Mishpatim: Terms and Conditions for the Never-ending Story ~ Tzvi Abraham
Terms and Conditions for the Never-ending Story
סֵפֶר: book, scroll, Torah
לְסַפֵּר: to recount, to tell a story
מִסְפָּר: number, count
סַפִּיר: sapphire, crystal
סֵפֶר: Book, Scroll, Torah
וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע
And he took the Book of the Covenant and he called into the ears of the people, and they said, “All that is the word of Hashem we will do and we will listen.”1
נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/“we will do and we will listen,” is a bit like ticking the Terms and Conditions box without actually reading them. And why do we do this? Either we are too lazy to read the Terms and Conditions, or we trust in the organization that they have our best interests at heart. In the case of נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע,we trusted that Hashem was concerned for our best interests.
What is a סֵפֶר? The very first סֵפֶרwas, of course, the סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה. Even though it did not exist in written form until the time of Moshe Rabbeinu and Har Sinai, itnevertheless existed in form before the universe was created, as Chazal say that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.2
The first time the word סֵפֶרappears in the Torah is early on in Bereshis, where it says: זֶה סֵפֶר תּוֹלְדֹת אָדָם/this is the seferof the generations of man.3The Ramban says סֵפֶרhere hints to the Torah, because the whole Torah is a collection of the generations of man. Rabbeinu Bechaya offers another explanation, saying that it is referring to חָכְמָה/wisdom, because the essential generations of man are not just his physical children, but more so the wisdom he passes on from generation to generation. This is the סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, the wisdom that we pass on from generation to generation, an everlasting inheritance, מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִילַת יַעַקֹב.
סֵפֶרis a written account of a סִיפּוּר, a story or event, which is written down and recorded so that it should not be forgotten — such is its importance. We see this with the mitzvah to remember Amalek, as it is written: וַיֹּאמֶר ה’אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כִּי מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם
And Hashem said to Moshe: “Write this as a remembrance in the book and place it in the ears of Joshua, that the mentioning of Amalek should surely be erased from underneath the Heavens.”4And again in Devarimwhere we are told not to forget what happened with Amalek.5
Everyone has a story, but not everyone’s story is written.
The Gemara in Megillahsays that in the times of the Tanach, there were hundreds upon hundreds of prophets, yet only forty-eight prophets were written down.6The reason given is that only the prophecies that were needed for the later generations were recorded for prosperity. Only stories that have a message, those that contain wisdom and value for future generations, are made into סְפָרִים —the authentic list of best-sellers.
לְסַפֵּר: To Recount, To Tell a Story
Like we said above, everyone has a story. The story we like to retell the most is our own story. It is the most interesting of all stories, because we are its author. What we talk about reveals to others, and ourselves, what we value.
מִסְפָּר: Number, Count
Not only do we recount what we value, we also count what we value. My young daughter of nine has recently begun to value money. She has a purse where she saves all her coins, and every other day she counts them. Money obviously has value, and so too the Jewish Nation has value, which is why Hashem counts us on numerous occasions. We are innumerable like the stars, yet compared to the billions of people in the world, we are few in number. Why? Because the Torah states that the Jewish Nation will remain few in number. The fact that we are few in number is not a minus but a plus. Anyone who has been a stamp or coin collector knows that the rarer an item is, the more valuable it becomes. We are Hashem’s treasured nation and are therefore very precious in His eyes.
Each and every one of us is connected to an individual letter in the sefer Torah, and just like each letter has a corresponding numerical value (gematria), so too we have intrinsic value, and just like a sefer Torah isposul/invalidated if it is missing one letter, so too every one of us counts.
סַפִיר: Sapphire, Crystal
וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר
And they saw the G-d of Israel, and underneath His legs it was like gems of sapphire, the essence of Heaven, with clarity.7
The elders were later punished for looking into an aspect of Hashem that they were not on a level to receive. Instead of looking away, they were drawn to the light. Yechezkeldescribes how the throne of Hashem is made of sapphire,8which is why the blue of the techelesdye on the tzitzisreminds us of the sea, which in turn reminds us of the Heavens, which connects to theכִסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Hashem’s throne. Sapphire is from the family of precious gemstones that have this mesmerizing aspect of reflecting light through its crystal surface. The blue of תְּכֵלֶת/techeles, which comes from the word תַּכְלִית/purpose, signifies to us that our purpose is to connect to that heavenly aspect of sapphire and reflect Hashem’s light into the world, infusing it with an aspect of crystal clarity.
Any novice to Kabbalah knows that there are ten sefiros, which correspond to ten aspects of Hashem, which ultimately filter Hashem’s light from the Heavenly spheres down to our earthly domain. When we count sefiras ha’omer, we are in essence tapping into these different levels of sefiros, and each day we are drawing the light down to the point where, on the fiftieth day, Shavuos, we are able to receive Hashem’s light in the form of Kabbalas HaTorah.
Every sphere has a defining edge, the border, which gives it shape and identity. When it comes to the judgment of obliterating an עִיר הַנִידַחַת/wayward city, the Torah states that this does not apply to the border towns, or to two or three towns in the same district, because it would create a bald spot, causing a susceptibility to enemy invasion. The borders are therefore very significant in conserving national identity.
Based on our above definitions, we can now solve the conundrum of why a hairdresser is called a סַפַּר. Just like the סְפַר/border gives shape and identity to the sphere, so too the hair, which is situated at the edge of the body, gives shape and identity. If left to grow, it makes one’s appearance wild, which is why the hairdresser is fittingly called a סַפַּר,because by cutting the hair, he reshapes and redefines the way we look. Just like the סְפַר/border offers protection, so too the hair has an aspect of protection; for example, the eyelashes protecting the eyes, and the hair in the nose.
Perhaps we could also say that the hairdresser is so called because he is the one who is constantly telling stories to amuse his customers — a truly captive audience!
Scissors are the tools of his trade. Life is a story where we are constantly growing. Even though we reach a point where physically we stop growing, our hair nonetheless continues to grow, and so too inwardly we are growing. However, just like we don’t allow our hair to become wild, so too we need to shape and reshape ourselves, to define who we are.
The Torah, like the מִסְפָּרַיִם/scissors, is the tool of the trade that allows us to shape and give ourselves the cutting edge.
It takes a diamond to cut a diamond; so too we need to cut through the Torah in order for the Torah to cut through us. If we succeed, it will give us a sapphire-like quality of shape and definition with a crystal-clear perspective of the reality of who we are.
Just as a surgeon has to make very fine incisions, so too the Torah sometimes has to be cut as fine as a hairsbreadth. The more we count and recount the pages of the story, i.e., the Torah, the more we come to value it. So too, the more we are able to be דַק וּמְדוּיַק/fine and exacting with its content, the more we are able to refine and define who we are.
So, we have the cutting edge (the Torah), but do we make the cut? I.e., do we allow the Torah to cut through us?
In conclusion, the סֵפֶר תּורָהcombines all of the above aspects: not only is it the סִיפּוּר/story of the generations of man and the passing down of wisdom, it is also a series of מִסְפָּרִים/numbers (gematria), where we סוֹפֶר/count toward the giving of the Torah because we value what we count. Theסֵפֶר תּוֹרָה is the tachlis, the hidden light that enables us to connect to the aspect of clarity, to the סַפִּיר/sapphire ofHashem’s throne and bring down Hashem’s light into the world. It is a Torah scroll, whose shape is round like a סְפִירָה/sphere, and even though a story has a beginning, middle, and end, the סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה is like a sphere that is continuous, because just like a year that has a beginning, middle, and end nevertheless continues to go around, so too on Simchas Torah, as soon as we finish we begin again the never-ending story. Like theסְפַר/borders, which offer us protection, so too the theסֵפֶר תּוֹרָהis the tavlin/spice that protects us from our enemy — the yetzer hara.The Torah is also like the מִסְפָּרַיִם, being a tool that shapes and defines our lives, giving the Jewish People the cutting edge.
We are the people of נַעַשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, who accept the terms and conditions of the never-ending story without question, because we trust the Author.
2Bereishis Rabbah 1:1.