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Vav — Connection

Vav — Connection

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The part of the river used as a mikveh for ritual immersion was situated high atop a steep hill on the outskirts of Premishlan. When the road leading up to it was slippery, people had to take the long way around the hill, for to walk straight uphill was dangerous. Reb Meir, the Rebbe of Premishlan, always took the direct route up, irrespective of the state of the road, and was never known to stumble or slip. One snowy day, when the icy mountain paths were es­pecially hazardous, Reb Meir walked uphill to the river as usual. Two guests were staying in the area, sons of the rich, who had come somewhat under the influence of the Haska­lah or “Enlightenment” movement. These young men did not believe in supernatural achievements, and when they saw Reb Meir striding uphill with sure steps as usual, they con­vinced themselves and each other that the road up there was no doubt easily scaled, and not in the least dangerous. In order to prove their theory, they waited until Reb Meir had begun immersing in the river, and then set out confidently up the icy hillside road. After only a few steps on the treach­erous trail, they slipped and tumbled down the path, requiring medical attention for their injuries. When one of the young men was fully healed, he mustered the courage to approach the tzaddik with a question: “Why was it that no one could negotiate the slippery road, while the Rebbe walked with sure steps, never stumbling?”

Reb Meir replied: “If a man is connectedon high, he doesn’t fall down below. Meir is tied up on high, and that is why he can take even a slippery hill in his stride.”1

Design

The sixth letter of the alef-beis is the vav.

The design of the letter vav is a hook.2 The form of the vav can also represent a chute which connects a higher level to a lower level.

Gematria

The numerical equivalent of the vav is six. Six represents con­nection, exemplified by the angels in Ezekiel’s vision, whose six wings enabled them to soar to unite and connect with G‑d. Six also represents the six books of the Mishnah. Through learning Torah, one connects with G‑d.

Six also represents completion, because something that is surrounded on all six sides—north, south, east, west, above and below—is complete. Similarly we find that when the Jewish people left the land of Egypt, G‑d surrounded them with six Clouds of Glory.3 The cloud above them protected them from the sun. The cloud below shielded them from the hot desert sand.The four clouds around them—back and front, left and right—served as a protective shield. Arrows and other weapons directed against them were turned to straw. In addi­tion,4 the Clouds of Glory also acted as “tailor” and “dry cleaner.” Every night the Jewish people would remove their clothes before going to sleep. The next morning those clothes were perfectly cleaned and pressed. If a person happened to gain a few pounds, his vestments “grew” with him. The Jews wore the same clothes every day for their entire sojourn in the desert. The clothes adapted to each person’s body and never grew old or worn.

The number six also signifies the six hundred thousand Jew­ish men aged 20-60 who left the land of Egypt. It additionally represents the Torah because the word ישראל, Yisrael, is an acronym meaning “יש ששים רבוא אותיות לתורה—There are six hundred thousand letters of the Torah,” and if one letter of the Torah is missing or broken or cracked, G‑d forbid, the entire Torah scroll is declared not kosher—unfit to be read. Similarly, if one Jew strays from the path, or is missing or defiled, the entire Jewish nation is likewise lacking or defiled. We are rendered incomplete.

We find another instance of “six” when the Jewish people were in Egypt and oppressed with backbreaking work. Pharaoh devised many plots against the Jewish people to keep them from multiplying. Yet the Jews continued to propagate at an unbelievable rate. Indeed, the Torah tells us that the Jewish women bore six children at one time.5

The world was created in six days—the Six Days of Crea­tion. The first word in the Torah is Bereishis (“In the beginning”) which itself is composed of six letters, בראשית. Furthermore the Torah clearly states: “G‑d created six days.”6 There are also six alefs in the first verse of the Torah. The first vav in the Torah is found at the beginning of the sixth word (v’es). So Creation is connected to the number six.

Each of these six days was created with a different emotional attribute.7 Additionally, the progression of these six days is consistent with the Talmud’s assertion (discussed in the chapter on alef ) that G‑d created the world (as we know it) to exist for 6,000 years. If we look into each day of Creation, we can observe each of the six millennia and its corresponding attribute.

The First Day of Creation was Chessed—the attribute of kind­ness. This was the day G‑d said, “Let there be light.” This light was an infinite light, a light that a person could poten­tially have used to see from one end of the world to the other. Eventually, however, G‑d reclaimed this light, for He recog­nized its potential to also be used for evil. One could well ask, “How could there be light on the First Day when the sun and moon weren’t formed until the Fourth Day of Creation?” The light referred to here is G‑d’s conception of light as the source of ultimate power, vision, potential and goodness.8 Addition­ally, in the first thousand years (corresponding to the First Day), the people had enormous lifespans (Adam, for example, lived 930 years). The concept of Chessed thus represents G‑d’s kindness in both creating the infinite light and endowing man’s vitality.

The Second Day of Creation was imbued with Gevurah, con­traction and judgment. This was the day on which G‑d separated the pervasive waters into the higher and lower realms. Historically, the Second Millennium saw harsh judg­ment leveled against the inhabitants of the world. This period was replete with difficulties, beginning with the Flood, which G‑d summoned to destroy the entire world (outside of Noah and the inhabitants of the ark). This period also included the devastating episode of the Tower of Babel. An entire generation rebelled against G‑d, building a tower to ascend to G‑d’s throne to destroy Him. G‑d consequently “confounded their lan­guage,”9 giving the people a cacophony of seventy languages to prevent them from conversing with one another. The resulting muddle, called bavel or “Babel,” means confused or obscured.

The Third Day of Creation was a day of Tiferes—beauty and mercy.10 On this day, the flowers and grasses were created, together with all the colors of the universe. The Third Millen­nium saw G‑d’s merciful hand in the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah. The Torah is called Tiferes, or beauty. Beauty is not monochromatic or monotonal; it is created by blending and harmonizing various colors or sounds. Thus the Torah is a harmonious blend of positive and negative commandments, and a synthesis of the spiritual and physical elements of Creation. During this time period, we were also given the mitzvos, commandments to follow G‑d’s ways.

The Fourth Day of Creation was Netzach, victory and endur­ance. This was the day G‑d created two luminaries in the sky, the sun and the moon. It was this millennium in which the two Holy Temples were built. The First Holy Temple was spiritually greater—and thus likened to the sun. The Second Temple, which is compared to the moon, radiated a dimmer light. Fur­thermore, the Talmud11 states that Netzach is associated with Jerusalem, the city of our destiny, our faith, and our ultimate Redemption.

The Fifth Day of Creation was Hod. Hod means acknowledg­ment. It can also denote devastation. This was the day G‑d created “sea monsters” and the ocean began to swarm with creatures. Birds were also created on this day and they began to fly in the sky. The Fifth Millennium was a generation of massa­cres, expulsions, and horrific difficulties for the Jewish people. It states in the book of Eichah (Lamentations): “The entire day was devastating.”12 We must ultimately balance Hod’s devasta­tion, however, with the fact that throughout this era, the Jewish people passionately acknowledged G‑d. The fifth “day” was the millennium when thousands of Jews, upon dying during the Crusades, cried out “Shema Yisrael—G‑d is our L-rd, G‑d is One.” The Jewish people, even on the brink of annihilation, acknowledged their Creator.

The Sixth Day of Creation was Yesod, which means both building a foundation and bonding. This was the day that Adam, the first man, the foundation of the human race, was created. G‑d first fashioned the entire world and then brought man into it. From this we learn that it is man’s obligation to form a connection or bond between the material and the spiri­tual realms by using every aspect of the physical world in the service of G‑d.

Yesod also represents the Sixth Millennium. As explained in Chassidus, Adam is the prototype of Mashiach, who is the perfect man. The word “Adam” is spelled אדם.The alef (gematria one) represents intellect, the first of a person’s ten faculties. Dalet, the second letter of Adam, is the first letter of dibbur, or speech. Mem signifies maaseh, action.13 Thus Adam, or Mashiach, will be perfect in his thought, speech, and action. Furthermore, the Or HaChaim14 writes15 that the sparks of redemption first began to appear in the 500th year of the Sixth Millennium (the year 1740 on the Gregorian calendar). Given that the Talmud16 has stated that “all the affixed times for Mashiach’s arrival have already passed,” it is up to us to increase in acts of goodness and kindness to usher in Mashiach’s arrival now.

Meaning

While the design of the vav looks like a hook, the word vav actually means “hook.”17 A hook is something that holds two things together. It is also a means to connect the spiritual and the physical. As in the story above, “If a man is connected on high, he doesn’t fall down below.”

On a syntactic level, adding a vav to the beginning of any word creates the meaning “and”; for example, v’eileh means “and these things.” Within a sentence, “and” is the hook that connects one word or clause to the next. Furthermore, the vav attached to a verb converts that verb from either the past to the future tense, or from the future to the past tense. For example, the word hoiya in Hebrew means “it was.” The word v’hoiya means “it will be.” By merely attaching the vav, the past is transformed into the future. In reverse, consider the word yehi, which means “it shall be,” as in “Yehi or18—[And G‑d said,] “Let there be light.” Place a vav in front—vayehi—and the meaning becomes, “There was light,” in the past tense.

With this in mind, we can appreciate a lesson from the Rebbe as stated in his commentary to the Tanya:19 “In the Torah there are fifty-three portions. All except ten begin with a vav. Simi­larly the Tanya,20 also known as the Written Law of Chassidic thought, has in its first section fifty-three chapters. All fifty-three, with the exception of ten, begin with a vav.”

Why do ten chapters in both the Torah and Tanya not begin with the letter vav? Perhaps the answer is the following:

Torah is often compared to water.21 Just as water courses down the steep mountains to the valley below without chang­ing its life-giving essence, so does the Torah reach man in its original, essential form. Torah began in Heaven, emanating from G‑d, and then traveled—and continuously travels—down to the physical world utterly intact.

This message is conveyed through the letter vav, which is a hook connecting the higher realm to the lower; the chute that allows Torah to flow to man. Historically, the Torah also con­nects the laws and customs of the past to the present; and thus the present to the future. Like the vav, which has the ability to shift a word, phrase, or idea from past to future and back, the Torah is both within time and beyond time. Its timeless teach­ings bridge life at the beginning of Creation with the current issues of modern-day life.

One could say that the ten portions of Torah and the ten chapters of Tanya that do not begin with a vav draw attention to the Ten Commandments and the Ten Utterances (of speech) with which G‑d created the world.22

As the Zohar23 explains: “If a Jew follows the Ten Command­ments of the Torah, the world which was created with the Ten Utterances will continue to exist. If, however, he does not, G‑d forbid, then the world will revert to primordial chaos.”

Thus the vav teaches us the monumental effect we have on the world by being connected on high and bringing the Torah down to earth in our thoughts, speech and actions.

Footnotes
1.
  From A Treasury of Chassidic Tales, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Mesorah Publications, Ltd., NY, 1980; 1992.
2.
  The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, op. cit., p. 84.
3.
  See Rashi on Numbers 10:34 where he explains that a seventh Cloud went before them, leveling the mountains and killing the snakes and scorpions in their path. See also Likkutei Sichos, vol. 18, p. 253ff.
4.
  Rashi on Deuteronomy 8:4.
5.
  Rashi on Exodus 1:7.
6.
  Exodus 20:11.
7.
  Based on Maamarei Admur HaZakein, Parshios of the Torah and the Festivals, p. 419; also see Ramban on Genesis 2:3, and Likkutei Sichos, vol. 2, pp. 466-468.
8.
  This light was stored away and later given to the tzaddikim (the righteous people) of each generation as Divine spirit to perceive the future and the past, and to reconcile various problems and difficulties.
9.
  Genesis 11:7-9.
10.
  Regarding this day of Creation, the Torah states the words ki tov (“it was good”) twice.
11.
  Berachos 58a.
12.
  Eichah 1:13.
13.
  Likkutei Torah, Parshas Behaalos’cha, p. 31c. Also see Likkutei Sichos, vol. 16, p. 473.
14.
  Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar (1696-1743).
15.
  On Leviticus 6:2 and Numbers 26:22.
16.
  Sanhedrin 97b.
17.
  See Exodus 26:32, where the word vaveihem means “hooks.”
18.
Genesis 1:3.
19.
  Introduction to Reshimos on Tanya.
20.
  Written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and first published in 1797. The Tanya has been reprinted approximately 4,600 times, in every major city around the world.
21.
  Taanis 7a; Tanya, ch. 4.
22.
  Ethics of Our Fathers 5:1 states that the Ten Utterances: “Let there be light,” “Let there be a firmament,” etc., actually caused these things to be created. See introductory section of this book, in the section “Energy in the Letters.”
23.
  III, 11b; see also Shabbos 88a.
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Simcha Bart for Chabad.org December 1, 2016

Though we cannot be sure, there seems to be evidence of the "Waw" pronunciation from a variety of early Jewish commentators. This pronunciation can still be found among Jews of Mizrachi origin - i.e. Jewish communities originating in the Middle East. Reply

Anonymous November 26, 2016

Is it true that in ancient Hebrew the vav was pronounced as waw/wow? Reply

David Arad South East December 23, 2015

Water Gershon,
With all respect there are Higher Waters and the Lower Waters. Reb Meir understood the path to the Higher Waters. As with many the path is obscured with what is perceived to be obstacle's along the way. Reply

Gershon Mcgreevy Witchita, ks January 12, 2007

Re Vav Great story!

Just one point: there are others who tell the story with the Mikveh being on the bottom of a steep incline. This makes more sense since water is generally found in low-lying areas. Reply

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