Making Sense of it All

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Bo
Making Sense of it All

Naftali grew up in an observant home. His parents and older siblings were extremely driven to prosper professionally. They succeeded. His family was made up of doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers. Naftali felt a sense of pressure to become an overachiever just like his parents, brothers, and sisters were.

The problem was that none of the academic topics that they were offering at the Ivory League university seemed to interest him. Naftali felt the weight of choosing his major. Knowing how proud it would make his parents, Naftali finally decided to explore a profession that dealt with the anatomy.

On his first day of classes, Naftali was very impressed with his professor. The lecture focused on the five senses of man.

Naftali was trying to write as fast as he could in order to keep up with the professor who just kept revealing fascinating information. Here are some excerpts from his talk.

There are five senses. They are: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Our senses allow us to learn about the world around us. They help us enjoy the world, and they also protect us from the world.

The sense of sight is dependent on the eyes. The lens at the front of the eyeball helps focus images onto the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is covered with two light sensitive cells called cones and rods. The cones allow us to see color, whereas the rods help us see better at night and also aid us with our peripheral vision.

All of this information is sent to the brain along the optic nerve. The images are sent upside down. The brain makes sense of what it receives by turning the images right side up. The brain also uses the images from both eyes to create a 3D (three dimensional) image, giving us the ability to perceive depth.

The sense of hearing is dependent on the ears. The ear is made up of two parts: the outer ear and the inner ear. The outer ear is what people can see. It works like a cup to catch sound as it travels past our heads. The outer ear is made of cartilage and skin.

Sound travels from the outer ear to the tympanic membrane and then to the inner ear through the three smallest bones in the body. The inner ear is also called the cochlea. The cochlea is a spiral shaped tube which translates vibrations into sound and sends those messages to the brain through the auditory nerve. The brain uses the sounds from both ears to determine distance and direction of sounds.

The sense of smell is dependent on the nose. The inside of the nose is lined with something called the mucous membranes. These membranes have small receptors connected to a special nerve called the olfactory nerve. Smells are made of fumes of various substances. The smell receptors react with the molecules of these fumes and then send these messages to the brain.

Our sense of smell can identify seven types of sensations put into the following categories: camphor, musk, flower, mint, ether, acrid, and putrid.

The sense of taste is dependent on the mouth. Taste comes from the taste buds on the tongue. These buds are called papillae. The tongue is only capable of tasting four separate flavors: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.

The sense of touch is dependent on nerve endings in the skin throughout the entire body. However, fingertips have a greater concentration of nerve endings. Therefore, the sense of touch is often associated with the hands. There are four kinds of touch sensations that can be identified by the brain: cold, heat, contact, and pain.

By the end of the lecture, Naftali had a much greater appreciation of the wondrous body that Hashem had created.

That evening, Naftali attended a parsha shiur given by a local Rabbi after Ma'ariv. That week was Parshas Bo. In that session, the Rabbi spoke about the Mitzvah of tefillin which is mentioned in the parsha. This is how the Rabbi began...

"One of the primary purposes of tefillin is to sanctify the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Four senses are found on the head: sight, hearing, smell, and taste. But the sense of touch is found on the hands.

The function of the box worn on the head is to direct the four senses that are found on the head to the service of God. This is why there are specifically four compartments inside that box. They are meant to purify the four senses that are located on the head.

The purpose of the box worn on the arm is to channel the one sense found on the arm toward the service of God. Therefore, there is only one compartment inside that box intended to make the sense of touch holy" (Mateh Moshe chap. 16; Eliyahu Rabba, Orach Chaim, 25:8; Rosh, Bo, 13:16).

Naftali could not believe what he was hearing! After learning about the science behind the physical senses during the day, he was now learning about the spirituality of the senses at night. This was no coincidence! Moreover, he felt that this was a personal message to him because his name was Naftali, and when you rearrange the letters of the name 'Naftali', you get the word 'tefillin'.

Perhaps we could add to the Rabbi's talk that when a person succeeds in consecrating his five senses to God, he is credited with wearing tefillin all the time. This is based on the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillin, 4:25) who says that tefillin are so holy that it should preferably be worn "all day" long. The words "all day" could imply that they should be worn even at night. It could also indicate that they should be worn every single day, including Shabbos and Yom Tov.

This interpretation is problematic because we know that the halacha states that tefillin may not be donned at night or on Shabbos and Yom Tom (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 30:2; 31:1). What does the Rambam mean?

Maybe we could suggest that the Rambam is instructing us to live up to tefillin's expectation by purifying our five senses. When a person does so, he is credited to be wearing tefillin all the time because this is what the essence of tefillin is. Wearing this "energy of tefillin" is permissible even at night and even on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Even women may wear this type of tefillin!

Rabbenu Bachya (Kad Hekemach, Erech Zenus Halev V'ha'ayin) points out that the five senses can be divided into two categories. The first category contains the senses of sight, hearing, and smell. These three senses are more spiritual in nature. The second category is comprised of the sense of taste and touch. Those two senses are more physical in nature.

Since Hashem built man in just such a way that the amount of spiritual senses outnumbers the physical senses, it teaches us that Hashem wants us to be more spiritual creatures than physical ones.

This explains why we find verses describing Hashem as seeing, hearing, and smelling (Ex. 3:4; Dt. 1:34; Gn. 8:21). Since they are the spiritual senses, they are connected to God.

However, we never find a verse speaking about Hashem in terms of tasting or touching, because those two senses are more physical and are distanced from God.

Purifying the senses is of such importance that it is one of the primary reasons that God created the world. It says, "These are the products of the heavens and earth 'b'hibaram'" (when He created them; Gn. 2:4). Rashi says that we could split the word "b'hibaram" into two parts, spelling it as "b'hey - baram" (with the letter hey He created them - the worlds).

On a deeper level, b'hey - baram also means that God created the world for the purpose of the letter "hey". The letter "hey" is numerically 5, indicating that the purpose of Creation was for man to make his five senses holy.

However, when Adam and Eve sinned with the Eitz Hada'as (forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge) they ruined all five senses. Eve listened to the poisonous words of the serpent (Gn. 3:4-5), ruining the sense of hearing. Eve saw that the fruit was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes (Gn. 3:6), ruining the sense of sight. She took the fruit (Gn. 3:6), thus ruining the sense of touch, and she ate it (Gn. 3:6), ruining the sense of taste.

Although the sense of smell is not explicitly mentioned as taking part in the sin, there was still a stain on that sense. This is because the sense of smell is associated with detecting something. For example, we often say, "Something smells fishy." This smell is not to be taken literally, rather, figuratively, representing a detection.

Moshiach will be able to "smell" a person who possesses yiras Hashem (reverence of God; Isa. 11:3). Yiras Hashem does not actually have a scent. Therefore, it means that Moshiach will be able to detect one who possesses yiras Hashem.

Adam and Eve should have detected that eating from that tree was the wrong thing to do. Since they did not, they wound up ruining the sense of smell, or shall I say, detection.

Avraham was the first person who began to rectify the five senses by harnessing them to do the will of God. This is why Hashem specifically added the letter "hey" to his name, indicating that he started fixing the damage that was done to the 5 ("hey") senses.

By doing so, Avraham fulfilled the purpose for creation. This is why the word "b'hibaram" (when He created them) are the same letters as "b'Avraham", teaching us that God created the world for people like Avraham who concentrated on making the "hey" (five) senses as holy as possible.

Avraham only began the process of rectification. We must all continue on this path. This is why we have a blessing for every one of the senses. For example, we recite a blessing upon seeing lightning, upon hearing thunder, upon smelling fragrances, upon eating, and after washing our hands. The blessings connected to the five senses are intended to help further purify them (Becha Yivarech Yisrael).

We all have this responsibility because we were all part of Adam and Eve's soul when they sinned with the Eitz Hada'as (Arizal, Sha'ar Hapesukim, Parshas Shemos). As such, we all ruined the five senses. This is why the Jews in Egypt had to suffer Egyptian bondage for 430 years. It is because when those same Jews sinned with the Eitz Hada'as and ruined their five senses, they brought five measures of harshness into the world, represented by God's name "Elokim" (the Name of harshness) which is mentioned five times in the story of the Eitz Hada'as (Gn. 3:8-14).

The Name "Elokim" is numerically 86. When 86 is multiplied by 5, it equals 430, indicating that it would take 430 years of Egyptian bondage to remove the five measures of strict justice from their "nefesh" (soul - which is also numerically 86), and sweeten the five Names "Elokim".

This is why the Name "Elokim" is mentioned five times in the story about the Jewish people's suffering in Egypt (Ex. 2:23-25), hinting to us that the point of the suffering was intended to repair the damage that was done to their "nefesh" when they ruined their five senses.

Egyptian bondage did not complete this task of cleansing their collective "nefesh" because the Jews were only enslaved for 86 years. Hashem had to take them out before the 430 years so that they would not sink to the fiftieth level of impurity which is beyond the point of return.

Therefore, God gave the Jews the mitzvah of tefillin in order to continue the cleansing process of mending the five senses. This is why the verse juxtaposes the mitzvah of tefillin with the exodus from Egypt (Ex. 13:16). It is to teach us that tefillin is meant to remind us that Egypt was about fixing the five senses, and the mitzvah of tefillin is supposed to continue that job.

Although we have completed a full thought and could stop here, for the benefit of those who would like to see how fixing the five senses grants us the ability to understand the true depth, breadth, and height of Torah, we will proceed to the next level.

There is a verse which juxtaposes the mitzvah of tefillin to obtaining the Torah of God (Ex. 13:9). The Talmud (Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 35a; Rav Acha bar Ya'akov) extrapolates from this verse that the entire Torah is equated with tefillin. Let us see how.

Before the sin of the Eitz Hada'as, the whole Torah, with its thousands of letters, was comprised of just the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in exclusion of the "mantzepach" letters (the five ending letters - mem, nun, tzadi, phey, and chuf) which change in shape when they appear at the end of a word. Only after the five senses were ruined by the sin of the Eitz Hada'as were the five mantzepach letters added to the Torah (Megaleh Amukos, parshas Naso; 5:6-7).

What connection is there between the ruination of the five senses and the addition of the five mantzepach letters? What benefit was there to the Torah without the mantzepach letters? What detriment is there to the Torah with the addition of the mantzepach letters?

The Sefer Hamefoar (Rabbi Shlomo Molcho, 1501-1532) says that the Torah which preceded the world by two thousand years had no interruptions in it. There were no separations between portions, paragraphs, verses, and words. Rather, it was one solid unit, one complete entity. With that unified Torah, people would be able to understand the deep Godly secrets contained in the Torah because the combinations of those letters and their meanings were endless.

With that Torah, we could ensure that death and illness would never descend onto our world. We would be able to build worlds and even destroy them at will.

Hashem wanted to give that Torah to man. But first, Hashem wanted to see if man could force himself to bend to do God's will even when he is tempted to do otherwise. If man would have the capacity to force himself to do God's will anyway, Hashem would be confident in man that he would not abuse such a powerful Torah.

So, Hashem decided to present the test of the Eitz Hada'as to Adam and Eve. When they failed this test, and transformed their five senses into merely physical tools, Hashem decided that He would not give a spiritually unified Torah to them because they would wind up destroying the world. Rather, He would give them a more physical Torah by throwing the five ending mantzepach letters into it which caused words and sentences to be separated from each other. A physical Torah means a limited Torah.

The mantzepach letters are called "osios stumos" (closed letters), indicating that, to a certain degree, the Torah is a closed book. We no longer know how to put all the combinations of letters together. The Torah became broken, limiting people's ability from conceptualizing its deep concepts. The five mantzepach letters caused the Torah to be divided into five books.

Now we can understand the benefit to a Torah without mantzepach. Such a Torah is unlimited which can prevent illness and death from entering our world. However, the detriment to Torah with mantzepach is that it makes the Torah limited, making it virtually impossible to appreciate its complete fullness. Only then did sickness and death creep into our world.

There is a hint that tells us that originally God intended on giving us a Torah with only 22 letters in it. The verse says that in the beginning God created "Es Hashamayim V'es Ha'aretz" (the heavens and the earth). The first created item mentioned in the verse is "Es", spelled aleph suf, hinting at all of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, from aleph to suf, in exclusion of the mantzepach letters.

However, later on the verse says "b'hibaram" (when He created them). As we mentioned above, this word can be split into two, spelling "b'hey - baram" (He created them with the letter hey). The letter hey is numerically five, teaching us that Hashem threw in the five letters of mantzepach because the "hey" (five) senses were ruined (Megaleh Amukos, parshas B'ha'aloscha).

As long as the mantzepach letters are found in the Torah, it reminds us that we still have the stain of the first sin on our slates. It reminds us that we have still not fixed the five senses. It reminds us that we will not be able to completely understand the full depth of Torah (Shvilei Pinchas).

Therefore, we must try to purify our five senses even more in order to repair the damage that was done to them and subsequently remove the five mantzepach letters from the Torah so that we will fully appreciate its teachings (Ba'al Shem Tov, Balak, #4).

This explains the connection between the mitzvah of tefillin and the entirety of Torah. Tefillin, with its five compartments all together, are meant to cleanse our five senses. Once we accomplish this, the "closed letters" will be removed from a "closed" Torah, and it will become an open book, exposing new dimensions for us (Shvilei Pinchas).

Therefore, when it says that "Tzofim" (seers) spoke about mantzepach (Shabbos, chap. 12, "Haboneh", pg. 104a; Megillah, chap. 1, "Megillah Nikreis", pgs. 2b-3a), it does not mean that the prophets instituted the ending letters. This is because prophets do not have the authority to create something new to the written Torah. Rather, "Tzofim" refers to the Torah scholars who told us about the history of mantzepach, beginning with the Eitz Hada'as (Shvilei Pinchas).

When the Talmud goes on to say that mantzepach was forgotten and then reinstituted, it does not mean that there was a time in Jewish history when those letters were lost because we always had Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzos which contained the mantzepach letters (Pnei Yehoshua). Perhaps we could suggest that it means that by the time we got to Sinai and said Na'aseh V'nishmah (We will do and we will obey; Ex. 24:7), we finally fixed the sin of the Eitz Hada'as. Therefore, it was God who said, "Forget about mantzepach." Hashem removed those letters and decided to give us the unified Torah.

Unfortunately, we immediately sinned again with the Golden Calf. Therefore, God reinstituted the mantzepach letters into the Torah.

Maybe we could go on to propose that this could be the difference between the first Luchos (set of Tablets) and the second Luchos. After Na'aseh V'nishmah, Hashem gave us the first Luchos, completely from Heaven, completely spiritual. Those Luchos had no mantzepach letters in them.

However, once we sinned, Moshe had to smash those Luchos because we were no longer deserving of the higher Torah. Therefore, we received the second Luchos which were more physical, carved out from earth. On the second Luchos there were mantzepach letters.

Before concluding, let us explore why specifically the mantzepach letters were chosen to be the ending letters. We will see that it is because the five mantzepach letters correspond to the five senses, either by implication or by shape.

The letter mem is connected to the sense of smell because in order to pronounce a letter mem, air must flow through the nose (Arizal, Likkutei Torah, Balak). Additionally, the shape of a regular mem looks like the side of a man's face with a small protrusion that looks like a nose (Shvilei Pinchas).

Once Adam and Eve ruined the sense of smell by not detecting that it was wrong to eat from the Eitz Hada'as, they lost control of their sense of smell. So, God added an ending mem whose shape loses the nose, indicating that Adam and Eve lost their spiritual sense of smell.

When we cleanse the sense of smell by detecting what is right and what is wrong, the ending mem will be removed from the Torah, and we will get our noses back, represented by the shape of the regular mem.

The letter nun corresponds to the sense of hearing because there are fifty gates of understanding (Rosh Hashanah, chap. 1, "Arba'a Roshei Shanim", pg. 21b; Rav and Shmuel). The letter nun is numerically fifty. Understanding is often expressed as listening, as it says, "Grant your servant a LISTENING heart to UNDERSTAND between good and evil" (Kin. 1, 3:9). Therefore, the letter nun equals fifty which equals understanding which equals hearing. Therefore, the letter nun is connected to the sense of hearing.

Moreover, the shape of a regular nun looks like the ear on the side of a man's face, with a soft earlobe at the bottom (Shvilei Pinchas). We are supposed to use the soft earlobe to stuff up our ears preventing us from hearing forbidden words (Kesuvos, chap. 1, "Besulah Niseis", pg. 5b; D'bei Rebbi Yishmael).

Since Adam and Eve did not stuff up their ears from listening to the poisonous words of the serpent, they lost their spiritual sense of hearing. Therefore, God added an ending nun whose shape loses the earlobe indicating their loss of spiritual ears. When we repair the sense of hearing by closing our ears to sinful words, the ending nun will be removed from the Torah, and we will get our ears back, represented by the shape of the regular nun.

The letter tzadi is connected to the sense of sight because both the regular tzadi and the ending tzadi has two heads at the top of it, looking like two yuds. The regular or "bent" tzadi represents the tzaddik (righteous person) who bends down so as not to see something forbidden. The ending or "stretched out" tzadi represents the tzaddik who lifts his eyes to look for a mitzvah (Shvilei Pinchas based on Shabbos, chap. 12, "Haboneh", pg. 104a, Dardeki - Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua; See Tosafis there).

During the Eitz Hada'as, Adam and Eve sinned by stretching out their eyes to look to do something forbidden, thereby ruining the sense of sight. In order to publicize their sin, Hashem threw an outstretched tzadi into the Torah (Shvilei Pinchas; Shabbos ibid). But, when we mend the sense of sight by looking away from evil, the ending tzadi will be removed from the Torah, which will show that we fixed our eyes by bending down to look away from sin.

The letter phey links to the sense of taste because the regular phey looks like the slightly open mouth from the side of a man's face. Adam and Eve should have closed that slight opening of the mouth by refusing to eat from the Forbidden Fruit. Instead, they opened their mouths wide to eat from it, thus ruining the sense of taste. In order to publicize their sin, Hashem threw an ending or "open" phey into the Torah, which looks like a mouth that is open wide (Shvilei Pinchas; Shabbos ibid). However, when we rectify the sense of taste by refraining from tasting prohibited items, the ending phey will be removed from the Torah, representing that we learned how to close our mouths from sin.

The letter chuf is attached to the sense of touch because when a chuf is spelled out, (chuf phey) it spells the word "kaf" (palm of a hand). The shape of a regular or bent chuf represents somebody who closes his hand from sin. But, Adam and Eve opened their hands to take from the Eitz Hada'as, thereby ruining the sense of touch. Therefore, God threw an ending or open chuf into the Torah to publicize their sin (Shvilei Pinchas, Shabbos ibid). When we repair the sense of touch by closing our hands from sin, the ending or outstretched chuf will be removed from the Torah.

This is why specifically the mantzepach letters were added to the Torah when the five senses were ruined. It is because they are intimately connected to those five senses.

Practically speaking, when putting tefillin on, have in mind that today I want to sanctify my five senses a little bit more and complete the tikkun that began in Egypt.

Even those who do not wear tefillin could say each day, "I am going to try to make my five senses a little bit holier today." By doing so, we are all credited with wearing tefillin all day long because this is the essence of tefillin.

Additionally, let us try to study the Five Books of the Torah more deeply, connecting ideas together. Let us LOOK at the words with our eyes, SAY the words out loud with our mouths, LISTEN to what we or others are saying, POINT to the place with our fingers, and don't forget to FLARE those thumbs when learning. Most importantly, let us try to learn how to behave properly from those Torah lessons so that we obtain the SCENT of a ben Torah, and the SCENT of a bas Yisrael.

So, may we all be blessed to become even more spiritual by further sanctifying our five senses and atone for the sin of the Eitz Hada'as and subsequently be rescued from our modern-day Egypt, and become even more knowledgeable of the deepest and highest of Torah teachings, with the light of tefillin shining from all of our faces, impacting the entire world by recreating it as it was in the beginning.