Saturday, November 24, 2007

VaYishlach - Michael Levy

I really appreciated the Dvar Torah below and have chosen to present it here as a guest piece, verbatim. While I am trying to keep this blog as purely parsha (and the piece that fits is on parsha), I need to stray a bit from protocal and introduce the author.
I have a strong memory of visiting my parents' (tslabw) in their home and picking up a copy of Mens' Health, which I later hijacked (ie. borrowed) (later lost). As I did with the Forbes Magazines - that I picked up as a kid and scoured for something I connected with until happily happening upon Thoughts On The Business Of Life on the last page - I looked through Men's Health for a personal piece that would grab my heart. I found a story written by Michael Levy accompanied by a drawing (painting?) of the bike ride described in the story that hit me hard - in a good way. The name rang a bell, he sounded familiar from overlapping circles, but I wasn't sure.
Some time later my dear friend Mark Heilman started speaking of his dear friends Michael and Levy. Then I visited Mark and we enjoyed a wonderful meal with them on one occasion (maybe more). And I have a fond memory of sitting next to Michael at a Linclon Square Shaloshudes and telling him about how much that Men's Health Piece meant to me. I googled and found a piece by Michael on Aish HaTorah's website. It seems to be that same story from Men's Health. Please find and enjoy it here.
And now please read on enjoy Michael's insights on VaYishlach.
Go Figure
Torah Portion Vayishlach
By Rabbi Michael Levy

The child within me complains: “The world contains too much uncertainty! You don't know how new acquaintances will treat you! You study hard, but you don't always do well on tests! And you might FAIL!!! It's scary!”

This child LOVES numbers. In numbers there is certainty.

A math problem always has one right answer. The solution to the rate-time-distance puzzler about the two trains on the Bad Creek Express will be the same when the next generation tackles the problem.

I can understand, and not just intellectually, why people are drawn to numbers in the Torah. To the certainty in numbers is added the dimension of Divine Revelation. The World Wide Web is full of speculations about hidden numerical references—from Osama Bin Ladin to the end of days.

Our sages understood that Torah numbers could not magically bring certainty to an unpredictable world. Yet, if God saw fit to set down numbers for generations to peruse, there is something to be learned from them.

Vayishlach, this week's Torah portion, contains one of my favorite lessons from numbers.” After twenty years, Jacob is preparing to encounter his brother Esau who (when we last heard from him) had the death of Jacob high on his agenda. Before the brothers meet, Jacob tries to appease Esau with round upon round of gifts.

One of the gifts Jacob sends his brother is a combination of male and female goats and a combination of male and female sheep (Genesis 32, 15.) . Each combination totals 220. Could it be more than livestock inventory?

Sure enough, our sages (some attribute the commentary to Rav Nachshon Gaon, who lived in the 9th century,) remind us that 220 is one of a pair of digits called the amicable numbers. The other number is 284.

All the factors of 220 (other than itself) add up to 284. All the factors of 284 (other than itself) add up to 220.

Through numbers, Jacob conveys a message of reconciliation to Esau. Perhaps the Torah is teaching us something about "angry" and "amicable."”

IN gematria, which assigns a numerical value to each Hebrew letter, 220 equals the Hebrew letters Resh Chaf. These letters spell Rach, meaning "soft," or "tender."

Proverbs 15, 1 teaches us that "ma-aneh Rach yashiv cheimah," "a soft answer turneth away wrath," as the popular English translation renders it. Jacob, in his 220 "Rach" soft overture to Esau was in effect saying "I DID wrong you by deceiving our father and taking the blessing that was designated for you-take my gifts as an apology.”

David Burns in his book "Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy," states that an effective way to deal with another person's anger is to find some basis for agreement with him. If he says "You're a piece of garbage," and you reply "you know, sometimes I feel like a piece of garbage," how can he come up with an angry reply?

The second part of Proverbs 15, 1 states "udvar etsev ya-aleh AF,"--a response causing another pain will make rage rise." The numerical value of etsev--pain, is 162. The numerical value of AF--rage, is 81. 81 times 2 is 162.. If you respond to another's anger by saying something that will cause him pain, he will likely become twice as angry as he was before.

Should we try to appease Esau in his embodiment as the nations of the world who struggle to defeat Klal Yisrael? I leave that to the Web speculators. I'm still fighting my battles in the arena of anger and reconciliation, trying -at least concerning the lesson of 220 - to live by the numbers.
Shabbat Shalom

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