A Straight Line

The computing power inside your skull vastly exceeds any supercomputer. However, for the past half-century, neuroscientists have suggested that the brain achieves its phenomenal performance in a way fundamentally similar to electronic computers. Thinking takes place through the aggregate action of billions of simple elements - cells called neurons - that are connected in an extremely complicated way.

Neuroscience understands that the physical process of thought is connectivity. Neurons conduct signals in the form of tiny electrical impulses. Messages travel from one neuron to another as pulses of chemicals that are released at specialized junctions, or synapses. There are trillions of such junctions in the human brain. The whole process is one of connecting.

Everything in this physical world has a metaphysical counterpart - a doppelganger in the world of the spirit. Just as connectivity is the modus operandi of the physical process of thought ? the "body" of thought, if you will - so too is connectivity the heart of cognition, the "soul" of thought. We think and understand by connecting one thing to another. Whether this process takes place by comparing or by extrapolating, essentially we are connecting.

What if we were to concretize the process of thinking, of connectivity, into a word? What would this elemental word of connection be? What is the basic unit of connectivity in language?

I think that word is and. And is the basic building block of language. And is to language what the neuron is to thought.

And if we were to conjecture what the word and would look like if we were to give it a shape - if we wanted to draw a picture of and - we would probably draw a straight line. For a straight line is the elemental symbol of connection. It connects "here" with "there."

Every month in the Jewish year represents a certain characteristic. The essential characteristic of the month of Iyar is thought. The Hebrew alphabet is the DNA of creation. Each of the months was brought into being through one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The formation of the month of Iyar was through the letter vav, which represents thought.

The meaning of the letter vav in Hebrew is "and." Interestingly, if you look at the way we write the letter vav, you'll see that it is written as a straight line. The vav is a pictogram of connection. The line that is the letter vav connects one word to another, one thought to another, one world to another. In Hebrew, the word for "hook" is also vav. A hook's entire purpose is to connect.

If you think about it, the month of Iyar is itself like a line - a straight line connecting two thoughts into a single idea. In Nissan, it's called Pesach, and in Sivan, it's called Shavuot. However, it is all one process. This line of progression is most visible in the nightly mitzva to count the Omer (the majority of which is done in the month of Iyar). Every night for fortynine nights, from the second night of Pesach until the night before Shavuot, we plug into a line of spiritual growth, counting one day at a time, until we reach that supernal moment of connection at Sinai.

The counting of the Omer is like the vav, a line crossing a spiritual map - like neurons connecting, communicating a thought across the synapse to the next neuron. Days connecting to days. Communicating a single idea until it is complete and concrete.

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were hovering over the precipice of spiritual annihilation. They were at the last gate. According to the Vilna Gaon, forty-nine gates of tuma (spiritual impurity) exist in this world, and the Jewish people were at the threshold of gate number 49.

Forty-nine is 7 times 7. When you square a number, it reaches its ultimate expression. It is the thing times itself. Thus, 49 is the furthest reach of seven-ness in this world. Seven is the number of this world: there are seven notes in the scale, seven days in the week, and seven colors in the rainbow. Seven in Sound. Seven in Time. Seven in Sight.

The forty-nine days of the Omer represent the forty-nine steps by which the Jews ascended from their spiritual nadir in Egypt to be the worthy recipients of the Torah. The Torah was given on the fiftieth day because its presence here is an anomaly - it is beyond the world. Fifty is a number that cannot be counted in this world. This world is seven. Count seven times seven, and that's it. Forty-nine. You've reached the end of the world. Fifty represents what is beyond this world.

The spiritual level of the Jewish people in Egypt was -49. By the time they received the Torah, they had reached level +49. I don?t know about you, but when I was at school, the difference between -49 and +49 was 98. According to this calculation, Shavuot should be on the twentyfifth of Tammuz. So why then are there only forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot? Why do we need only seven weeks to rise from the pits to the heights?

There are two ways to destroy evil: you can nullify it or you can transform it. You can eradicate it or you can reverse its polarity from negative to positive.

In the Shema we say, "And you will love Hashem, your God, with all your heart..." (Devarim 6:5). The spelling of the word heart is anomalous. It is spelled with two bets, levav, instead of the usual one bet - lev. Rashi comments that the two bets teach us to love God with both "our hearts" - meaning the desire to do good and the desire to do wrong. In other words, we have the power to take negative desires and transform them into positive actions.

The Jewish people only needed forty-nine days to reach the heights of Sinai because they took the impurity that had encrusted them in Egypt and turned it into a positive force. They literally turned it on its head. Each day was not an eradication of a certain aspect of evil; rather, it was the transformation of that evil into its positive equivalent.

The power of thought is that it can be instantly reversed. If you throw a car into reverse, you'll break the gearbox, but you can change your mind in a second. The power of teshuva - the power of return - lies in this capability of the mind to instantly reverse itself. Thought is a straight line. A straight line connects two opposite ends of the same possibility. The polarity can be instantly reversed. Maybe this is the secret power of the month of Iyar, the month of the vav, the month of the straight line.

The Midrash teaches that the Romans executed Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon for teaching Torah in public. They wrapped him in his sefer Torah and set it alight. To prolong his agony, they packed water-soaked wool around his chest. Rabbi Chanina said, "The parchment is consumed, but the letters fly up in the air." The Roman executioner was deeply moved by Rabbi Chanina's holiness and asked, "If I remove the wool from around your heart, will I have a share in the World to Come?" Rabbi Chanina promised him that he would. The Roman then removed the wool, added wood to the fire to curtail Rabbi Chanina?s agony, and jumped into the flames and died. A heavenly voice proclaimed, "Rabbi Chanina and the executioner are about to enter the World to Come!"

One thought of teshuva can undo a life of sin. Instantly.

The straight line of the vav, the letter of Iyar, parallels the power of thought to instantly reverse itself. This was the essence of the process by which the Jewish people were able to ascend to the spiritual heights of Sinai in forty-nine days.

Biblical grammar has a very unusual feature. By merely adding and to a verb, you can change its tense from the future to the past and vice versa. The mere addition of the letter vav changes the future into the past and the past into the future. What does this mean?

Time is a creation. To God, there is no past, present, or future. God exists outside time. He creates time. The letter vav tells us that the past is connected to the future, the future to the past; it tells us that, ultimately, the past is the future and the future is the past.

According to the Zohar, vav symbolizes truth. The essence of truth is that things are not random, that everything is connected ? the future to the past, the past to the future. For everything is connected in He who is One and whose Name is comprised of the verb "to be" in its past, present, and future tenses.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.