Whenever I go to a religious home for havdalah, I notice that they use whole cloves for the blessing on the spices (besamim). Is there some special significance to this, or can any spice be used?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
As far as I know, there is no special sanctity to whole cloves. The purpose of the besamim is to cheer us up from the loss of our “extra souls” (neshama yetaira) which depart at the conclusion of Shabbat (Rashbam to Talmud Pesachim 102b). Just about any naturally-occurring aromatic object may be used for this.
I suspect that cloves became customary because they retain their aroma for a long time and they were readily available in areas such as northern Europe. Today we take for granted the wide availability of an array of exotic spices which were no doubt virtually unknown to our ancestors in Europe.
There are a few rules to keep in mind in terms of what to use for besamim:
(a) It is best not to use manmade substances for the besamim, as some are of the opinion that a blessing should not be recited on them (V’Zos HaBracha 19:4).
(b) Spices which are not used to produce a good smell but are placed to remove bad odors – such as air fresheners put up in bathrooms – should not be used for besamim. According to many opinions, one does not recite a blessing on them (Shulachan Aruch 217:2 with Bi'ur Halacha). (Most such substances are manmade anyway.)
(c) It is proper to set aside spices especially for besamim (Mishnah Berurah 297:9). And it’s a good idea to keep them in a closed container so they retain their scent.
(d) Some have the custom to take hadasim (myrtle) leaves left from the lulav for the besamim. Since they were used for one mitzvah, they should be taken for another. However, one should be careful that they haven’t dried out to the extent that they no longer give off a good odor (Shulchan Aruch & Rema 297:4).
(e) The Sages instituted slightly different blessings for different types of plants – such as aromatic grasses, wood or fruit. It is best to take standard spices for havdalah to avoid this situation. Even if one does take say, cinnamon bark, he still recites the standard blessing – borei minei besamim – since the Sages wanted to avoid confusion (Mishnah Berurah 297:1).
I found the Discovery Seminar's presentation on Bible Codes very convincing and it has captured my interest. How exactly do the Codes work?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Codes foretell names and places of events throughout human history: Holocaust, Sadat, AIDS. Torah Codes cannot tell us information we don't already know. But what they do tell us is that the author of the Torah knew minute details of world history, to our very age.
The concept of "encoded information" and a "hidden text" in the Torah is a longstanding Jewish tradition. Nachmanides, Rokeyach, the Maharal, the Vilna Gaon, and others refer in their writings to "hidden information in the letters of the Torah."
The reason why Codes have become more “popular” in our time is because modern statistical methods and computers have given us the ability to more easily discover and evaluate these codes.
Before I answer your specific questions, let’s first briefly clarify how the Torah Codes work:
1) ELSs (Equidistant Letter Sequences) are words spelled out in a text by skipping an equal number of letters.
2) Any word may appear several times at different skip intervals in the same text – i.e. the Hebrew word "hammer" may appear in a text every 4th letter at a certain point, somewhere else every 29th letter, somewhere else every 245th letter, etc. One of these occurrences will be the "minimal" ELS. (in this example, the ELS of 4).
3) In the Hebrew text of the Torah, the minimal ELSs of related words (e.g. "hammer" and "anvil") appear encoded in close proximity to each other.
4) Objective experiments are performed on large sets of pairs of words to demonstrate that this effect (the proximity of related ELSs) occurs in the Torah much more often than would be statistically expected.
They are a facet of Torah akin to numerology (Gematria), a mathematical/linguistic forms that the Talmud itself uses to establish certain facets of Jewish law. An example of an ELS code is explicitly mentioned in a commentary on the Torah written by Rebbeinu Bachya in 1291 (Genesis 1:2).
The renowned Rabbi Moshe Cordovero was head of the Rabbinical Court of 16th century Tzfat, Israel. In “Pardes Rimonim,” his commentary on the classic kabbalistic work, The Zohar, he writes that the secrets of the Torah are revealed in its letters through many means, including "skipping of letters" (dilug otiot).
While awaiting his fate during the Holocaust, Rabbi Michoel Weismandel discovered many codes in the Torah, by using index cards and his amazing mental powers.
Yet in the end, two key questions remain: Are the Codes statistically significant? And if so, did God put it there, and why?
After years of rigorous research, two Jerusalem researchers – Doron Witztum and Prof. Eliyahu Rips – produced the extraordinary "Great Rabbis Experiments." They repeatedly demonstrated a level of statistical significance far beyond expectations. They then checked other secular and theological texts – as well as millions of control experiments – but the phenomenon persisted only in the Torah.
To avoid any accusation of tampering, the task of deciding on spellings and constructing the list was delegated to an outside expert, Professor Shlomo Zalman Havlin, head of the Department of Information Studies and Bibliography at Bar Ilan University.
In 1994, the results of their research was published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Statistical Science. Since then, the Codes phenomenon has been reported on all the major television networks, as well as in Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
Harold Gans, a cryptologic mathematician with nearly three decades of experience cracking codes for the United States Dept. of Defense, was initially highly skeptical of their results, and conducted an independent experiment to verify the integrity of the data. He was not only able to validate their work, but using their method was able to extend it by pairing the cities of birth and death with the names of the rabbis on their list. Statistical analysis shows that the presence of these names, dates, and cities cannot be reasonably attributed to mere coincidence, the probability of such an occurrence being vanishingly small.
Dr. Robert Haralick, Boeing Professor of Electrical Engineering and an expert in Pattern Recognition at the University of Washington, has also confirmed the statistical significance of the original Great Rabbis experiment by redoing the experiment using an entirely different methodology.
Despite the controversy, there is high-level rabbinic endorsement for codes research. In 1997 a public statement was issued in Jerusalem by the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Fisher endorsing the validity of codes research, vouching for the integrity of the researchers, and encouraging its presentation to lay audiences.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach met with the Codes researchers on several occasions, and not only gave his approval to Codes research but also encouraged its use in Jewish outreach efforts.
I'm sure the Codes debate will rage for many years, probably until the Messiah comes. In the meantime, for further research you can read the works of Doron Witztum, the leading codes researcher, whose first book in Hebrew is entitled Meimad HaNosaf (The Extra Dimension).
I had mixed feelings upon seeing the Jewish communities of Gaza and their 9,000 residents being uprooted in 2005. There was the hope of an improved security situation, but on the other hand it seems wrong to declare a region "Judenrein." Anyway this all left me wondering if Gaza is really part of Jewish history?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Jewish community of Kfar Darom in Gaza was established on the site of the 3rd century Jewish town of Kfar Darom. (The Talmudic tractate Sotah refers to the sage Eliezer the son of Yitzhak of Kfar Darom.) At the end of the 19th century, the land of Kfar Darom was acquired by Tuvia Miller of Rechovot, who transformed swamps into a blossoming orchard. Yet the Arabs destroyed the orchard and its well during the anti-Jewish riots of 1936-39.
The Jewish presence in Kfar Darom was renewed in October 1946 along with 10 other communities, as a response to the British attempt to disengage the future Jewish state from the Negev. The village was evacuated following the Egyptian siege of 1948/9, but became the first Jewish community to be rebuilt in Gaza following the 1967 Six Day War.
The biblical status of Gaza – as regards to produce tithing and Sabbatical year -- is a dispute between "Radvaz" and "Maharit" – the former considers it part of biblical Israel, while the latter does not. In practice, nowadays, we consider Gaza as part of Israel proper for these purposes.
(sources: "Tzitz Eliezer" VII 48:12; "Derech Emunah" by R' Ch. Kanevsky, II Laws of Terumah I; "Biur H'Halacha s.v. "M'Ashkelon")