By Rabbi David Sterne
There are many interesting mitzvoth that are associated with our Torah portion this week – Shoftim. Among the commands, for example, is the mitzvah to appoint a king over the Jews. Another mitzvah, which is subtle and needs explanation, is “Be complete with the Lord your God.” In Hebrew, it is Tamim tiheyeh im Hashem Elokecha. Rashi explains that the command means to accept whatever comes our way with equanimity, and to refrain from attempting to look into the future to know what will occur. Our sixteenth century sage, R’ Nosson Nata Shapira (author of Megaleh Amukot on the Torah), adds some “color” to this mitzvah by suggesting his own explanation, according to remez and sod…
By way of introduction – a Jew should follow God both as an eved (“servant”) and also as a ben (“son”). There are several levels of each; an eved may be a “simple servant” who performs the simple tasks that the King needs, or he may a “faithful servant” who Is entrusted with the most confidential tasks that the king may request of him. The same applies to a ben – he may be a “simple son” who does his father’s bidding, or he may be a “wise son” who also seeks to also understand why his father wants him to perform certain tasks. The main difference between the eved and the ben is that the eved does what he is told without asking any questions, while the son, because of his love and attachment to his “father,” seeks to go beyond what he was told (and this may get him in trouble). Nevertheless, the Torah speaks of four different sons – the wise son, the simple son, the wicked son, and the son who knows not even how to ask. These models are based on the first four “sons” of the Torah who were born to Jewish parents. The first is Isaac – he is the “wise son.” The second is Isaac’s brother Yishmael, who is the son who does not know how to ask. The third is Yaakov, who is described as tam – he is the “simple” son in the sense of being whole and complete in his Godly service, and finally Yaakov’s brother Esau is the “wicked son.”
Rabbi Shapira manages to find all four sons in a kabalistic sense. One of the forms of God’s holy name Havaya, written in a particular fashion, carries the gematria, or numerical value of ben (“son” – 52). This particular name is the basis of creation. While the other names of God, spelt in various other ways, are all about bringing Godliness into the creation, the name ben (“son”), or as it is usually pronounced, bahn, provides the basis, or foundation of creation. And just as there are four “sons” in the Torah, R’ Shapira explains that there are four “foundational elements” that compose the creation. They are – fire, water, earth, and air (the Aristotelian elements) – and each of them includes a name of God spelt with gematria 52 – the name Bahn. When we take the sum of the four elements, using their Hebrew words (aish, ruach, mayim, afar), we get the gematria of 955, which is the same gematria as that all-important word in our parsha – tamim (meaning, “pure, complete.” In this case it is necessary to count the final letter mem as 400, bringing the total for tamim to 950. When we add the number of letters and the collel, or power binding them together, we achieve 955). The entire creation, then is based upon the four banim, or “sons,” or elements, as the case may be. Added together, they bring us tamim – or completion (equanimity). The four “sons” are the completion of the Jewish people (and must be included in every Jewish mitzvah), and the four “elements” are the completion of creation. Both are “banim,” of gematria 52. Both, when added together, are “complete” in the sense of possessing equanimity and purity of purpose (52 is also the gematria of behama, or “animal.” An animal fulfills the will of the Creator without any questions or accounting. Nevertheless, like all of creation, an animal needs an elevation, a spiritual “lift,” in order to realize its true spiritual potential in the scheme of things).
Next, R’ Shapira takes us on a spiritual tour-de-force by finding the name Bahn in our clothing as well. He points out the every tzitzit contains thirty-nine windings, eight threads, and five knots, for a total of fifty-two, or Bahn. But, there is more. Since there are four corners to the tzitzit garment, there are four Bahn’s or “sons,” for a total of 208, which is the gematria of Yitzhak, the “wise son.” Moreover, each “corner” is a kanaf in Hebrew, with numerical value 151 (with the colel). When we add kanaf (151) to bah’n (52), we get the gematria of be’er (203), which means “well.” And thus the four cornered garment – the tzitzit – represents the four wells that Yitzhak dug (according to R’Y in the Talmud).
Finally, R’ Shapira quotes a verse from the Torah, “Isaac dwelt in Grar.” Grar is the name of a wadi, or stream, in southern Israel, possibly in the area of Gaza, where the Phillistines used to live. That is where Avraham first dug wells, only to have them destroyed by the Philistines. Thereafter, Yitzhak re-dug them, eventually making a covenant with the king of the area, “Avimelech, the King of Grar” to co-exist in peace [anyone see a parallel with the so-called “Palestinians” living in Gaza?] The word Grar carries the gematria 403, which is the number of words that are written in the parchment of the tefillin. From this, R’ Shapira deduces that Yitzhak would sit all day long wearing tzitzit and tefillin. He derives this from the verse (Gen 14:23) in which Avraham swears that he will not take as much as a “thread or a shoe lace” in reward for fighting and winning the war. The “thread” is an allusion to tzitzit, which are made from threads wound together, and the “shoe lace” alludes to tefillin, which are made with leather straps. About such a person, who is always wrapped in tzitzit and tefilin, the verse (Gen, parshat Lech Lecha) says, “Go before Me and be tamim” – be “pure and complete” with God. He who manages to surround himself with mitzvoth, and especially two as important as tzitzit and tefilin –cannot go wrong. He will be one and complete with God and will not drift off the path of divine service.
Rabbi David Sterne is a prolific author on chassidic thought and has translated many of its seminal works. He resides in Israel and is the director of Jerusalem Connection. To read more of his work and to purchase his books visit http://www.jewishspiritualbook