Four Times af
When Korach’s cohorts, Dasan and Aviram, rebuffed Moses’ pleas for them to abandon their rebellion, they said, among other things: “Furthermore [af] you have not brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey…”
The Midrash observes that the introductory word af, [Furthermore] appears in three other places in the Torah.
First, when the serpent enticed Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the serpent uses the word af: “Did G-d perhaps [af] say, ‘you shall not eat of any of the trees of the garden…”
Second, while languishing in confinement, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s butler and baker. After Joseph interprets a dream for the butler, the baker asks Joseph to interpret his own dream. Before recounting his dream, the baker states, “In my dream, I too [af]…”
The third time the word af appears in the Torah is the abovementioned response of the rebels Dasan and Aviram to Moses.
The fourth reference to af in Biblical literature, as cited by the Midrash, is uttered in the Megillah by the wicked Haman. While boasting to his family about his great stature in the eyes of the king, Haman added that “Furthermore [af], Queen Esther brought no one but myself to accompany the king to the banquet that she had prepared…”
Incurring G-d’s Wrath
The simple way of understanding the Midrash is that the usage of the word af, translated variously as “furthermore,” “too,” or “perhaps,” all of which imply addition, also has the meaning of “wrath,” which suggests an intense form of anger.
The message of the Midrash is that, in each these four narratives involving the serpent, Pharaoh’s baker, Dasan, Aviram and Haman, the one who utters “af” brings about his own destruction for having incurred the wrath[af] of G-d.
One may well ask what connection in particular lies between the two translations of af as “addition” and “wrath?”
Addition is Subtraction
One insight in this regard can be derived from the way the serpent used the word. In his attempt to entice Eve, he elicited from her that in addition to not eating of the fruit of the tree G-d had decreed further that she was not even allowed to touch the tree. When the serpent showed her that touching the tree was actually harmless, he was able next to convince her that eating its fruit would likewise be harmless. He employed exaggeration to entrap Eve.
One of the tactics of the evil forces of the world is to employ exaggeration and hyperbole to ensnare their victims. Our Sages express this idea succinctly as “Whoever adds diminishes.” This implies that when we exaggerate, we distort reality. This is exactly what the four af narratives express.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean that we should hold back from increasing in our service to G-d. Rather, we should not add for the purpose of subtraction. We should not act piously as a way to hide wicked intentions. Even more, we should not try to alter the meaning of the Torah in the guise of “improving” or “enhancing” it.
Antithesis of Anochi
In the realm of remez, the Torah hints based on numerology, the word af adds up to 81, which is also the numerical value of the word Anochi or “I” (the first word of the Ten Commandments or, more accurately, the Ten Statements).
The implication of this correlation is that the four incidents where the word af is used, the speakers each undermined the immortal word with which G-d introduced Himself to the world at Mount Sinai. Instead of the wordAnochi, they generated G-d’s anger or wrath by uttering af. Instead of recognizing the G-d-centric reality of the world, the foregoing “gang of four” became the centers of their own universes, free to add on to and ultimately distort reality.
When we examine these four narratives, we see that their common denominator is concealment, obfuscation and distortion, which is the essence of the word af and the antithesis of Anochi.
Four Examples of Reality Distortion
The serpent used deception to entice Eve by showing her the superficial veneer of the Tree, while concealing the inner power of the Tree of Knowledge, denying G-d’s instructions and thereby repudiating Anochi.
The word for serpent in Hebrew-nachash has the same gematria (numerical value) as “Moshiach.” The serpent is the very antithesis of Moshiach, who will implement the Anochi dynamic universally. Moshiach will bring an end to the distortion of G-dly reality. And while the serpent’s distortion brought death to the world, Moshiach’s role, among other things, is to usher in the age when, in the words of the prophet, “Death will be swallowed up forever.”
The story of Pharaoh’s baker and his dream likewise features concealment and distortion, the hallmarks of Galus-exile. First of all, Galus has been likened to a dream in which reality is distorted. And second, of the two functionaries whose dreams Joseph interpreted, the butler and the baker, the latter is the one whom Pharaoh ultimately executes. The crime for which he was put to death was to allow a rock to be mixed into and concealed in bread he served Pharaoh. By uttering af, the baker signaled his guilt of concealment and distortion in a way that led to his destruction.
Korach, whom our Sages say was a visionary and able to see the exalted role of the Levites in the Messianic Age, took a Messianic prophecy and perverted it to try to acquire power and stature, prematurely. Moreover, he used a Messianic vision as the basis for his rebellion against Moses, the very one through whom G-d transmitted the Torah, the sole instrument that will bring about the Messianic Age.
Haman’s relationship with Esther highlights the worst aspect of Galus.
First, the name Esther, our Sages teach, means concealment.
Second, when Haman feels comfortable with Esther and gloats about his relationship with her, it is a sign of the treacherous depth of his Galus distortion.
Moreover, according to the Talmud, Haman is hinted at in the very story of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge! He was understood to be an extension of the serpent that brought death to the world.
Bringing Moshiach and Redemption through Moshiach-Oriented Approaches
The common denominator of these four cases is that the speakers of af took positive symbols and distorted them. The serpent, whose name is numerically equivalent to Moshiach, a world of Anochi and eternal life, brings death to the world.
The name Pharaoh has been translated by the Zohar as “exposed.” The Zohar interprets this metaphorically as the exposure of the most sublime G-dly light–Anochi. Pharaoh’s baker therefore signifies the nurturing of that revelation. And it is precisely that baker who has a deadly dream, the very antithesis of exposure of G-dliness and eternal life.
Korach was a visionary; he peered into the Messianic Age and used what he saw for an opposite purpose, to undermine the very teachings of Moses that would lead us to that era.
Haman’s name is numerically equivalent to the word hamelech-the king, a surprising allusion to Moshiach, the ultimate Jewish leader. And yet it is Haman who represents the darkest period of Galus with his evil plan to exterminate the Jewish people.
The obvious lesson for us today is that when we deal with Moshiach and Redemption, we must never lose sight of the Torah’s view of these subjects. We must diligently study its teachings so we don’t distort the belief in Moshiach, who personifies the idea of getting rid of Galus distortion. How could we possibly approach the removal of distortion by means of a distorted view of Moshiach? We can only gain our rightful access to Geulah-Redemption when our approach to it is Geulah-oriented!