like a fragrant apricot tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved
this verse from Song of Songs is said to speak of the humble person, someone seeming small but splendid, amidst the ubiquitous climax forest trees. judaism has a special relationship with trees that is rather unique in the ancient world, for rather than worshipping tall and mighty trees, the jews favored the apricot, the almond, the olive…all of them small, all of them fruit bearing, all of them fragrant in bloom. and this may help us understand how the sefirah of hod can represent both humility and also splendor….and ultimately, gratitude (‘hodu’ is the hebrew word for ‘thanks’, after all).
no soul trait is more valued in jewish teaching than anavut, ‘humility.’ for the humble person is above all always grateful for what he/she has–and this is more important–the humble person knows from the core that there are others in the universe, and that the earth is not theirs, but rather belongs to the Holy One, blessed be.
we wonder at the beauty and the fragrance of the humble blossom, each destined to last but a short time, but whose ultimte effect in the world is, well, the continuance of the world! existence itself depends on those blossoms and the intoxicating affects they have on pollinators and the rest of us…feeding first the bees and later, through the fruits that grow out of them, the rest of us.
Torah tells us that Moshe was “very humble, more that any man who was on the face of the earth,” yet there was in fact one even more humble still. Moshe’s job prevented him from being the clear paragon of humility he could otherwise have been…leading the People required he be huge in presence, his face veiled to conceal the gleam that the face-to-face presence of G’d had left as a permanent residue on his face. and because hod in chesed points to the splendor of varied interrelationships, you will not be surprised whose humility surpassed the of Moshe…though unmentioned. hod is the sefirah of Aharon, Moshe’s brother, the one who G’d knew would “rejoice in his heart” (Exodus 4:14) that his younger brother would be the earthly leader of the redemption of the People. think about that. how many other cases of the younger brother not struggling with the elder do we see before this? hod in chesed is love without competition….speak for me, Aharon, and Aharon did…take my staff and initiate this plague…and he did….it was Aharon who pleaded with Moshe to pray for their sister’s healing. quiet chesed.
Moshe knew this as we see in the test of Korach and crew. Moshe specifically set the test to be the bringing of ketoret (incense) and to bring staffs to see which would blossom. well, the fragrant ketoret was the exclusive domain of Aharon….when there was plague in the People, Aharon was called upon to bring the curative fragrance. only he could bring incense after the inauguration of the Mishkan (not even his sons Nadav & Avihu could bring it without his bidding). and whose staff blossomed and then brought forth fruit? yep, the staff of Aharon. it was not Moshe’s victory over Korach, but rather Aharon’s! and the ultimate sign? the perpetual blossoming almond branch. the blossoms’ fragrance a perpetual bringer of joy, scent being the symbol of the soul inside the body…the great spiritual sense of humankind.
we are told to model ourselves after Aharon–the peacemaker, master of hod in chesed, Baal haAnavut–and not after Moshe Rabbeinu! oh, and what do the Rabbis teach will be the most prominent physical characteristic of Moshiach?– “a splendid fragrance.”
mussar for hod she b’chesed
hod-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro buy a friend, a lover…anyone who is your better half in some way… some flowers (or pick some!) and make clear to them that you are simply not complete without them.
hod-chesed with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo ‘so just call on me, brother, when you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on…i might just have a problem that you’d understand…we all need somebody to lean on.’ put aside your ego and ask someone for help.
kabbalah for hod she b’chesed
we have a special mitzvah that will take us from assiyah through atzilut….and even higher! a great rectification! it is Nisan, and in this month, we have a special mitzvah beyond the normal passover matzah (that you’ve had up to here by now, i know). it is a great hiddur to say the blessing on the first flowering of the fruit trees in Nisan….and this year we have blossoms at just the right time! baruch haShem
go out today and find 2 or more flowering fruit trees (or an orchard if you have one nearby) so that you can recite the Birkat haIlanot. it goes like this:
Blessed are You, haShem, Master of the universe, for G’d left nothing lacking in G’d’s universe, and created in it good creatures and good trees, giving pleasure through them to the children of Adam.
ok, you say, so i see how this is in the world of doing, assiyah, and in the realm of physical creation. but how do we get to atzilut and beyond? easy peasy! Arizal taught that certain souls reincarnate into vegetation, especially into trees. we can release these souls by saying the birkat haIlanot! it is, therefore, considered a great act of chesed to say this particular blessing, for such entrapped neshamot cannot be elevated without our help. doing this mitzvah is said to hasten the coming of the messianic times, for the new jerusalem will be built due to brotherly love without competition, facilitate by the simple kindness of recognizing the importance of the lowly blossom.
kinyan 5 of 48 ways to acquire Torah
Anavut….Humility well, that’s convenient, eh? Rav Kook teaches that true humility can only be had by one with righteous self-esteem. not ego and audacity, but the recognition of your true spirtual position in the world. you are created in the image of G’d, and you are expected “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your G’d.” each soul must be of some real worth if that is the expectation. recognizing that you are born to walk with G’d should build everyone’s self-esteem, but knowing that all of your fellows are likewise should keep you from thinking yourself better. Rabbi Bunam nimbly teaches: “only the humble are able to comprehend the highness of G’d. we read (Psalms 138:6) ‘G’d is high, and the lowly see it.’