Thursday, June 5, 2014

#222 - SECOND in Charge

As I am beginning this post, there are still some Jews observing the final hours of the second day of Shavuot, celebrated as Yom Tov Sheni, "Second day of the holiday" (although from the Torah, it is only one day, as is observed in Israel) in the western part of the United States; while here in Israel it has already been over 30 hours since the conclusion of the holiday of Shavuot as one day.  It is kind of ironic when it comes to Shavuot, because at least according to Rabbi Yose in Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud, Matan Torah (Giving of the Torah) took place on the seventh of Sivan, the date of the second day of Shavuot which is observed specifically outside of Israel; while in Israel, it is back to the work week.

The reason that there is a difference of opinion as to the exact date that the Torah was given - the sixth of seventh of Sivan, is because the Torah itself does not directly specify the date, unlike with all of the other Jewish holidays.  On a practical level, Shavuot is observed on the 50th day from the beginning of the counting of the Omer, which is the name given to the barley meal offering that took place on the 16th of Nissan, the second day of Passover; and while today in our fixed Jewish calendar, the 50th day is always the 6th of Sivan, it wasn't necessarily always like that in earlier times when the new Jewish month was declared based on the sighting of the new moon, when there were times that both the months of Nissan and Iyar could have 30 days, making the 5th of Sivan as the date of the observance of Shavuot, or these two months could have 29 days, making the 7th of Sivan as the date of the observance of Shavuot.

And so, the question can be asked - Do we celebrate Shavuot strictly as an agricultural type of holiday, since after all, the observance of the date is based solely on when the Omer was offered, perhaps in thanks to Hashem for the bounty that He has provided us, and after all, in the times of the Temple, two special wheat loaves of bread, one of the few exceptions of Chametz (leaven) being offered in the Temple, was offered on this holiday; or, do we celebrate this holiday celebrating our receiving of the Torah?

In fact, in the holiday Shemoneh Esrei prayer, we mention Shavuot as Yom Matan Torateinu "The day of the Giving of our Torah"; and so, it would seem that this is the reason, or at least one of the reasons, why we celebrate this holiday.  However, if this is so, why don't we always celebrate this holiday on the exact date that the Torah was given, as any other event is celebrated on a date of the calendar; but rather, being based on the date of the 16th of Nissan when the Omer was offered?  And perhaps the most burning question is, despite on when we actually observe this holiday, if the Torah is the raison d'etre of the world's existance, why didn't the Torah mention the exact day that the momentous occasion of the giving of the Torah took place?

The answer begins with why the Torah did not specify the exact date of Matan Torah.  You see, while there is a specific day in the calendar that we observe this momentous occasion, we are in fact bidden to feel that on each and every day of our lives, that it is as if we are learning Torah anew, as if we were given the Torah on that day.  For certainly, it is very easy to feel that excitement about Torah learning, even as we stay up all Shavuot night to show our enthusiasm for Torah learning.  However, it is an even greater challenge to maintain that momentum throughout the year in terms of both learning Torah, and feeling excited about it, even if it is during the waking hours when we have nothing else to do.  In fact, the Torah doesn't even wait until the event of Matan Torah to teach us this lesson, but rather, from Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the beginning of this month when the Jews arrived at Mt. Sinai - BaChodesh HaShlishi "On the third month"...BaYom HaZeh "On this day" (Exodus 19:1), and as Rashi explains, each and every day, we are supposed to feel as if the Torah is new to us.  For certainly, the Jews were all excited about receiving the Torah in the days preceeding the momentous event, and so similarly, we are supposed to feel the same way, especially when we recite the Birchot HaTorah, the daily morning blessings for learning Torah, thanking Hashem for giving us the greatest eternal gift.

As pointed out to us, we offer the Omer offering, which consisted of barley, which is basically animal's food, symbolizing the fact that when we left Egypt, we were in a rather low spiritual level, hardly differentiating us from animals.  However, over the course of seven weeks, lifting ourselves up from the 49 levels of impurity to the 49 levels of purity, it was then and only then that we were able, ready, and worthy of receiving the Torah, and so, it is on this holiday that the meal offering, this time consisting of wheat, was offered, for this is a much more refined type of grain, eaten exclusively by people, and not animals.

Having mentioned this, while the holiday of Pesach (Passover) is certainly a very important holiday, in fact, so much so, that this is the only time in the entire year that it is forbidden to eat Chametz, which symbolizes the evil trait of haughtiness, making oneself to be high above others, just as the yeast that rises making the final product being Chametz (believe it or not, Matza can also be Chametz if one isn't careful about its production that is so crucial for Passover); nevertheless, it is in fact only a preparation for Shavuot.  For while it is true that Hashem took us out of Egypt not only as freedom from our physical slavery, but also from spiritual slavery for in fact, there were Jews who even worshipped idols in Egypt; the ultimate purpose of this was for us to receive and observe the Torah.

And now, I am going to get to the reason why I have mentioned the above in this post.  You see, among all the Jewish holidays, there are three that are classified as the Shalosh Regalim "Three Pilgrimate Festivals" - Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot.  And so while both in this list and in history, Pesach is the first holiday, consisting of seven (or eight days if outside of Israel) days, full of Mitzvot that Hashem commanded us even before Matan Torah,  it is Shavuot that is by far the more important holiday.  This may sound ironic, but as we see with many Jews who aren't all too observant, while they get together as family and all to have some sort of Seder on the first (or two nights) night of Passover, they don't celebrate Shavuot, which most unfortunately, many if not most of these type of Jews don't know anything about, the day that celebrates THE WHOLE REASON FOR OUR EXISTANCE AND THE EXISTANCE OF THIS WORLD!  And as detailed in the Gemara as to how Moses asked Hashem to give the Jews one more day to prepare themselves for the holy momentous occasion, the Giving of the Torah took place on the 7th of Sivan, which as a TWO day holiday observed outside of Israel, is the SECOND day of the SECOND of the three pilgrimage holidays, and of the Ten Commandments, Hashem directly spoke the first TWO Mitzvot of these commandments (Note: There are actually 14 Mitzvot in the "Ten Commandments" which should actually be translated from the Hebrew as "Ten Statements"), while Moses told them the rest, being that the Jews were too frightened from hearing Hashem's voice, which caused them to die fainting, but were revived with the dew that will be used for the resurrection of the dead in the future.

My friends, this is one instant in which it is the SECOND that is MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FIRST.  In fact, this is nothing new.  You see, the Torah, which begins with the Torah She'B'Ketav (Written Torah) or Tanach (Jewish Bible), begins with the letter BEIT, the SECOND letter of the Aleph-Beit, rather than the Aleph, the first letter.  The truth is that this is not to say that the letter Beit is more important than the letter Aleph, because in fact, the letter Aleph represents the Alufo Shel Olam "Chief of the World", and it is the first letter of the Aseret HaDibrot (The Ten Commandments); but rather, the SECOND letter of the Aleph Beit serves a unique function as the first letter of the Torah, beginning with the word Bereishit "In the beginning".

For while it is Hashem Who created the world, He created the world for others, a world which is full of doubles or plurality - heaven and earth, light and darkness, male and female, etc.  And it is specifically in this world, a world that hides the spirituality, giving the impression to many that this is a world for us having pleasure in it, as if this were to be the main thing, that we are to observe the Torah.  For some on a practical level, especially for observant Jews, it is a matter of balancing one's time, energies and resources between the constraints of having to pray and work, learning some Torah and spending time with family.  However, even in our physical activities, we can devote our minds to the Torah and spirituality, and at times, even some of our physical activiites can be Mitzvot, not just as preparations for us to have the energy to serve Hashem, but because we are bidden to eat, such as eating special Shabbat and holiday meals, or eating Matza as a special Mitzva on the Seder night.   And so, while in fact, the Aleph may be even a more important letter than the Beit, it is the letter Beit that teaches us, even as the name of this letter implies as Bayit (similar to Beit), as a home, as this world is our present home for as long as we live in our physical bodies, in which to observe Hashem's Mitzvot, preparing us for our eternal home.

To note, while many will talk excitedly about the Jews being the only nation to willingly accept the Torah, the truth is that this refers only to the Torah She'B'Ketav.  However, it is the SECOND of the two parts of the Torah - the Torah She'B'Al Peh (Oral Torah) which is in the long run not only much more in content, but ultimately the most studied one by the big Torah scholars, and ultimately even more important than the Chumash or Tanach which makes up the Written Torah, because it is only through this Oral Torah that we learn the Halachot (Laws) of HOW to follow Hashem, which is the ONLY way that one can be and live as a proper observant Jew.  It was this SECOND and MORE IMPORTANT part of the Torah that the Jews were not ready to accept, and this is why Hashem threatened them with being crushed by the Mt. Sinai mountain, which forced the Jews to accept this part of the Torah.  It was only in the Purim story after seeing how Hashem saved us from the anti-Semitic nations that the Jews openly and willingly accepted the Oral Torah, and the proof of this is that Purim, which was enacted by the Sages of the time, a holiday not mentioned in the Chumash, was willing accepted by the Jewish people.

And as for the first mention of Moses, the Lawgiver of the Torah from Hashem to the Jewish people - his name is first mentioned in the SECOND Aliyah/Chapter of Sefer Shemot (Exodus), the SECOND book of the Torah.  And while on the subject of names as related to the concept of being the second, my namesake Shimon, the name of the SECOND son of Jacob and Leah, is mentioned as the SECOND word of the SECOND verse of the SECOND book of the Torah; as well as the SECOND word of the SECOND verse of the SECOND Aliyah of the SECOND Parsha (Va'era) of the SECOND book of the Torah. Coincidence?  Well, take a look at the beginning of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) where Moses is the very first word, as it mentions that Moses received the Torah from Mt. Sinai.  But then the SECOND Mishna begins with the name of Shimon, that is Shimon HaTzadik (the righteous one), one of the few righteous Cohanim Gedolim (High Priests) in the time of the SECOND Temple, who was also among the transmitters of the Oral Torah, the SECOND part of the Torah.  And along these lines, Shimon is also the name of the author of the teachings of the Zohar, known either Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai or Rashbi as the acronym, who in fact was visited by Moses in being taught secrets of the Torah not ever taught in this world beforehand.

And by the way, as per my Jewish birthdate -the first of the SECOND month (1 Iyar)- mentioned TWICE in the first Aliyah of Parshat/Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers), my name Shimon is the SECOND word of the SECOND paragraph (as it appears in the Sefer Torah) of the SECOND Aliyah of this Parsha whose name Bamidbar consists of the letter BEIT=2 appearing TWICE in this word, including the first letter.  And then we see in the SECOND chapter of this Book of Numbers that in the arraingement of the 12 Tribes of Israel as four groups of three each in each of the four directions of the Israelite camp, the Tribe of Shimon is mentioned as the SECOND Tribe of the SECOND grouping of three tribes.

Then we see in the Book of Joshua, the first book of the Nevi'im (Prophets) section of the Tanach that of the lotteries of different sections of the Land of Israel for the Tribes, which wasn't apportioned necessarily according to birth of the ancestors of the tribes, but rather had two sets of lotteries - one for each of five tribes (Reuben, Gad, Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh), and the other for the seven other tribes.  Of the set of the latter ones, the Tribe of Benjamin - whose name starts with the letter BEIT - had first pick, and then it was Shimon which had the SECOND pick of the land lottery, for which the first city mentioned is Be'er Sheva, this name starting with the letter BEIT (Be'er) and the SECOND letter of the SECOND word (Sheva) of the name of this city is also a Beit/Veit  (Joshua 19:1-9).  And then in the beginning verses of the SECOND book (Shoftim or Judges) of the SECOND part of the Tanach (Jewish Bible) which is Nevi'im, the Tribe of Judah invites the Tribe of Shimon to help fight their enemies together.

And for those who are familiar with the Sefer called Chok L'Yisrael, which is composed of Torah learning consisting of Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Zohar, Halacha, Mussar apportioned for daily study, in the portion for the SECOND day of the week of Parshat Va'era, the SECOND Parsha, of Sefer Shemot, the SECOND book, in the Mishna chapter (Shabbat Chapter 14), the very first word is Shemonah (eight) which is similar to the name Shimon, and the very end of this chapter states "Rabbi Shimon says "All Jews are princes (literally "sons of kings")"".  But perhaps the most amazing thing here is that in the Mussar (ethical instruction) section for the day, which is usually from one of the classical Mussar books such as Sefer Chasidim or Sha'arei Teshuva, this day's portion is from the Zohar (authored by this Rabbi Shimon in the Mishna who when mentioned without any title or father's name refers to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), ONE OF THE FEW TIMES of the 324 daily portions (for each of the 54 Parshiyot for the first six days of the week) that the daily portion of Mussar is from the Zohar!

Now, to note a few other examples of the letter Beit taking charge of the stage, the first letter of the name of the first tractate of the Mishna - Berachot (Blessings), begins with a Beit.  And for the name of the Talmud that is most commonly studied, the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud), the first two letters of the word Bavli is the same letter Beit/Veit (Beit and Veit are basically the same letter, both spelled the same way in the Sefer Torah, but the difference when the letters are spelled with vowels is that the Beit is spelled with a dot in the middle). Also, the first letter of the word Bechor (firstborn), which by the way has the same Gematria as the number of this post - 222 (when spelled without a Vav), is a Beit.  In fact, we see that even in English, the second letter B, which is based on the Hebrew letter Beit, also takes on special significance as the beginning of something, such as the first letter of the word BEGINNING, which is part of the translation of the first word Bereishit, though ironically, the Hebrew word for beginning is Reishit, while the letter Beit itself means, at least in this context, "in", as well as the word BIBLE, though the Hebrew equivalent word is either Sefer or Tanach, and the word BABY, which is the first stage of a person's life, noting that both words BIBLE and BABY consists of two of the letter B.

Another phenomenal thing, as it relates especially to this year, is that Pesach Sheni "SECOND Passover" fell out on the fourth day - the MIDDLE day of the week, of Parshat BeChukotai, the name of the Parsha starting with the BEIT=2, which in turn is the MIDDLE of three Parshiyot whose names all start with a Beit - Behar, BeChukotai, Bamidbar.  Hence, this is one illustration of three number twos in a row, as illustrated in the number 222, the number of this post.

Having said this, as per my previous post where I mentioned the concept of Pesach Sheni, mentioned in this very week's Parshat B'Ha'alotcha, which takes place a month after the original Pesach, for those who didn't or weren't able to offer the Pascal sacrifice earlier, it is called Sheni (Second), just as the second day of a Jewish holiday outside of Israel is called Yom Tov Sheni. For in fact, it gives a chance for those who missed out earlier in fulfilling a Mitzva a chance to do it this time.  For while with many if not most Mitzvot, once the Mitzva has passed, it is too late to be observed, this is one Mitzva that teaches us the lesson that even if one has spent some of his life not living a G-dly life, one can still repent and become a better person, a better Jew, despite one's past.  And why is this hinted specifically with reference to the holiday of Pesach?  As the name of this holiday implies, the verb Pasach is jumping over, for Hashem jumped over the houses of where the Jews were residing in Egypt and killed only the Egyptian firstborn.  Similarly, despite the fact that some Jews missed that point in time for one reason or another to offer the Pascal sacrifice, Hashem grants them another chance by jumping over time to do so, even though Pesach Sheni is just a designated day for the makeup sacrifice for the original day of Passover, the date the observes the Exodus that took place on that date.

Interesting.  Pesach Sheni "SECOND Passover" takes place in the midst of the SECOND month (Iyar). And speaking of SECOND, let us take a look at the beginning of Sefer Bamidar (Numbers), where Hashem tells Moses to count the Jewish people, this taking place (both the command and the beginning of the count), mentioning TWICE the date of the first of the SECOND month, of the SECOND year from the Exodus.  As related to myself, I was in fact born on this very date of the first of the second month, which is the 1st of Iyar (or Rosh Chodesh Iyar), but another fascinating connection of the number TWO with this date is the Gematria of this date as Aleph (the letter Aleph as the numerical value of One (1)) and Iyar (221), making the total Gematria of 222 (the number of this post).  And as also related to myself, it is in the context of this that the names of the leaders of the 12 Tribes (diving Joseph into his two sons Ephraim and Menashe, and excluding the Tribe of Levi) are mentioned, in which the SECOND tribe mentioned is Shimon, my namesake.

And at a later point in Jewish history, both Temples began to be built, according to some, on this very date of 1 Iyar.  And certainly as not mere coincidence, we see that the Temple in Hebrew is called BEIT HaMikdash "HOUSE of the holy place", most similar to the name of the SECOND letter of the Aleph Beit- BEIT - which began being built in the SECOND month of the Jewish calendar, and the Hebrew word for building - Binyan, begins with the letter Beit.  And on a personal note, the Gematria of my SECOND Hebrew name Matisyahu has the same Gematria as the phrase Beit HaMikdash (861).

And speaking of the Beit HaMikdash, we see in the Talmud (Berachot 58a) that (the Sephira) Hod, as mentioned in a verse, refers to the Beit HaMikdash.  You see, the word Hod is the Gematria of 15, and as per our discussion in this post about Pesach Sheni, while the makeup Passover sacrifice was first slaughtered in the afternoon of the 14th of Iyar, the date that is dubbed as Pesach Sheni, the eating of it actually took place on the night of the 15th of Iyar.  Moreover, as we continue post by post corresponding to the 49 Sephirot combinations, in this post, we are up to the 30th Sephira of Gevura She'B'Hod, which falls out in our present calendar on the 15th of Iyar, in the midst of the week of the Sephira of HOD=15 (14th through the 20th of Iyar).  And in terms of the Aleph Beit, the letters Dalet, Hei, and Vav, making up the word Hod, are the SECOND set of three letters.  And as we see, the Mispar Katan "Small Number" of each three letters each comes out to six, for Aleph-Beit-Gimel as 1+2+3=6, Dalet-Hei-Vav as 4+5+6=15 and in turn, 15 as 1+5=6, and so on, just as the number of this post - 222, also add up to six as 2+2+2=6.  And along these lines, the corresponding week in the Jewish calendar beginning with Rosh Hashana includes the 1st of Iyar, as mentioned above.

In fact, the number 222 reminds me of a Midrash where the holy day of Shabbat once complained to Hashem as being lonely, asking Him "All the other days of the week have a partner - Day One and Day Two, Day Three and Day Four, Day Five and Day Six.  However, who is my partner?"  Hashem answered the holy day of Shabbat saying that the Jewish people is its partner.

And so yes.  We live in a world in which the work week, represented by the first six days of the week (though ironically, at least in the States, a good percentage of the people don't work on Sunday, which is the first day of the week), seem to be in control.  After all, what we do for work seems to have a major influence on the financial lifestyle of one's family.  However, it is within this framework that we are supposed to infuse our time with spirituality, which for Jews, means Torah and Mitzvot, realizing that though there may be some that will look on one solely based on his or her financial standing, this world serves a purpose only as place to serve Hashem, and it is only working for a living that helps us achieve this goal, rather than the other way around as observing a few laws as a "side thing", rather than being the main focus of our lives.

Thus, when we follow the Torah in this world of complex paradoxes that at times challenge our faith, representing numerous pluarities, being subjected by the world with its DOUBLE standards being applied to Jews, such as the United Nations looking at Jewish Israel as being occupiers of land as though it belongs to others when it is clear from the Bible that many members profess to believe in but only what is convenient to them, claiming how we poorly treat the "Palestinians" even though most ironically, this anti-religious Israeli government is busy attempting to show the world how kind we are to this sub-human enemies of ours by constantly providing them with food, electricity, medicines, and weapons; while on the other hand, ignoring the massive autrocities that some countries represented by the UN are commiting on others - it is then and only then that we can hope for Hashem to ultimately pay everyone according to what they really deserve, and set the standards straight - as to who is really first class citizens (the observant ones among the Jewish people) and the second class citizens (the non-Jews who lived righteous lives), while everyone who lived wickedly won't even be second class citizens but will be eternally damned to hell.

Yes, being second can be a very good thing - especially if we live our lives as second to both Hashem and others, realizing that everyone else has something that is better than ourselves, thus helping us not to be haughty and think of ourselves as higher than others by putting them down, regardless of who is actually the greater one in spiritual or physical achievements.  For at the end, we are all public servants of Hashem, each one of us serving Him in our own personal level, circumstances, and talents.

8 Sivan, 5774

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