Sunday, January 13, 2013

#169 - Our Good Fortune

While non-Jews may be scratching their heads today wondering if today will be a bad lucky day, since both today's secular date and the last two digits of the secular year is 13, today's Hebrew date, at least as the birthday of Asher son of Jacob - 2 Shevat (Note: Other versions may show the birthdate as 20 Shevat, but this seems to be an error based on the copying of the letter Beit=2 which can at times be mistaken for the curved letter Kaf=20 if not written down carefully, but the other way around would be unlikely since it is far easier to curve and less time consuming than spelling out a letter as squared), may suggest quite the opposite.  In fact, to accentuate the number 13 for non-Jews today, as the present month in the secular calendar is the first month of the secular year, the Hebrew word for the number one is Echad, which is the Gematria of 13.  So in fact, if bad news happens to a segment of non-Jews today, especially to Christians, I wouldn't be surprised.  And why do I specify Christians?  You see, we Jews have been commanded to believe in One G-d, as in the verse of Shema - "Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One" (Deutronomy 6:4).  However, in the Christian religion, they interpret this verse with Hashem's/G-d's name mentioned three times in a row followed by the word Echad "One", as three gods in the form of the Trinity.  Now, there are some rabbis who say that for non-Jews, there is nothing wrong for them to believe in this, since after all, it is only Jews who are commanded to believe in only One G-d - "Hear O Israel".  But in any case, we see that the number 13 is a well respected bad luck number, especially in the United States where you will not see the number 13 in elevators.

As it turns out this year, the 2nd of Shevat falls out on the first day of the week, which is called by the Torah as Yom Echad "Day One", rather than Yom Rishon "the first day", as the way that the following days are worded as "second day", "third day", etc.  in the account of the story of Creation in the beginning of the Torah.  The reason for this is to denote that on this first day of Creation, Hashem alone existed without any other creatures,  as the angels, or at least some of them, were created only on the second day.

O.K., so what is so special about today's date just because it is the birthday of Asher?  You see, the meaning of his name is based on the word fortune - Osher, which in this case begins with the letter Aleph rather than the letter Ayin, which denotes a wealthy person, though no doubt that the similarity of these two words are no coincidence.  In fact, this name Asher follows in the footsteps of the name of his older brother Gad from the same mother Zilpah, for the name Gad means luck, particularly good luck, which in Hebrew popularly means Mazel Tov.

It seems that the English word good is based on this name Gad, which besides its good connotation, is most similar in sounding to this name.  And while we are at it, G-d's name is English is also very similar to the word good, as G-d is perceived by many only as a "good G-d", explaining while some people after the Holocaust stopped believing in G-d, since to begin with, they only perceived Him as a "good G-d", for "how could G-d allow such evil to have happened?", which is basically avoiding the soul searching that they never even attempted to see where they went wrong, instead of blaming it on G-d, or on chance.

In Judaism, however, while we also perceive Hashem as a "good G-d", it isn't because only "good" things come from him, while bad things are in the domain of someone else in terms of making decisions.  As noted in the ninth chapter of Tractate Berachot, one is obligated to bless Hashem for the bad, the same way that one blesses Him for the good".  While it may not be obvious to us at first, but as we believe in the Hereafter where we will enjoy eternal bliss for our good deeds, and the corresponding punishments in Hell, what we suffer in this world is nothing compared to the next, and moreover, suffering can expunge our sins if we just but repent for them.  Accordingly, if we don't exactly enjoy the "good life" despite our good behavior, then it probably means that we have something real good waiting for us Upstairs.

With this said, we can then understand what our true good fortune is.  As Jews, we are indeed most fortunate, despite the challenges of anti-Semitism and all, to be the Chosen People, for we will forever be the closest to Hashem, as we will feel the ultimate pleasure that can only be felt in the spiritual sense.  But the secret to this happening is the greatest Mitzva in terms of both spiritual benefits and rewards, which readers on this blogspot should know by now - the learning and teaching of Torah.

This is all nice, but what does this have to do particularly with Asher.  After all, he wasn't even the son of one of Jacob's wives Leah or Rachel, a son of one of his maidservants, as the maidservants are not considered to be on the high spiritual level of Leah and Rachel.

Forgetting about anyone's particular background, at the end of the day, what ultimately counts is how one himself or herself performed in this world.  To note, all of Jacob's 12 sons were Tzadikim (righteous people), despite the fact that most of them had a part in selling their brother Joseph whom they were jealous of.

In any case, we see that there is a unique connection between Asher and Mishna study.  Now, what Asher did special to have this connection, I don't know.  But what I do know is that the Midrash Talpityot tells us that Asher stands at the entrance of Gehinnom, and saves those who know Mishnayot from entering..  And there is a hint to Asher's connection to Mishna, for in the blessing that Jacob gave him, it states - Me'Asher Shemeina Lachmo "From Asher will there be fat bread..."  The letters of the word Shemeina (fat) can be rearranged as the word Mishna.  Moreover, the name Asher and the very first word of the Mishnayot - Me'eimatai, have the same Gematria - 501!

 Moreover, rearranging the letters of Asher's name, the word can be read as Rosh (head), and indeed, the very first word of the Mishnayot is the Rosh - head word, which bears the very same Gematria.  And this is significant for one more reason - for the first word is not merely the first word as opposed to the second word, but is the HEAD word.  For this very first word Me'eimatai means "from when", which focuses on the importance of time, as in the particular context, the question is from what time on does one have the obligation of reciting the Shema in the evening.  And as related to the Mishna as a whole, taking the first letters of the names of the six orders (or volumes) of the Mishna - Zayin for Zeraim (Seeds), Mem for Moed (Holiday or Appointed Time), Noon for Nashim (Women), Noon for Nezikin (Damages), Koof for Kadashim (Holy Things), Teit for Teharot (Purity Things), these six letters can be read in order in the form of two words - Nekot Zeman "take the time".  That is, use your time wisely and learn Mishna, for the Mishna is the Rosh (head) of the Torah She'B'Al Peh (Oral Torah) which includes the Gemara/Talmud, Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), and all other Jewish law related books.

Now, let us note the number of this post - 169.  The square root of this number is 13, but believe it or not, writing Post 169 today is totally coincidental on my part as per today's secular date, but it has everything to do with today's Jewish date and the theme of this 169th Post.

As you may recall from a few months ago when I wrote my 150th Post about Daf Yomi celebrating the beginning of the 13th cycle, I wrote extensively about the special significance of the number 13, and as related to the Oral Torah.  Now, while I am not going to start repeating everything that I mentioned earlier, one thing that should be mentioned on this post is that the letter Mem is the 13th letter of the Aleph Beit.  It is this letter that begins the word Mishna, Moed - the name of the second order of the Mishna which is especially related to time, the ultimate message of the Mishnayot that I just wrote above, and is the first and last letter of the Mishnayot, just as the word for the letter Mem consists of the same two letters - the Mem and the Mem Sophit.

Now, I will write about the number 42, another number that I discussed in my special Daf Yomi post, but today, it is especially related to the words Asher (and Rosh).  Noting the number position of the letters of the Aleph Beit in which Aleph is the first letter and Tav is the 22nd letter, let us add up here the position numbers of the name Asher - Aleph is 1, Shin is 21, and Reish is 20.  The sum total of these three numbers is 42.  And as the very first (two) Mishna(yot) deals with when the Shema is recited in the evening (and morning), this is learned out particular from a verse that is mentioned in the Shema - V'Shinantam L'Vaneicha V'Dibarta BAM... "You shall teach them (the words of Torah) to your children and speak of THEM (the words of the Shema) when you sit in your home, when you walk on the way, when you lie down, and when you rise".  Anyways, the word Bam (them) is made up of the letters of the number in Hebrew for 42 - Mem & Beit.  And though the word Bam in the context here is technically referring to the Mitzva of Shema, the words of the Shema itself are words of Torah, and is included in the Torah that we learn in the time that we have without other matters to deal with regardless of where we are or when.

It has been noted that the letters of the word Bam begin the words Bereishit - the very first word of the Torah beginning with a Beit, and Me'eimatai - the very first word of the Mishna beginning with a Mem.  And as for the connection of the number 42 particularly with the study of Mishna, we see hints to this by the number page 42 in both the Talmud and the Zohar.  In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a), it states that the war of Torah can be found with one who has bundles of Mishna; and in the Zohar (Bereishit 42b), it mentions the special connection that one has with Hashem for learning Mishna.

And as I mentioned about the number position of the letters of the name Asher, there is another special connection here with the Mishna.  First to note, there is a custom to learn chapters of Mishna that begin with the letters of the name of the deceased.  With this said, there are 22 letters of the Aleph Beit, and the Gematria of the words Me'eimatai - the first word of the Mishnayot, and Asher is 501.  Adding these two numbers 22 and 501, the total is 523, and lo and behold - there are exactly 523 chapters of Mishna!  (Note:  Some may notice that it looks like that there are 525 chapters, but this includes two chapters that aren't part of the Mishna per se, but from another source which is the 6th chapter of Avot and the 4th chapter of Bikkurim).

Now, there is another ROSH involved here.  You see, it was on ROSH Chodesh (beginning of month) Shevat, this date which was just this past Shabbat, that begins Sefer Devarim (Deutronomy) in which Moses begins his final address to the Jewish people that lasts over a period of 36 days until his passing on 7 Adar.  Now, the special significance of this fifth and final book of the Chumash (Deutronomy) is that this particular Book hints to the concept of Torah She'B'Al Peh, for it was Moses who orally spoke to the Jewish people about the Mitzvot, as opposed to the previous three books in which Hashem spoke to Moses.  For from Hashem, we have both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, but in terms of traditiion being passed down from one generation to the next, once the Chumash was written down, the purpose of having Torah scholars teaching the people is explaining to them what the Torah says, which is the whole concept of the Oral Torah.

With this said, let us first note the very first word of Deutronomy - Eileh (these), which is the Gematria of 36,  and as we know, the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) consists of 36 tractates (excluding Tractate Tamid which includes Gemara on only some of the chapters of this tractate).  Moreover, the word Bavli (Babylonian) is the Gematria of 44, and Deutronomy begins with the 44th Parsha of the Torah.  Now, let us see how the beginning of this verse makes sense Eileh HaDevarim Asher Diber Moshe El Kol Yisrael "These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel..." Now, the word immediately following Eileh HaDevarim "These are the words" is Asher (that or which), which is essentially the same word as the name Asher, except that the name Asher bears the vowel Kometz under the Aleph, while the other word Asher bears the vowel Patach under the Aleph.  It is true that the regular word Asher is written thousands of times in the Torah because after all, it is a key word used in speaking, but the fact that we see that this word which is essentially the same spelled word as the name Asher immediately follows the first words "These are the words" is most significant here as related to above about Asher's special connection to the Mishna, the HEAD of the Oral Torah.

Moreover, not only is the birthdate of Asher within this month of Shevat, but so is the whole month of Shevat  that corresponds particualarly to the Tribe of Asher, as mentioned in the Chasidic Sefer "Bnei Yissaschar",  And as mentioned in this Sefer, Rosh Chodesh Shevat - the date that Moses started his final address to the Jews, is considered the ROSH Hashana of the Oral Torah.  What a powerful statement here!  You see, in the beginning of the Mishnaic Tractate Rosh Hashana, it mentions four (or five) dates in the year that are called Rosh Hashana.  In fact, the fourth of these is Rosh Chodesh Shevat, which is considered the Rosh Hashana for trees according to Beit Shammai, though in fact according to Halacha (Jewish Law), we follow Beit Hillel who holds that the observance of this Rosh Hashana for trees to be on Tu B'Shevat (15 Shevat).  However, in Torah, it isn't simply that one rabbi is right and the other one is wrong; for in fact, both rabbis or the Yeshivot of these rabbis were on very high spiritual standing, and it wasn't just their simple "opinion", but their decisions in Torah were based on following the Torah rules, includes the 13 methods through which the Torah are interpreted.  And hence, we have the rule Eilu V'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim "Both these and these are the words of the living G-d", so while in fact, it is only possible in this physical world to follow the Torah decision of one of the two rabbis, the words of both of them are equally Torah words.  For in fact, even the Torah decision of the rabbi which is not accepted as Jewish law has lessons to learn from.

Having mentioned this, we can see a hint to what I just wrote.  You see, the last of the 36 tractates of Talmud Bavli begins with the word Shammai, the beginning of Tractate Nidda, in which both Shammai and Hillel give their opinions in the particular text of the first Mishna of this tractate.  And as I mentioned earlier that Deutronomy begins with the 44th Parsha of the Torah, bearing in mind that the word Bavli is the Gematria of 44, this Book's first word Eileh (these) being the Gematria of 36, can very well hint especially to the 36th and final tractate of the Talmud Bavli - Masechet Nida - which begins with the word Shammai, the name of the rabbi whose Yeshiva held that the ROSH Hashana for trees is on ROSH Chodesh Shevat, THE VERY DATE that begins the Book of Deutronomy!  So while in essence, Beit Shammai may very well be correct in determining the date of the Rosh Hashana for trees, just as the other three Rosh Hashanas occur on the Rosh Chodesh of other months; for practical reasons, the Halacha follows Beit Hillel who say that the Rosh Hashana for trees is observed two weeks later, which is dependent on the development of the trees in terms of certain aspects in Halacha.

And speaking of the Talmud (Mishna/Gemara), the word Hashana (literally means the year) as in the phrase Rosh Hashana is the same Gematria as the acronym Shas, which is also the Hebrew number for 360, as Shas is made up of the beginning words of Shisha Sidrei (Mishna) - the SIX ORDERS of the Mishna.  So, the phrase Rosh Hashana can also hint to the "Head of Shas", which refers back to the first word of the Mishna - Me'eimatai, which is the Gematria of the name Asher - 501, whose tribe corresponds to the month of Shevat, during which on Rosh Chodesh, the head and first of Shevat, Moses began his final sermon, signifying this very date to be the Rosh Hashana of the Oral Torah.  Now, subtracting 360 from 501 is 141, the Gematria of the word Mitzva, the word in the Torah which at times refers to particularly the Mishna.

Now, on this past Shabbat which coincided with Rosh Chodesh Shevat, we read Parshat Va'eira in which the first seven of the 10 plagues that smote the Egyptians took place.  In some years, Rosh Chodesh Shevat occurs during the week of Parshat Bo, in which the final three plagues took place.  With this said, when we mention the 10 plagues in the Haggada for Passover, we also read an acrostic of so to speak three words that make up the first letters of the ten plagues - Detzach Adash B'Achav.  As it turns out, the total Gematria of these 10 letters is 501, the same Gematria as the name Asher, the Tribe of this month of Shevat, in which we always read of the 10 plagues in the Torah, or on the Shabbat before Shevat, which is called Shabbat Mevarchim Shevat.  For in fact, the word Shevat can also be read as the same letters as Sheivet - rod, for Moses had used his rod to bring the plagues on the Egyptians.

Strange. Wasn't it Hashem Who brought the plagues?  So, how did Moses using his rod do anything in bringing the plagues that happened only through Hashem's will and power which was not within regular nature but in the form of a miracle.  If anything, wouldn't it have been better if Moses didn't do anything after giving his warning to Pharaoh to let the Jews go if he didn't anything himself, but only Hashem?

First, we learn a lesson here is that even though Hashem can do whatever He wants whenever He wants, but we also have to do our part.  For after all, while Hashem can easily provide, that is provided that we do our part to deserve Hashem's benevolence.  And so, the rod that Moses used symbolizes this concept, along with the Jews having observed Mitzvot as related to the Korban Pesach (Pascal sacrifice) in order to be worthy to leave Egypt, even though it was Hashem's wish that they leave anyways, but He gave the Jewish people merit through which they could earn their way out of the land of slavery.

As it turns out, it was more than just a plain rod.  There is a whole story about this truly "magic wond", but basically it began from Adam, having originally received it from Hashem, who passed it down from generation to generation until Jethro got a hold of it and planted it in his backyard, but no one, including Jethro, was able to remove it from the ground, until his son-in-law Moses came by and lifted it out.  Moreover, these very letters beginning the names of the 10 plagues were written on this rod.

This is all very nice, but in fact, the actual word in the Torah used referring to this rod is the synonym Mateh.  When rearranging the letters of this word, we can read it as Ha (the) Mem-Teit (49), that is, hinting to the 49 levels of impurity that the Jews in Egypt had sunk into, and had they stayed just a little longer, they would have been spiritually too far gone into the 50th level of impurity.  Now, along the lines that I mentioned earlier, as the rod that Moses used represents doing some action to be deserving of Hashem's miracles; so too, as much as Hashem was ready to perform miracles, He still gave the chance to Pharaoh to give permission for the Jews to leave the land without need to perform any miracles.  Of course Hashem knew beforehand exactly what was going to be, and even as Hashem admitted Himself, He hardened Pharaoh's heart in order to be able to perform His miracles in front of the world.  So this being the case, this rod was used to bring the 10 plagues, which resulted in Pharaoh following the 10th plagues to not only simply allow the Jews to leave, but to have them leave in haste in fear of further retribution from Hashem.  This then resulted in the Jews leaving Egypt, and then went through seven weeks, or a 49 day period, to remove themselves from one level of impurity a day in order to be able to properly receive the Torah.  And the Torah, being that it consists of the Written and Oral Torah, the Oral Torah - though not written down for the public for some 1500 years, was finally written down to preserve the Torah from being forgotten in the midst of the Jews being oppressed and exiled by the Roman empire, and the Mishna - the root of the Oral Torah, begins with the words Me'eimatai - the Gematria of 501, the very same Gematria as the letters on the rod that brought about everything else.

As it turned out this year, Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the beginning of the month that corresponds to the Tribe of Asher fell out on Shabbat when we read about the first seven plagues in Parshat Va'eira; and the birthday of Asher - 2 Shevat, fell out on the first day of the week of Parshat Bo in which we read about the final three plagues.  In any case, as I mentioned in Post 167 (Dec '12), there is a custom among some Jews to learn one or more Mishnaic tractates corresponding to some theme of the corresponding Parsha.  Hence, the Tractate learned for Parshat Va'eira is Masechet Makkot, whose name which is translated as plagues in the context of the Chumash (blows or lashes in the context of the Mishna), and in this year, this Parsha was read on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, as related the concept of Eileh HaDevarim ASHER and the Sheivet (rod) on which the letters of the Esser Makkot (10 plagues) were inscribed from Hashem whose total add up to the Gematria of the name Asher.

And so, nearing the end of this post, let us dissect the number of this post - 169, as two numbers: one (1) and sixty-nine (69).  For in fact, the phrase Yom Echad (Day One) that I mentioned in the beginning of this post as referring to the first day of the week in which the birthdate of Asher fell out on this year, is the Gematria of 69, and so the number 169 - which is the square root of 13, which in turn is the Gematria of the word Echad (one) which in turn begins with the letter Aleph=1, can be read as "One" and "Day One".

And being that this is the week of Parshat Bo, in which we read about Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus) that is the cause of our celebration of Passover, let me note something from the Haggada of Passover.  The next to the last song in the Haggada is called Echad Mi Yodea "Who knows one?"  This is a song that mentions some theme that is related to the first 13 numbers, the number one which is "our G-d in Heaven", and the number 13 which refers to the 13 Midot HaRachamim "Divine Attributes of Mercy".  Noting that the first word of this song that is part of the name of it - Echad, which is the Gematria of 13, it is perhaps understandable why this song mentions particularly the first 13 numbers.  Perhaps another reason for this is that this corresponds to the 10 plagues that struck the Egyptians to let the Jews leave the country, and the Gematria of the name of the Parsha in which the Exodus took place - which is three; hence: 10+3=13.

And I believe there is a third reason.  In the actual text of this song, the Divine Attributes of Mercy are referred to by an Aramaic word Midaya.  With this, let me note the name of the section of the Haggada which is all about telling the story of the Exodus - Maggid.  This is based on the word Aguda (bundle), in which a bunch of parts are bound up together as one.  In any case, the middle two letters of this word are the letters for the number 13 in Hebrew - Yud and Gimmel.  Now, noting the first and last letters of the word Maggid, these are the letters for the number 44 in Hebrew, which are the first two letters of the word Midaya, referring to the THIRTEEN Divine Attributes of Mercy!  Moreover, the first of the 10 plagues that began the long process of having Pharaoh agree to let the Jews go was Dam (blood), using the same two letters that spell the number 44.  And as a parallel, Deutronomy begins with the 44th Parsha of the Torah in which Moses tells the Jews the stories that took place with them during their stay in the desert, in order that they should learn from the past to be better Jews.  In fact, the word Midaya can be broken down into two numbers - 44 as spelled Mem-Dalet and 11 as spelled Yud-Aleph, for Moses began his final sermon on the first day of the 11th month (Shevat), beginning the Book of Deutronomy which consists of 11 Parshiyot.

As for the number 13 as related to the words Magid/Aguda, we see within Deutronomy near the end that upon Moses writing 13 Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls), one for each of the 12 tribes, and one for all of Israel; he gave the one for all Israel to the Tribe of Levi to be kept in the Sanctuary, so that should there ever be a question as to what a certain letter should be in one of the Sifrei Torah of the Tribes, then this 13th Sefer Torah would be checked for the correct lettering.  So as we see, it is particularly the NUMBER THIRTEEN that maintains the unity and balance of the Jewish nation.  And in terms of time, in order for our Jewish calendar should have the seasons synced with the months, we add an extra month every two or three years, being the 13th month of the year, so that Passover can always be observed "in the month of spring".  So once again, we see how the NUMBER THIRTEEN plays a major role in maintaining balance between matters.

Finally, in certain versions of the Aleinu prayer, the final prayer in every prayer service, in which we acknowledge Hashem as the King of Kings, and that one day, the whole world will be worshiping only Him, there are exactly 169 words.  For in fact, the very last word of this prayer is Echad, which is the Gematria of the number 13, the square root of 169.  And while we are enjoying OUR GOOD FORTUNE, the greatest fortune of all -the Torah, even in our final days of exile, we will soon forever enjoy OUR GOOD FORTUNE without problems from the outside world when, as the verse that concludes the Aleinu prayer reads "Hashem will be King over the entire world; on that day, Hashem will be One, and His Name One".

2 Shevat, 5773 - Birthdate of Asher ben Yaakov Avinu

P.S.  Our Good Fortune - and my good fortune.  The time posted for this post is 1:13 PM, these two numbers - 1 and 13 - being written quite a bit about in this post.

1 comment:

Jeff Rivera said...

I wish well to all my Jewish brothers on the occasion of birthday of Arash, who I believe is very important to you. But I do not consider number 13 as a bad number because if we consider God as the creator of every thing then numbers are also created by the God to help us count, evaluate and measure various things in our lives.

So how a number can be inauspicious or bad? I find it really funny when I do not see number 13 in elevators. How educated and well meaning people can believe in such a superstition?

Its time people grow up.

Jeff Rivera

Bestselling Author