Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#187 - Mazel Tov: My Praise of Zion-Israel Baby!

Last Wednesday, Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the month of Elul, was a most special day in my life.
True, one week earlier marked the birth of my son, and was a spiritual accomplishment in terms of the basic fulfillment of the first Mitzva of the Torah to be fruitful and multiply being that I am already the father of my baby girl Tamar.  But on this day, for the first time in my life after over 43 years of living, I merited to enter my baby boy into the covenant of Abraham our father.

Though the attendance of my son's Brit (circumcision) barely received the attention of a Minyan (quorum of ten men that is normally required for certain prayers), it was hardly reflective of the special holy status of my baby, as evidenced both by the fact that his Brit took place on the most unique day of Rosh Chodesh Elul as I will soon explain, as well as the most unique name that I gave him.  Sometimes, it is precisely when it comes to a matter of great holiness that there are few around to receive it.

And the name?  Shevach Tzion Yisrael.  As indicated by the title of this post, it means "Praise of Zion-Israel".  O.K., my wife and I will be calling him Shevach for short, but for all that I know, my son on my side of the family could be the first in many generations if not the only one all the way back to have three Hebrew/Jewish names.  Additionally, my son is probably also the first on my side of the family in my side of the family, having a Brit, to be born in Israel in 2,000 years (my daughter was born in Israel first, but the first one with a Brit to be born in Israel is significant in itself as I will also explain in this post).  He was born in Sha'arei Tzedek hospital in Yerushalayim; and as you may have noticed - the first letters of my son's three names match the first letters of the name of this hospital and the city's name.


DATE OF MY SON'S BRIT - FIRST DAY OF ELUL

This date marks Moses' third and final ascent on Mt. Sinai.  The ultimate purpose of his visit to Hashem during his third set of 40 days on Mt. Sinai. was to procure Hashem's forgiveness for the Jews' sin of the Golden Calf, which he finally received at the end of his visit on Yom Kippur.  But meanwhile, upon his ascent on the mountain, it was on this very day that Hashem revealed a formula for Jews to be answered by Hashem when they are in trouble, G-d forbid.  This formula is the famous Shlosh Esrei Middot HaRachamim, the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy.  It is based on this that the month of Elul is dubbed the "Month of Mercy", and Sephardic Jews recite Selichot (prayers asking for Hashem's forgiveness) from the beginning of this month, which include these 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy (they actually start from the day after Rosh Chodesh being that we don't recite such prayers on the happy day of Rosh Chodesh.  As for Ashkenazic Jews, they begin Selichot prayers within a week or two before Rosh Hashana).

There are various opinions as to the exact 13 words/phrases of these Divine Attributes of Mercy.  But the correct way goes according to the ultimate authority of Kabbala, Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Arizal, who says that the first of these 13 is the word E-l (G-d) - beginning with the letter Aleph, the first of the Aleph-Beit and the numerical value of one - which is also one of the seven regularly used names of Hashem that are forbidden to be erased, destroyed, or thrown away, and corresponds specifically to the Sephira of Chesed (kindness).

To be sure, what I just wrote is no coincidence as per the timing with the beginning of Elul, for the name E-l makes up the first two letters of the name of this month.  And as the Divine Attributes of Mercy relate especially to prayer, of the various phrases in the Torah whose first letters spell the word Elul, the phrase that relates to the concept of prayer is Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me" in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs 6:3),  And while we are at it, the middle two words which contains the word Dod (beloved in this context, or uncle) is the very spelling of the name of King David, which seems to be hinted to by his son King Solomon who wrote this book of the Tanach (Jewish Bible), and it is customary by many Jews to recite extra Tehillim (Psalms) - which was composed by King David - during this month of Elul.

While this is all very nice in terms of the date of my son's Brit, there are strong connections between the above and the concept of a Brit.

Just as there are 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, there are 13 Beritot (covenants) that are associated with the Mitzva (commandment) of Brit Mila, as there are 13 mentions of the word Brit in Genesis 17 in which Hashem commands Abraham to perform this Mitzva.  And, having associated the first of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy - E-l - to the Sephira of Chesed, it was Abraham in particular who excelled in Chesed, who made no exception to this even at the height of the pain that he suffered from performing circumcision on himself at the frail age of 99, and welcomed three guests to a most lavish meal during the hottest time of the day in the desert (no fans or air conditioners in those days).  Moreover, it was Abraham demonstrated his great love for Hashem by spreading the belief in one G-d to the outside world, the first one in the universe to do so, noting that both the words Echad (One) and Ahava (love) each are the Gematria of 13.

Noting that Abraham's original name was Abram but was changed to Abraham by Hashem when he was commanded about circumcision, multiplying the Gematria of the word E-l - 31 by eight (31*8), the total yielded is the Gematria of the name of Abraham - 248.  And although Abraham himself obviously was not able to fulfill this commandment at the age of eight days as the ideal age, the first one to have this done to was his son Isaac.  However, there is another connection to Abraham in terms of the number eight, for the 8th of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy is Notzeir Chesed (Preserver of Kindness) which is obviously related to Abraham as per his connection with Chesed, aside from the fact that the word Chesed begins with the letter Cheit, which is the 8th letter of the Aleph-Beit and the numerical value of eight.  This 8th Divine Attribute is directly related to the 9th, the next word LaAlaphim (for thousands); also bearing in mind that eight times nine is 72, which is the Gematria of the word Chesed.  But what I also what to mention is while the word Alaphim does mean thousands, this word can also be read in Hebrew (aside from its vowels) as Alpayim (Two-Thousand); for indeed, as some say, it was around the year 2000 in the Hebrew calendar that Abraham began his worldwide campaign to spread the belief in Monotheism, which was helped in part by inviting guests whom he convinced afterwards to thank Hashem for the food in lieu of payment, doing both a physical and a spiritual kindness.

Now, regardless of who does the circumcision on one's son - as the Mitzva is for the father to do it, but typically appoints a Mohel (trained to do circumcisions) to be his agent to actually perform it - it is the father who recites a blessing that ends with "to enter him (the son) in the covenant of Abraham our father (Avraham Avinu)".  With this said, the Gematria of "Avraham Avinu" is 317, and when the son is named followed the circumcision in a prayer text, the words immediately preceding the name being given are V'Yikarei Shemo B'Yisrael "His name shall be called in Israel (the nation)", in which the word V'Yikarei is also the Gematria of 317.  For indeed, it was in the midst of Hashem commanding Avraham Avinu about circumcision that Hashem told him that from now on, his name would be Avraham.  Moreover, we see that later on, in describing his outreach efforts, it states Vayikra Shahm B'Shem Hashem E-l Olam "He called there in the name of Hashem, G-d of the world" (Genesis 21:33), in which the word Vayikra (he called) is spelled with the same letters as the word V'Yikarei (aside from the vowels).  The next word here is Shahm which means there.  This word too can be interpreted to be read a little differently as the word Shem (name).  And then we see that Hashem is described here as E-l Olam "G-d of the world", using the name E-l, which are the last two letters of the name/word Yisrael, in consonance with the phrase V'Yikarei Shemo B'Yisrael.

As it turns out, the first letters of "Avraham Avinu" are both the letter Aleph, just as the first letters of the date of Aleph (1) Elul, the date of my son's Brit, which by the way, are the same first letters of the date of my birth of Aleph (1) Iyar (Rosh Chodesh Iyar).  In fact, Rosh Chodesh pops up quite a bit in my family, because besides my birth on Rosh Chodesh, my sister was also born on a Rosh Chodesh, and one of my brother's circumcision took place on a Rosh Chodesh, just as my son's.  In all these cases, Rosh Chodesh was on the first of the month (unlike in some months where there are two days of Rosh Chodesh in which the first of these two days is on the 30th of the outgoing month).  Certainly, at least on a spiritual level, Rosh Chodesh is an inherited date in my family's spiritual DNA genes.  As for myself, I was born on Rosh Chodesh, I got married to my wife Yael on Chanuka, and my son's circumcision took place on Rosh Chodesh.  Guess that I have some good luck in my life.

Speaking of which, there is a connection with the Yomim Tovim (Jewish holidays in the Torah) as relates to both my circumcision and my son's.  You see, the day of my circumcision was on the 5th day of the week of Parshat Emor, corresponding to which is the 5th Aliyah of this Parsha which is about the observance of the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.  And at the end of Parshat Re'eh, in the 7th Aliyah, corresponding to the 7th day (Shabbat), it speaks of the observance of the Shalosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals) of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.  In fact, as the Shabbat of Parshat Re'eh was the Shabbat before the upcoming circumcision of my son, I was honored with the Maftir Aliyah (typically the last few verses of the Parsha which is a package deal together with the Haftara, a selected portion of the Prophets section of the Tanach), which is particularly about the observance of Sukkot.

Hence, between these two Aliyot - 5th Aliyah of Parshat Emor and 7th Aliyah of Parshat Re'eh - as related to the timing as per my circumcision and my son's, all the Jewish holidays from the Chumash are covered, noting that the observance of a Jewish holiday on a particular date is dependent on when Rosh Chodesh is declared (particularly when it used to be dependent on the sighting of the New Moon).  More particularly, aside from the corresponding Aliyah of the day of my circumcision about the High Holidays, the Aliyah that I was honored with now for my son's upcoming circumcision is about Sukkot; noting that all three of these holidays are the ones that are observed particularly in the month of Tishrei, which follows the spiritual preparations of the month of Elul.  In fact, there is a source that states that had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf,  the three summer months of Tammuz, Av, and Elul would have been the hosts of these three holidays - Rosh HaShana Yom Kippur, Sukkot - respectively.  In fact, every year, Parshat Re'eh which ends about the subject of Sukkot is always read before the week in which the 1st of Elul, which originally was supposed to be the date of the beginning of Sukkot, occurs.  Hence, Tishrei would have been distinct with the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day of Sukkot, which marks Hashem's special relationship with the Jewish people, just as a baby boy is circumcised on the 8th day of his life, marking his special relationship with Hashem as a member of the Jewish people.

And as for the month of Elul that relates to the concept of circumcision, another of the number of verses that hint to this month via the first letters of a phrase is U'Mal Hashem Elokecha Et Levavcha V'Et Levav Zarecha "Hashem your G-d will CIRCUMCISE your heart and the heart of your children" (Deutronomy 30:6) in which the name of this month is spelled as the first letters of Et Levavcha V'Et Levav (your heart and the heart of), which refers particularly to the concept of Teshuva (repentance), showing that aside from our obligation to making a sincere effort on our part to return to Hashem, Hashem will also assist us in this process.  Moreover, as it pertains particularly to Rosh Chodesh Elul, the 1st of Elul, it can be said that the first letters of the phrase in this verse indeed spells this very date as the previous word Elokeicha (your G-d) that precedes the words Et Levavcha V'Et Levav whose first letters spells Elul - begins with the letter Aleph=1.  Now tell me, how many dates in the Jewish calendar compare with this date as being a prime time for the circumcision of a Jewish boy to take place?


NAME OF MY SON - SHEVACH TZION YISRAEL

Apparently, I don't have a hard time figuring out what names to give to my children.  However, there is a stark contrast between how I came to give the names to my daughter Tamar and my son Shevach.  For Tamar, I didn't have any particular name set on stone in my mind; and it was only on the night before my wife gave birth to her that I realized what I was going to name her, since after all, it was during the week of Parshat Vayeishev, and the righteous Tamar who bore children after being with Judah is mentioned in this Parsha, in fact, the only place of her mention in the Chumash.  Moreover, my daughter's second name Tzadika didn't take long to figure out after I looked in the Chumash about the story of Judah and Tamar, when I noticed Judah confessing of his one night stand with Tamar - Tzadka Mimeni "She is correct that her children are from me"; and hence, I based the name Tzadika on the word Tzadka ''she is correct".

In regard to my son Shevach, for many years long before I got married, my dream name for a son, if my dream of getting married and having children would ever happen, was Shevach Tzion "Praise of Zion".
Now, my idea of giving these two names together was not derived from any source showing these two words together.  It is true that in doing a little research (refer to responsa.co.il), the sole mention of these two words together is in the Radak commentary on Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 87, stating that this psalm was composed about "the praise of Zion", for in fact, the name/word Zion is mentioned twice in this psalm "Hashem loves the gates of Zion" and "Of Zion it will be said that each and every person was born in it".

The answer to how I arrived at this name is sort of close, but in a little different way.  This is derived from a different chapter in Tehillim (Psalms 147:12) - Shabechi Yerushalayim Et Hashem Haleli Elokayich Tzion "Praise Hashem O Jerusalem, laud your G-d O Zion".  Actually, to readers of my blogposts at www.gematriot.blogspot.com, this verse should be a little familiar.  You see, as I have mentioned in the past, there is a custom to recite at the end of every Shemoneh Esrei prayer - (a) verse(s) beginning and ending with the letters that correspond to one's name(s) that begin and end with the same letters.  So, for my name Shimon that begins with SHIN and ends with NOON SOPHIT, I recite the above verse that also begins with SHIN and ends with NOON SOPHIT, which is one out of 18 verses in the entire Tanach which is like this, which includes two other verses with the mention of Zion (which could refer to Israel or Jerusalem), but my verse is the only one of the 18 that mentions the name/word Jerusalem.  This is especially significant to me, aside from the fact that I fulfilled this verse at one point in my life when I lived in Jerusalem for two and a half years, since I was born nearly three years later following the liberation of the holiest area in Jerusalem during the Six Day War on 28 Iyar 5727 (1967), being that I was born on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the head of the month which includes this date.

Now, looking at this verse at one point, I noticed that two names could be formed from this verse - Shevach (praise used as a noun) from the first word of the verse Shabechi (praise used as a verb), and Tzion the last word of the verse.  Hence, these two words/names also encompass the first and last letters of my name Shimon.  Now, if this was all, this in itself would be a unique idea as to how to name one's child.  But there's more.  You see, the total numerical value of these two names Shevach (310) and Tzion (156) is 466, the same Gematria as my name Shimon!  Coincidence?  Well, one thing that is not mere coincidence here is that I discovered this, and it was only a week ago that I finally fulfilled this dream of mine.  Now, if my name would instead be Shimshon or Sharon, the names from this verse corresponding with these other names beginning with Shin and ending with Noon Sophit would still be significant, but the fact that the words Shevach and Tzion combined has the same Gematria as my name Shimon holds a double significance here.
For one thing, did anyone ever before come up with the idea to name one's child from a word in one's name verse, let alone being derived from the first and/or last words of the name verse?

Since my marriage with Yael, it occurred to me at one point that should we have a son, it would be a good idea that just as the name that I would give my son would parallel my first name, so too he should have a name that parallel's my wife's first name.  It didn't take long to figure out that the name Yisrael, as it begins with YUD and ends with LAMED, just as Yael's name, would be the winning name.  No doubt, there are several Hebrew male names that parallel this - Yechezkel, Yoel, Yekutiel, Yerachmiel, etc.  But for more than one reason, I felt that the name Yisrael would be most appropriate, including the fact that 1) the name Yisrael is most related to the name Tzion, which both essentially refer to the same thing, and 2) this name honors my wife since she was born and raised in Israel, and 3) it is the very last word of the Sefer Torah, though in this latter context, it refers to the Jewish people rather than to the Land of Israel.

There is another connection of my son's name with my wife's.  The first letters of my son's three names - Shin, Tzadi, Yud - add up to the total numerical value of 400, which is the Gematria of my wife's full Hebrew name - Yael Miriam.

Having said this, we know that the numerical value of Tav, the LAST of the 22 letters of the Aleph-Beit, is 400.  Accordingly, associating my son's full Hebrew name via the FIRST letters of his name as the same Gematria as the LAST of the letters of the Aleph-Beit, his three names are all associated with the concept of LAST.

Shevach - This name is the Gematria of 310.  There are two connections of this number with the last chapter of the Mishnayot.  First, the FIRST word of this LAST chapter is Yesh (there is), which are the same letters in reverse as the Hebrew number for 310.  Second, the LAST Mishna begins with "Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says: In the future, the Holy One Blessed Be He will have each and every righteous person inherit 310 worlds, as the verse states: "To have My ones who love Me to inherit YESH (=310), and I will fill their storehouses" (Proverbs 8:21)".  This last Mishna then concludes with a statement from a rabbi with my namesake - Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta, that the Holy One Blessed Be He didn't find any vessel containing a blessing for the Jewish people (YISRAEL) except for peace, as it says: "Hashem will give strength to His nation, Hashem will bless His nation with peace" (Psalms 29:11).  And while this second statement in this last Mishna may not seem to have a direct connection with the first statement, taking a look at the first letters of this rabbi's name as Shimon Ben-Chalafta, the first letters of these three words - Shin, Beit, Cheit - add up to the total numerical value of 310, and...it spells the very word Shevach!  Indeed, another major connection between my son's name Shevach and my name Shimon, and as hinted at the VERY END OF THE MISHNAYOT.  By the way, my daughter Tamar was born on 15 Kislev, the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince), the compiler of the Mishnayot, and her first name Tamar is the same Gematria (640) as the first letters of the six phrases in Psalms 19:8-10 which correspond to the six volumes of the Mishna.  Also, there are connections through Gematria between both of my names Shimon Matisyahu and my wife's full Hebrew name to the Mishna/Mishnayot, but I have mentioned this in my past posting, and I want to stay focused on my son's Hebrew name today.

TZION - The one thing that this name is related to in terms of last is that this is the LAST word of my name verse based on which I named my son.

YISRAEL - The fact that this is the LAST word in the Sefer Torah highlights the significance of this name, which is the name (or one of the names) of some of the greatest rabbis of recent times, including the Ba'al Shem Tov - founder of the Hasidic movement, the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Salanter - founder of the Mussar movement, the Baba Sali, and Rabbi Odesser - a Breslover rabbi whose influence brought many Jews back into the fold via his story of a note that he received from Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.  Noting that this is the 3rd and LAST of my son's Hebrew names, this name first appears in the Torah following Jacob's struggle with an angel overnight in which his thigh got injured, because of which, as the 3rd Mitzva of the Torah and the LAST Mitzva of Sefer Bereishit (Genesis), we are forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve, but before the confrontation was over, Jacob would not let go of the angel until the rather blessed him, at which point, the angel told him that from now on, his name would be Yisrael.

And since I gave this name Yisrael to my son based on the similarity of its first and last letters as compared to my wife's name, I should point out the famous statement on this name, being the acronym of the words Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiyot LaTorah "There are sixty myriads of letters in the Torah", noting that the FIRST word Yesh is the FIRST word of the LAST chapter of the Mishnayot, and the letters of the Hebrew number in reverse is the Gematria of my son's FIRST name Shevach.  Now, while in fact, there are only 304,805 letters in the Sefer Torah, a little more than half of the 600,000 number (60 myriads), the meaning of this statement is that every Jew has a share in some letter in the Torah, as in fact, in the Exodus, there were exactly 600,000 adult men (minus one and Hashem counted Himself so to speak as the 600,000th "person" as told in the Midrash), as the Exodus marked the spiritual birth of the Jewish people, leading to them receiving the Torah seven weeks later.

Now, while I am not going to write all day and all night about my son's name(s), one place of significance that mentions these names are in the daily prayers.  In the two blessings that precede the morning Shema, the first blessing mentions the word Shevach or similarities to the word quite a few times, ending off with "Light a new light on Zion..."  Then in the second blessing, we pray for Hashem's love for us, in which we are called Yisrael.  And then in the Shemoneh Esrei prayers, which is divided up into three parts, the first three blessings are called blessings of Shevach, in which we praise Hashem before making our requests in the next many blessings.  Following this, the last three blessings are called blessings of Hoda'ah (thanksgiving) in which we thank Hashem for the good that He has provided us.  Anyways, the first of these last blessings ends with "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion with mercy.  Blessed are You Hashem, Who will return His Divine Presence to Zion".  Then in the final blessing, asking Hashem to place peace upon us, mentioning us as Israel three times.

And for the total Gematria of my son's three names, the winning number is 1,007 (310+156+541).  In Hebrew, this number is spelled as Aleph and Zayin, in which the Aleph takes up an upgraded Gematria value of 1,000 from origninally being one.  Accordingly, this number can be read as Az (then).  This word begins the first two of the ten songs of the Tanach - both where it says Az Yashir Moshe U'Vnei  Yisrael (Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang) thanking Hashem for the miracles that He wrought for us at Keriat Yam Suf (splitting of the Reed Sea) and Az Yashir Yisrael (Then Israel will sing) for His deliverance intervention at a mountain where enemies were planning a sneak attack on us.  Moreover, these two songs was sung by the Levites in the Temple on Shabbat afternoon (split in total of three weeks between the two songs), noting that as a Levite, I brought a son into the world who will G-d willing be a useful Levite in the upcoming Temple.  In the Targum, the Aramaic translation for Yashir (will sing) is Shabach, the letters being spelled the same way as the word Shevach, which is used in reference to the Jewish people being called Yisrael.  Hence, we see that beginning the second song in the Torah, the Targum reads Shabach Yisrael, using these two words together.

Now, I would like to note a verse in Tanach that is the Gematria of 1007 - Rodef Tzedaka VaChesed Yimtza Chaim Tzedaka VeChavod  "One who chases after charity and kindness, will find life, charity, and honor" (Proverbs 21:21).  And noting that the circumcision of my son was on Rosh Chodesh Elul, there is a phrase in the Torah that is Kabbalistically related to the month of Elul - U'Tzedaka Tihyeh Lanu Ki  "It will be a merit for us for..." (Deutronomy 6:25), particularly through one of the 12 combinations of Hashem's main name YKVK (K is used in placed of H in respect and awe of Hashem's most holy name), being in this context the last letters of this phrase as KKVY; and in practical terms, there is a custom of having in mind the combination of the four letters of Hashem's name that relates to the particular month when saying Hashem's name at the conclusion of the middle blessing of the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrei for Rosh Chodesh.  In any case, though in this context, the word Tzedaka means merit rather than the usual translation of charity, it is hard to push this off as mere coincidence as per the connection of the word Tzedaka as it relates to my son.
Moreover, there are few verses in the Tanach as the above verse in Proverbs that mentions the word Tzedaka twice.  And as a side note, the second Hebrew name of my daughter is Tzadika, which very much resembles the word Tzedaka.


IN MY 44TH YEAR

For the first time in my life, in my 44th year of life, I brought my son into the covenant of Abraham our forefather, my son's foreskin being removed, and of course, blood issuing forth.  This blood is called Dam HaBrit, and the word Dam (blood) contains the letters of the Hebrew number in reverse for 44.

The date of my son's Brit, the first of Elul, is the 44th day from the date of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz (17 Tammuz), one of the six official yearly fast days in the Jewish calendar (which also fell out in my 44th year). On a fast day, we in effect give up a little blood and fat due to not eating.  However, the major significance between these two dates is shown especially by the fact that we read in the Torah - the events of these two days right next to each other on a Ta'anit (fast day).  Now note, I wrote here on a fast day, and not when we read Parshat Ki Tisa in which these events are written.   You see, the official reading of a fast day is typically read both in the morning and in the afternoon (except for Yom Kippur and the morning of Tisha B'Av on which we have different Torah readings), a total of nine times a year.  In this reading, Moses pleading on behalf of the Jews following the worship of the Golden Calf on the 17th of Tammuz is read for the Cohen, and then for the Levi and Yisrael (or 3rd Aliyah), the reading is about Moses' ascent to Mt. Sinai and Hashem's declaration of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy on the 1st of Elul, which is not adjacent to the first reading in Parshat Ki Tisa, for in between are the events of Moses comind down from Mt. Sinai dealing with the fiasco of the Golden Calf.  In fact, aside from sometimes reading Maftir from a different part of the Torah than the regular Parsha or Yom Tov reading, the reading of the fast day is the only time during the year that in the midst of the day's Torah reading, we skip over to another section in the Torah.

With this said, we see that there is an intrinsic connection between 17 Tammuz and 1 Elul.  Now, we see in the midst of the first reading of the fast day (Exodus 32:11-14), that Moses pleads with Hashem not to destroy the Jewish people, with the fear that the Egyptians would say that "with evil (intentions) did Hashem bring them out (of Egypt) to kill them".  We see that Moses used specifically the word Ra'ah, which literally means evil.  While the literal meaning of this word can very well be true, Moses was actually referring to a conversation that Pharaoh had with him back in Egypt when Moses attempted to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt.  At that time, Pharaoh warned Moses that "Ra'ah will be facing you" (Exodus 10:10).  On this, Rashi quotes a Midrash Aggada that states that Pharaoh saw through astrology that a star named Ra'ah, which signifies blood(shed) and killing, would greet the Jews in the desert.  A mere few months later, following the Exodus from Egypt and the worship of the Golden Calf, it was at this point that Moses made his point that should G-d forbid Hashem would kill the Jews, Pharaoh/Egyptians would feel justified in the correctness of their astrology, creating a Chillul Hashem (desecration about Hashem) making Him look like he had evil intentions of killing His own people.  In reply, Hashem listened to Moses' plea, and converted the blood(shed) of killing the Jews to the blood of circumcision that Joshua was going to perform on the new generation of Jews entering Israel, and this is what Joshua told them at that time "Today I have removed the shame of Egypt from you" for the Egyptians (Pharaoh) said that they saw blood coming on the Jews in the desert.

Now, before getting to the Torah reading that relates the events of the 1st of Elul, we see that this very date of the 1st of Elul is hinted as the first letters of consecutive words within the first Torah reading that relates the events of the 17th of Tammuz.  As Moses continues his plea, he mentions Hashem's past promise to our forefathers that He would give us the Land of Israel.  Now, the words whose first letters spells the date of 1 Elul are Amartee Etein L'Zarachem V'Nachalu Leolam "I said that I will give (the Land) to your descendants and they will inherit it forever", spelling Aleph (the letter which is the numerical value of 1) Elul, one of seven such places in the entire Tanach that the first letters of consecutive words spell this date.

Now, let us get further on in the reading that relates the events of 1 Elul (Exodus 34:1-10) following that past 17 Tammuz. Following the revelation of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy, Moses begs Hashem once more to forgive the sins of the Jewish people.  It is at this point that Hashem says, in the last verse that is read for the fast day, that He will "establish a covenant", the same basic wording that is used in reference to circumcision, continuing on saying that He will perform wonders for us, and it is on the word wonders that Rashi notes that the wording of this word wonders implies a separation between us and the non-Jews, for the Divine Presence not to dwell among the non-Jews.  In any case, we see here that pertaining to a phrase that is associate with circumcision, that there is a difference noted between the Jews and the other nations.  For even if other nations perform circumcisions on their children, it isn't done "to enter into the covenant of Abraham our father", but rather for health reasons; or in the case of Arab Moslems who perform circumcision at the age of 13 as their ancestor Ishmael son of Abraham, they are just doing it because their ancestor Ishmael did so, and at the same age; however, Ishmael having his circumcision was not meant to enter him into Judaism as it was with Isaac (who was born Jewish, but the baby receives an aspect of his soul particularly upon his circumcision).

With this said, having associated the concepts of both the Land of Israel and circumcision with the 1st of Elul, we already see that when Hashem commanded Abraham about circumcision, He first told him about his descendants inheriting the Land of Israel.  The connection between these two concepts is especially highlighted in the 2nd blessing of Bircat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) which was composed by Joshua upon entry into Israel, in which we begin thanking Hashem for the good Land that He has given us, and it is after this that we thank Hashem for "Your covenant that You marked in our flesh", and it is only after this that we thank Hashem for "the Torah that You have taught us".

In any case, we see further on in Parshat Ki Tisa after giving over some Mitzvot to Moses, that Hashem tells him "Write down these words, for by the mouth (literal translation) of these words, I have ESTABLISHED MY COVENANT with you and Israel" (Exodus 34:27).  Now, commenting on "Write down these words", Rashi notes that unlike the Written Torah (Tanach), it was forbidden to write the Oral Torah.  But my main point here is what is written afterwards.  For it is written specifically after it is written "by the MOUTH of these words" which refers specifically to the ORAL Torah" that establishing a covenant, which is also associated with circumcision, is mentioned at this point.  In fact, the names of two parts of the body - Peh (mouth) and Mila (membrum) have the same Gematria - 85.

As we connect the dots, having mentioned that the covenant of circumcision is what ultimately separates us from non-Jews, the same applies to the Oral Torah.  You see, non-Jews also have the Bible.  However, it is specifically the Oral Torah, of which the Mishna is the root that leads to the Gemara and Halacha, that is distinguishable with Jews.  And as especially demonstrated today, the new year for learning in Yeshivot, particular in the higher Yeshiva institutions where Gemara is primarily learned, begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is also associated with circumcision.  Moreover, the 1st of Elul always occurs during the week of Parshat Shoftim which especially mentions the concept of the Oral Law in terms of following what the rabbis/judges in the Sanhedrin rules to follow in Halacha.  In fact, in the Chok L'Yisrael portion of Chumash that is learned on the 4th day of the week of Parshat Shoftim, the day of the Brit Mila of my son, it begins with the following verse "According to the mouth (literal meaning) of the Torah that they will instruct you, and the judgment that they will tell you to do, you are not to turn astray from the matter that they will tell you towards the right or left" (Deutronomy 17:11).  Coincidence?

And while I am on the subject of the Oral Torah, especially the Mishna which I have mentioned earlier in this post in terms of Gematria as related to the names of each member of my family, there is another thing pertaining to the first letters of words/phrases that I want to mention here.  The first letters of the name of the Mitzva of circumcision - Brit Mila - are Beit and Mem.  And of all the 63 tractates of the Mishna, the tractate whose name has the same first letters of Beit and Mem is called Bava Metziah "Middle Gate".  But the ultimate punchline here is that this is the 32nd tractate of the Mishnayot, and in Hebrew, the number for 32 also spells the word for heart - Lev.  And accordingly, it reminds us of a verse that I quoted earlier in this post in which the first letters of consecutive words spells the name of the month of Elul, and in fact, the first letters of five consecutive letters spells the date of 1 Elul, which is the very phrase (Elokecha) Et Levavcha V'Et Levav - "Your HEART and the HEART".  And as we learn in Jewish tradition, an oath is binding only when there is a repetition of a concept, and so the fact that the word heart here is mentioned not once, but twice, relates to us a most strong message.  For in fact, this verse refers to the concept of Teshuva, while loosely translated as "repentance", really means "returning", for we return to Hashem following a period of following astray from Him.  Similar to this, we see that the 2nd chapter of Tractate Bava Metziah (the very first chapter of Gemara that I learned) is about the Mitzva of RETURNING a lost article, which is one of 74 Mitzvot mentioned in this week's Parshat Ki Teitzei.  In essence, when we do Teshuva, we are returning our lost souls to Hashem; for in fact, we are given our souls as a deposit, and accordingly, we are supposed to return our deposit, our souls, to Hashem, unsullied, the same way that we received them to begin with.

And speaking of Tractate Bava Metziah, I have associated this tractate in past posting in connection with my name Shimon.  For the first letter of this tractate is SHIN, which begins the word Shenayim (two) which is the same Gematria as my wife's full Hebrew name Yael Miriam - 400, and the last letter of this tractate is NOON SOPHIT ending the word Tachton (bottom), the same letters that begin and end my name. Moreover, the concluding word of the Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud is the very name Shimon!  For in this context, as per the conclusion of this tractate in the Mishna which mentions a statement from Rabbi Shimon, according to whom the Halacha in this Mishna is followed, the Gemara ends off with King Shapur of Persia praising Rabbi Shimon as per his statement, exclaiming "We extend our graciousness to Rabbi Shimon", which was in fact praising Rabbi Shimon, noting that my son's first name Shevach which is based on the first word of my name verse that I recite based on my name Shimon, has the meaning of praise.

Moreover, just as the corresponding tribe of the month of Av, the month of the birth of my son Shevach, is the Tribe of Shimon, so is the name of the constellation of this month - Aryeh (Leo), the same Gematria as the name of the tractate Bava Metziah - 216, that is associated with my name Shimon.

And having mentioned this pertaining to my name, the name of the tractate that is the same Gematria as my name Shimon is Makkot - 466.  In fact, the themes of the first two chapters of this tractate are based on sections in Parshat Shoftim. the very week of my son's circumcision - the first chapter about witnesses declaring false testimony to get someone in trouble (Deutronomy 19:16-21), and the second chapter about one being exiled from his city of residence for accidentally killing another (Deutronomy 19:1-13).

And speaking of Tractate Makkot and while still under the section title of  "IN MY 44TH YEAR", the 44th tractate of the Mishna is called Bechorot (referring to frstborn animals).  Now, the first of the 10 Makkot (plagues) that the Egyptians were smitten with for not allowing the Jews to leave their country, was Dam (blood) in which all their water turned into blood.  As mentioned earlier, the reverse of the letters of the word Dam spells the Hebrew number 44, and Tractate Bechorot is the 44th tractate of the Mishna, bearing in mind that the 10th and final plague of Egypt is called Makkat Bechorot, which refers to the death of the firstborn Egyptians.  And speaking of which, the final chapter of Tractate Bechorot consists of the subject of Ma'aser Beheima, tithing of one's animals, in which every 10th animal counted is treated as tithed.


THE MONTH OF MITZVOT

I could not help but notice that number of the month from when I was born on Rosh Chodesh Elul (1 Elul). You see, I was born on Rosh Chodesh (1 Iyar), and the circumcision of my son took place on the same number date of a month as I was born on, also coupled by the fact that it is the one day of the month that is always Rosh Chodesh.  And so, the circumcision of my son took place in the beginning of the 536th month of my life.  Does the number 536 ring a bell?  Well, it will after I write this, because this number is the Gematria of the word Mitzvot - the letters Mem, Tzadi, Vav, Tav/Sav.  Moreover, the Gematria of the name of these letters: Mem-80, Tzadi-104, Vav-12, Tav-416 add up to the total of 612, which is the Gematria of Brit, which while this word can refer to other concepts as well, it is used anonymously to refer to the Mitzva of Brit Mila.  For as mentioned in Talmudic sources about this special Mitzva, this is greater than all the other Mitzvot, this is equal to all the other Mitzvot, and other statements along these lines.  For while the Mitzva of learning/teaching Torah is in fact the ultimate greatest Mitzva, as every word of Torah has this quality, this Mitzva of Brit Mila is most unique because it opens the spiritual gate for every Jewish male to be properly attuned to all the other Mitzvot of the Torah, and most especially, the Mitzva of Torah learning.  Aside from this, the month of Elul, my 536th month of life in this world in which I was placed to serve Hashem, is a prime time to beef up on the Mitzvot in preparation for the High Holidays when Hashem judges each and every one of us.  And having mentioned this, my own circumcision took place on the 5th day of the week of Parshat Emor, corresponding to which is the 5th Aliyah of this Parsha, which is about the observance of the High Holidays.

A story that highlights the uniqueness of this Mitzva of Brit Mila as recounted in the Talmud (Menachot 53b) is about the time that King David entered the bathhhouse, and realized that he was naked.  Now, of course when people get undressed to take a shower, they realized that they are naked.  However, naked in this context means that King David realized that he was spiritually naked without Mitzvot, when normally, he was used to being adorned with Talit and Tefillin, holding a Sefer Torah, and in a room that has a Mezuza on it.
Ironically, he noticed that while he was physically naked that he had the Brit showing on his male organ, and hence composed Psalm 12 in thanks of this Mitzva that is always on a Jew, wherever he goes.

Along these lines, the Gematria of the full name of this Mitzva - Brit Mila - is 697, and the first section of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), which is called Orach Chaim "Path of Life'', which encompass the Halachot of daily living - prayers, blessings, eating, Shabbat, and Jewish holidays - consists of 697 chapters.

And noting the fact that this month is my Mitzvot month, beginning with the circumcision of my son, I should add for the record that I also served as the Sandek, the honor of holding the baby while being circumcised that is taking place on the chair of Elijah the prophet, which is considered by many Halachic codifiers to be a spiritually greater function than even that of the mohel.


CHUMASH CHAPTERS

If it weren't for my son being born and all at this time, there would be no need to worry about what to write about in this post; the only question would be is how long this post would take to write.  Regardless, there is no need to worry, because it won't be long as the Chumash (Penteteuch).  You see, there are 187 chapters to the Chumash, and this is my 187th post.  True, these chapter divisions have nothing to do with Jewish tradition of Parshiyot and all, but rather, the creation of Christians to be able to refer to any particular verse by chapter and verse number.  Nevertheless, as I have seen, there are a number of places in the Tanach where the chapter and/or verse number seems to have a direct relationship with the topic at hand.  I won't be giving examples of these today, especially since this is not the main topic of this post in contrast to the subject of my son's circumcision and names.  However, what is important to know that sometimes, Divine Providence will show itself even through the decisions of non-Jews to teach whatever lesson is neceesary to learn.

It is true that the last word of the Chumash is Yisrael, which is also the last of my son's three Hebrew names. And in this context, the word Yisrael is the last word of the 187th and final chapter of the Chumash.  Now, while to non-Jews, the Chumash may not necessarily be any more significant to them than the rest of the books in the "Old Testament", since after all, they aren't bound by most of the Mitzvot of the Torah that are found specifically in the Chumash.  However, in Judaism, it is specifically the material of the Chumash that is the content of the Sefer Torah, Judaism's holiest object (other than the hidden tablets of the Ten Commandments), which is read annually in the house of prayer.  Moreover, even if not in a Sefer Torah, the Chumash in the form of a book has more holiness to it than the rest of the books of the Tanach; and hence, according to Halacha, one does not place (a) book(s) of or from the rest of the Tanach on top of a Chumash.  Moreover, (though I can't confirm that everyone holds like this), we don't even place an entire Tanach that includes the Chumash on top of a Chumash.  And while this may be a little puzzling for some to understand why this is so, since after all, the rest of the Tanach also has some holiness which includes the numerous mentions of Hashem's name, there is a rule that one who adds to something, such as a Mitzva requiring specifically for example four Parshiyot in Tefillin (phylateries), four types of fruit/plant species that we use on Sukkot, three verses of the Priestly Benediction, and one decides to add on more Parsha, object, or verse, he not only in fact detracts from the Mitzva, but is in effect nullifying the Mitzva.  For if Hashem wants only so many of whatever the item in question to be used to perform a Mitzva, then adding more to show that one "will be better" is no less defying orders of the King than performing the Mitzva with less than the required amount of items.

With this said, one will come to better appreciate the contents of the Chumash.  For the ultimate purpose of the Chumash is to instruct us with the Taryag Mitzvot (613 Commandments) and their details; for otherwise, as for non-Jews, there would not be a reason why the Chumash should be more holier than the rest of the Tanach.  As we see on the last day of Moses' life, he wrote the first 13 Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) by the dictation of Hashem Himself (it was done in a miraculous way considering the amount that Moses wrote within half a daytime as he passed away at midday), which was not done with the rest of the Tanach, which while were written by the Prophets for the most part with Divine Inspiration, but not with the same level of holiness as the words of the Chumash were written with.

In any case, there is a connection that I would like to point out between the Tanach and the date of my son Shevach's birth - the 24th of Av.  It's not hard to figure out that correspondingly, there are 24 books of the Tanach.  Moreover, noting the Gematria of the name of the month of Av - 3, there are three sections to the Written Torah, the Tanach - Torah (Chumash), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Scriptures).  And at this, the word Av consists of the first two letters of the Aleph-Beit.  Accordingly, the Aleph - the head letter, represents the first of three parts of the Tanach, the Chumash, which is the head and holiest part of the Tanach, coming directly from the Alef/Aluf - Chief of the world; and the Beit represents the latter two parts of the Tanach, which includes the period in which the first BEIT HaMikdash was in existence, as well as the beginning of the period of the second BEIT HaMikdash.

Following this, was the date of my son's circumcision - the 1st of Elul, which I mentioned earlier in association with the Oral Torah, the part of the Torah that distinguishes us Jews from the rest of the world, just as circumcision on our bodies distinguishes us as Jews, for even non-Jews who are circumcised are labeled as being non-circumcised, as noted in Halacha pertaining to one who makes a vow not to benefit from those who are circumcised or non-circumcised.  Also, although women like men need to learn the Halachot that pertain to their observance of Judaism, it is specifically the men, the males, who are circumcised, who are bidden to learn the Oral Torah, especially Mishna and Gemara.

Actually, the date of my son's birth is also connected to the Oral Torah.  You see, in the Midrash or Baraita called Megillat Ta'anit which records various dates with details of happy events that happened on these dates.  Anyways, on one such occasion, a heretical sect among Jews called the Sadducees who went against the Torah, claiming that we only follow the Bible, and not the teachings of the rabbis, attempted to enforce the laws of inheritance to allow daughters to inherit their father's property together with the sons.  Their reasoning was that if the only descendants one has is one's departed son's daughters, that they inherit the grandfather's property, than certainly one's own daughters should be able to inherit the same as the sons. Now, in case one thinks that the Torah is prejudiced against women, aside from the fact that one is born Jewish only because the mother is Jewish, we see a most phenomenal thing in the Torah.   Five daughters of their deceased father who left no sons approached Moses pertaining to a dilemma being that inheritance in the Land of Israel was based on patrilineal descent, and hence, it would seem that they would be left out of the picture, and their deceased father would not have who to inherit him in terms of the tribal land that was apportioned to him and would remain his had he not sinned in the desert.  Upon this, Moses inquired Hashem as to the law pertaining to this issue.  The bottom line is that thanks to and in merit of these five women, it was at that time that Hashem revealed to Moses the laws of inheritance, which includes the law that if a father has no sons or descendants of sons, then it is the daughters who inherit him.  In any case, the rabbis eventually overcame the power of these fraudulent Sadducees, which took place on 24 Av, and was declared an annual festive day at that time.  The bottom line here is that this date of 24 Av was one of the days that the rabbis, who have the authentic Torah tradition as handed down orally from Moses until their day and decide Halacha based on the teachings of the Oral Torah, won out, showing the authenticity and rule of the Oral Torah which comes no less from Hashem than the Bible.

Now, I want to mention about another significance of the number 187.  This can be found in the beginning of the fifth and final chapter of the Mishnaic Tractate Middot (Measurements), which is all about the details of the various sections and rooms of the Temple along with their measurements.  In the printed edition of the Babylonian Talmud, (unlike in the standard volumes of Mishnayot), this is placed as the last tractate, and as learned in the Daf Yomi cycle of the Babylonian Talmud.  This chapter, at the beginning of the last Amud (single-sided page) in the Gemara, begins with this: "The entire Courtyard was 187 cubits lengthwise and 135 cubits widthwise.  From east to west, it measured 187 cubits".

How fascinating!  This Mishna states that the 187 cubits measured from EAST TO WEST, which is the same direction as the reading of the contents of the Sefer Torah (right to left, as Hebrew is read), the first holy book of the Jewish people, which today is divided into 187 chapters, which in time became the standard as referring to the particular chapter number and verse number, even in some of the compositions of the greatest rabbis, so people an easily refer to the source of the verse being explained.  And the mention of this number 187 is at the beginning of the FIFTH and LAST chapter of the LAST tractate of the FIFTH volume of the Mishna (Seder Kodoshim) in the printed edition of the Gemara, paralleling the 187th and LAST chapter of the Chumash, at the conclusion of the FIFTH book (Deutronomy).

Now, along with this, is mentioned the 135 cubits widthwise.  In connection with the number 187, the 135th chapter of the Chumash (Numbers 18) is all about the duties of the Tribe of Levi - both Cohanim and Levites - in the Temple, as well as the basic needs that they received from other Jews which is Hashem's way of supporting this tribe for providing its spiritual services.  Now, among their duties was guarding the Temple at night, which is included in this chapter.  Amazingly, at the very beginning of Tractate Middot, the
24 places in the Temple which they watched is mentioned.  Indeed, Hashem has His ways of showing his Divine Providence, even through Christians dividing the sections of the Bible according to what they presumably felt should be divided as chapters.

And having mentioned Tractate Middot, the first two letters of the name of this tractate spells the Hebrew number 44 - Mem Dalet, and presently, I am in my 44th year of life.  And in the Temple, the subject of this tractate, aside from the 24 places that were guarded at night, there were both 24 watches of Cohanim and 24 watches of Levites.  And in connection to my son who is a Levite thanks to me, he was born on the 24th day of Av (which means father) in my 44th year.

Moreover, the word Middot that is used here in the context of measurements of the Temple is the very word used describing the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy - Shlosh Esrei Middot HaRachamim, that I associated earlier with the 13 Britot (covenants) of the Mitzva of circumcision, and this in turn is associated especially with the Oral Torah which includes the 13 ways of rabbinic analysis of the Torah through which their halachic decisions are arrived - Shlosh Esrei Middot HaTorah, and presently, we are in the midst of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi, which is the study of the Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud, the main body of learning in the Oral Torah that Jews have studied for the last 1,500 years.

And on a concluding note, being that I was given the Maftir Aliyah of Parshat Re'eh on the Shabbat before my son's circumcision in honor of the occasion, I want to quote one phrase from the Haftara that I read - V'Samti Kadkod Shimshotayich "I will make your pinnacles of rubies" (Isaiah 54:12).  This word Kadkod, which means rubies, a type of precious gem, is composed of the letters which are twice the letters of the Hebrew number for 24 - Kaf Dalet, a strong affirmation of the good timing of the birth of my precious gem, my son Shevach, on the 24th of Av.


7 Elul, 5773

2 comments:

BestMake said...

Another amazing dvar, thanks much for the insights and inspiration.

kadkode = 208 = gematria "Yitzchok" (and also "Pinchas" [who is Eliahu], and believe it or not, also Hagar, mother of Yishmael).

Wishing you a healthy baby Shevach Tzion Yisrael and much nahchas always.

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