Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Gematriya Haggadah

The Gematriya Haggadah
By Eli Genauer

I try to buy a new Haggadah every year to make sure I have something new to say. It is especially important at my stage in life when grandchildren will remind you if you use last year's Dvar Torah.

This year's Haggadah was definitely in the category of "מה נשתנה ההגדה הזאת מכל ההגדות". It's name is ״כוס ישועות״  and it was printed on the Isle of Djerba, Tunisia in 1947. It's author was Rabbi David Cohen (also known as רבי דוד כהן אלמג׳רבי) who served as the Rav in the southern Tunisian city of Tataouine (תיטאוין). The text of the Haggadah is translated into Judeo-Arabic and the Halachos and instructions are in that language. Thankfully, the Peirush of Rav Cohen is in Hebrew which allowed me access to his approach to the Haggadah.


We find out a bit about Rav Cohen from the Haskamah given at the beginning of the book by six prominent Rabbis of Djerba. It states as follows:

הרב זצ״ל היה כמעט הראשון בהתישבות אחינו בית ישראל שם מראשיתו בתור שוחט ובודק ומרביץ תורה ושליח צבור,ואחר כך נתמנה לרב ומורה צדק שם.

We learn that he was a pioneer in establishing the Jewish community in Tataouine and served in many capacities there before become the Rav of the town. He authored numerous books, some printed while he was alive, and some, like this Hagaddah, printed after his Petirah in 1934.

The Haggadah was printed by a committee (המשתדלים) in Tataouine who raised money for this purpose. There are over 800 names of families or individuals who contributed to its publication. Included in this are over 100 contributors from Tataouine which gives one some idea of the size of the community.


Most of the contributors included with their names the memory of a deceased relative or a blessing for a hoped for milestone for their children. Some of the blessings were familiar to me and others were a bit different.

For a married child: ויפקדהו בבנים זכרים של קיימא אמן abbreviated as ויפקדהו בבזשק״א

This seemed to reflect a cultural preference for boys and perhaps a high rate of infant mortality.

There were no blessings for someone just to have children.

For boys there were two blessings depending on age:

ויזכה לתורה ולתפילין ולחופה and ויזכה לתפילין ולחופה

For unmarried men the hope was ויזכה לחופה 

For those a bit older (?), it was ויזכה לחופה בקרוב

In his Hakdamah, the author explains why he chose to name his Peirush כוס ישועות. He writes that the Gematriya of כוס ישועות is the same as אני הקטן דוד בן המנוח אבאתו כהן. Sort of.  The total of the latter is nine short but if you add to it the nine words כוס ישועות andאני הקטן דוד בן המנוח אבאתו כהן it comes out the same ( 878 ). One senses that the author is very attuned to Gematriyos and his commentary proves this to be true.

A good example of Rav Cohen’s use of Gematriyos is how he plays with the phrase הא לחמא עניא
He first notes that הא לחמא  has the same numerical value as the word מילה (85) indicating that בזכות המילה יצאו ממצרים.

He then writes that the word עניא has the numerical value of ענוה indicating that דבזכות הענוה יצאו
Getting back to הא לחמא which equals 85, he relates it to the word פה which has the same numerical value. Matzah is לחם עוני which requires us to do the following: שׁצריך פה האדם לענות בליל פסח בהלל והודאה לשמו יתברך שעשׂה עמנו ניסים ונפלאו

Finally, if you take the total of the first letters of הא לחמא עניא די אכלו you get 110 which is the number of years that Yosef lived. This hints at the fact that it was because of the sale of Yosef, the Jews suffered in Egypt.

The city of Tataouine is famous in popular culture because it served as the inspiration for the name of the fictional planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars movie series. Many of the scenes of Luke Skywalker’s home planet in the original movie were shot near Tataouine. I was very glad to meet a real inhabitant of Tataouine, one who has enhanced my Seder experience.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

How comes that no one checked the facts submitted in this article:

"הרב זצ״ל היה כמעט הראשון בהתישבות אחינו בית ישראל שם מראשיתו בתור שוחט ובודק ומרביץ תורה ושליח צבור,ואחר כך נתמנה לרב ומורה צדק שם"????

In fact, he Jewish community in תטואן was established already in the 15th century by מגורשי ספרד.

Among prominent רבנים in the קהילה were רבי חיים ביבאס in the 15th century, רבי חסדאי אלמושנינו in the 17th century, רבי יצחק בן ואליד in the 19th century.

Dan Yardeni

Unknown said...

How comes that no one checked the facts submitted in this article:

"הרב זצ״ל היה כמעט הראשון בהתישבות אחינו בית ישראל שם מראשיתו בתור שוחט ובודק ומרביץ תורה ושליח צבור,ואחר כך נתמנה לרב ומורה צדק שם"????

In fact, he Jewish community in תטואן was established already in the 15th century by מגורשי ספרד.

Among prominent רבנים in the קהילה were רבי חיים ביבאס in the 15th century, רבי חסדאי אלמושנינו in the 17th century, רבי יצחק בן ואליד in the 19th century.

Dan Yardeni

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