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Blog - Torah Insights

222

The letters that comprise the Hebrew word for first born - “Bichor“ - are “Bet”, ”Chaf”, and “Reish”. The numerical value of the three letters are 2, 20, and 200. What message do all those twos send to the child who is, in fact, number one - the first child in the family? 

When the first child is born he receives the undivided, complete, nonstop attention from his parents. He is the center of the household. Then the second child is born. This is a disaster for the first child. All of the sudden the first child feels cast out of the spotlight, while the second child occupies the place he himself once enjoyed. Inevitably he will resent his number 2. One need not look farther then the book of Genesis to discover the constant animosity between the first born and the later siblings.

This then is the message the Hebrew language sends to the first born. It tells the first born: “you were born first, you are the only child, you have a special connection to your parents; but with this privilege comes great responsibility. You must always care for number 2. You have this special time with your parents so you can help them take responsibility and look after your younger siblings. You maybe number one but your numerical value is 222 to remind you to look after the number 2”.

And that is why, initially, G-d chose the first born to be the “Kohanim” - the Priests who perform the service in the temple. After all the “Kohen” is essentially a first born – he has a unique relationship with G-d – as the first born has with his parents, yet the purpose of his “number one” status is to look out and help his fellow brethren, the figurative “number 2's”.

The problem was that many of the Biblical first born did not live up to the “222” message; and the first born Jews were, not only unable to protect their brethren from sin but they themselves participated in the sin of the golden calf.

So G-d decided that the “Kehunah” - the Priesthood - will transfer from the first born to the Aaron and his descendants   “Why Aaron?” you ask. Because Aaron was the quintessential embodiment of the “222” quality. He was an older brother who, not only was not jealous of the success of Moses – his younger brother - but, was happy that Moses ascended to greatness, as G-d tells Moses “Aaron will see you and he will rejoice in his heart”.

Before G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people he said that each Jew is a member of “a kingdom of priests”. We are all empowered to follow the example of Aaron. We must understand that no matter the heights we reach, no matter how “number one” we feel we are, G-d blessed us with greatness so that we can share it with our fellow.

The Child Within

If I were old I would be discouraged.

In the Ethics of our Fathers, Elisha Ben Avuyah teaches: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper.

I get the first half of the statement. We want to encourage the young to learn while their mind is still fresh and impressionable; but why the second half of the statement that puts down the older learner? Were we not educated on the story of Rabbi Akiva, one of the all time greatest Torah scholars, who began to study Torah at age forty? If Rabbi Akiva would have learnt about the "ink written on erased paper" would he not have been discouraged from learning and the Jewish people would have lost one if greatest minds?

The answer is as simple as it is profound:

The Mishnah is not telling us to learn when we are a child; rather to learn like a child. Not to avoid learning when at old age rather to avoid learning like an older person.

You see, the old person has seen it all. Often, He feels he's got all the answers to all the questions  A new idea cannot creep into his mind unless it squeeze trough his existing knowledge. His subconscious mind is not interested in revolutions, it is interested in ideas that confirm, and conform to, his existing knowledge.

The child, on the other hand, is curious, open to new insights, and intrigued by the mysteries of the universe.

So when your mother told you to "always remain a child", she may have been trying to articulate the Mishnah's point. She wasn't telling you to keep playing in the sand box, she was saying: "you may have a PHD at the end of your name, but next time you pick up a book, do so with an open mind". 

You'll have plenty of time to evaluate and assess at a later point. At the moment, read like a child.

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