“Just five more minutes,” “One more chapter,” “I guess I can stay a little longer.” The temptation to stretch out an enjoyable activity just a little bit more is one to which we can all relate.
After a month of reveling in God’s closeness, culminating with the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the Jewish people felt the same way. In response, God granted them an extra holy day, Simhat Torah, that begins as Sukkot ebbs away (starting this year Wednesday night, Oct. 11). Literally translated as “The Joy of the Torah,” it is on this day that we conclude and begin anew the annual cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses.
That makes this week a particularly apt time to highlight the idea that the first time in Genesis that a specific letter is used to start a word, that word provides a key to the inner meaning of that initial letter.
Consider the first usage of the word good in Scripture.
And God saw the light, that it was good…
In Hebrew, the word for good is TOV. Its initial letter TET is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, giving it a numerical value of nine. Since TOV is the first word in the Bible to start with a TET, the letter itself is linked to good. Elsewhere, ancient Jewish wisdom also links the number nine to pregnancy giving us the following equation.
TET = 9 = TOV = good = pregnancy
There is another place in the Torah where ancient Jewish wisdom focuses, not on the presence of the letter TET, but its absence. The thirteen verses containing the second appearance of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18) contain at least one instance of every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly, the thirteen verses containing the first appearance of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-14) reveal one stunningly conspicuous exception.
The letter TET is completely absent from the first commandments!
Anything good endures forever, and Moses was destined to cast down and shatter the first two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Had they contained the letter TET, representing the concept of good, they could not have been destroyed. The thirteen verses comprising the second appearance of the Ten Commandments do contain the letter TET, because these tablets last forever.
What is going on?
The existence of the Ten Commandments and what they represent defines a Biblical perspective of goodness. What good means to an ardent Islamic fanatic in Iraq is quite different from what good means to, say, a faithful Christian farmer and family man in Fresno. In reality, good comprises four categories of action.
- Improving our relationship with God.
- Advancing the interests of our families.
- Advancing our financial interests.
- Serving the interests of our friends and fellow citizens.
Time and energy invested in these four activities is good, carrying lasting impact, and is thus never wasted.
Pregnancy, and subsequent devotion to children, serves all four of these categories, making it in some ways the ultimate good. Through this medium we can
- Become a partner in creation with God.
- Promote family.
- Have a worthwhile reason for gaining wealth.
- Bless society by increasing the number of well-raised and productive human beings.
In order to avoid a single wasted hour or a single wasted joule of our energy we need to strive to ensure that each waking hour is devoted to serving God, our families, our financial interests and God’s other children.