haYom shisha asar yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot ushnei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’tiferet

“uprightness and justice are the shape of Your love, the earth is full of Your kindness”

tonight we consider the interinclusion of discernment in compassion. but it is also Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, the first of the 2 new moons that fall withing the period of sefirat haOmer. and it is not incidental that this Rosh Chodesh actually presents us with a nice way to illustrate the notion of discerning compassion….that the strong 5th line (5 represents the power of division, of breaking things down to facilitate understanding, or a powerful discernment, if you will) of Psalm 33 points it up so well is, perhaps, not coincidental.

the central thrust of gevurah in tiferet is the question of whether the compassion you feel and act upon is commensurate with the need of the one receiving it, or the situation that elicits it. there is also the issue of discernment of interest in compassion–there are those who focus all their compassion close to home in family and friends (it is not compassionate to say that the poor of vietnam are the concern of vietnam, for instance), and others who do the opposite, focusing on those in distant lands, directing little compassion to those in need close to home (why would anyone overlook needs in their own community to only give to help the poor in vietnam, for instance?). and discernment is also brought to bear in the tzedakah that is dispensed–how much must we examine the likely use of any help we give?

the doing of compassion can be more or less efficient….the unbound chesed is not the middle way. we can pick and choose amongst charitable opportunities….within limits, being careful to start close and work out in ever widening circles of righteousness. but there is a simple baseline: if we are asked to help provide food by a needy person, we must give something if we have anything at all to give…even if we don’t know for certain that the funds will be used for food.  we needn’t contribute to bus fare, or housing, or “just help” if we have reason to suspect fraud, though we are also taught not to be suspicious. but food help cannot be turned away so long as you have so much as a penny that you can afford to give.

the words used in Psalm 33 are “tzedakah” ‘uprightness’ and mishpat ‘justice with a strong notion of law’….and chesed ‘loving-kindness’. so we have obligatory responsibility giving, law compliant giving, and loving-kindness, which includes actual involvement in volunteering time and person as well as giving.

it is this complex that will bring 33, rosh chodesh, and minhag/halachah to bear as an illustration of gevurah in tiferet of a different sort. many of you probably know that we are in a limited state of aveilut (mourning) during a large part of the time of counting. this is due to the deaths of r’ Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students (chevruta…the arguing friends of talmudic study) within 33 days during the sefirat haOmer period in the time of the rebellion against Rome. perhaps fewer of you know that the students were said to have died of the plague due to failure to “respect” each other….they failed to achieve the harmony of tiferet, hence, there Torah was not a suitable carrying on after the great r’ Akiva.  (the standard is very high for yeshiva students, yes?!)

so to this day, we mourn the deaths (which nearly wiped out Torah in the Land) by refraining from enjoying music, dancing, frivolity, and grooming beyond what is necessary for hygiene and tsniut. (a mazel tov shout out to r’ mendy and alta goldstein, whose son will have “upsherin”, his first haircut at age 3, this coming Lag b’Omer!). but there are 2 customs regarding the period of mourning. the sefardim and most chassidim begin mourning with the onset of sefirah and break off at the 33rd day of the Omer count, ie, Lag (it means 33rd day) b’Omer.. the central/western mitnaged tradition is to begin mourning at Rosh Chodesh Iyar and continue until the day after Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which is 3 days before Shavuot. the third way is that of the Maharil, who held that 33 days during sefirat haOmer was crucial, but that no students died on the holiest of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, ie, 17 days comprising the 7 sabbaths, 6 days of Pesach, the day after Pesach, and the days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Sivan. so 33 days of mourning out of 50,  but not in an unbroken succession.

this could lead to problems in many communities with mixed populations of sefardim, chassidim, mitnagdim, and those who follow the ruling of the Maharil. what if a mitnaged held a wedding and invited his sefardic friends to attend the blissful holiness during the mourning period for the sefardim? or vice versa?  r’ Moshe Feinstein, the only just about universally recognized Torah decisor of the last century, ruled that any jew could, and should, attend a wedding for one of a different tradition regardless of their own mourning tradition. indeed, he also ruled that jews could switch their mourning period from year to year if need be….so long as they observed 33 days within the time of the sefirat haOmer (with some caveats for maintaining peace within a community).

r’ Moshe Feinstein’s compassion in this decision allowed for mutual respect between the different minhagim. by taking this approach, without missing the central halachah of 33 days, r’ Feinstein did a rectification of the error of the 12,000 pairs of r’ Akiva’s students by multiplying the harmony in the People. THAT is using discernment/gevurah in compassion/tiferet….oh, and if you need to spruce up with a trim for Rosh Chodesh or a wedding? well, that’s ok too!

mussar for gevurah she b’tiferet

gevurah-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   we should all be aware that our personal need for space will affect our relationships with others. sometimes we need a little more space than at other times. assess your needs and set appropriate boundaries for the good of your relationships with others.

gevurah-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   you are responsible not only to your relationships, but also to yourself. if you don’t already, set up a calendar and get rigorous about recording appointments and other necessary times so you can navigate your world in better balance.

kabbalah for gevurah she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    editing (which i need to do more carefully in these posts) is the process of rectifying error and bringing about better form through discernment.  we can do the same with out spirit traits. consider your traits and practices. which are the necessary? prune out the deadwood of habits to bring clarity to your way.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    it takes a village to raise a child, they say. and they mean that we all have something to offer to those in need as they grow in their character. examine your spirit skills. which are the ones that you could most usefully teach to another?  just do it.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    harmony doesn’t just happen in music or color or amongst people. each of us has to think through the available notes, or pigments, or spirit traits to find which will balance or harmonize best in each situation.  focus on your harmonies in family and community. contemplate what prompted you to bring those notes, colors, attitudes to bear.  respect the balance you have achieved.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    each of us has a prayer or a reading from Torah that seems most beautiful to us. or maybe you find beauty in other places and need to do hallel for those findings. contemplate the beauty you find and pray it…raise it up as an offering to G’d.

kinyan 16 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Ta’anug….Moderation in Pleasure.  jewish mourning is a stripping down of the joy we ordinarily seek to build as part of our avodah, our work for G’d in the world.  like fasting, it is a practice that puts away things that tend to carry us away….the result being that we have the stillness internally to be more present to other things.  usually to things that we don’t ordinarily take as much to heart. r’ Akiva’s students, in spite of having the greatest Torah master of their generation (of perhaps any generation) failed to get simple mutual respect, balance and harmony between them correct. due to this sever error a great plague (read disharmony and unbalance) was unleashed amongst them. disharmony is death to the highest aspects of spirit, and the fundamental underpinning of compassion is respect for the person and circumstance of your neighbors, family, friends, and community.  empathy is a fellow feeling, and when it is lacking, rachamim (the embrace of the womb) is elsewhere.

“moderate your pleasures of olam hazeh (this world), but maximize the pleasures of olam haba (the world to come)–the pleasure that comes from serving the other. “

so, what do you think?

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