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Chapter Eight

Why Thirty-Six ?

By now it should be clear that there is a deep, philosophical undercurrent that flows through history - Jewish history specifically and world history in general. The events of daily life may appear exceedingly mundane, like the waters of the sea that calmly and continuously wash upon the shore day after day. However, just as the surface waters belie a whole world that exists hidden below, so does daily life conceal the wonderful world of thirty-six.

God created the world for the sake of man, so that he could strive and have the opportunity to become God-like to the best of his ability. And in doing so, he can merit eternal life in the eternal world, the World-to-Come. However, this reward is only given at the end of life for those who successfully endure the process.

The "process" is developing an intellectual awareness and appreciation of moral virtues, and then guiding one’s life according to them. This might be simple enough to accomplish when life is "smooth sailing." But usually it is not - it is often complex and extremely distracting, often unbalanced and sometimes threatening. Nevertheless, behind it all is the hand of God, orchestrating the events throughout the millennia to bring history to a grand finale when the purpose of creation will reach fruition.

The only question a person need ask is, "What role do I play in history?" The answer is: it depends. It depends upon one’s personal potential. The answer also evolves as long as a person lives, grows and changes. And often the impact of a person is not known until long after the person has left this world.

To successfully travel the road to personal greatness one needs self-honesty, intellectual integrity and a love of ideas. These tools encourage a person to not take life for granted, to avoid making superficial assumptions about a world that is far from superficial. It is this attitude towards life that fosters important traits such as fear of God, love of one’s fellow man and self-confidence.

The guidebook for life’s journey is the Torah. Within it are the axioms of truth upon which the world was founded. But they are truths that are revealed only according to the seriousness of the one who comes to learn them. They are truths that are revealed only to those who develop intellectually and spiritually.

When one travels this road and reflects the light of Torah, he shines with the Hidden Light of creation, as was the case with Moshe:

Moshe came down the mountain with the two tablets of testimony in Moshe’s hands; but Moshe did not know that the skin of his face beamed while he spoke to Him [God]. Aharon and all of the children of Israel saw Moshe, and behold, the skin of his face beamed. They were afraid to approach him ... Shemos 34:29
More importantly, a person develops a vision of reality that allows him to see beyond the present moment and beyond the surface of what stands before him. It is only with such a vision that one can discover his hidden potential, and the hidden opportunity of the moment in order to grasp it, and in doing so, grasp eternity. This is the message of thirty-six. This is the brilliance of the special light of creation. But why thirty-six?

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The number thirty-six has fascinating properties. For example, it is a number that when multiplied by any other number always produces a quotient whose mispar katan is equal to nine, the mispar katan of truth:
Emes = 1 + 40 + 400
= 441; 4 + 4 + 1
= 9

For example: 36 x 1 = 36
3 + 6 = 9

36 x 2 = 72
7 + 2 = 9

36 x 3 = 108
1 + 0 + 8 = 9

36 x 25 = 900
9 + 0 + 0 = 9

And so on.
One would expect the number that symbolizes the truth to be connected to the concept of truth on some level. However, this still does not indicate why the light of creation shone for thirty-six hours, as opposed to only nine hours. (The pesuchos and stumos in the Torah are Divinely established breaks in the text, which, according the Ba’al HaTurim were given to Moshe as time to intellectually digest what he had been taught. According to Halacha, a valid pesuchah or stumah must have a space of at least nine letters.)

There is a correlation between the Hidden Light of creation and Chanukah, a holiday which had to be eight days long because of what the number eight represents (i.e., the supernatural). This correlation does preclude the number nine.

What logical sequence of lighting the candles could result in a total of nine candles over eight days? Looking beyond the number a clue to the significance of thirty-six may be in the way it is written out in Hebrew: uk, especially since each letter represents many concepts.

For example, the letter lamed is a towering letter that represents the King of Kings, God Himself. Within the Aleph-Bais it is flanked by the letter chof and the letter mem, which with the lamed, spell the world melech, or king. (Osios R’ Akiva) Furthermore, the letter lamed is a composite of two letters: chof and vav, whose numerical values are 20 and 6 respectively, the total of which is 26, the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton Name. (Ba’al HaTurim; this is the name of God that is not pronounced as it is spelled, because it is so holy. It is also the name equal to the gematria kollel of the number 25.)

When the letter lamed is spelled out as a word, it forms the word that means both teaching and learning. And because it is the twelfth letter of the twenty-two letter Aleph-Bais, it is considered to be the center and the "heart" of the Aleph-Bais; It is an acronym for laiv meivin da’as - a heart that understands wisdom. (Osios R’ Akiva)

For these reasons and many others, the letter lamed symbolizes learning and teaching (i.e., lilmod and lelamed), and purpose. Chanukah, which means "dedication" and which is the root of the word chinuch, which means "education," represents these ideas.

The concepts represented by the letter vav are just as profound. It is the sixth letter in sequence, which represents physical completion. The physical world was completed in six days, and a self-contained object has six dimensions. (Maharal)

The midrash states that Ya’akov "seized" the letter vav from Eliyahu’s name as a guarantee that the prophet would eventually herald the redemption of the future Jewish people. (Usually Ya’akov is spelled without a vav and Eliyahu is written with a vav. However, there are five instances when Ya’akov is written with a vav and Eliyah without the vav. The midrash states that the letter vav was transferred from Eliyahu’s name to Ya’akov’s as a guarantee for redemption.) Thus vav is also a symbol of redemption.

In the Torah, a letter vav added to a word written in future tense becomes past tense, symbolizing the vav’s ability to transcend time. For this reason the vav is also a symbol of eternity. This is why the courtyard of the Mishkan was surrounded by curtains suspended from hooks, which in Hebrew are vavim. This alluded to the eternal quality of all that occurred within the Tabernacle.

Also within Torah, the addition of a vav or the lack of one that might have been there often indicates a hidden meaning. For example, the Torah states:

God said, ‘Let there be lights (m’o’rs) in the firmament of heaven to divide between the day and the night, and they will be signs for the appointed times, the days and the years. And there were lights (m’oo’rs) in the firmament of the heaven ...’ Bereishis 1:14, 15
Traditionally, the missing vav in the first reference to the lights is taken to mean that the original light of creation was diminished, reserved for the righteous in a later generation. (See Rashi on 1:14 and 1:4.)

As well, the letter vav stands for the sixth sefirah, a kabbalistic metaphor for a specific manifestation of a higher spiritual reality. The sixth sefirah is called yesod, which means "foundation," referring to the trait of tzadikim, of which there are thirty-six hidden in each generation. It is they who spiritually form the foundation of the world.

Such homiletic interpretations are countless and yield deep insight into our world. However, perhaps one of the most profound aspects of Lo and the key to unlocking the mystery of thirty-six, is the simple fact that it spells the word to him.

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There is another approach to the meaning of Lo.
The evil son, what does he say? ‘What is the service to you?’ (Shemos 12:26). To you, and not to him (Lo) , and because he excludes himself from the rest, he is a denier of Torah ... Hagadah Shel Pesach
Traditionally, these words of the Hagadah are understood to mean: to you - you who faithfully sacrifice the Pesach offering - and, not to him - not to the evil son. However, according to the Brisker Rav’s understanding of the evil son’s question, "to him" might mean God Himself.

According to tradition, the Jewish people were mired in the idol worship of Egyptian society. In order to merit redemption, they had to make a physical and psychological break from the Egyptian way of life. For this reason, the midrash explains, the Jews were commanded to take a sheep, the Egyptian god, and parade it through the streets with the expressed purpose of slaughtering it to God.

But, the evil son asks: who worships sheep today? What use is there in continuing the same service of sacrificing the Pesach offering, other than to merely commemorate what once occurred? For sentimental reasons, this may appeal to you, but don’t try to tell me that it has any value to Him!

The Hagadah’s answer to the evil son: break his teeth.

Why deal with the evil son so harshly, and what does the expression break his teeth mean? The answer to this question requires a few words.

From the very first moment man was created, he has had to use his intellect to try to understand the end of Divine reason, to interpret the will of God. The result has been horrific, resulting in mortality for mankind and unforgivable genocide throughout the millennia.

In the end, the question has to be asked: whose will was fulfilled? When a person says he was doing his will, to whom does "his" refer? His will, that is, to the will of God, or his will, that is, to his own will? With the yetzer hara firmly embedded in our hearts, it is easy to confuse one with the other.

The mishnah states a solution to the dilemma:

Make His will like your will, so that He will make your will as His will. Pirke Avos 2:4
A person has to make it his only desire to fulfill the will of God. He has to avoid the pitfalls of rationalization by using his tremendous power of intellect only up until the will of God and not beyond it. This was the threshold the "evil son" crossed when he used his intellect to rationalize the will of God.

For this reason, the Hagadah says, we break the evil son’s teeth, so-to-speak. The word shein (teeth) numerically is equal to 350, (Which, in mispar katan is eight.) which is also the gematria of the word seichel, which means intellect. It is as if the response to the evil son is: abuse your intellect, lose your intellect - a true principle in Torah.

And just as it is possible to confuse our will for the will of God, it is also possible to mistake to whom the world belongs. Though the Torah addresses this issue in more than one place, it does so quite succinctly in one specific place.

God spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Tell the children of Israel to take for Me an elevated-offering ...’ Shemos 25:1

(It often happens that a chapter central to a discussion that ties back to Chanukah is number related to Chanukah. For example, the chapter number here is twenty-five. Even though chapter numbers were assigned by non-Jews for easy reference for debating Jews, it is also true that there is no such thing as a coincidence. It is not difficult to believe that God could have set up the Torah in such a way that future generations wishing to number the Torah in a logical way would yield chapter numbers that could have deeper meaning to future generations of Jews. At the very least, it is fascinating.)

Take for Me ... For Me, for My sake. - Rashi

After all, the whole world is His. - Sifsei Chachamim

What the Sifsei Chachamim is addressing is why Rashi felt compelled to explain what seems to be obvious. If God requested an offering to be brought to build His sanctuary, would not one reason that it is being brought for His sake?

What bothered Rashi was a simple paradox: how does one give a gift to someone who already owns the gift? The answer is, they cannot. Therefore, says Rashi, the gift God requested was not the physical object itself, but the way in which the gift was to be given - with the full understanding that the entire world belongs to God ... it belongs Lo.

When man is confused, either thinking that he is fulfilling the will of God when he is not or thinking that he owns property that he does not, he crosses into the realm of transgression. This is perhaps the meaning of the following lesson.

Yehoshua led the Jewish people into the land of Canaan, (Yehoshua 3:1) and the fight for control of the land began against the original Canaanite nations. Since the Jewish people were fulfilling the command of God by subduing the nations of Canaan, they were promised miraculous victories against the powerful Canaanite nations. All went well until the battle of Ai, during which the young Jewish army suffered casualties - thirty-six in total! (Yehoshua 7:5; the Talmud (Baba Basra 121b) says that actually only one person died, but that he was the equivalent of the majority of the Sanhedrin, which is equal to thirty-six, just like the majority of one’s life is considered to be thirty-six years (Baba Basra 155b, Rashbam). Incidentally, the name of the person who was killed in the battle was Yair ben Menashe, whose name means "will be enlightened." Menashe was the same name Yosef gave to his son in Egypt, and consists the same letters as the word "shmonah," which means "eight," and "hashemen," which means "the oil." Yair ben Menashe was the ancestor of Yishai, the father of Dovid HaMelech and source of Moshiach.) What was the cause of the devastating loss? A man by the name of Achan ben Karmi had taken spoils of war from Yericho, something forbidden by Yehoshua. It was this violation that interfered with Divine assistance in the battle against Ai.

Perhaps this is why God approached Adam with the question, "Aiyeka?". It was as if He was saying, "Did you take that which did not belong to you but belonged to Me?" Perhaps this is also why the Talmud states that "the property of the righteous is more valuable to them than their own bodies" (Chullin 91a; This is in the chapter called "Gid HaNashe," and on the page where the Talmud interprets Yosef’s words to mean, "Slaughter the animal in front of his brothers and remove the gid hanashe," the reference in which there is an allusion to Chanukah. Also on this page is the discussion of how Ya’akov went back for the small jars, for which he merited the miracle of the small jar of oil at Chanukah time (see the chapter titled, Ya’akov Avinu).) - because they view themselves as guardians of the Holy One’s property.

It is this perspective that is the source of mesiros nefesh - self-sacrifice, which is what Chanukah is all about. To sacrifice one’s self for one’s own benefit is not heroic. But, to endanger one’s self for a higher cause, specifically for the Higher Cause, is the highest, the most noble form of self-expression. It is also something made possible only by the belief that no will matters but His; no property is anyone’s but His.

Such form of self-sacrifice was inspired by Yosef and exemplified by his brother Reuvain (the root of whose name means "see"). The midrash explains the following verse from Shir HaShirim in an obscure way:

The mandrakes have released their scent, and at our doorsteps are to be found delicacies. Shir HaShirim 7:15

The mandrakes ... This refers to Reuvain; have released their scent... This alludes to when he saved Yosef from being killed by his brothers; at our doorsteps are to be found delicacies ... This refers to Chanukah. Ateres Z’kainim; Midrash Pliah

The mandrakes referred to by the midrash are the ones Reuvain collected from the field for his mother, Leah. (Bereishis 30:14) According to Rashi, Reuvain specifically picked these flowers, because they were ownerless, growing wild. According to the Talmud, they were also supposed to be instrumental in producing another tribe.

Nevertheless, upon request, Leah gave them to her sister Rachel, proving, according to the midrash, that Leah accepted Rachel as being the main mother of the tribes. This was a tremendous act of self-sacrifice by a woman whose name totals thirty-six, and who died at the age of forty-five (mispar katan: nine).

But the mesiros nefesh didn’t end there. According to the midrash, why was Reuvain named as he was?

Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuvain ... Bereishis 29:32

She said, ‘See the difference between my son and the son (Eisav) of my father-in-law (Yitzchak) who sold his birthright to Ya’akov. This one (Reuvain) did not sell his birthright to Yosef, and yet did not complain [when Yosef took it from him]. And not only did he not complain, but he even wanted to take him out from the pit!’ - Rashi

The difference between Eisav and Reuvain, among other things, was that Reuvain understood that the birthright was not his to sell. Nor were the dudaim (mandrakes) his to sell. The earth and its fullness is God’s, (Tehillin 24:1) and therefore, it is He who decides who has the firstborn rights, and who truly owns the mandrakes.

We are merely the guardians of this world, allowed the privilege of benefiting from its fullness.

Before the light of creation was hidden, one could never have doubted this or ever become confused about it. This is why the light had to be hidden, for had it remained revealed, free will would have been impossible. It is hidden, but not completely, for it is meant to be revealed through the actions of man, through a nation created to reflect that light.

When a person integrates this understanding, regenerated and symbolized by the thirty-six lights of Chanukah, one enters a realm beyond the ordinary, deceptive world of daily life. One enters the world of miracles, because it is the world of mesiros nefesh:

Rav Papa asked Abaye, ‘What was unique about the previous generation for whom miracles occurred, while for us they don’t?’ ... He answered him, ‘They were self-sacrificing for the holiness of the Name.’ Brochos 20a
The essence of such self-sacrifice is knowing that there is more to life than meets the eye. It is in knowing that there is a "hand" above that moves things, people, events, world history towards an ultimate goal - the period of Moshiach. It is in knowing that one who usurps the will of God becomes a pawn in His master plan, not a forger of it. And finally, it is in knowing that there is no way to fulfill personal potential other than in making His will your own, by recognizing that His will is all that counts and that everything belongs to Him.

This is expressed in the fantastic, wonderful world of thirty-six.

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