Friday, August 4, 2017

Gematrias off by 1

One of the favourite, and often entertaining forms of drashos is the Gematria, finding a significance in the numerical value of a word or group of words. The Steipler Rav devoted the back of his sefer, ברכת פרץ, to gematrias on the parsha that can blow the mind. These aren't simply one word equaling another. Time after time he will find a phrase in the Torah having equal numerical value to the phrase that Rashi uses to explain it. One of the rules of gematrias is that it is allowed to be off by one. What the deeper reason is for this, I do not know. However, in the הקדמה to the לקט יושר, a fascinating proof to this concept is brought from the gemara, in the name of the תרומת הדשן. It is not only pertinent to this week's parsha, it is also connected to Tisha B'Av which we  recently commemorated, hopefully for the last time.

The reading for the morning, taken from this week's parsha, begins (4:25) "When you have children and grandchildren, and you dwell long in the land..." the pasuk goes on to explain that Bnei Yisroel will commit grave sins. And HaShem vows that Bnei Yisroel will subsequently be wiped out. The gemara (Gittin 88a and Sanhedrin 38a) learns from a pasuk in Daniel 9:14 "HaShem hastened the calamity and brought it upon us, for HaShem our God is just in all His deeds..." Is it because HaShem is just in all His deeds that he brought calamity upon us? The gemara explains that if Bnei Yisroel had dwelled in Eretz Yisroel for the numerical value of the word "venoshantem" (and you will dwell long), 852, then HaShem would have had to fulfill "avod toveidun," you shall surely perish. However, from the time that Bnei Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel until they were exiled was only 850 years. HaShem graciously exiled us early so that we would not be doomed to being wiped out. The question is, if HaShem was being so gracious, why didn't He at least wait one more year? It must be, therefore, that 851 would have been considered equivalent to 852 and HaShem therefore had to exile us two years before. From here we see that a gematria may be off by one.

Moshe's pleas

At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe mentions that he pleaded with HaShem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel but to no avail. The sefer M’galeh Amukos says that Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 times - the gematria of Vaeschanan. R' Yehonasan Eybeschutz, in Divrei Yehonasan, is curious to discover how such a tally is reached.

He offers the following possibility: The Midrash states that Moshe Rabeinu started davening on 15 Av. As the gemara (Bava Basra 121a) explains, it was on this day that it was realized that the punishment for the sin of the spies was complete and no more men would die in the midbar. He saw that that decree had been fulfilled and had a glimmer of hope that perhaps, since he had been spared from the decree, he was in a position to plead for Divine Mercy. (This would explain why he never engaged in such extensive prayer on Aharon's behalf as Aharon died prior to 15 Av.)

There are 6 months from Elul to Shevat. We may assume that it was a normal year, whose months alternate between 29 and 30 days throughout. So those full months would total 177 days (3x30 + 3x29). Add the 16 days of Av that Moshe davened and the 7 days of Adar until he dies and we have 200 days. Of those 200 days, 28 are Shabbosos on which it is not permissible to make personal requests. That leaves 172 days. Considering Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv and we now have 172x3 = 516 tefilos. Only off by 1. However, the nation only discovered in the morning of the 15th of Av that the dying has stopped. Therefore, Moshe would have missed the Maariv from the night before and only begun davening at Shacharis. And there you have exactly 515 tefilos!

The Tur writes that on Yom Kippur one is permitted to make personal requests, but on Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, or Shmini Atzeres it is forbidden. We would then have to subtract three more days of prayer. However, we are taught that Moshe Rabbeinu died on Shabbos. If that is the case, then Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, and Shmini Atzeres of that year all fell on Shabbos as well. So we need not subtract for them and we are safe with our tally of 515!

Special thanks go out to R' Ari Storch for providing me with the material for this shtikle.