haYom arba’a v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot u’sh’losha yomim, laOmer: tiferet she b’netzach

“if we swallow the bitter herbs without chewing,

we have not met our obligation”

the Rabbis teach this in Pesachim 115. we must chew the herbs, for part of the point is to know the bitterness. we have to know their bitterness thoroughly before we swallow and make them a part of us. when we are in a world of pain, we must dissolve the sense of bitterness within us by virtue of faith and fortitude, else we haven’t yet walked humbly. tiferet in netzach is compassion in endurance, and also balance in persistence, and an understanding that victory is not always sweet. indeed, victory touched with eternity is seldom directly sweet at all.

consider those who tend elderly parents who are slipping or have slipped into dementia. caring for a child who is terminally ill, or whose injuries after an accident will severely crimp the opportunities that were once nearly unlimited. marriages don’t always fail neatly and quickly. yaakov avinu labored for 7 years only to get a wife he had not sought or served for, having to serve another 7 years to ultimately gain Rachel…..and Leah, the wife not worked for, knew bitterness, overcoming it only in the very, very long view of history, for her son Yehudah, whose name is gratitude to G’d would ultimately become the namesake of the entire People of the Promise.

these are bitter herbs that can’t be swallowed. servitude in egypt was a mess of bitter herbs chewed for centuries. you can’t just swallow them with a positive attitude, you will know the bitterness even as you bring compassionate strength to bear over what can seem an eternity in itself.

rare is the one who can, like Heschel, keep prevent even the chewing bitterness of depression from being a complaint before G’d:

“G’d, i promise you with all my strength to block my worries in myself alone……

and never let my bloody misery soil spotty stains upon Your mood.”

as though G’d wouldn’t know the misery anyway….but the “temimut haratzon” (‘sincerity of will’) to have compassion for G’d’s mood while in such a black spot should make Jeremiah (and the rest of us) marvel. tiferet in netzach indeed.

tiferet in netzach is also the balance necessary in any persistent, drawn out endeavor. like a decathloner, we must be prepared in bad situations to negotiate in and out, applying now more strength, now less. the terrain of any difficult situation requires subtleties in the application of strength and persistence…victory is straightforward in a 100 meter sprint, it is not at all so in the decathlon.

tiferet in netzach is what brought the longing for the return to the Land into a reality in spite of malaria, and drought and repeated war.  it takes faith and fortitude to make those bitter herbs into nutrition for our souls.

mussar for tiferet she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    teachers have to decide how much discipline to apply in each situation. a simple zero tolerance will not suit every situation, and it will only rarely help reveal that reason behind a behavior problem. we jews like to argue….at least theoretically to reach better understandings of the matter at hand, but any yeshiva student will tell you that the true “talmid hacham” (‘wise student’) knows when to back off from an argument out of respect for the opponent’s sensibilities. then again, sometimes it is better to press ahead. choose your fights more carefully….and be more sensitive to the opportunities to take it down a notch.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    it shouldn’t take any of us very long to see what effect our decisions have had on us over time….both good ones and bad.  it should take even less time to recognize the impact our decisions have had on others over time. what may take longer is to carry this memory in the front of your mind always so that it is ready to help in making the next decision. cultivate some wisdom from some of your previous decisions, then hold those thoughts at ready….

kabbalah for tiferet she b’netzach

in assiyah…the world of doing/completion    “thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee” (Shir haShirim 4:7). this is said to describe the love of the People for G’d, the unblemished One. this is the reference that Heschel to which Heschel points in his line about “spotty stains upon Your mood”. consider your beloved, how much netzeach would you have to apply to see your spouse as spotless? if it isn’t easy to answer “none”, contemplate how to add more tiferet to the netzach of relationship. if it is easy, then contemplate how much tiferet has already contributed to the level of netzach in your relationship.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    loving children is sometimes more strenuous work than loving a peer! how much adjustment does the average day with teenagers in the house take? meditate on the tiferet/beauty of your child(ren) in your eyes even after having to apply persistent/netzach in a difficult disagreement. hold that thought throughout your day.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    contemplate Heschel’s desire to keep his depression from besmirching G’d’s mood. is their another approach that is a better expression of balance/compassion in strength/endurance? an equal alternative?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    we all have times when we feel closer to G’d than others. consider such a time and try to identify what gifts of the spirit you were given during them. does G’d intuit what we can use better in times of nearness than in times of distress?

kinyan 24 of 48 ways of acquiring Torah

haMakir et Mekomo…..Knowing One’s Place.   one must know one’s real accomplishments and failings, to recognize one’s true acquisition of Torah daily. only then can one know their true place, their true standing in the world and the true reckoning of their affect on the world. what you do has effects in this world as well as in the world to come. and the more Torah you acquire, the larger the potential for making good change in the world. but if you don’t know where you are already, well, how do you know where next to plant your foot in your walk?

“know whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you are destined to give an account”

(Pirkei Avot 3:1)

2 thoughts on “haYom arba’a v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot u’sh’losha yomim, laOmer: tiferet she b’netzach

  1. Some pain, as depression, can be driven by chemical changes in the body. This loss of chemical balance can be precipitated by emotional shock. Without drugs, all one has at one’s disposal is mental fortitude to push ahead and force oneself ever so slowly and painfully into a kavanah that will be, over an extended period of time, chemistry altering. Depending on the severity of the chemical imbalance, this may be an impossible task for many. What is the nature of this disparity between our rational and emotional (spiritual) sides? Seems that Torah speaks to our rational self….and prayer, belief, and trust to our spiritual.

    • we should make sure that 2 things are understood:
      1, judaism is not in any way opposed to employing medicine to fight medical conditions. want to be sure that all understand that biochemical issues are to be handled biochemically as is appropriate. mussar, kabbalah, even psychotherapy are all on top of standard treatment.
      2, judaism does not clearly support a notion of strict separation between the physical and the spiritual. we treat all facets of existence as being from one source using the means/methods G’d sees fit, whether that is kabbalah or an as yet elusive unified field theory.
      now, having said that, i can’t say that i see a disparity between our rational and emotional/spiritual sides. we can speak of them independently as is useful, but it is really like paint on a house. you may choose the paint separately, finding just the right color, but when you sell that house, there is no separation of paint from siding.

      so we can speak of spiritual matter and physical matter, but must realize immediately that in judaism at least, the 2 are “interincluded”…you have to chew the bitter herbs…real physical herbs and real physical teeth, muscles, rational intention…to glean the spiritual and physical/nutritional significance of the practice. when you say a motzi on bread, you hold the physical object, and understand rationally the words ‘who brings forth food from the earth–and then you take a bite immediately, swallowing before you continue on to the rest of the meal. Torah speaks to the spirit, and prayers that aren’t run through your rational consciousness are not prayers quite…perhaps well intentioned readings (which may be enough sometimes), perhaps even just well intentioned singing for those who don’t comprehend the prayers (which also may be enough sometimes)….for the prayers have semantic, grammatical, semiotic meaning….just like Torah. they are intended to influence thinking and feeling….and to direct your literal steps in many ways.

      that emotional shock can render real effects in the physical spectrum of Creation is important. and, yes, one can through spiritual practice work effects on biochemistry and neural function (consider accepted work on the effects of meditation on brainwaves, cardiac function, metabolism and respiration. and, as you have pointed out, changes in biochemistry can have real effects in spiritual apprehension, and ability to be spoken to by the ways of spirit.

      they work together to make for a complete person. everyone should strive to both rationally and spiritually (including nonrationally) understand justice (then do it), loving-kindness (then do it) and the meaning of walking, and humbly, and with, and G’d. ther is no either/or, but only both/and, i think.

so, what do you think?

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