The Gemara calls our ancient sages “Sofrim,” people who know how to count. This seems to be an odd name for our great men who were endowed with encyclopedic knowledge, erudition, and deep piety. However, the name Sofrim depicts a fascinating angle of the giant luminaries of old; namely, that they were able to compute incredible numeric revelations from the words of the Torah. A millennium before the first Tandy computer and centuries before DOS was even imagined, they were able to reveal intricate gematrios that were stunning in their complexities.
For example, they taught us that the verse, “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad – Hear Yisroel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One,” has the same gematria as the verse, “Hashem hoshi’ah, HaMelech ya’aneinnu b’yom koreinu – G-d save! May the King answer us on the day we call.”
They further unearthed the incredible fact that the only pasuk in the Torah that has the same gematria as the two words “Eretz Yisroel,” is the verse, “Hashem Ish milchomah, Hashem Shemo – G-d is the Master of war, Hashem is His Name.” (Parenthetically, this teaches us that any victory in the history of Eretz Yisroel must be attributed to the prowess of Hashem and nothing else. Albeit, our brave Jewish soldiers are worthy agents of Hashem’s will.)
The computations of the Sofrim are not reserved to gematria alone. There are myriads of number-related secrets in the Torah. An elementary example is the fact that the twenty-fifth word, counting from the beginning of the Torah, is the word “ohr,” meaning light. This hints to the fact that it would be on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev that the great miracle of lights, namely Chanukah, would occur!
With this in mind, let me share with you a fascinating gematria from the Ziditshoveh Rebbe. He revealed that the numeric value of the verse, “V’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha, Ani Hashem – And you shall love your fellow like you love yourself, I am G-d,” is exactly the same gematria as the verse, “V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha – And you shall love Hashem, your G-d.” When I spotted this, I realized this is consistent with the idea that in Judaism the responsibility of bein adam l’chavero, interpersonal relationships, is equally important as bein adom l’Makom, the responsibilities between us and Hashem. Indeed, this is the reason why the two luchos, the two tablets of the Ten Commandments – one representing our relationship with Hashem and one representing our relationship with our follow man – were the same size and had the same number of commandments.
But, the Ziditshoveh Rebbe takes this gematria in a different direction. He explains that if you love someone, by extension you love his or her children. Therefore, since we are commanded “V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha – to love G-d,” the directive of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mocha, to love our fellow Jew like ourselves” follows naturally, for the Jewish people are the children of Hashem. As it says, “Banim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem – You are the children of [Hashem, Your G-d.”
As is well known, Hillel was confronted with the gentile who seemed to have 21st century patience, i.e. very little, he demanded that Hillel teach him all of Torah while he stood on one foot. (Doesn’t it sound familiar – people these days want to be convinced in thirty second sound bites). Hillel was up to the task. He exclaimed, “Ma d’soni loch, l’chavrecha lo saavid – What you dislike, don’t do to your fellow man. Zeh Torah kula; v’idach perusha – This is the whole Torah; everything else is commentary.”
Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, zy”a, points out that it’s astonishing that Hillel didn’t tell him, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha – I am the Lord your G-d,” which is, after all, the pillar of all of Judaism. Rav Miller concludes that Hillel’s words should reverberate continuously in our ears – how important our interpersonal relationships are in our being successful Torah Jews.
During these days of Sefira, when 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva died from the most horrible disease of diphtheria because they didn’t show enough honor one to another, we should take out the time to reflect honestly about our sensitivity to others, our care in avoiding embarrassing, hurting, disgusting, or annoying our fellow man. Let us make this season in which we abstain from music and haircuts a springboard to discuss these priorities with our loved ones. In that merit, may it be the will of Hashem to bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.