Monday, February 18, 2013

Torah Codes in megillat Esther

The megillah begins:
א  וַיְהִי, בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ:  הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד-כּוּשׁ--שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה, מְדִינָה.1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus--this is Ahasuerus who reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces--
ב  בַּיָּמִים, הָהֵם--כְּשֶׁבֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתוֹ, אֲשֶׁר, בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה.2 that in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the castle,


Note the words I put in bolded red. In pasuk 1, "HaMolech" is written chaser. In pasuk 2, "Malchuto" is written malei vav. Here is what Minchas Shai has to say:

"1) HaMolech: is chaser vav.
2) Al Kisei Malchuto: In Midrash Rabbati, it is written consonantally מלכתו [J: with three dots under the khaf]. To explain, pronounce it melachto. [J: that he sat upon his production]. And this is as stated later, that he desired to sit upon the throne of Shlomo and they did not allow him. They said to him, any king who is not kosdmokartor (Greek kosmo-krator, lord of the world) in the word, to explain a ruler in the entire world, may not sit upon it. He arose and fashioned for himself a throne in its pattern. This is what is stated, al kisei malchuto, but melachto is written. End quote. And also bishnat shalosh lemolcho, they darshen it as a language of melacha."

End quote of Minchas Shai.

The text of Esther Rabba in question:


This strongly implies that the author of Midrash Ester Rabbati had before him the word malchuto written chaser vav. One could say, as Minchas Shai sometimes does, that the midrash means that we should read it "as if" it were written malei. But I don't think this is so. Rabbi Kohen, citing Rabbi Azarya, actually had the word chaser.

What does this matter? Well, despite being a fascinating derasha in its own right, it also possibly changes the number of letters in Megillat Esther, from 12,111 to 12,110.

See Minchas Shai for other instances where the full or deficient spelling is in question, which would further change the letter count of the Megillah.

Why does this matter? For the Torah codes, of course!

Here is one such Torah code, made by Rabbi Weissmandl, starting from the word esater in Bereshit:

יד  הֵן גֵּרַשְׁתָּ אֹתִי הַיּוֹם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וּמִפָּנֶיךָ, אֶסָּתֵר; וְהָיִיתִי נָע וָנָד, בָּאָרֶץ, וְהָיָה כָל-מֹצְאִי, יַהַרְגֵנִי.14 Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the land; and from Thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth; and it will come to pass, that whosoever findeth me will slay me.'



An example concerning Megillas Esther


Perhaps even more amazingly, given that Rabbi Weissmandl was operating without benefit of a computer, it is known that he made a number of findings concerning Megillas Esther using skip distances of 12,111 letters, the exact number of letters in Megillas Esther. I was able to reconstruct one of these using a computer. If one starts with the first regular mem (as opposed to "final mem") in Bereishis 4:14, where the name Esther (vocalized differently) appears for the only time in the Torah, and counts at intervals of 12,111 letters, one finds spelled out the phrase "Megillas Esther."

-- Doron Witztum, Jewish Action, March, 1998

NOTE: While the article may give the impression there is a single 8 letter ELS with skip 12,111, there is only a four letter ELS with that skip (and a plain text occurrence of the name Esther).


I've seen this put forth in an accidentally slightly misleading way, that what was spelled out was Megillat Esther, rather than the rather short four letter "Megillat". E.g.:
Rabbi Weissmandl - a great Hungararian scholar and holocaust survivor - made a number of findings concerning Megillat Esther using skip distances of 12,111 letters - the exact number of letters in Megillat Esther. If one starts with the first regular mem (as opposed to the "final mem" ) in Bereishis 4:14, where the name Esther (vocalized differently) appears for the only time in the Torah, and count at intervals of 12,111 letters, one finds spelled out the phrase "Megillat Esther." Coincidence? I think not.
This was not the blogger's fault. She was echoing the article which gave the false impression that there was a single 8 letter ELS with skip 12,111 ("Megillat Esther") while really there was only a 4 letter ELS with skip 12,111 ("Megillat").

That it is four letters rather than the malei-spelled five letter מגילת is OK, given that in the few times the word is spelled in Tanach, it is chaser. Though I would have expected malei, and a five letter ELS would have made it less likely for the word to come about by mere chance.

There is another Torah code for Mordechai from Rav Weissmandl, IIRC, with a 12111 (I think) skip based on the words Mor Deror, which Chazal use as a remez to Mordechai in the Torah. And there is another, with Esther spelled out at skips of 12,111 from the beginning of Torah.

Here is the story, though with a slightly different number (12,196), such that I don't know which one is the right one for the number of letters in the Megillah.:
First-hand testimony from Rabbi Yaakov-Mordechai Greenwald:
Since the 1980's the phenomenon of Torah Codes has become both famous and controversial. I, personally, enjoyed the merit of having an association with Rabbi Michoel-Dov Weissmandl, the Torah sage from Hungary known as "the Father of Torah Codes." You should know that all his work was done in his head, without computers - he was truly a genius.
Once, in the 1950's, I visited him at His Mt. Kisco NY community in the month of Adar, a short time before Purim. He asked me, "Did I ever tell you how many letters there are in Megilat Esther?"
"No," I replied; "I have no idea."
"Well, I know," he continued. "I counted! There are 12,196 letters in it altogether."
"That's incredible," I responded. "But what do we do with this information? Is there significance to this number?"
He smiled. "Bring me a Chumash ["Five Books of Moses" in the original Hebrew]," he said. I brought one to him, whereupon he told me:
"Starting from the first instance of the letter alef (the third letter in the first word of the Torah - ed.), if you count an interval equal to the number of letters in Megilat Esther--12,196--you arrive at a letter samech. If you continue another 12,196 letters you get to a letter tof; and if you keep going for another 12,196 you land on a letter reish. And, of course, alef-samech-tof-reish spells Esther! Is this not amazing?"
"It certainly is," I answered enthusiastically. And then I added with a grin, "but is there a connection to Mordechai too? Otherwise, he may feel bad."
He looked crestfallen. "I don't know. Yet. Try me again next year."
The next Adar I made sure to visit Rabbi Weissmandl again. "What about Mordechai?" I asked.
"I also found a hint to Mordechai," he announced. "Our sages pointed out that there is a hint to Mordechai in the Torah, where the verse stares, 'You shall take the finest fragrances: 'mor dror…' [myrrh]."
['Mor dror' has the same first two syllables as 'Mordechai,' and its Aramaic translation by Onkeles, 'mira dichya,' has the same consonants in the same order as 'Mordechai.' The verse is Exodus 30:23, which is in the Torah portion that in most years is read in the week in which Purim occurs! (Similarly, in that same Talmudic passage the sages identified a hint to Esther in Deuteronomy 31:18 and to Haman in Genesis 3:11.) -ed.]
He continued: "Now, if from the letter mem in mor dror in that verse you count forward the number of letters in the Megilah, you come to a reish. And if you keep counting successively 12,196 letters you will get a dalet and then a chofand then a yud - spelling out Mordechai! This is truly even more amazing."
The story there continues with a young woman, who was a brilliant computer scientist and mathematician, being persuaded by otherwise improbability of the Torah codes, and becoming religious as a result. And therefore, implicitly, so should you!

These Torah codes are in fact rather neat. And maybe they reflect Divine intent. Maybe. It becomes more problematic when people try using them to predict, or to make claims about reality, under the cover of Divine proclamation.

But despite these Torah code being rather neat, I don't know that I find this necessarily compelling as proof of Judaism and Torah. People don't realize it, but we humans often have a poor intuition about probability. For example, the birthday problem. What do you think is the probability that, in a group of 57 people, two share the same birthday? What about in a group of 23 people?

So too, the Torah Codes may seem compelling, and some mathematicians may even have given an explanation of how they indeed are. But other (frum) mathematicians have made counterarguments. My faith does not live or die by these Torah codes, and I think that is a good thing.

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