Here we go. Last post. I really can’t believe it’s here, that it has actually been 60 days and that each and every day we shared some Torah together…well here we go, let’s make it count.
You might wonder why we are making such a big deal about NCSY at 60. You might think that it was just random, 60 is old, and so it is a big deal, no one wants to wait until 65…so we might as well make a big deal about NCSY at 60. But if you have been reading this long, you know that nothing is random and the number 60 is no exception. In Jewish thought we have a concept called gematria which assigns numerical values to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and thus assigns numerical significance to words, verses, names, etc. The letter in the Hebrew alphabet which corresponds to 60 is Samech (ס) and there is a ton of deep significance to this number/letter.
The number 60 contains within it two deep concepts. 6 represents the six directions (up, down, right, left, forward, backward) and 10 represents a level of completion or fulfillment. The word for the letter samech is related to the Hebrew word for happiness, sameach. This is because true happiness only comes as a result of completing ourselves and then also spreading that completion to the world around us – all six dimension of our reality. 60 is all about true happiness.
But, there is more depth to 60. As you can tell, the samech looks like a circle. In fact, it is the only Hebrew letter shaped that way, it is special in this way. But what is the significance of the circle?
There is a story told in the Talmud (Taanit 23a) about a man name Choni, he was known as “Choni Ha Me’agel – Choni the circle maker”. The story goes: There was no rain in Israel and the people came to Choni and asked him to pray for rain. He drew a circle in the ground and said to God, “I’m not leaving this circle until it rains!” All of a sudden it began to drizzle lightly, Choni said to God, “That’s not what I meant! Send these people some real rain!” It started to pour and flood, so Choni said, “Not that either! Send us good rain that will help us!” and so it rained nicely and the drought was over. The Rabbi of the town said to Choni, “If you weren’t Choni the circle maker I would have to punish you for speaking to God that way, but because you are, you’re good.”
What’s happening in this story? First of all, why is Choni called Choni the circle maker before this story is even told, wouldn’t you think that this story would be the source of the nickname? Also, why is Choni able to talk to God this way? Why does God listen to him so perfectly? The secret of Choni is in the circle. He is called Choni the circle maker, not because he drew a circle in the story, rather he drew a circle in the story because he was a circle maker. But what does it mean to be a circle maker? Circles signify completion, shlaimut in Hebrew, because a circle has no beginning and no end and it continues forever. It is complete and whole. So Choni’s secret is not only that he was a complete and whole person, that he had completed himself, but that he was a Circle maker, he helped others to complete themselves and become whole. This is what NCSY is all about.
Throughout Jewish thought there is an understanding that the ultimate purpose of creation is to complete ourselves and the world around us (see Ramchal, Da’at Tevunot) – therefore since Choni’s whole essence was the pursuit and accomplishment of this mission he is able to do the things he does. He reminds God, and more importantly all the people of the town, of this fact by drawing a circle and standing in it. When the people see this, they are reminded of the need to perfect themselves and God is reminded about Choni and how awesome he is. The people start working towards perfection and this, coupled with the tremendous respect God has for Choni let’s Choni do these miracles. This is also why Choni talks to God like they are best friends, because they are. Choni is a circle maker, he perfects the world which is the ultimate will of God for creation – they are best friends.
So what does all this mean for us? Today is the 60th day of our journey, but it sure isn’t the last day. Today’s Jewish mission is to complete the circle, be like Choni and work on perfecting yourself and the world around you, help others grow and become complete. Help the world become whole.
Today’s Jewish mission is the last of this journey, but it is the first of your Jewish life – like a circle, it is the end, but also the beginning. Take what you have learned and keep learning and growing, keep perfecting yourself and work on becoming a whole, complete person. Find people in your life who can guide you and help you along that road (as always, feel free to reach out to me or your NCSY advisors for help). Finally, go out into the world and make it a better place, make yourself more complete and whole and help others do the same. Completing the circle is really a mission we can work on for the rest of our lives…maybe this is why it is the ultimate purpose of creation.
An Epilogue: The story of Choni doesn’t end there. We are told that later on he was walking down a path and saw a young boy planting a carob tree. He asked him, “How long will that tree take to grow and give fruit?” The boy responded, “Seventy years.” Choni replied,”Why are you planting it? You won’t even get any fruit from it!” The boy replied, “My grandparents planted Carob trees for me and I enjoy them, now I am planting carob trees for my grandkids so they can enjoy them!” Then Choni fell asleep for seventy years and when he woke up he saw a boy who looked like the boy who was planting the Carob tree and asked, “Was it you that planted that Carob tree?” The boy replied, “No, it was my grandfather.” Choni now began to realize what was happening and asked “Is the son of Choni the circle maker still alive?”, the boy told him, “No, but his grandson is.” The message of this end of the story is that, sometime there are things that seem beyond our reach, Choni couldn’t fathom the idea of doing something which wouldn’t be realized until seventy years in the future because it would obviously not further ones self-completion (remember Choni was all about 60, so the fact that 70 years is used here is no coincidence) but he learned a valuable lesson, sometimes if we can’t complete something in our life, we need to plant the seeds for our children and grandchildren to complete it. [והמבין יבין – the one who understands will understand]