biggest Christian anti-Semitism was committed in Jesus' name, despite the gross contradictions between the Old Testament and their behavior towards us.  Perhaps they thought that miracles, at least the kind that struct nations who dared raise their hand against us, were no longer available, since after all, the Hebrew G-d destroyed our Temple and banished us from the land.  But in the long term, each and every society that threw us out of their picture, soon afterwards, found their picture being thrown out the window; and so if a country that contained or "tolerated" Jews at one time was financially quite successful, but then murdered us or threw us out, it was the next one that met its glorious end.  However, not one nation ever learned its lesson from the nation before in its seething hatred of Jews, thinking of miracles in the past in relationship to our banishment from our country as G-d not wanting us any more, they thought that they could take full advantage of us, but were quite proven wrong time and again. for even if we were worthy, G-d forbid of punishment, their intention was strictly to hurt us in their bitter hatred, not because we deserved it for not following in G-d's ways.

And in terms of the land of Israel, it in itself has shown to be a most miraculous land.  For while most of us were not in the land until recent times, the land for the most part was barren, as testified by Mark Twain upon his visit to the Holy Land.  He simply couldn't understand how such a land that at one time was a major landmark in world history had virtually no plant life to it.  But we understand why, for this land is not meant for anyone else but us Jews, and so, despite the numerous attempts of the various nations to settle in our land without agricultural success, we in modern times revived the land, and places which didn't grow things in virtually 2,000 years are now back in business.

Also, consider the fact that the Hebrew language was virtually a non-spoken language outside of written texts for nearly 2,000 years, which was substituted with Yiddish for Ashkenazic Jews and Ladino for some Sephardic Jews, but no language - no matter how many tens of myriads of Ultra-Orthodox Jews may speak it, makes it any more holy than Hebrew, which is the ONLY language called Lashon HaKodesh "The Holy Tongue".  True, many modern Hebrew words are now part of the language usage, and it was the anti-religious Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who compiled the first Hebrew dictionary, but the fact remains is that the holiness of the Hebrew language cannot be removed, but as with everything else, can be used for good or evil.  Hence, those who speak Yiddish in Israel fooling themselves that it is a holier language than Hebrew, are not only contradicting what the Rabbis in Talmud state about the Hebrew Tongue, but are loosing out on major reward as promised by the Talmud for avoiding the "Zionist impure" language, a language which is no worse than Yiddish which was also used in the United States at one time to mock observant Jews and Judaism in the Yiddishe theaters and movies.  The bottom line is that it is a modern day miracle, that Hebrew has been revived once again as a full spoken language, a phenomenon that has not happened with any other language in world history that dwindled over the period of time.

And so, on Chanuka, the holiday that celebrates the miracles that took place IN ISRAEL, the final holiday that came into place for the Jewish nation, we recall Hashem's great miracle of both the discovery of the one spiritually pure seal of oil for the Menorah, as well as the victory of the ill army trained small army of Jews versus the majorly, mighty nations who sought our spiritual destruction even more than our physical destruction, but in the long run, we won battle after battle with the long term goal of maintain our religious freedom.  But ultimately, as the dreidel represents, we await the ultimate big miracle of the coming of Moshiach, under whose rulership, we will be free to follow in Hashem's ways without non-Jewish spiritual and physical interference forevermore.

Motzoei Shabbat Parshat Vayigash 5773

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