Friday, July 25, 2014

Words in the Desert: The Journey as the Cure and the Torah Portion of Ma'asei

This week's Torah portion speaks of the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. The second Rashi's opening comments make a parallel between Hashem and the Jewish people and a king that is taking his son back from a journey to find a cure for him:

1. These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron.

RASHI: ... It is analogous to a king whose son became sick, so he took him to a far away place to have him healed. On the way back, the father began citing all the stages of their journey, saying to him, “This is where we sat, here we were cold, here you had a headache etc.” - [Mid. Tanchuma Massei 3, Num. Rabbah 23:3]

What is the cure and what is the illness? The Jewish people had not entered the Land yet. They were now at its border, ready to enter. Wouldn't it be more appropriate for Rashi to speak about an upcoming cure? And why are they on their way back?

The answer is that coming to Israel is the way back. The cure was the exile itself. Rebbe Nosson of Breslov speaks of how the exile took place because of a lack of faith. The exile and the wondering in the desert made it possible for that faith to be restored.

Similarly, the Counting of the Omer represents a period in which we cure ourselves. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that 49 is the gematria of Choleh, sick. Only after we are cured can we receive the Torah.
49 also equals the number of journeys (42) plus the number of Cana'anite nations to be conquered (7). The first 42 days of the omer, as well as the 42 journeys, are about internal rectification, the sefirot of Chesed through Yesod. From 43 to 49, we tackle our outwardly behavior, in dealing with the reality of the world around. That reality must be conquered, and that requires "curing" the Sefirah of Malchut, kingship. Don't be afraid to show the world who's Boss.

Observation: It is well known that G-d's seal is truth, Emet, in Hebrew. There is also a well known explanation that the word Emet itself represents truth because its gematria is 441, and 4+4+1 = 9. 9 is a number very much connected to truth because any multiple of 9, if you sum up their digits, is a multiple of 9. For example, 18 is 1+8=9, 27 is 2+7=9, 36, 45, and so on.

In addition to the above well known concept, there also appears to be a another reason 441 is chosen. 441, for the reasons explained above, is also a multiple of the number 9. But not just any multiple: 441 is 49 x 9. 

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