Friday, May 09, 2014

Hump Day

A guest post by Y. Bloch
This Saturday is hump day. No, the calendar has not been re-jiggered to redefine a week; the last people who did that ended up being sent to the guillotine.
I'm referring instead to the seven-week period of counting between Passover and Shavuot, Sefirat haOmer. For the first 24 days, we are closer to the Exodus; for the last 24 days, we are closer to the Giving of the Torah. But Day 25, the fourth day of the fourth week, is smack in the middle. This year, it's the Sabbath when we read Parashat Behar, the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus (OK, 25:1-26:2), which famously starts with the unique verse, "Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying."
The Kabbalists associated certain attributes with each day of the Omer, and the twenty-fifth is netzah of netzah. Netzah is the Kabbalistic trait associated with Moses, and the root has many meanings in Scripture, from victory to eternity to conductorship (orchestra, not train).
The connection of Behar to Sefirat haOmer is quite strong, as the former also revolves around a count of seven cycles of seven, in its case leading to the jubilee year. 49 is clearly an important number in the Torah and of the Torah.
It is thus not surprising that the Talmuds relate this verse to Moses' experience on Sinai (Psalms 12):
Lord's sayings are pure sayings, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over.
However, there is a difference between the approach of the Babylonian Talmud and the approach of the Jerusalem Talmud. The former states (Rosh Hashana 21b), citing Rab and Samuel:
Fifty gates of understanding were created in the world, and all were given to Moses save one, as it says, "Yet you have made him but little lower than God."
The latter (Sanhedrin 4:2) records:
Rabbi Yanai said: “If the Torah were given cut and dried, no one could withstand it! What is the reason? ‘LORD spoke to Moses.’ He said before Him: ‘Master of the World, tell me: what is the Halakha?’ He said to him: ‘Follow the majority' (Ex. 23:2)—if most vote for acquittal, he is innocent; if most vote for conviction, he is guilty. Indeed, the Torah may be expounded forty-nine ways to defile, and forty-nine ways to purify."
According to the BT, the number forty-nine represents a linear progression through successive gates, ultimately reflecting the limits of humanity. According to the JT, there are 49 sets of parallel approaches, allowing Halakha to respond (democratically) to the changing demands of society around it.
On this day, it behooves us to embrace the netzah of Torah--the battle, the timelessness, the symphony.

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