We are now approaching the end of the Jewish High Holidays. I normally would not like to write another Blog during Hol Hamoed, but I feel compelled to share the following with you-
You may have noticed I am a big Gematria fan. Gematria is a term used to describe the numerical value of each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph equals one, Bet equals two, until Yud which equals ten and then we move in increments of ten – Kaf equals 20, Lamed 30 until Kuf which equals 100. And then Reish equals 200, Shin 300 and Taf 400.
For many years I have been fascinated by the Gematria totals that each holiday represents. For the purpose of this Blog, I will only concentrate on Yom Kippur.
יוֹם כִּיפּוּר is its full name, but for the purpose of making my point, I want to use only the word
which means atonement or pardon.
Growing up attending a Conservative Shul, I received the impression that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were the most important days of the year to attend services. That is confirmed by Wikipedia which makes the following observation-
As one of the most culturally significant Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is observed by many secular Jews who may not observe other holidays. Many secular Jews attend synagogue on Yom Kippur—for many secular Jews the High Holy Days are the only times of the year during which they attend synagogue—causing synagogue attendance to soar.
I personally found it very difficult to sit through Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services from the beginning to the end, and observed that many fellow congregants felt the same way As a result, many would leave early, just like I did to catch the first game of the 1965 World Series in Minnesota in which Sandy Koufax refused to pitch because it was Yom Kippur. (See A Previous Blog).
I now realize that perhaps if I had experienced many of the Torah Mitzvahs first hand, with the primary examples being Sukkot and Simchat Torah, I would have been more enthusiastic about attending services in the first place. And I say this from first-hand experience.
You see, it’s not from my perspective that I make this statement, but from that of my children and grandchildren. Once I became Shomer Shabbat, one of the first things I wanted to do was to be a part of building a real Sukkah. For all of you who come from places where there are large religious communities, you most probably had no problem finding a Sukkah in the neighborhood, but from where I grew up, a Sukkah rarely existed.
So for even my parents to consider building one was not an easy task to do, since there were not many places that sold all materials needed to build a Kosher Sukkah. And even if there were, the idea that we would be building one when the typical Minnesota weather forecast is for cold temperatures in October with a chance of snow, was not very attractive to my parents, and I imagine many other fellow congregants.
So by missing out on the importance of Sukkot, I also missed out on the importance of the four species that make up the Lulav and Esrog. And then that would be followed by Simchat Torah which I also didn’t find too exciting.
But for my children and grandchildren, the exact opposite has taken place. As our children were born, they were given a real life experience of what it means to build and sit in a Sukkah. They became so excited as this time of the year approached, because they each knew they could help me getting the Succah built and become a part of this process.
There is nothing more satisfying to all of us than to have accomplished something with your own efforts by becoming personally involved in it. That bring back the memories, which I speak about in a previous Blog, of meeting Rabbi Feller on Nicollet Mall when he needed help with the Succah Chabad built, not too far from that place Mary Tyler Moore tossed her hat in the air.
And when it comes time to use the Sukkah, the grandchildren especially are so excited, it is a pleasure to see.
Living here in Israel is a special Bracha just to look around the neighborhood and see every building with its Sukkah outside. It’s an amazing sight for me, when compared to where I grew up.
That naturally follows on to Simchat Torah, because the whole Shul is full of excited children who transfer this feeling on to the adults. It’s a time of joy and happiness, which far outweighs the challenges I faced becoming Shomer Shabbat. I could continue with much more to say about this special time of year, but I want to get straight to my point.
The total Gematria value for the word Kippur is calculated as follows-
Kaf = 20
Yud = 10
Peh = 80
Vav = 6
Reish = 200
So if we add all these numbers together we arrive at the total of 316.
Now let’s reverse the order of the above total, we arrive at a familiar figure of 613, which of course represents all the Mitzvahs contained in the Torah.
To me this is sending all of us a strong message, that at the time of Yom Kippur, we are at the end of the Ten days of atonement, when we ask of G-d to forgive us of all our sins, and promise to obey the Torah and do the Mitzvahs that G-d commands us to do. And we say a special prayer that if we do three things – repent, pray and give charity, that will help atone for our sins.
At this time, our joy is diminished, but as Yom Kippur finishes, we then suddenly are involved preparing for joyous times to build a Sukkah and dance with the Torah. Sitting in the Succah and dancing with the Torah are mitzvahs all of us can do no matter what our knowledge of Judaism is.
That feeling is exactly what those numbers represent, the exact opposite of each other.
By experiencing real examples of such important Mitzvahs as a Sukkah, Lulav, Esrog and Simchat Torah for yourself and family, if you have not done so before, by visiting a Sukkah with your family, or dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, is an experience well worth doing. And get the New Year off to a nice start. I am writing this just before Simchat Torah here in Israel, which hopefully will give you enough time before the Chag comes in where you are living to do these important mitzvahs with your families.