The Gemara calls our ancient sages “sofrim” – people who know how to count. This name seems odd for men endowed with encyclopedic knowledge and deep piety, but it actually alludes to a fascinating talent of the giant luminaries of old: their ability to see numeric revelations in the words of the Torah.
Two thousands years before the first Tandy computer was created, they were able to reveal gematrios that are stunning in their complexity. For example, they taught us that the verse, “Shema Yisroel, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem echad” shares the same gematria as the verse, “Hashem hoshi’ah, ha’melech ya’aneinu b’yom koreinu.”
They further discovered the incredible fact that the only pasuk in the Torah that has the same gematria as the two words “Eretz Yisrael” is “Hashem ish milchomah, Hashem shemo – G-d is the master of war, Hashem is His name.” (Parenthetically, this gematria teaches us that any Jewish victory in Eretz Yisrael must be attributed to the prowess of Hashem and nothing else – although our brave Jewish soldiers are worthy agents of Hashem’s will.)
The computations of the sofrim were not restricted to gematria alone. There are myriads of number-related secrets in the Torah. An elementary example is the following: The 25th word of the Torah is “ohr” (light), and the great miracle of lights that we celebrate on Chanukah of course took place on the 25th day of Kislev.
With these precedents in mind, let me share with you a fascinating gematria from the Ziditshoveh Rebbe. He notes that the gematria of the words, “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 “V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha – And you shall love Hashem, your G-d.”
When I first learned of this gematria, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is consistent with the idea that bein adam l’chavero is just as important as bein adom l’Makom. Indeed, that’s why the two luchos – one representing our relationship with Hashem and one representing our relationship with our fellow 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 children. Therefore, since we’re commanded to love G-d, the directive to love our fellow Jew like ourselves follows naturally since the Jewish people are the children of Hashem, as the Torah says, “Banim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem – You are the children of Hashem, your G-d.”
As we know, a gentile with 21st century – i.e. very little – patience once demanded that Hillel teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel responded, “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, pointed out that it’s astonishing that Hillel didn’t respond, “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 being proper Torah Jews.
During these days of sefira, when 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva died from a most horrible disease because they didn’t show enough honor one to another, we should take time to reflect honestly on our sensitivity to others, in caring to avoid embarrassing, hurting, or annoying our fellow man. During this season while we abstain from music and haircuts, let us discuss these priorities with our loved ones.
And in the merit of us doing so, may it be the will of Hashem to bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.