Thursday, November 17, 2016

Definition ii: Continuity


“The lip of truth is established for eternity; but momentary is a false tongue”
Proverbs 12:19

   A second definition of truth in the Torah is continuity. This definition may be inferred from a section of Talmud discussing whether the branch waived during the festival of Sukkot may be taken from the “Hirdoff” plant.[1] The Talmud rejects this possibility by citing the verse, “You shall love truth and peace.”[2] Rashi explains that because Hirdoff is poisonous, it represents neither truth nor peace.[3] Poison obviously contradicts peace, but how is it at variance with truth? Since truth connotes continuity, poison, which ends life, is aptly considered its opposite.

 Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in his magnum opus, Tanya, employs this connotation of truth when distinguishing between the love of God that the enlightened Tzaddik arouses during contemplative prayer and the love aroused by one of lower spiritual stature. The Tzaddik, he explains, is capable of maintaining love for God beyond formal prayer, when re-entering daily life, the other, however, cannot.[4] The former, he comments, possesses the attribute of truth via continuity while the latter lacks it.[5]

The transience of falsehood is beautifully illustrated by the Midrash which relates how falsehood sought refuge from the Great Flood by entering Noah’s Ark. Noah, however, refused it entry because it lacked a mate. Falsehood subsequently approached loss, requesting they become mates and enter the ark together. Loss asked, “What will you give me?” To which falsehood replied, “Whatever is acquired through me will be given to you.” With that, loss agreed.[6]

The 17th Century mystic, the Maharal of Prague, explains that Noah only accepted male and female pairs into his ark because only they have continuity. This principle, he adds, also applies to spiritual qualities. For instance, the concept of giving is meaningless without that of receiving, and vice-versa. Accordingly, since falsehood lacked a mate, it turned to loss for partnership.

Falsehood is masculine/active, and loss, feminine/passive. People actively lie to achieve something, but no-one one actively loses something; loss is something that happens to them. In reality, their union implies that whatever is achieved via falsehood is eventually lost.[7] Herein rests the paradoxical existence of falsehood: for continuity’s sake falsehood has a partner; but its partner is loss - a form of discontinuity. In other words: discontinuity allows falsehood to continue!

Note that the concept that truth is eternal does not imply that truth is continually apparent to humanity. In a Talmudic dialogue between a Roman governor and the sage Rabbi Eliezer, the governor cites the passage, “The lip of truth is established for eternity; but momentary is a false tongue.”[8] Based on the verse, the Governor argued that since the Roman Empire has maintained rule for centuries while the reign of Jewish Monarchy was short-lived, Rome exemplifies the beginning of the verse, while Jewish sovereignty, the end. Rabbi Eliezer retorted, “If the verse read, ‘The lip of truth is established forever’, in the present tense, your claim would be valid. However, it states, ‘The lip of truth shall be established forever’, in future tense. Presently, falsehood reigns; only in the future will the ultimate truth become apparent.”[9]

The continuity aspect of truth is alluded to in the Gematriya, numerology, of the Hebrew word for truth.[10] One method of Gematriya, called Mispar Katan, reduced value, involves reducing numbers to their root in the 1-9 integers. Accordingly, 40 becomes 4+0 = 4, 135 becomes 1+3+5= 9, etc. Applying Mispar Katan to the word, ﬡמת, truth, yields 9: 
  = 1, מ= 40, ת = 4; thus, 1+ 4 + 4 = 9.[11]
What is the connection between truth and the number 9? The digits of 9’s multiples always add up to nine, reflecting the unchanging, continuous, nature of truth.[12]  For instance:  9x2=18, 1+8=9; 9x3=27, 2+7=9; 9x4=36, 3+6=9..., etc.  

Building on this idea, the Midrash asks why the Torah begins with the letter Bet, the second letter of the Aleph-Bet, rather than the Aleph, the first letter.[13] The first three words of the Torah emphasize the concept of truth, to impress that the foundation of the Torah is truth. This is intimated by combining the last letters of the first three words together: ‘Bereshit bara Elokim’- בראשית ברא אלקים  which spells Emet, truth.[14] The letter Bet is also consistent with this theme since adding every group of three letters in the Aleph-Bet starting with the letter Bet consistently yields 9, the reduced numerical value of Emet.[15]
For instance:
Bet (2) + Gimmel (3) + Dalet (4) = 2+3+4 = 9
Chet (8) + Tet (9) + Yud (10) = 8+9+10 = 27, 2+7 = 9
Chaf (20) + Lamed (30) + Mem (40) = 20 + 30 + 40 = 2+3+4 = 9

However, when starting with the letter Aleph, adding the corresponding groups of three letters consistently yields six, the Mispar Katan of the word sheker, falsehood.[16]
 For instance:
Alef (1) + Beit (2) + Gimmel (3) = 1+2+3 = 6
Zayin (7) + Chet (8) + Tet (9) = 7+8+9 = 24; 2+4 = 6
Yud (10) + Chaf (20) + Lamed (30) = 10 + 20 + 30 =60; 1+2+3 = 6

Furthermore, continuity is also implied by the letters of Emet which span across the entire Aleph-Bet.[17] This reflects how truth endures through time; from its beginning to its end. In contrast, the letters of the word Sheker are bunched together side by side toward the very end of the Aleph-Bet, indicating the transience of falsehood.[18]          

[1] Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 32b
[2] Zechariah 8:19
[3] Rashi on Sukkah 32b
[4] Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, Ch.13
[5] Ibid.
[6] Midrash Genesis Rabbah Sec.32
[7] Lowe, Yehuda, Netivot Olan, Netiv Haemet, Sec.2
[8] Proverbs 12:19
[9] Zohar Ki Sisa 188a
[10] In Torah numerology, the numerical values of letters and words are of main concern, yet there are many ways of calculating a word’s numerical equivalent, each pointing to a different aspect of a word. See Cordovero, Moshe, Pardes Rimonim 30:8
[11] Horowitz, Yeshayah, Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Toldot Adam, Bet Israel, Sec.11
[12] Yaarot Devash, Vol 1, Derush 13; Itzchak Isaac of Ziravitz, Otiot DeRebbi Yitzchak, Israel, 1965, p.20a
[13] Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit, 1:1
[14] DeVidas, Eliyahu, Reshit Chochmah, Shelach 163b
[15] Bogomilsky, Moshe, Vedibarta Bam, Vol. 1, Sichos in English, Bereshit 1:1
[16] ש= 300 =3;  ק=100=1;ר = 200=2; thus: 3+1+2 = 6
[17] Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 1:1, Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:10
[18] Lowe, Yehudah, Derech Chaim 5:7

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