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Heartbeats

whose stories are they?

[Kabbalah] was also an ordinary thing that came up every so often in class or in sermons, tied with gematria. (Gematria is frequently referred to as Jewish numerology as if the discipline were a matter of adding up all the numbers in our name and going "That means you will meet a dark stranger on the beach," instead of a form of investigation into the inner meanings of complex texts that were quite possibly deliberately employing such a system.) In one speech I remember, during a Simchat Torah service, my rabbi stood, carrying the Torah, and rolled it open to the very last word. "The last letter of the last word of the Torah," he said, "is lamed. The first letter of the first word of the Torah is bet. Lamed-bet. Lamed-vet. Lev. The Hebrew word for heart."

"The Torah," he said, "is a beating heart. It beats slowly, once a year. But it's been beating for a long time."

– from nextian

Gematria is typically based on the fact that each Hebrew letter also has a numeric value. You add up the numeric value of a word, letter by letter, and you can do little philosophical tricks on the basis of the total: for example, the total of one word may equal the total of two other words, and you can do some philosophical exploration of the way the words are all linked. In the story above, the rabbi used a slightly different technique. To understand exactly how it worked, you need to know that classical Hebrew doesn't indicate vowels in written material. The letters lamed and vet (which is a variant of the letter bet) stand for the sounds L-V. In English, that might call to mind LIVE or LOVE, but in Hebrew, it suggested lev - heart.

Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah." The Torah scroll, contain the first five books of the Bible ("the five books of Moses" or the Old Testament), is read from beginning to end, in weekly "portions," throughout the year. The holiday on which the scrolls are rolled back from the end to the beginning of Genesis again is Simchat Torah. It's a very happy occasion that certainly includes dancing around the synagogue with the scroll (see pictures here for an example) and also sometimes unrolling the entire scroll to its considerable full length.

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chomiji
Jan. 27th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)

I hear you on learning about other religions. Most religions have something interesting about them!

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