Section 23: "There shall not be man or woman barren among you or among your cattle."(Deuteronomy 7:14) Rabbi Chanin ben Levi said: "The Holy One said, 'Your prayers will not be barren; rather they will ascend
and bear fruit.'"1
I heard from my grandfather that sometimes a person prays for one thing yet is given something else. At other times, his prayers are effective only in the upper worlds. This is similar to what I heard from the scholar, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef HaKohen (of Polnoye), on the verse: "And Jacob made a vow, saying: 'If G•d will be with me.. and will give me bread to eat..'" (Genesis 28:20) - [he meant it] literally! For sometimes, alternative words are created from the same letters. I also heard from my grandfather that the letters are without commentary. It seems to me that he is alluding to the Divine Name of 52 [letters] in the Tetragrammaton2.
This is the meaning of "there shall not be man or woman barren among you or among your cattle." (Deuteronomy 7:14) That is, the twenty-two letters of prayer will not be barren; rather, they will bear fruit and offspring. And there is a further guarantee, "or among your cattle." That is, even your mundane requests, on the lowest level, will bear fruit [on the physical level, and] not only in the higher worlds, or through alternative letter combinations. For instance, “bread” – lechem can also spell out “forgiveness” – machal, i.e. G•d will forgive your sins. Likewise, it can be interpreted differently, such as in the verse “..the bread of his G•d” (Leviticus 21:17), which alludes to faith3 . For it still has a straightforward meaning and letter combination, which is actual bread, i.e. a person’s livelihood. Thus, your prayers will achieve everything, and bear fruit and offspring, even your cattle – i.e. the literal meaning of the words (called “cattle” because they are on the lowest level) – such as livelihood, health, with no other commentary, but only the straightforward letters.
Degel Machne Ephraim, Ekev
1Midrash Rabbah, Devorim 3:6
2G•d's four letter name, the Y-H-V-H can be spelled out in several different ways. Each spelling provides a different numerical value, with four primary arrangements corresponding to the four worlds. The Name whose numerical value is 72 corresponds to the world of Atzilut. The Name with a value of 63 corresponds to Beriyah. The Name with a value of 45 corresponds to Yetzirah. And the Name with a value of 52 corresponds to the Assiyah – the lowest world and our level of reality. These four worlds also correspond to the four parts of each enunciated Hebrew letter: the cantillation marks (taamim), the vocalization marks (nekudos), the “crowns” on the written letters and the letters themselves, which correspond to the world of Assiyah. By saying, “The letters are without commentary,” the Baal Shem Tov may mean that the letters on the level of Assiyah have no other connotation than their straightforward meaning. Only on higher worlds can the letters be rearranged to form alternative meanings.
Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Dr. Menachem Kallus and reprinted with the kind permission of the Baal Shem Tov Foundation. Please visit www.baalshemtov.com
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