THE PREVIOUS WEEK I spoke about the idea of the Roshem, and how something so “small” could amount to so much “big.” The same could be said about the first Aleph of this week’s parsha on the word vayikra itself. It’s written smaller than the rest of the letters of the word to hint at just how big it really is.
Of course, the first thing to recall is that an Aleph is comprised of two Yuds, one above and one below, connected to each other by a Vav. The two Yuds in gematria total 20, and the Vav equals six, making a total of 26. That is the gematria of the Shem Hovayah (Yud=10, Heh=5, Vav=6, Heh=5), the Name too holy to be pronounced as written at this stage of history.
The Shem Hovayah tells us that God is eternal, that He was, He is, and He always will be. He existed before Creation and He will exist after Creation. Unlike human beings, for whom the Present is only the threshold over which the Future passes to become the Past, there is no Past or Future for God. For God, there is only the Present, which is a mind-blowing concept that we just can’t wrap our heads around.
Sometimes we say that we’d like to stop time but we don’t really mean it. Sure, we’d like to stop aging, or to keep something we’re enjoying going longer, but would we like to continue doing the same thing forever? Even the most enjoyable pleasures in this world become tiresome if they go on long enough, and eternal youth has its drawbacks as well. That’s why God shortened the lives of the first generations whose lives lasted hundreds of years which. This made life seem eternal, and nothing important really mattered to them. As the Midrash says, you need death to appreciate life.
Time, or zman in Hebrew, is a fascinating concept, the fourth of four dimensions (the first three being the spatial dimensions that make up our 3-D reality). Time is defined as “the continued sequence of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future.” The word time is more of a convention than a description of time, and therefore does not offer much insight into the idea itself. The Hebrew word for time, zman, does however open the idea up somewhat.
For example, the word zimun means invitation (like when three men bentch together). The word for opportunity is hizdamnus, to designate something is l’hizdamen (Yevamos 121a), and a reservation is a hazmanah, all words coming from the same root, zman. Mezamen means ready. The question is, what is the connection between time and all these forms of designation?
That’s not so hard to figure out. Without time, designation is not possible. For something to be designated, it has to have previously not been designated, which requires time, what was and what is now. Thus, it was the creation of time that allowed for change, without which free will would not be possible. Because if you can’t change something or choose to stop something from changing, then free will means nothing. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, free will doesn’t exist.
ZMAN THEREFORE IS a mechanism of change. This is interesting because our two main denominations of time imply the opposite. Shannah—year, implies repetition, and chodesh—month, hints to renewal of something that already was. It is the addition of zman that changes that, because though we celebrate chagim on the exact same day and in the exact same way each year, time has made sure that we can do it differently than in the past. Zman transforms a flat circle of repetition into an upward spiral of growth, or the opposite. It gives us that choice.
Every Pesach we are not the same people we were the previous Pesach. Indeed, even every morning we wake up we are not the same people we were the day before. Over the time, we have changed. Things have changed. Opportunities have changed. Potentials have become available that previously were not. Since we cannot stop time we cannot stop change, and resisting it usually comes at a cost.
The Jewish people appreciate this. I mean, how many people actually make a blessing on time itself? We do, and it is called Birchas Shechiyanu. We pay close attention to sunrise and close attention to sunset, to full moons and no moons. We even have time-bound mitzvos because they must be done by certain times. How many people have daily calendars that break up their day according to halachic hours, designating different periods of the day by which time certain things must be done?
It can be stressful and even lead to some serious panic on occasion. It is can be very distressing to be caught in traffic while having to still doven Minchah, watching the sun slowly sink towards the horizon. Getting married a couple of minutes late can mean having to rewrite a kesuvah. If you miss your flight, there might be another in an hour. If you miss Minchah, you miss it forever. As the Gemora says, if you don’t prepare for Shabbos on Friday, you don’t eat on Shabbos (Avodah Zarah 3a), making Erev Shabbos a rather intense time.
But as we all know, Shabbos and Yom Tovim make up for it all. Standing there on a Friday night or on a Yom Tov with Kiddush Kos in hand, slowly and thoughtfully saying the words that acknowledge God as the Creator of everything and our redeemer from Egypt, it feels timeless, like another dimension. For six days of the week we are subservient to time. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, time is supposed to work for us.
The Gemora says that if the Jewish people had only kept their first Shabbos correctly, there would have been no Amalek, or any enemies for that matter (Shabbos 18b). Shabbos is on a plane, in a time “zone” that Amalek can’t enter. His only hope to attack the Jewish people is to pull us down from the level of Shabbos to the level of the six days of the week.
This is why God left the Aleph off the word kisay—throne—when promising to be at war with Amalek until the end of days (Shemos 17:16). It’s why the Torah did not write God’s full Name, to which the Aleph alludes. Amalek and all those like him only believe in Olam HaZeh—this world—and have invested fully in it. In an interesting twist of fate, Amalek’s lack of belief in eternity makes him oblivious to time, while the Jewish people’s belief in the eternity of Olam HaBa leaves them time-conscious.
WHEN GOD TOLD Moshe Rabbeinu about the mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, He was telling him about more than just the new moon. God was creating a new relationship between the Jewish people and time. He was giving us the responsibility to track it, right down to micro-seconds (chalakim). We can’t control time, but we can harness it to accomplish great things.
That’s what the small Aleph at the end of the word Vayikra is telling us. That’s what the absent Aleph from kisay is saying to us. Amalek wants us to believe we have all the time in the world to satisfy our fantasies. Billions of people waste so much time and spiritual opportunity every day of their lives because, they have this sense of life lasting for a very long time.
For some people it does. They reach their 90s, or even 100 plus. But that is even more tragic because it means they wasted even more time and more opportunity. Sometimes I don’t open a sefer because I think I have only five minutes to learn before I have to go somewhere. Then it turns out that I have 20, at which time I realize that I could have learned for 25 minutes, instead of the last five minutes.
That may not seem like very much time to waste. However, when we see what 20 minutes of time meaningfully spent in this world buys in the World to Come, it will feel as if we threw away a billion dollars. And though Amalek, aka life distraction, will be long gone by then, so will the opportunity he caused us to overlook.
In a book I wrote a couple of years ago (Mindfulness, Torah, and Redemption), I explained that God, being above time, is our ticket to eternity, even in this world. By becoming attached to God, a person becomes attached to eternity, and experiences it somewhat even while being flesh and blood. This is why Shabbos, a day of attachment to God, can be one-sixtieth of the World to Come. This is why someone who learns Torah with heart and for the right reasons feels a sense of timelessness while they do.
Without the Aleph, Vayikra is only vayikar. As Rashi explains, vayikar implies detachment from God, the kind that results from immersion in this world and how Bilaam lived. With the Aleph, vayikar becomes vayikra, which Rashi explains implies a close relationship with God, like Moshe Rabbeinu had. At the end of the day, the essential difference between Moshe Rabbeinu and Bilaam was the Aleph that Amalek goes to war against.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 44
ASIDE FROM EQUALLING the gematria of the Shem Hovayah, an Aleph equals one and alludes to THE One, Hashem Himself. Also, Aleph is like the word aluf, which means chief, also alluding to God Who is the chief Chief. And of course when we allude to God as One, we don’t mean the number that precedes two. We mean One as in the totality that incorporates EVERYTHING, as in ain od Milvado.
That is why the Aleph is missing from kisay, because Amalek comes to convince people that God is not the only one, and not one at all. He comes to swipe the Aleph from Vayikra and turn it into vayikar by convincing people that God doesn’t exist. He tells them that God doesn’t care about man enough to get involved in human affairs. Just take a look at how much evil exists, and how many people get away with it.
This is why so many secular people exist, and why so many Leftists in Israel have no problem making statements like this one by Dr. Giora Yaron, a businessman and physicist who served in the past as the chairman of the board of directors at Tel Aviv University: “This is about the state of Tel Aviv versus the Jewish state…The problem today is the Jewish state versus the state of Tel Aviv and the state of Tel Aviv is simply fed up!” That is “vayikar” talking, not “vayikra.”
It is just a more extreme case, like the Hellenists of the past. But even Korach, a Torah Jew, struggled with the Aleph, and went down learning about it. How many of us have ignored Divine Providence so that we could get what we wanted, but not what God wanted for us instead?
It was much easier to solve such disagreements in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time, when the ground opened up and swallowed all the bad guys. And if the prophecies about the end of days come true, then we may witness that again. In the meantime, we have to work on sharpening our vision of the Aleph on a personal level, and pray that others will do the same on the national level. And soon, b”H, because we’re running out of zman.