The Fussy Seven

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parsha Ki Savo
The Fussy Seven

In the context of the Jewish people listening to Hashem and thereby being told that they will receive blessings from Hashem, the pasuk in this week’s parsha says, “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you” (Parshas Ki Savo, 28:10).

The Gemara (Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 35a, Rebbi Eliezer Hagadol) expounds on this verse and says that the Name of God that the nations of the world will see upon the Jewish people refers to the Name of Hashem that appears on the box of Tefillin which is worn on the head.

Rashi (ibid) explains that the Name of God which we are referring to is the Name Shakkai (spelled: shin, dalet, yud), and the majority of that Name Shakkai is found on the box of Tefillin worn on the head. The letter shin of Shakkai is engraved on the outside of the Tefillin box, and the letter dalet of Shakkai is found in the shape of the knot in the back of the head of the Tefillin Shel Rosh.

The Ba’al Haturim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Rabbi Asher, 1269 Cologne Germany – 1343 Toledo Spain; Parshas Ki Savo, 28:10) says that there is a hint in our verse which points to the letter shin of the Name Shakkai found on the Tefillin Shel Rosh. The verse said, “When all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of God is proclaimed on you, they will revere you.” The Hebrew words for, “Name of God is proclaimed” are, “Shem Hashem Nikra.” The acronym of these three Hebrew words are: shin, yud, nun, which spell the word “Shin,” which is the name of this letter.

Rabbenu Bachya (1050-1120, Zaragoza, Spain; Parshas Ki Savo, 28:10) adds that once we have established that the acronym of the words, “Shem Hashem Nikra” is “Shin,” we could read this verse by taking out the words “Shem Hashem Nikra,” and substitute them with their acronym which is the word “Shin,” so that the verse reads, “Then the peoples of the earth will see that the Shin is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

All of this brings us to a question, “What is so special about the Tefillin Shel Rosh in general, and what is so unique about the letter Shin, in particular, that warrants such a severe reaction from the peoples of the earth?” Meaning, what is it about the letter Shin which generates such trepidation?

The Megaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585-1633, Poland; Parshas Beha’alosecha) offers one answer to this question based on the following story told in the Talmud.

The Gemara (Kedushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 29b) relates that the great Amoraic Sage, Abaye, heard that another great Amoraic Sage, Rav Acha, was coming to town. Now, in that town, Abaye’s Beis Midrash (study hall, academy, shul) was haunted by a certain mazik (a spiritual destructive force). It was so dangerous to enter that Beis Midrash that if even two people entered it by day (which is usually an unlikely scenario for mazikin to harm anybody) one would still be hurt by that mazik.

So, Abaye instructed his disciples and constituents to refuse Rav Acha lodging in their homes for his overnight stay. Abaye knew that without a place to sleep that night, Rav Acha would probably turn to the Beis Midrash for that evening’s shelter. Abaye hoped that a miracle would occur for Rav Acha which would destroy the resident mazik.

Sure enough, as evening drew near, Rav Acha approached the locals requesting lodging from them. Rav Acha was surprised to find that the people of this town refused to be hospitable toward him.

With no place else to go, Rav Acha turned to the community Beis Midrash and decided to sleep there for the night. When Rav Acha was all alone at night, the mazik appeared to him as a serpent who possessed seven heads. This monstrous seven headed serpent began to make its way toward Rav Acha to harm him or perhaps to even kill him.

Rav Acha began to daven to Hashem. During his prayers, Rav Acha bowed down to Hashem. As soon as Rav Acha bowed down to Hashem, one of the serpent’s heads was severed. Rav Acha kept bowing down to God as he prayed. After seven bows, all seven heads of the serpent were cut off.

On the next day, Rav Acha said to Abaye, “If a miracle did not occur for me, I would have really been in a dangerous position.”

This story begs us to ask, how could Abaye rely upon a miracle? The Gemara (Pesachim, chap. 5, “Tamid Nishchat”, pg. 64b) tells us, “Ain Somchin Al Hanes” (We are not supposed to depend upon a miracle). There was a real concern that a miracle would not have transpired for Rav Acha. Maybe Rav Acha would have been hurt or even killed. If so, how could Abaye place his contemporary is such a dangerous predicament?

One answer to this question will be understood in light of another story found in the Chumash. In Parshas Vayishlach (33:3) when Ya’akov met his brother, Eisav, after many years of separation, it says, “Then he (Ya’akov) went on ahead of them (his family) and bowed earthward seven times [towards Eisav] until he reached his brother.”

Ya’akov’s conduct seems difficult to understand. How could Ya’akov bow down towards Eisav? Does it not say in the Torah, “You may not prostrate yourself to an alien god” (Parshas Ki Sisa, 34:14)? Bowing down towards Eisav does not seem like a very Jewish thing to do. What was Ya’akov thinking?

The Zohar (Parshas Vayishlach, pg. 171b) answers this question by saying that Ya’akov saw that the Shechina was present in front of Eisav and his men. In fact, the Zohar has an alternative way of translating the aforementioned verse in Parshas Vayishlach. The verse only said, “Then he went on ahead of them.” There are a lot of pronouns in this verse. Who went in front of whom? The simple meaning of the verse is that Ya’akov went on ahead of his family.

However, according to the Zohar, the verse means to say that He refers Hashem Who went in front of them, referring to Eisav and his men. Ya’akov perceived the Divine Presence there and bowed down to Hashem seven times. Therefore, Ya’akov did not transgress the prohibition of not bowing down to alien gods.

Although this answers that question, it triggers yet another question. Why did Hashem choose to make His Shechina appear in front of Eisav and his men specifically at that moment when Ya’akov was meeting up with Eisav? One answer to this question will be understood after we probe two different Talmudic passages.

The Gemara (Succa, chap. 5, “Hachalil”, pg. 52a) quotes Rav Avira, and some say it was Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi who said that the Yetzer Hara has seven names. We are going to explore those seven names right now:

1) Hashem called the evil inclination “Ra” (evil) as Hashem said, “Since the inclination of man’s heart is Ra (evil) from his youth” (Parshas Noach, 8:21).

2) Moshe Rabbenu called it “Orel (uncircumcised) as Moshe said, “And you must cut away the Orla (barrier) of your heart. The Orla of the heart is the Yetzer Hara.

3) Dovid Hamelech called it “Tamei” (impure) as King David said, “Create a pure (Tahor) heart for me O’ Lord” (Tehillim, 51:12). Since Dovid Hamelech requested a “Tahor” heart, we can infer that there must be such a thing as a “Tamei” heart, referring to the Yetzer Hara.

4) Shlomo Hamelech called it “Sonei” (enemy; foe) as King Solomon said, “If your “Sonei” (foe) is hungry, feed him bread, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Mishlei, 25:21). “For you will be scooping coals to heap on his head, and Hashem will reward you” (Mishlei, 25:22).

5) Yeshaya Hanavi called it “Michshol” (stumbling block; obstacle) as Yeshaya said, “Pave, pave, clear the road, remove the “Michshol” (obstacle) from my people’s path” (Yeshaya, 57:14).

6) Yechezkel Hanavi called it “Ehven” (stone) as Yechezkel said, “And I will remove the heart of “Ehven” (stone) from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Yechezkel, 36:26).

7) Yoel Hanavi called it “Tziphoni” (northern one), as Yoel said, “And I will distance the “Tziphoni” (northern one) from you” (Yoel, 2:20). The root of the word “Tziphoni” is “Tzaphone.” However, if we rearrange the vowels just a little bit, this word can be pronounced as “Tzaphoon” (hidden), referring to the Yetzer Hara which is hidden and buried within the heart of man.

Now that we have established that the Yetzer Hara possesses seven names, The Megaleh Amukos explains why the Yetzer Hara has seven names. He says that it is because the seven names of the Yetzer Hara teach us that the Yetzer Hara possesses seven forces of evil which are at his disposal, in his arsenal, which he uses to wage a spiritual war against us.

If we allow ourselves to listen to the ill advice of the Yetzer Hara and if we allow ourselves to fall prey to his seven forces of evil, then Hashem will have to punish us in the seven levels of Gehinnom (purgatory).

The Gemara (Eiruvin, chap. 2, “Osin Pasin”, pg. 19a) quotes Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi who says that there are seven names to Gehinnom. We are going to explore those seven names right now:

1) “Sheol” (grave), as it says, “From the belly of ‘Sheol’ (grave) I cried out, You heard my voice” (Yona, 2:3).

2) “Avadon” (destruction; utter ruin), as it says, “Will Your kindness be counted in the grave, or Your faithfulness in ‘Avadon’ (utter ruin)” (Tehillim, 88:12).

3) “Be’er Shachas” (corruption; destruction), as it says, “Because You will not abandon my soul to the grave, You will not allow Your devout one to witness ‘Shachas’ (destruction),” (Tehillim, 16:10).

4) “Bor Sheh-own” (horrible pit), as it says, “He raised me from ‘Bor Sheh-own’ (horrible pit),” (Tehillim, 40:3).

5) “Tit Hayavein” (miry clay; slimy mud), as it says, “He raised me from ‘Tit Hayavein’ (the slimy mud),” (Tehillim, 40:3).

6) “Tzalmaves” (shadow of death), as it says, “Those who sat in darkness and in ‘Tzalmavesa’ (shadow of death),” (Tehillim, 107:10).

7) “Eretz Hatachtis” (the netherworld). There is no verse for this name, rather, it is a tradition in the Oral Law that this is the seventh name of Gehinnom.

According to all of this information, the Megaleh Amukos says that we can now address an answer to the above question as to why Hashem chose to make His Shechina appear in front of Eisav and his men specifically when Ya’akov met up with Eisav.

He says that it is because Eisav’s guardian angel is the Yetzer Hara. When Ya’kov met up with Eisav, he was not just meeting up with Eisav, he was also meeting up with Eisav’s angel, the Yetzer Hara.

As we mentioned above, the Yetzer Hara possesses seven forces of evil represented by his seven names. Therefore, Hashem specifically appeared to Ya’akov in front of Eisav so that Ya’akov would bow down to Him (Hashem) seven times in the presence of the Yetzer Hara who was there too, so that the seven bows of Ya’akov would weaken the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara.

The Megaleh Amukos goes on to say that this idea will also address an answer to the question regarding how Abaye knew that no harm would come to Rav Acha. It is because the full name of Rav Acha was Rav Acha bar Ya’akov. This does not just mean that Rav Acha’s father’s name was Ya’akov, but it also alludes to the fact that Rav Acha inherited the power of his forefather, Ya’akov Avinu.

After all, the Gemara (Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 7b, Rebbi Eliezer) says that a person’s Jewish name contains the strengths, talents, and weaknesses of the person, and a Jewish name even causes things to happen. Rav Acha’s last name, “Bar Ya’akov,” caused Rav Acha to possess the same power as his forefather Ya’akov Avinu. Just as Ya’akov Avinu was capable of weakening the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara with his seven bows, so did Rav Acha possess the power to further weaken the seven evil forces of the mazik in Abaye’s Beis Midrash with his seven bows.

Based on this, we could add that the mazik in Abaye’s Beis Midrash was the Yetzer Hara. This explains why the mazik had specifically seven heads. Those seven heads represented the seven evil forces that he possessed.

Rav Acha knew how to deal with this mazik because of Rav Acha’s name sake (Bar Ya’akov) which reminded him to look back into the Torah and learn from his forefather Ya’akov Avinu how one should attack such evil forces.

Rav Acha was reminded of how Ya’akov Avinu bowed to Hashem in prayer seven times in the presence of the Yetzer Hara, and Rav Acha, Ya’akov Avinu’s spiritual descendent, followed that prescription and bowed to God seven times in prayer in the presence of that mazik, and succeeded in further weakening it.

Abaye knew about all of this. Abaye, the Kabbalist that he was, understood that Rav Acha’s “last name,” “Bar Ya’akov,” alluded to the fact that Rav Acha had inherited Ya’akov Avinu’s power. Abaye knew that Rav Acha would be able to overcome the mazik by weakening him, thus clearing the Beis Midrash from those evil forces, enabling the townsfolk to enter it once again for prayers and Torah study.

May I just add to the Megaleh Amukos that the Gemara quoted above which says, “Ain Somchin Al Hanes,” is disputed. Rava maintains that, “Ain Somchin Al Hanes.” However, of all people, Abaye maintains, “Somchin Al Hanes” (we do rely upon miracles; see Pesachim, 64b for this application).

Perhaps we could suggest that in such a case as ours, where Abaye knew about Rav Acha’s power, one may indeed depend upon a miracle because it is most assuredly going to occur.

This is how Abaye could put Rav Acha into that dangerous situation. It is because, according to Abaye, under those circumstances, with the knowledge that he (Abaye) possessed, it was completely reasonable to depend upon a miracle because it was most certainly going to happen.

The Megaleh Amukos adds that not only did Ya’akov Avinu possess the power to weaken the Yetzer Hara, and not only did Rav Acha possess that same power, but every single one of us has this ability. A hint which supports this idea is found in the following verse.

The Nachash (serpent) in Gan Eden personified the Yetzer Hara. Therefore, Hashem said to the Nachash in Gan Eden, “He (man) will pound your head” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:15). Meaning, man will be able to weaken the Yetzer Hara which the Nachash personified.

This verse refers to all of mankind, that all of mankind will be able to pound, bruise, and weaken that Yetzer Hara. It is from here where we see that every one of us possesses the power to further weaken the Yetzer Hara.

Perhaps, at this point, we could mention that the mazik in Abaye’s Beis Midrash was the Yetzer Hara. This explains why he had seven heads. It is because they represented the seven evil forces at his disposal, which are also alluded to in his seven names.

Perhaps we could further suggest that Eisav’s guardian angel, the Yetzer Hara, also appeared to Ya’akov with seven heads, representing the seven evil forces which he had in his arsenal.

Maybe we could go a little further to suggest that maybe the Nachash in Gan Eden, who was the personification of the Yetzer Hara, also had seven heads representing the seven methods with which he (the Nachash) utilizes to spiritually damage us.

In any case, the Megaleh Amukos repeats that every single one of us can further cause the Yetzer Hara to deteriorate. This idea is supported by the Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 13, “Ha-oreg”, pg. 105b) which cites the verse which says, “There may not be any ‘Ail Zar’ (strange god) within you, nor may you bow before an alien god” (Tehillim, 81:10). Rebbi Avin (ibid) asks, “What is the ‘Ail Zar’ which is found within a person’s body? The answer is, the Yetzer Hara.”

This Gemara refers to the Yetzer Hara as “Ail Zar” (this must not be a name of the Yetzer Hara, because it is not listed in the above Gemara in Succa which lists the seven names of the Yetzer Hara. “Ail Zar” must be a description, not a name). The reason why the Yetzer Hara is referred to as “Ail Zar” is because the word “Zar” is spelled: zayin reish. These two letters serve as the acronym for, “Zayin Roshim” (seven heads. The letter Zayin is numerically seven).

This description (Ail Zar) illustrates and emphasizes the seven forces of evil that he possesses. Yet, the verse speaks to every single one of us and says, “There may not be any ‘Ail Zar’ (strange god) within you.” This shows us that each one of us possesses the ability of further diminishing the Yetzer Hara.

There is one Mitzva which reminds us that we all have that power of undermining the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara. That Mitzva is called Tefillin. We will see how this is so right now.

The Gemara (Menachos, chap. 3, “Hakometz Rabba”, pg. 35a) quotes Abaye (interesting, Abaye again) who says that the idea that we must engrave a letter Shin on the outside part of the Tefillin box worn on the head, comes to us as a Halacha that was given to Moshe Rabbenu at Har Sinai.

The Tosafists (ibid, Divrei Hamaschil “Shin,”) cite Shimusha Rabba who say that there must be one letter Shin imprinted on the right side of the Tefillin box worn on the head, and there must be a second letter Shin imprinted on the left side of the Tefillin box worn on the head. These Shins are on the outside of the Tefillin box, visible for all to see.

However, there is a distinction between these two Shins. The Shin on the right is made up of three branches, whereas the Shin on the left is made up of four branches. When you look at the tops of these branches, it looks like they are little heads. We paskin this way in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 32:42).

The Megaleh Amukos says that the reason why one Shin has three branches and the other has four, is because altogether there are seven branches. This means that there are seven heads at the tops of these seven branches. These seven heads remind us, and even energize us, to weaken the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara.

Just to be clear, let us word it this way. The seven heads of the Shins, which are worn on the head of a person, have the power to knock off the seven heads of the Nachash, who is the Yetzer Hara, who possesses seven forces of evil, further represented by his seven names.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that based on this Megaleh Amukos we can answer the above question regarding what is so special about the Tefillin Shel Rosh in general, and what is so unique about the Shin of that Tefillin Shel Rosh specifically which generates such fear, reverence, and trepidation amongst the peoples of the earth when they see it upon us.

The answer is that the seven heads of the two Shins of the Tefillin Shel Rosh demonstrate that the Jewish people possess the power to ultimately destroy the seven forces of evil which the Yetzer Hara possesses. The “peoples of the earth” mentioned in our verse (Ki Savo, 28:10) are called, “Amei Ha’aretz.” There could be at least two definitions of an “Am Ha’aretz.”

One definition of an “Am Ha’aretz” is an “uneducated person.” The illiteracy of this uneducated person may not necessarily be his fault. There may have been circumstances beyond his control which robbed him of a solid Jewish education.

However, a second definition is meant to be derogatory. In this context, an “Am Ha’aretz” means a “boorish, ill-mannered, and uncivilized” person. Such an “Am Ha’aretz” refers to one who has chosen to side with the dark forces of this world, and wage war against God.

The “Amei Ha’aretz” mentioned in our verse refers to the second type. These Amei Ha’aretz draw their strength and energy from the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara.

Therefore, when these Amei Ha’aretz see the two Shins which appear on the outside of the Tefillin Shel Rosh, which are made up of seven branches which have at their tops seven heads altogether, they will begin to shudder.

This is because the seven heads of these two Shins represent the fact that the Jewish people posses the ability of destroying the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara. As a result, the Amei Ha’aretz who pledge allegiance to the Yetzer Hara and who draw their energy from the Yetzer Hara, will also be destroyed ultimately. It is this thought which generates such trepidation from them.

The following story will also be understood a little bit deeper based on these ideas.

The Gemara (Berachos, chap. 5, “Ain Omdin”, pg. 30b) tells us that once upon a time, Abaye (interesting, again it is Abaye) was sitting in front of his Rebbi, Rabba. Rabba saw that Abaye was a little bit too happy. Maybe Rabba felt that Abaye’s happiness would cause him to get out of hand.

In any case, Rabba said to Abaye, “Does it not say, ‘Rejoice in trepidation’ (Tehillim, 2:11)?” This meant to say that one should always strive to live in balance. Rabba suggested that Abaye should equalize his happiness with some trepidation, as this would tame him.

Abaye responded, “Do not worry, I am wearing my Tefillin.” The simple meaning of Abaye’s response was that since he was wearing his tefillin, he would not get out of hand because his Tefillin would keep him in line.

The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu, 1720-1797, Lithuania; Biyur Hagra on Aggados of Shas) explains this story a little bit deeper. The GR”A says that Abaye was happy because of the fact that he was wearing his tefillin. In other words, Abaye’s Tefillin generated that happiness.

The reason why Abaye was so happy on account of his Tefillin was because Abaye noticed the two Shins of the Shel Rosh which were made up of seven branches altogether, which had seven heads at their tops. This reminded Abaye that he possessed the power to further weaken the seven evil forces of his Yetzer Hara. Abaye’s happiness was a Simcha Shel Mitzva (happiness that stems from a Mitzva).

The GR”A adds that this Simcha is also alluded to on the Tefillin Shel Rosh. The two Shins which are imprinted on the Tefillin Shel Rosh make up the word “Sus” (joy; the two Shins can be read as two Sins). The word “Sus” appears in a verse which says, “Sus Anochi (I rejoice) over Your word like one who finds abundant spoils” (Tehillim, 119:162).

So, the two Shins of Abaye’s tefillin spelled “Sus.” The reason for Abaye’s “Sus” (rejoicing) was because of the shapes of those two shins which were made up of seven branches with seven heads at their tops, which reminded him that he possessed the power to further weaken the seven evil forces of his own Yetzer Hara.

The GR”A adds that the verse right before the pasuk “Sus Anochi” says, “Sarim (princes) have pursued me without cause, but my heart has feared Your word” (Tehillim, 119:161). Who were those “Sarim” who pursued Dovid Hamelech?

The Vilna Gaon says that the root of the word “Sarim” is “Sar.” The word “Sar” is spelled: sin reish. Those two letters serve as an acronym for, “Shiva Roshim” (seven heads). This teaches us that the “Sarim” who pursued Dovid Hamelech was his Yetzer Hara who had seven heads representing the seven forces of evil at his disposal which is further hinted to in his seven names.

Although King David was pursued by this spiritual enemy called a “Sar,”, he went on to say in the very next verse, “Sus Anochi.” Dovid Hamelech was happy because the two Shins of his Tefillin Shel Rosh and their seven branches and seven heads which reminded him that he had the capability of defeating the Yetzer Hara.

When Ya’akov Avinu wrestled with Eisav’s guardian angel, the Yetzer Hara (Parshas Vayishlach, 32:25; Tanchuma, Parshas Vayishlach, siman 8), the Midrash (quoted in the Reishis Chochma, Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas, 1518-1587, Chevron; Sha’ar Hakedusha, chap. 6) says that the angel could not overcome him (Parshas Vayishlach, 32:26) because Ya’akov was wearing his Tefillin Shel Rosh (he was also wearing his Tefillin Shel Yad and his Tzitzis).

It was Ya’akov’s Tefillin Shel Rosh with its two Shins and seven branches and seven heads which energized him to overcome the Yetzer Hara with his seven forces of evil represented by his seven names.

As a means of a practical application of this teaching, women should try, even more so, to encourage their husbands, in a positive way, to be even more meticulous with putting on Tefillin.

By the way, now that it is Elul, we should mention the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, 1804-1886, Ukraine; 128:3) who says that there is a custom to have our Tefillin checked during Elul, because this demonstrates how we want to improve our Avodas Hashem.

But meticulousness with Tefillin does not just mean checking them, and it does not just mean wearing them daily, but it also means having the proper Kavanos (thoughts; intentions) when wearing them.

So, let us try to take a look at the two shins of the Shel Rosh each day (which is something that even women can do) and take notice of their seven heads and be reminded that we have the power to overcome the seven evil forces of the Yetzer Hara.

Another exercise (which applies to both those who wear Tefillin and to those who do not) would be to recite the verse, “Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik V’kom” (for though a righteous man may fall seven times, he will rise; Mishlei, 24:16) each day after Shacharis and be reminded that even if we fall seven times at the hands of the Yetzer Hara and his seven forces of evil, we can still rise to meet the challenge and eventually defeat him because we can tap into the energy of the Tefillin with its Name of God, specifically focusing on the Shins of Shakkai.

With this renewed confidence, let us get out there in our daily lives and choose at least one area of Avodas Hashem and try to overcome a specific Yetzer Hara of ours that we know we need a little bit more improving on.

So, may we B’nei Ya’akov all be blessed to tap into the energy of the seven heads of the two Shins on the Tefillin Shel Rosh and thereby strengthen ourselves to overcome the Yetzer Hara’s seven forces of evil, and thus be spared from the seven chambers of Gehinnom, because this will cause us to “Sus” (rejoice) with Hashem as we climb to the top of the seven firmaments (Reish Lakish, Chagiga, chap. 2, “Ain Dorshin”, pg. 12b) getting closer and closer to God.