“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)