Torah Update

For the Jewish people, the current era in Jewish history that is ending began with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C. E.  This radical change inspired the rabbis who were the most familiar with the soul and reason of the Torah to author a new user’s manual for the Jewish people, the Talmud.  This served its purpose for 1770 years, until a radical change again occurred, this time in the world history, the Industrial Revolution.  It began in 1840 with the invention of the steam engine.  This shifted all labor-intensive work to be done from manual to machine power.  In this we have a hint of the coming Messianic Era, which is compared to the Sabbath, a day of rest.  From then on, all the nations of the world, and Jewry included, began to experience new desires and needs and the Torah had an update prepared in advance.  That update is the Kabbalah, the soul of the Torah, its inner dimension of meaning hidden in its letters, words, and verses.  While the Kabbalah is not a replacement for the Talmud, it is considered essential to the forward progress of Jewish history towards the Messianic Era.

On the heels of the Industrial Revolution, historically speaking, another radical change emerged, the devastations that were unleashed on the world from 1914 to 1945: World War I, the Spanish Flu Pandemic, and finally World War II.  This period of devastation brought an end to Yiddish civilization in Europe.  On 14 May of 1948, 5 Iyar, 5708, in the Jewish lunar calendar, the State of Israel was born and the Jewish national homeland was re-established.    Eretz Yisroel, the land of Israel, called Judea by the Romans and Palestine by the Greeks, became the focus of Jewry throughout the worldThe Law of Return was enacted.  It granted Israeli citizenship and provided financial and housing assistance for every Jewish immigrant to the land of Israel.  The world was ready for Kabbalah, the Torah update prepared in advance.  Academia discovered the existence and historical importance of Kabbalah in 1941 through the scholarly work of Gershom Scholem’s book, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.  In 1951, Hasidism, a Kabbalah-based teaching, was transplanted to the United States primarily through the efforts of the Lubavitch Chabad Movement to educate and bring Jews to Torah and Yiddishkeit (Judaism).  The study of Kabbalah has become more and more accessible through translations of important kabbalah books in Hebrew and, with the advent of the Internet, through world-wide easy access to online classes, talks, and lectures offered by American and Israeli rabbis.

Through study of the Kabbalah, as presented in the writings of its great teachers, one discovers, experiences,  and realizes that the Creator is Father and King and we human beings are worthy to be His children and friends.  This book, the Sefer Yetzirah, is a small unique book that unites all branches of Judaism: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Hasidic, Yeshivish/Litvish, Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal, Mizrachi, and all others.  Its authorship is attributed to Avraham, our forefather and its redactor is Rabbi Akiva, mentor and teacher of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon, the great sages of Talmud and Zohar.

Now that we have Kabbalah, what can we do now that we could not do before?  What is it that enables us to find a way to understand our life, our choices, our challenges, desires, needs, and their soulutions (sic).  Kabbalah teaches that we must emulate the Creator, to do as the Creator does.  Traditionally, the rabbis taught that this means to behave with compassion, patience, forgiveness, etc.  By possessing these characteristics, we become like and thus join with the Creator in the work of creation through Tikkun ha’Olam, the world’s repair or completion.

Is there more?  We learn in the Sefer Yetzirah that the Creator delights in play with the Hebrew letters.  May we emulate the Creator and play with the letters too?  With the words and verses of the Torah?  Will that really bring us joy and delight?  If so, then by enjoying the Torah and delighting in its words, its wisdom will flow into us, like fine wine that slakes one’s thirst and nullifies one’s hunger.

We know from Jewish tradition that the counting the 49 days from Festival of Passover to the Festival of Shavuoth is called counting of the omer (עומר).   Every day is linked to a specific divine characteristic, like love or judgment or royalty.  This 49 days of counting alludes to the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt at which point we began to emerge from deep in darkness, sunk in 50 degrees of spiritual soot, an impure mass of slave mentality.

Now let’s look at the word ‘omer’:  עומר  and play with it.  Its letters can be rearranged to read:  מרוע, m’roa, from’evil’:

Evil is a term in religion and ethics that deals with negative aspects of human thinking and behavior, and refers to those who deliberately
disbelieve their conscience and show a desire for destruction. – Google Translate (Hebrew to English)

Day after day, for 49 days we symbolically emerge and rise from evil, vacating our souls  of negative slave mentality and impurity; we are making room for wisdom and spiritual know-how that can be applied, ultimately, to living a self-directed life through individual choice and personal understanding of soul and reason for being for oneself, in connection with others, and for the sake of God’s friendship and blessings — and to receive Torah wisdom.

What is necessary today, as the Messianic Era approaches and the Torah update, the Kabbalah teachings, becomes more and more received by Jew and non-Jew alike?   Again, let’s play with letters.  Is there some way that will put us in a better place, prepared to receive the updated Torah teachings that show us the Torah truth that applies uniquely to each individual and even to each day?  How can we personally elevate from evil,  i.e., from negative mental thinking and lack of Torah wisdom?

Let’s consider another Hebrew word ‘צדקה’ — tsedokah or righteousness, is often translated as charity.   Tsedokah is like a master key to every gate of the 50th gates that lead from the depths of evil towards receiving Torah wisdom.  Giving or doing tsedokah is itself an act of purifying and attaining purity means being wholehearted, free from any ulterior motive.

This can be seen in the letters of the word ‘צדקה’.  When we apply the kabbalistic formula of exchanging a letter by its corresponding letter by order in the alphabet so that the first letter is matched with the last letter,  Aleph-Tov,  the second from the beginning with the second from the end, Bet-Shin, we discover that Tzadi, the fifth letter from the end (צ) is matched with ‘Heh’ (ה), the fifth letter from the beginning and ‘Kuf’, (ק) the fourth letter from the end is matched with ‘Dalet’, (ד), the fourth letter from the beginning.  The letters of the word tzedokah, צ ק ד ה, remain the same and unaffected, suggesting that the act of tsedokah is synonymous with purity and wholeness and is free from any ulterior influence.

When I was a rabbinical student in Jerusalem, I attended a yeshiva called ‘Toras Yisroel’ (The Torah of Israel) in the Old City.   This was the renowned ‘Diaspora Yeshiva’ whose dean, Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, ZT”L, invited one and all to join in the study hall for Torah study devoted to discovering ‘hidushei Torah’, ‘new things in Torah’.

The rabbis tells us that tsedokah rescues one from death. This works both ways. The giver receives the protective merit of tsedokah and the recipient receives the tsedokah, the necessary assistance that saves from calamity.

Now is the time to give tsedokah. Due to the current Covid19 pandemic, there are food pantries feeding multitudes of families in need. The rabbis tell us that the merit of tsedokah is great and is sufficient to put an end to the exile of the Shehinah, God’s revealed presence and simultaneously to activate the inauguration of the the Messianic Era of universal peace and security and freedom from all types of oppression.