2 ways of counting: days and then weeks and days. and 2 ways of making it count more: mussar and kabbalah. it’s not at all that they are divorced from each other, and we will be doing a bit of both over the course of the 49 days. but i thought we should know a tad more about why we are doing a bit of each.
the way of mussar
the mussar way is based on contemplative practices, actions mapped to each day. simply put, you do each spirit exercise in order to focus on and then clear away the accretions of habits, leanings, and just plain imbalances that prevent the inner light of your soul from shining forth. just as in mainstream kabbalah, the crucial understanding is that each of us is a soul yearning for the G’dly. hence it should be no surprise to any of us that major kabbalistic thinkers often are associated with the most powerful mussar texts….
and we are reminded of that today as it just happens to be the yahrtzeit of r’ yosef karo, master halachist and kabbalist who worked no small amount of mussar (derech eretz) into the weft of the warp he is best known for, the Shulchan Aruch.
there are a couple of touchstones for mussar in sefirat haOmer.
one springs from the Pirke Avot 6:6 where we learn that there are 48 kinyanei Torah, ie, 48 ways to acquire Torah. 48 is mighty close to 49, and the plan is to study 1 of the 48 each day of the counting, leaving the 49th day for review of the lot. we will touch on one of the kinyanim (or middot) each day.
the other approach stems from r’ elazar’s teaching, also in Avot, that the most important middah is a lev tov (a good heart), which has a gematria of 32. so on each of the first 32 days of sefirat haOmer we will dwell on actions that improve relations ben adam l’chavero (between person and person), using the last 17 days to do mitzvot ben adam l’makom (between man and G’d). those of you who remember lag b’omer, ie, the 33rd day of omer, will immediately see that it would correspond to the day on which the work changes from the human-human sphere to the human-divine sphere. a lot of you may also notice that this 2-part approach parallels the work of the Days of Awe, during which we set things right with people before we can finish the setting aright with G’d. we’ll try to honor this approach as well during the sefirah.
the way of kabbalah
the kabbalistic way is polymorphic, but focuses on a more purely mystical meditation or hitbonenut. we will try to relate each interincluded day (interinclusion is the all in one idea that each sefira comprises all the other sefirot within it) of the count to meditations rooted in the spiritual levels of the 4 worlds:
assiyah…the world of completion/doing associated with nefesh (the indwelling/resting soul)
yetzirah…the world of formation associated with ruach (the free will/turbulent soul)
b’riyah…the world of creation associated with neshamah (the renewable/breathing soul)
atzilut…the world of nearness to G’d associated with chayah (the life-force/living essence soul)
we will examine/contemplate on aspects of our existence that allow for the soul to shine forth and rise up through the levels of the worlds to get closer to our root in G’d. ideally, these contemplative exercises will dovetail into the mussar practices more days than not!
so that is the sheaf of mindblowing, soulglowing methods we will ripen into for each of our days, shredding the husks that confine us as we swell in soul…nurturing our individual hearts of wisdom….readying better selves for the receipt of Torah again in Shavuot.