Sunday, March 9, 2014

#214 - Bringing DOWN the Torah

To Hashem, no location in the heavenly spheres or the planetary system is limited.  Regardless of the type of spiritual or physical life in any given place, Hashem is equally there.  The only practical difference is regarding to us - whether we will feel spirtuality.  You see, in the spiritual world, both the righteous and the wicked know very well that it is the world of truth where they feel Hashem's presence - the only variable being to what degree and through which medium.  But in this physical world, the Shechina (Divine Presence) isn't just felt anywhere, but mainly either in Israel or in a place of Torah learning/prayer.  Chances are is that one who lives a holy life will feel Hashem's presence far more than one who doesn't live such a life.  But even without this, one who lives a holy life will nonetheless feel Hashem's presence to some degree, via love and fear of Him.

Based on this, the number one person who walked on this planet to have this type of feeling was Moses, whose birthday/Yahrzeit is today - 7 Adar.  Unlike all the other prophets who had to make spiritual preparations but even at this were not guaranteed to receive prophecy, Moses was called by Hashem without prior preparations, as he was already spiritually ready for this.

Regardless, this did not prevent Moses from interacting with this physical, mundane world.  For although Moses had his times when he was virtually only spiritual, such as the three times of 40 day periods when he spent time in the heavens, and as attested to in the Torah, he didn't eat or drink during this time, he was able to demonstrate his greatness specifically by being the leader of the Jewish people, of whom, not all of them were always appreciative of Moses, and hence, Moses had to spend some time dealing with their materialistic issues.

Indeed, following the sin of the Jews at the Golden Calf, which was at the end of the first period of 40 days for Moses in the heavens, Hashem tells him - Lech Reid "Go down..." (Exodus 32:7), and as Rashi explains, Hashem was telling Moses that he should lower himself from his position as the leader since the only reason that he was leader to begin with was because of the Jewish people; however, now that they have sinned, he wouldn't be of service anymore (with the original assumption that Hashem was going to kill the nation until Moses begged for mercy).

Now wait a minute.  You may have noticed a contradiction here.  First I implied here that by Moses interacting with the people as per their materialistic issues, he was in essence lowering himself, since after all, here he was a tremendous Torah scholar who knows that the Torah is the most valuable thing, but he had to deal with some for whom Torah obviously didn't mean the most precious thing to them to say the least.  But then, I quote from the context of Hashem telling Moses to "go down from his position", which implies that beforehand, he was in a high spiritual state in the leadership position that he was in.

Let us turn to the Talmud (Megilla 13a) which quotes a verse in Divrei HaYomim: "Yehudiya gave birth to Yered the father of Gedor, Chever the father of Socho, and Yekutiel the father of Zanoach, and these are the sons of Bithya the daughter of Pharaoh" (I Chronicles 4:18).  From the literal meaning of this verse, you would think that there are two or more families involved here; but believe it or not, there are only two people here - Bithya, the Egyptian princess who converted to Judaism, and Moses, whom Bithya discovered as Baby Moses in a reed basket on the Nile River, who was left by his family due to fears of the Egyptians finding and drowning him due to a prediction of astrologers who were saying that the redeemer of Israel would be born around that time.  As it turns out, the basis of their prediction in the stars was referring to none other than Moses himself.

As the Talmud notes, Yehudiya, which literally means Jewess, refers to Bithya because she converted to Judaism, and the other names inbetween are in fact all names of Moses; for as our rabbis tell us, he was given a total of 10 names as everyone gave him a different name.  However, the ONLY name that the Chumash, which is known in English as the Five Books of Moses, even mentions is Moshe, named by Bithya herself, based on the phrase Ki Min HaMayim MESHITIHU "For I DREW him out of the water".  And being that Bithya both rescued Moses and raised him in her father's palace, she is given credit as if she actually gave birth to him.

As the Talmud continues, she is named here Yehudiya because she negated idol worship, as the verse states, "She went down to bathe by the river".  And in case anyone thought it was because it was a nice or hot summer day to do so (and it was in fact the beginning of the summer because our rabbis tell us that this incident occured on the future holiday of Shavuot that occurs in this time of the year), Rabbi Yochanan has news for us "She went down to bathe herself from the idolatry of her father's house", the same way that one who converts to Judaism does so by using the Mikva (ritualarium) as part of the conversion process.

Anyways, beginning the analysis of Moses' various names here, the first one mentioned is Yered, which has the same letters as the Hebrew number for 214 - the number of this post.  Incidentally, this is the same name as Yered, the great-great-great grandson of Adam and great-great grandfather of Noah; in short, the sixth generation in parental line from Adam and Eve.  The Talmud notes that the reason why he was named as such was to hint to the future time when it would be in his merit that the Jews would receive the manna, for as per the meaning of this word, which has the meaning of coming down, it implies that the manna CAME DOWN for the Jews in his days.

Now, a most astonishing thing is brought by the Artscroll translation and commentary on the Talmud.  It brings the Vilna Gaon who says that the correct reading of the text, in lieu of the manna being brought down for the Jews, is "because he (Moses) BROUGHT DOWN THE TORAH to the Jews".

Having said this, it is true that throughout the Mishna, Talmud and Zohar, among other texts, there are variant readings of many words, where usually, the variant reading is a similar word being suggested.  The reason that this is so is because in the old days, writing was either not so eligible as it is nowadays, so it could have been misread, or the word could have been mixed up with another similar word when copied over.   Other instances of changes happened thanks to censureship, usually due to non-Jews who were printers, and may have not liked certain words or phrases, including in prayers, that either would seem to refer to non-Jews in a bad light, or to the false Christian god for that matter.  In fact, there is even a compilation of texts that were part of the original Talmud, but were left out due to Christian censureship.

In any case, we see that this type of alternative reading from the Vilna Gaon to be very unusual.  Well first, the text of the Talmud as we have it uses the word Yarad (came down), which is in essence the same word as Moses' earlier name Yered, except for the vowels, while in the Vilna Gaon's reading, it should be Horid (brought down).  But the main point that is quite unusual is that a totally different word or subject is offered here - Torah instead of manna, as not even one letter is shared between these two words.  So the question begs to be asked - Is the Vilna Gaon suggesting to change the wording of the Talmud, because he prefers to see the reason as related to the most important thing which is the Torah?  This is true, but does this justify deciding to change what the rabbis wrote?  It can't be just a simple mistake in copying something over, because the only real common denominator in the different phrases is that the name Yisrael, referring to the Jewish nation, is mentioned.

I say that yes, the Vilna Gaon is actually saying that the reason that should be given for the name Yered should be about the Torah, which is the main thing, rather than the manna, though it was a spiritual food, and in fact, the Talmud even tells us in Tractate Yoma that the Torah was given specifically to those who ate the manna.  In other words, he is begging to differ, and he seems to actually to be arguing about what the reason should be given, the same way that in numerous occasions, both in Halacha and Aggada, various rabbis each give a different reason for a certain thing.  Now in case one will wonder how anyone, since the writing of the Talmud some 1,500 years later, can dare have the Chutzpa to contradict what any rabbi says in the Talmud because he feels that it should be different; the Vilna Gaon, though not among the Talmudic rabbis, with his supreme knowledge of the Torah that far few attained clearly within the last 1,000 years at least, could talk, and ESPECIALLY, when it comes to emphasing what the most important thing is in life, as it was most important in his own life.  For while it is true, as the Talmud notes in Tractate Ta'anit, the manna came to the Jews especially in the merit of Moses; Moses brought down from the heavens something so far more important, that everything else pales in significance.  And so, even though normally, with what is called the Yerida - the spiritual going DOWN or decline - of the generations, we are on a much lower level of Torah learning, the Vilna Gaon is one of the few who didn't fit this criteria; and so, if it were the Vilna Gaon who would have been among the Talmudic rabbis, no doubt that his opinion about the name of Moses' name Yered would have been mentioned, because after all, what rabbi would disagree about what the most important thing is that that he is supposed to represent?

In fact, the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat records the dialogue between Moses and the angels when he attempted to bring the Torah down to the Jewish people, since after all, as the angels argued, how could Moses, a man of flesh and blood, have the nerve to take down a Torah that is most spiritual from a most spiritual place up above to a coarse, materialistic world.  It was only because Moses showed the angels how the Torah was not practical for them, being that they are not human beings who have materialistic needs, that they were convinced that he was right, and they even wound up giving him gifts at the end, including the Angel of Death himself.

Accordingly, we see a direct connection between the going down of Bithia to bathe herself from idolatry and the Torah being brought down.  For how it works in this world is that a descent - at least a physical descent, and sometimes a spiritual descent too - in order to have a spiritual elevation.  And as for the Torah, though it would now be brought down to a materialistic plane, this is in fact the ultimate purpose of the Torah, for though it is Hashem's Wisdom, part of this wisdom is that the Jews would observe its commandments in this finite world, including many commandments that involve materialistic items that are used in serving Hashem. In fact, the very last Mitzva of the Torah is writing a Torah scroll, and guess what the scroll is made up of - animal hide! Imagine, using an animal, howbeit a kosher one, to be the very medium that makes up the holiest item in Judaism!  And as for the first Mitzva of the Torah, this is the commandments to have children, involving using our most pleasurable base desire in order to be able to fulfill this Mitzva.  For in fact, parents are partners with Hashem in bringing down a person to this materialistic world, as mentioned in the Talmudic tractate of Nidda.

Now, the reason why Hashem takes an unblemished, untained soul from the heavens and brings it down to this lowly, materialistic world which is full of sin to begin with, is in order to earn its reward, via using the materialism to become spiritual, rather than falling prey to our base desires for the sake of the desires themselves.  So while it is in fact a tremendous spiritual downfall for a holy soul to be surrounded by such materialism, one can ultimately become even higher than the angels who are always near the Shechina (Divine Presence) by channeling our G-d given talents in the right direction.  And so in essence, the soul of a righteous person (that is, who will become a righteous person for in fact, everyone has free choice) benefits not only himself at the end, but everyone else around him who are willing to follow the correct spiritual path.

Another major example of this concept is illustrated via the next Sephira combination of Gevurah She'B'Netzach, the 23rd one, corresponding to the week in the Jewish calendar from Rosh Hashana which is either in the week of the Torah reading about the various items of the Mishkan (Tabernable) involving all sorts of materialistic items from gold and silver to animal hide, as well as the various materials used for the making of the priestly garments or last week's Parshat Vayikra which is all about offering various sacrifices, which were usually animals.  Very interestingly, where the sinner needs to bring an animal to make atonement, it is the animal being slaughtered and all that makes the person who brought it to the Temple to do Teshuva (repentence); and hence, the animal being slaughtered - though it may sound quite barbaric to some in today's world, including non-observant Jews who look at the Torah as an old fashioned man-made book - served its purpose in getting a person, who before sinned but is now looking to rectify the spiritual blemisht that he created - to be a better servant of Hashem and be worthy of eternal reward.  Indeed, this very Sephira - Gevurah She'B'Netzach - represents this very concept.  For this world is in fact a finite, limited world, which is the concept of Gevurah, judgment and limitation, as opposed to Chesed (kindness) which is open even to those who aren't worthy of it, being granted good sometimes even without the qualification, or limitation, to being a goody-good.  And so, it is precisely through the concept of Gevurah in this world, limiting ourselves in materialism only to the extent that is needed to serve Hashem, that one can achieve Netzach (eternity), which is in fact, the very Sephira that corresponds to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses). And it was Moshe Rabbeinu who used his spiritual strength to be able to bring down the Torah to this world, having achieved Netzach (victory) over the complaints of the angels, which would ulimately benefit the Jewish people to cause them to be worthy of Netzach, the world of eternity.

On a personal note, my Brit Mila (circumcison) took place on the same date as the corresponding Sephira of Gevurah She'B'Netzach (8 Iyar).  And as we see with the Brit, a piece of foreskin, which represents our base desires, is cut off.  For in effect, Hashem created something - the foreskin, and it is we the Jewish people, as commanded by Hashem, who are supposed to limit the amount of skin that there is with the male member, which by doing so will prevent the soul of the baby boy from being spiritually cut off from, and the act of doing this is compared to bringing a sacrifice in the Temple.

Oh, as for Moses' name Yered which is the same name as the original Biblical Yered, perhaps it isn't so "incidentally".  To note, the original Yered was the SIXTH generation in parental line from Adam.  Accordingly, the manna that Hashem brought down to the Jews took place only in the SIX days of the week, except for Shabbat, and at that, it was on the SIXTH day that the Jews received a double portion of manna, so the extra portion of manna could be eaten on Shabbat.   And as for the Torah, aside from Torah She'B'Al Peh (Oral Torah) whose root is the Mishna which consists of SIX volumes; it is interesting to note another thing from the Vilna Gaon here is that the Chumash in a way consists of SIX books; for each of the books of the Chumash correspond to another millenium of the slated 6,000 years of the world's existance. Now, how it this possible if there are in fact five books of the Chumash?  You see, the Vilna Gaon notes that the story of the Creation of the World is considered like a book in itself.

Hence, according to this, being that each Parsha of Deutronomy, which in this context, is considered the sixth book with corresponds with our current sixth millenium, corresponds to 100 years, noting that though there are technically 11 Parshiyot in this book, the Parshiyot of Nitzavim and Vayeilech are often combined, and hence, are considered a total of 10 Parshiyot - the Parsha of this eighth century of the sixth millenium (5701-5800) is the combined Parshiyot of Nitzavim-Vayeilech.  And noting that there are a total of 70 verses from Nitzavim-Vayeilech, dividing 70 by 100 yields 0.7; and hence, multiplying 73 (as per last year 5773) by 0.7, which yields 51.1, and 74, as per this current year 5774, by 0.7, which yields 51.8, we can see that this Hebrew year 5774 clearly corresponds to the 52nd verse from the beginning of Parshat Nitzavim that is found in Parshat Vayeilech, which is "Gather the people, the men, women, children, and your convert that is found at your gates, in order that they should listen, learn and fear Hashem your G-d, and observe to do all the words of this Torah" (Deutronomy 31:12).  This is the very verse that is the source of the 612nd Mitzva of the Torah, next to the last Mitzva of the Torah, which was for the Jews to gather at the Temple once every seven years on the Succoth holiday following the Shemita (Sabbatical year), and hear portions of Deutronomy, THIS VERY BOOK THAT IS THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSION HERE, being read from the king.  This is the Mitzva that is known as Hakhel (gather), for the entire Jewish people, even the women and children who were normally exempt from being at the Temple during the holidays, were obligated to be at this event, being compared to Matan Torah (Giving of the Torah).  Moreover, the Hebrew number of this Mitzva - 612, consisting of the letters Tav-Reish-Yud-Beit, has the same letters as the word Brit (covenant) which is used both in referring to the Torah, and even more commonly used, for the Mitzva of Brit Mila, which is the second to the first Mitzva of the Torah.

And on a separate note, there is another Biblical personage with a name that is also the Gematria of 214 - Chur, a nephew of Moses, who was the son of Moses' sister Miriam and Caleb - whose other wife was Bithia.  We first see mention of Chur in the end of Parshat Beshalach in the context of the Jews having its first national war with Amalek.  In the midst of this, both Moses' brother Aaron and Chur supported his arms as Moses lifted his hands up in prayer to Hashem that the Jews should be victorious.  Later on, when Moses was about to leave for Mt. Sinai for his first period of 40 days away, he left the Jewish people under the leadership of Aaron and Chur.  However, on the day before Moses returned to the Jewish people, the Jews were confused, miscalculating the day that they thought Moses said as to when he was going to return, (they thought that the 40 day period was supposed to end on 16 Tammuz, the 40th day from when Moses left, but Moses said he was going to be away for 40 days, which were 40 complete days)  which led to some of them feeling desperate for an alternate leader, which was the Golden Calf idol.  Upon seeing this, Chur protested, and subsequently, was murdered by the idolatrous crowd.  Significantly, perhaps it can be said that since they saw that Moses did not "COME DOWN" when they thought he was supposed to, and Chur protested the result of this, they squashed the challenge to their erronous and devious thinking by murdering Chur.  You see, just as Chur's name is the Gematria of 214, this number is also the Gematria of the word Yarad (came down); for since they didn't see that Moses was going to "come down", and Chur challenged the result of their thinking this way which was their worship of the Golden Calf, they thought that they can solve the problem of their guilty conscience by silencing the one who was attempting to stop their wrong way of thinking and actions.

Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein - 7 Adar

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the greatest decider of Halacha (Jewish Law) of the previous generation and the Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Tiferet Yerusalayim in Manhattan for nearly half a century - having the same name as Moshe Rabbeinu, and passed away in 5746 (1986), was born on 7 Adar 5655 (1895) - the same birthdate as that of Moshe Rabbeinu - which was also on the first day of the week as it is this year (Note: When there are two months of Adar, unless one was born on the first Adar, the birthday is celebrated on the second Adar).  But what I want to point out especially here, is that today marks THE BEGINNING OF THE 120th YEAR from the birth of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.  And as we know in the Torah, starting from the midst of Parshat Chukat in Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers), the events beginning from the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu's sister Miriam (on 10 Nissan) until the end of the Chumash took place in the last year of Moshe Rabbeinu's life.  Hence, we are currently on a 354 day COUNTDOWN (speaking of the concept of going down in this post) until there will be exactly 120 years from the birth of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on 7 Adar, 5775 ('15), having the same name and birthdate as Moshe Rabbeinu who passed away on his birthday of 7 Adar when he became 120 years old (2368-2488), as noted already in the beginning of Parshat Vayeilech. In fact, it has been said that the passing of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in 5746 is hinted in the Torah, for the 5746th verse in the Torah - in Parshat Yayeilech - is "It was when Moshe finished writing the words of this Torah until their completion", and as we know, Rabbi Feinstein was a prolific writer, especially noted for the several volumes of the Igrot Moshe, a compilation of his letters of correspondence to those with Halachic queries, as well as Dibrot Moshe, a collection of his words of Torah on various tractates of the Talmud. And since his passing, the Sefer that is entitled Darash Moshe, which consists largely of his words of Torah on the Chumash as well as various sermons that he delivered over the years, has been published (Artscroll has an English translation of this Sefer).  Indeed, it will be very interesting to see what this coming year, as we are now nearing the Redemption as we know based on various prophecies, will be like, for as we also know, it was a month and three days following the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu that Joshua, Moshe's successor, led the entire Jewish nation to Israel (on 10 Nissan).

It should be noted that while many other great rabbis didn't want to make a big deal of their birthdays, since after all, one who is born doesn't necessarily have reason to celebrate if he will not accomplish what he is supposed to in his lifetime, for this world at best is a preparatory state for the world of eternity; Rabbi Moshe Feinstein didn't take his birthday for granted, noting that the fact that he had the same name and birthdate as Moshe Rabbeinu had an influence on him to become what he became, and his family members wished each other a happy birthday on their corresponding birthdays.  And as we see in the Torah, it states that when Moshe Rabbeinu, who was to become the greatest Tzadik (righteous person) who would walk this planet was born, his mother (Yocheved) saw that it was good, and as Rashi notes, their house was filled with (spiritual) light.

And on a final note, as another connection to the number of this post - 214, as well as the Gematria of Moses' name Yered, the Gematria of the birthday of Moshe Rabbeinu - as Zayin (the letter, which is the numerical value of 7) B'Adar (207) - is 214.  (Note: Based on this, today's date Zayin Adar Beit, without the prefix to the month Adar, is also the Gematria of 214, the only difference is the shift of the letter Beit having the meaning of being the second Adar).  And without the prefix of the letter Beit as in B'Adar, just as Zayin Adar, it is the Gematria of 212, the Hebrew number that has the same letters as the word Rebbe (Rabbi), for indeed, Moshe Rabbeinu was the first rabbi, ordained by Hashem Himself.

7 Adar II, 5774

P.S.  The timing of this post - 5:11 AM, can serve as a way to remember that the 5th and final book of the Chumash (The FIVE Books of MOSES) - Sefer Devarim (Deutronomy), which contains 11 Parshiyot, ends with the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu which took place on today's date - 7 Adar.

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