haYom arba’a asar yom, sh’heim shnei shavuot, laOmer: malchut she b’gevurah

“by 3 things does the world endure: by truth, justice, and peace”

r’ Shimon be Gamliel teaches this, quoting a verse from Zechariah: “truth and peace/wholeness judge in your gates” (8:16).  judgment in your gates smacks of malchut (sovereignty) and gevurah (justice).  and malchut in gevurah is a clear extension into the larger nonjewish world as well. why?

consider the 7 noachide laws, derived by Chazal (Sanhedrin 57-8) from the book of Genesis up to the story of Noach, hence ‘noachide.’ they are as follows, 6 negative and 1 positive final law: 1. no idolatry, 2. no cursing G’d, 3. no murder,  4. no adultery or incest, 5. no theft, 6. no eating a limb from a live animal, and 7. DO organize a judicial system.  any people that abides by these 7 rules is meeting the minimum baseline for being G’dly.  any that don’t, aren’t.  nota bene that these rules are thought to have held in the world from before the time of Avraham Avinu. chesed has not yet opened out. it was a time of din, ‘severe justice.’

we should focus on the word ‘endure’, i think. r’ shimon is not talking about the ideal case, but by the barest minimum. his focus is like that of the noachide laws.  take a look again at the noachides….there are 2 concerning human:G’d interactions, 3 concerning the lowest common acceptable denominator of action between human and human, with the 7th requiring another human behavior to administer the observance of the other 3 human:human rules. so far we are in baseline Torah and well within the 10 utterances, and the also the enhanced set of 613 mitzvot that come to apply to jews.

then there is the odd 6th: you must not eat a limb from a live animal.  not that i would, mind you, but honestly, now, were you to pick a law to rank up there with the biggies of murder, idolatry, adultery and theft, would you pull this one out of your hat?

but let’s consider malchut in gevurah and truly understand what happens spiritually when malchut is introduced into any interinclusion. the real test of malchut is whether the trait of the week has become systematically a part of our approach to the world. all week long, we’ve been judging in the gateway to our soul all week doing the interinclusions in gevurah. have you internalized chesed, tiferet, netzach, hod, and yesod therein? if so, how might we test it?

“i care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it”

again we learn at the feet of r’ avraham…..lincoln (the beard shoulda been a giveaway). yes, that is how i would test it too. a G’dly people judge truth and wholeness in the entirety of Creation. not just within their own society and within their own kind and locale, but without in the larger world. the world itself can only endure when we bring justice to the gates of our own lives, to the openings out (not just in!) of our spirits in the world.

and the measure of that just view of Creation is ‘wholeness’. you will not eat your way through an animal piecemeal….nor will you wantonly destroy fruit trees when waging war….nor will you, my jews, eat anything treif.  treif means ‘torn,’ chevrei, and it is the extension of the noachide rule against hacking away at life into concern for life even in the manner of its being killed.  meat is murder barely sanctioned by the Torah, and only by specific permission to those in the time of severe judgement, who had barely survived the great flood brought on by general wickedness:

if you crave to eat meat (Deuteronomy 12:20) ….[you] shall pour out its blood, and cover it with earth” (Leviticus 17:13)”

if you crave…..if you cannot exercise malchut in gevurah, sovereign control over your sever will to kill, then at very least cover over the living evidence of your wrong…bury the life lost as you would one of your own. strong stuff. but it is earth day on this day of the sefirah.  we continue to slash and burn, to drill, baby, drill, to tear animals apart and tear up the habitat that all of us depend on.

what exactly will it take for us to see the truth, judge wholeness as the greatest good, and open the gates of our souls to the entirety of creation? you see, we should have eaten from the tree of life…….

mussar for malchut she b’gevurah

malchut-gevurah with another…bein adam l’chaveiro   we keep Shabbat in remembrance of Creation. share the menuchah of the undisturbed world with someone…take a nature walk today and know the justice of the Creation without our interference.

malchut-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   “oh, i just couldn’t give up steak!”  really? i mean, really? “surely i will require your lifeblood” for killing (Genesis 9:5). malchut is mastery over your spirit-infused world. get a grip and give up that burger.

kabbalah for malchut she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   the Shekhinah is the feminine indwelling Presence of G’d in Creation. indwelling just as the nefesh soul within us. a nefesh indwells in every aspect of creation from stones through grasses through critters and trees.  go ahead, hug a tree today.  hug a cute primate as well, but embrace the nefesh you encounter in every piece of Creation you encounter.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/ formation    on Shabbat you are blessed with an ibbur, a pregnancy of additional soul. the indwelling presence should be strong within you. feel the strength of the Presence within you and around you on this day.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   there came a time as you grew from toddler to child that you knew that just tearing things up was wrong. it was destructive, not creative. it is forbidden to tear things on Shabbat in traditional circles. avoid tearing anything today, and consider how many things you thoughtlessly tear daily.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   find a time today to sit in Creation and chant “modeh ani lefanecha” until you fully see the Face of G’d in all that you behold.

kinyan 14 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Sechorah….Moderation in Business.  the moderation spoken of here is keeping your work in perspective. do not let it overwhelm all else you do. and do not pursue it with the lust for which you pursue justice. and, on this earth day, be mindful of how business is the leading excuse for depredation and tearing of the Creation.

make each decision, whether in business or in private, as if the very existence of the universe depends on the truth and wholeness of your judgement

haYom sh’losha asar yom, sh’heim shavua echad v’shisha yomim, laOmer: yesod she b’gevurah

“monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never disappear”

how strongly settled a foundation does our restraint need?  that is what abraham joshua heschel is pointing at. what we might want to keep in mind is that pharaoh built monuments of stone…..

the stone that pharaoh built ‘wonder of the world’ high, or at least what remains after looting and repurposing over the ages, remains piled.  but to what is it monument?  the afterlife cult of the ancient egyptians is long gone, replaced, even in the heartland, by Islam….even the language of the pharaohs is but a historical note (very ‘picturesque’ though) in the log of bygone civilizations.  the great pyramids are monuments to the piling up of stone, of engineering that still astounds us….which sort of makes them monuments to the underlings and  slaves who built them….which sort of makes them monuments of, well, the Israelites.

didn’t see that coming, did you pharaoh?  heschel’s larger point for yesod in gevurah is that we should be mindful to make our day today of spirit and not of heaped up stone. even when the stonyheap still stands, its significance does not. pharaoh, and the way of the pharaoh, is no more living today than the frogs, locust, lice and wild beasts of the plagues. but the frogs, locusts, lice and wild beasts are still spoken of in families over dinner…monument to a Torah that remains the living presence of G’d and a People  that ol’ pharaoh tried to dismiss….or retain, i guess, but to no lasting effect. petrifaction of the spirit is death to the spirit.

heschel also points up how monuments in time, even just a day at a time, last. they accumulate, the like the days of the sefirah, adding up over time.  a growing presence in the very medium that persistence is measured in.

the entirety of the just and righteous way is in the Torah, yet it is recorded on flexible, perishable parchment. the letters chip and fade…..but then need regular repair maintaining the connection to the spirit in real time. when the parchment finally gives out, a new one is made. refinishing the pyramids is unthinkable. rewriting the Torah is a mitzvah for each of us to aspire to do or take part in. and it is actually done by a single hand, in daily repurification, with the care and attention that a living mind and heart brings.

think of it this way: Torah scrolls don’t draw pigeons…..stone monuments…well, you get the picture.

yesod is the firmness of a settling of foundation; a suitable basis for spiritual action.  but it should not be ramrod rigid. rather, as the proverbial reed, it should demonstrate its integrity by bending in the winds of time and change.  the justice of gevurah should be established in the same manner, exhibiting high tensile strength.  gevurah needs stretching, and bending, and drawing out to prove its mettle for application in human society, and through human spirit.

let’s each make a Torah for ourselves, establishing it upon a base of experience, knowledge, and practice…limber, supple, adaptable…..built solidly of these renewable resources. THAT monument is sustainable to the end of time; nothing can tear it asunder.

mussar for yesod she b’gevurah

yesod-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   a pillar of judaism is family life and the values cultivated within. these days synchronous family activities seem a bit lost: one child has soccer practice, another cheerleading. it’s mama’s night out….dad’s with the brotherhood. try sitting down all together for a meal. count sefirat haYom together today. re-erect that pillar of spirit in time.

yesod-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   examine your mindset for correcting things that people do today. do you do it with love, or with anger? if with even a little irritation, ask yourself why something is so set in you, so set in your ways, that it matters in a way that leads to anger. is that any way to build relationships?

kabbalah for yesod she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   we sing about the 3 things on which the world stands. when we sing about it, we are re-establishing the yesod (foundation) of these 3 for the jewish way of life: “al haTorah, al haAvodah, v’al gemilut chasadim”…Torah, Spirit Work (ie, prayer , service, devotion), and Acts of Loving-Kindness. these are foundings and not merely foundations. the work of building on them is ongoing. consider how you support these foundings on which the world stands.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   in what are you spiritually grounded? in learning? in practice? or merely in nostalgia?  in ethnic cuisine? or maybe your judaism is grounded in fear? (ch’v)  contemplate whether your grounding is righteous….is secure enough to build on. if not, what will you do to change it?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    each generation’s understanding of G’d, of practice, of prayer is built on the teachings of generations that came before and conditioned on contemporaneous experience. examine your own understandings. from which generation do your dominant foundational understandings spring?  we always say that times change and judaism changes apace. meditate on where your understandings came from and where they have gone. is it enough?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   again with the Heschel….”prayer is our attachment to the utmost.”  prayerfully contemplate your connections….is the utmost amongst them now?  and if not now, when?

kinyan 13 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Mishnah….Repetition in Learning and Teaching.  a good teacher, a true chacham/rabbi, will have rehearsed much of Talmud and Zohar in addition to Chumash. today, though, we seem to have rabbis who do not even seem to have completed a single reading (let alone careful study!) of any of the Holy Texts. why is this ok? espedially since the rule of rehearsal holds for the rest of us as well–the ideal of mishnah for all is in the Shema:

“…teach them repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit at home and when you travel on the way, when you lie down and when you rise….” (Deuteronomy 6…)

haYom shneim asar yom, sh’heim shavua echad vachamisha yomim, laOmer: hod she b’gevurah

“my G’d, the soul You have placed within me is pure”

the innate quality of hod is anavah, humility, a sense of restricting oneself in the face of the magnificence of so many other things in the Creation. wiser people, bolder people, power in nature….and me, just me? not so much.  well, if such humility combines in gevurah, with its innate strength of restriction, severe justice and power in limitation, you have a hard veer into drawing away from engagement in the world.

and that is never any good.

couple it with the weight of memory that touches all of us as we step into the darkness of Yom haShoah, and you begin to see how evil can find a foothold in a judgement of despair.  we are not metaphorically  just dust and ashes, but we are the children, the small remnant of those who were made dust and ashes. this could be a powerful inducement to withdrawal from engagement in a murderous world.

but that is never, never, never any good.

we do well to remember that hod also has a radiant power side that can ally to the just power in gevurah. double strength….the power to rise, a spirit phoenix from the dust and ash.  rise, as did Aharon, from his stricken silence upon the inexplicable death of his sons Nadav and Avihu.

we have the phrase ‘i who am but dust and ashes’ directly from Avraham Avinu, who shows us the way to radiate beauty from seeming weakness:

“Avraham answered and said, ‘behold, i have ventured to speak to G’d, i who am but dust and ashes. suppose 5 of the 50 righteous are lacking….will you destroy the whole city for lack of 5?” (Genesis 18:27-33)

Avraham strove after that small remnant of the righteous that can and will bring redemption. the bargain struck at the time of sodom and amorah was 10, simply 10 righteous and the whole would live to repent.  but some have suggested that Avraham stopped too soon. it took that other humble master, Moshe Rabbeinu, to plead for an entire People in which there were fewer than 10 righteous now and then. the humblest  among humans and one who is but dust and ashes can accomplish much…..this is the radiance of hod, the beauty of hod in justice.

but perhaps we need only focus on 1. for we pray each morning as above…’my G’d, the soul You have placed within me is pure’…and that alone is enough to make us more than mere dust and ash.  we are worthy by reason of innate purity from the Source of All.  G’d’s choice therein makes us more. if i am not for myself, who will be for me?  well, the Holy One of Israel, for starters.

and if we rise for ourselves as well, we can make more righteousness with the soul we are given. if there are 10 righteous in a sea of antisemites, yet will we seek to fix it with righteousness. if there is but 1 righteous remaining, we will remember that the entire world was Created for that 1….and regrow the way from there.

‘the neshamah You have placed within me is pure’ and nothing and nobody will prevent me from letting it shine forth.  i am of the People that watches evil empires fall….so are you. baruch haShem we know the radiant power of hod in gevurah.  consider what has been wrought by but a still small voice….

mussar for hod she b’gevurah

hod-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   what you do will matter for others. make like Avraham and in spite of the odds, act for righteousness. take a deep breath of optimism, and exhale all the despair.

hod-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   there is power in the gratitude of hod as well. G’d has given you a pure soul.  give thanks for it, and for every wrong you avoid in your own actions (take credit for outdoing your own yetzer hara) and for the avoidance of wrong in the actions of others due to your use of your pure soul to make a difference in the world.

kabbalah for hod she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   hod-gevurah are both sefirot of the left side of the tree of life, the physical weak-hand side for most. but it is also the strong spirit side, bound in t’fillin. flex your left hand, lift your left arm while still bound, and feel the strength within….the strength secreted away in the left of hod in gevurah.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   another secret strength is the intuitive feeling in our gut. many of us survive today due to the gut feeling of an ancestor who went off to america. be mindfully ready to ‘go with your gut’ today.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   b’riyah is the soul level of neshamah in the body.  we can either innately sense purity within, or create it without. focus on purity within yourself. can you find the neshamah?  praise G’d from it.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   neshamah, the breathed in/in-breathed soul is the highest level we can directly experience.  mind your breath and know that G’d is delivering strength to you through it, for both body and soul. reflect on how near G’d is to you and how G’d is exalted.

kinyan 12 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Pilpul haTalmidim….Sharp Discussion between Students.  there is a time for quiet reflection, and a time to speak out strongly in interpretation. we learn in the aggadah that r’ Hama said, “what is meant by ‘iron sharpens iron’? (Proverbs 27:17).  it tells you that just a piece of iron is used to sharpen another piece, so 2 scholars sharpen each other’s mind by fierce discussion of Torah.”  acquire yourself a study partner and friend, and go at it!

haYom achad asar yom, sh’heim shavua echad va’arba’a yomim, laOmer: netzach she b’gevurah

did anyone ever know more about endurance in judgement than Elijah the prophet? the one who thought that only 7000 faithful remained in Israel after the spiritual destruction brought about by ahab and jezebel. who challenged all the prophets of foreign gods to a contest of sacrifices. the one who taunted all the prophets of baal to do their best to offer up a burnt offering, and when nothing happened, he taunted them–

“…perhaps your god is sleeping? talk louder. maybe he went for a walk.  maybe he is busy. don’t give up. cry out louder…try again.”

utterly fearless, with the spritual crust of 10 pies, Elijah then took it up a notch.  before calling for G’d to send down a consuming flame on the sacrifice he was offering, he soaked the offering and the wood that was to burn with water!  then “answer me, answer me, G’d, answer me….” and a tremendous fire came down out of the heavens and consumed the offering completely, and the altar, and the water in the vessels.  and all the People and the evil king ahab repented…….NOW that’s netzach in gevurah, that’s victory in judgement, right?

uh, no. the repentence did not persist….it lacked netzach. and the People returned to the worship of baal, for it was the way they grew up. it was all around them. gevurah is hard! worship of baal required only the comforting traditions of self-mutilation maybe some tattooing, some miscellaneous piercings, etc. though Elijah won a flashy battle, he lost the war against pop culture in his day.

he only learned true netzach and true gevurah later in a vision. he was told to go out of his cave dwelling to watch G’d pass. great tumult will come, great storm…..but G’d will not be in the mountain-shattering wind, he will not be in the earthquake that will follow…he will not be in the fires that will follow….G’d will be in:

“a still small voice”

today we are tempted again(!) by cuttings and peircings and tattoos….we have the constant hubbub of cell phones and even cars that talk back!  television in the background…hundreds of channels! earbuds to the right and left instead of chesed and gevurah, netzach and hod….there is no middle way in the clamor for eyes and ears.

 HEAR ISRAEL…but how if our world just won’t shut up?

Elijah ultimately learned that it ain’t the clamorous and the flashy that marks the Holy One. it is the silence. and netzach in gevurah brings the tools to us: endurance from netzach and restraint from gevurah. sometimes we have to practice a great severity…silence…to gain the victory.  there is a kind of fast, the ta’anit dibur, that requires that we not give up food and drink, but that we give up speech…give up gab…give up gossip…give up mission statements, give up powerpoint, and go off message.

hitbodedut  is centered in the restraint of our will to clamor. meditation and prayer require that we endure in a state that is not our default mode. netzach in gevurah. try a little silence. read some difficult passages in Torah and focus. do not discuss them. just silence for a while to find that still small voice.

mussar for netzach she b’gevurah

netzach-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   relationships will hit a hard patch now and then. endurance and restraint are crucial. if you are in a bad patch with someone now, just try to see the long-term view.

netzach-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   vices. the things we make habit of that do us no good. we are to walk humbly with G’d, not direct our feet in the unthinking ways of habit. this one is easy to see; hard, hard, hard to do. give up a bad habit. sweets or cigs or red meat or mindless buying, maybe. give up TV for a while….do the unaccustomed. or just be silent for a day.

kabbalah for netzach she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion  we have mentioned that the root meaning of ‘pesach’ isn’t to ‘pass [over]’ but to leap, or skip [over]. there is energy in the endurance of netzach. it took netzach in trust for Nachshon ben Aminadav to take that leap into the substrate of the Sea. where is your enduring energy?  remember a time when you used it to overcome a problem.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   we all meet our match in some areas….sometimes regularly. we just can’t seem to overome some challenges, it seems.  the harder it seems, the more netzach in gevurah comes to our aid. consider how you can extend the endurance that you know you have to meet a challenge with which you’ve not yet  equaled. can you use judgement to find a way to extend it so that you become up to the challenge?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation  we are taught that everything is in Torah, and that if we simply turn it and turn it, we will find understandings that have eluded us in the past.  choose a matriarch’s story and consider how her wisdom/judgement  helped her to persevere in the face of her challenges. can her example teach you?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   baruch haShem that we have the seder every year to teach us lessons of revolution, of trust and faith, of  courage, of obedience, of G’d’s desire that we should be free of what enslaves us. consider this snippet of a piece by gil scott-heron from the very end of the 60s:

“the revolution will not be right back after a message/bout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people/ you will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom/ a tiger in your tank or the giant in your toilet bowl/ the revolution will not go better with coke/ the revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath….the revolution will not be televised…the revolution will be no re-run brothers/ the revolution will be live.”

have you made the revolution that is the exodus live for you this year?

kinyan 11 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Yishuv b’Mikra….Settling in with Deliberation.  to master Torah, you must be able to silence the distractions that surround you, and the distractions you yourself create in your own mind. Torah can be hard when you have not settled in and have not settled your mind to open to the task of hearing, truly hearing what possibilities are leaping from the page. sometimes Torah study is less an activity of mind than of what the zen practitioner might call ‘cloud mind’….a mind that is not going down a path, but that forms and dissolves, moving in the winds of the study itself.  one meditates in Torah……

‘but his delight is in the Torah of G’d; and in G’d’s Torah he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2)

haYom asara yomim, sh’heim shavua echad ushlosha yomim, laOmer: tiferet she b’gevurah

“you should judge your neighbor righteously”

the “b’tzedek” here, in this quote from Leviticus 19:15, is translated righteously and not as justly to reflect our interinclusion for this day of the Omer, tiferet in gevurah, or balance, harmony, compassion in judgement, restraint, limitation.  tzedek can, of course, be both words, but the aspect of righteousness (NOT self-righteousness, mind you) is more balanced than ‘just’ may sometimes be seen as being.  we all know too well that what may be legally correct is not always a deep justice, ie, righteousness, but merely a thinner layer of justice…and we mean righteousness herein.

the question is whether our interinclusion of tiferet in gevurah calls on us to go further….perhaps requiring us to go as far as Yehoshua ben Perachia in saying, “judge everyone favorably” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Rav Aryeh Levin once quipped (but with Torah intent) that G’d made everything for a purpose, even “krum svara”, ‘twisted logic’, served the purpose of helping us to always be able to judge another favorably, even in the most difficult circumstances!  and the Chafetz Chaim, perhaps the greatest master of the laws of avoiding evil speech,  goes even further, pointing out that lashon hara should be stopped at the level of unspoken thought.  to never pass a negative judgement in your mind is the ideal way to do the mitzvah of judging righteously.  even if the issue is 50-50, you must come down on the side of the good in your judgement….and even if it is MORE likely to be judged negative by a normal person, it would be better to leave the doubt in the matter unresolved in your mind.

and the Besht comes down even more strongly by pointing out that we are best at recognizing our own faults in others, hence, before we decide to judge another negatively, we should examine our own fault in the trait…..only after we have rectified it in ourselves are we ‘permitted’ to judge another. BUT even then the same compassion that we applied to ourselves we must apply to our neighbor, hence instead of judging, we focus on how we can most compassionately help the person improve as we ourselves did.

the negative judgement is left undone.

this is the effect of tiferet in gevurah.  the Sages teach us the way of savlanut (‘patience’):

“As G’d is called compassionate and gracious, so should you be compassionate and gracious; as G’d is called righteous, so should you be righteous; as G’d is called holy, so should you be holy. ”

(Sifre 85a)

when your greater goal is compassion, even your severity of judgement must be more situational than you might think to be ‘justice’.

mussar for tiferet she b’gevurah

tiferet-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   in spite of giving the benefit of the doubt, we are also mitzvah bound to gently reprove another when they have clearly done wrong.  getting the right balance of restraint and release is the challenge.  be compassionate in reproving another who has wronged you….remember that there must be love even in discipline.

tiferet-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   we are subject to conflicting emotions within ourselves. how do we judge them? and judge between them?  take the core compassionate step and try to more deeply understand why your internal conflicts persist. find the validity in what you might have thought to be wrong….judge the persistence of the conflict within yourself favorably!

kabbalah for tiferet she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   we use harmony in discernment when we love through our self-restraint. …when we avoid the negative judgement if at all possible.  in Ashrei we learn that G’d “opens up G’d’s hand and satisfies every living thing,” even the evildoer.  consider how to approach your day with an open hand and not a clenched fist.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   gevurah is also strength and power.  there are times when we have to correct misjudgement of another.  when we have to take responsibility for a wrong we did that others may not have known….these too are opportunities to get at tiferet by using gevurah.  consider whether there are ‘things unsaid’ or ‘wrongful thoughts to right’ that require strength of will on your part. visualize how you will approach them with compassion, then set out to do them.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation  teshuvah (‘repentance and return to G’d’) requires supreme strength. asking forgiveness when one has allowed  i’m sorry to go unsaid for a long period demands great focus and diligent strength. yet we know that without it we cannot, simply cannot get ‘right’ with G’d. there is no crutch to fall back on.  tikkun olam (‘repair of the world’) requires more than anything else that we discern (an act of judgement) the balance that was lost in the brokenness of the world.  where is the discord and disharmony in your life?  can you, through greater tolerance–to yourself, to your neighbor, to your children, to your spouse–effect a repair? can you through restraint of judgement grow compassion in your heart, thereby learning not to harden your heart in ways you may be accustomed to?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    you may pray today the amidah. you will begin: “open my lips, G’d, that my mouth may declare Your Praise.”  do we ever ask thereafter to have them shut? to cut off praise? consider this.

kinyan 10 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Dibuk Chaverim….Closeness with Friends.  we did not mention it yesterday, but the day of gevurah in gevurah is also the day on which King David surrendered 7 sons of Shaul to the Gibeonites, who killed them and hung their carcasses up in public to ‘make amends’ for Shaul’s killing of Gibeonite civilians during the battles against David.  this is hard to understand…it is like Aharon’s making of the Golden Calf….and act we can scarcely imagine doing ourselves. of course, we were not in the situation and cannot walk in their shoes in their time, so can we judge?  however, David did do a positive good in the offspring of Shaul that he reserved from slaughter–Mephiboshet, son of Jonathan, grandson of Shaul, was not given over. why? out of respect for the bond between him and Jonathan….the closeness of friends even after death.:

“and it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….”  (1 Samuel 18:1)

in the love of friends, we may learn more about how to do the Torah of loving your neighbor as yourself.

haYom tish’a yomim, sh’heim shavua echad ushnei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’gevurah

chevrei: this one is for reb baruch. those who have the blessing on knowing him will understand.

“take time, be exact, unclutter the mind”

so taught the Alter of Kelm, r’ Simcha Zissel Ziv. this is probably the very best way to look at a double helping of constraint, don’t you think? generally, the trait of order is a middle way discussion, for gevurah she b’tiferet, perhaps, but the IRS granted all taxpayers an extension til 17 april to file, so what should have been g’vurah in gevurah on the night of filing your taxes by midnight, must change. you can see why it would have been just too much justice, yes? or just too much regulation…which itself is essence of gevurah. but look also what a little tiferet can do!  what a difference 2 extra days to file can make. oy.

but order is a practice born of restraint. a focusing of energy in order to keep on top of things. perhaps the surprise for some of you will be that the idea of order is a spiritual practice. but consider it only a little bit and you will see how shot through judaism is with order in practice. where would jewish prayer be without siddur (‘order’ of prayer).  what would all of us have done only 1 week ago had it not been for a seder (‘order’ of teaching/prayer for chag pesach day 1). who would want to go without the weekly sedra (‘order’ of readings).

but the simple gematria of samech-dalet-resh teaches us more, for it is equivalent to “miderech” (‘from the way’)of the phrase “miderech hatov l’heitiv” or the the way of the the good is to be meitiv…that is to “do good’ for others. the Ramchal (r’Moshe Chaim Luzatto) teaches that none other than G’d lives by this rule. so, if we want to make like G”d, we should partake of orderly practices and ordering practices. (by the way, moms out there may want to hold close to their hearts that the simple gematria is also the same as the hebrew word for ‘after them’, as a way of remembering that where order is not maintained you will find yourselves “cleaning up after them”….)

this is as earthy as it gets, chevrei.  keeping order is a good spiritual practice and not just a way to be ready for preparing your taxes….or keeping your desk functional, or your closet inviting.

a traditional part of the reasoning behind this, beside the obvious functional reasons for set times and set words and set calendar, etc, is that each of us is to be a ‘servant’ of G’d.  servants, as most of us middle class americans have long forgotten, are the folk who dwell in your midst to keep your vast and drafty manor house and grounds working well for entertaining the guests, making the meals and keeping down the dust and such.

being a servant to G’d is a little different. consider the way suggested by the kabbalists: that we are only here at all in order to effect tikkun olam, repair of the world. our servitude is in fixing what’s broken in this world and raising up the divine sparks in everything we encounter….sweeping up the lifeless husks that remain after a job well done.

gevurah in gevurah is a double helping of order….it is the way of the engineer in service of G’d. but it also teaches another thing we should be mindful of. what is the reason that we fall into ways of disorder?  too often we say “i don’t have time to do little ordering thing x because…….”   you can fill in the blank many ways, i suspect…i know i can. but look at this sad state of affairs….it is all ultimately about the “i” deciding that “i” want to do something else for “me.”  i’d much rather watch “Out of the Past” for the 10th time than to label a folder “2012 charitable contributions.” never mind that the latter will scarcely hold up the former….it’s just that i’m convinced that Robert Mitchum never filed a folder in his life….then again, the one i serve “orders the stars in the heavens according to G’d’s will.”  now how cool is that?

mussar for gevurah she b’gevurah

gevurah-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro  there are very important reasons to practice a lot of gevurah-gevurah in speech. it is the only way to avoid lashon hara (‘evil speech’), which is something many of us need to work on.  be very careful with your words today.  make sure that what you speak is useful, not hateful, not ill begotten, and preferably tinged with Torah.  mind your tongue.

gevurah-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   gevurah is also perseverance. it takes a good deal of it to do mussar and kabbalah every single day of the counting!  remember that you can continue to count even if you miss a day, but get your gevurah in gear and give a diligent count another go.

kabbalah for gevurah she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   some of you no doubt include breathing as part of your meditative practice. here is a simple one: know gevurah in breathing by focusing on filling your lungs with a deep breath. there is a very real limit as to how much volume we can inhale!  now ask yourself how your restraint and judgment influences your neshamah, the breathing soul, for the good. do you make strength in your limits? or do you need to expand your spiritual rib cage a bit?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   you judge people daily. what do you find yourself judging them on? and against what standard?  contemplate what you should be focusing on in judging another, using informed discernment (instead of the feelings/impressions you may now be focusing on).

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   build on the meditation in yetzirah….how do you celebrate the uniqueness, good and  wisdom you find in another?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   notice the simple act of ordering that ‘binds’ this prayer of reb Nachman to order….and to Omer. pray these words today with regard for gevurah:

“master of the universe/ unify my divided heart/ to love and revere Your Name./ for this is the purpose of my existence/ to bind together all the worlds/ both spiritual and physical/ and combine all divine names in 1 absolute unity./ in this way, Your Oneness will be revealed/ and shine forth. “

kinyan 9 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Shimush Chachamim….Hang with the Wise.  just being in the presence of the truly wise of the world is a better education in Torah.  a good rabbi/chacham will teach more in the simple modeling of behavior, practice, and spiritual traits than any other.  when you study from a book, it is human and page.  when you study with a wise teacher, the same information on the page will run out in mighty tributaries like rivers out of Eden.  consider how it is put in Pirkei Avot:

“one who studies alone is no match for one who studies with a master”

go find yourself a master and spend some time. you will learn as you have never imagined.

haYom sh’mona yomim, sh’heim shavua echad v’yom echad, laOmer: chesed she b’gevurah

” a Torah scholar must learn 3 things: writing, ritual slaughter, and circumcision”

so we learn in Talmud, Hullin 9a, that a wise scholar, a talmid hakham, must be not only a rabbi, but also a sofer, a shochet, and a mohel.  the wise must master both pen and sword. as he wields the pen, the talmid may but incisive, cutting in distinctions with understandings. creating worlds of severity as easily as words of gentleness. we in the west hold that the pen is mightier than the sword, that the power of words is so great that it can bring about cessation of war.  mere words, no matter how old, in something like the US Constitution, can control the actions of the most mighty military on the planet currently.

so it is in Torah. you must offer words of peace before you besiege or sack a city (Deuteronomy 20:10-12; Leviticus 7:11).  the ways of Torah are pleasant and all its paths peace.

consider the parallel but somewhat different way of bushido, requiring the samurai to be proficient at both pen and sword, anchoring them most memorably in the death poem that would be written immediately before the ritual self-disemboweling of seppuku. a striking 14th century example from Shiaku Nyudo:

“holding forth this sword/ i cut vacuity in twain;/ in the midst of the great fire,/ a stream of refreshing breeze.”

but i cannot imagine the prophet Jeremiah, in whose bones burned the Word of G’d (20:9), taking up a sword to release the great fire within him. instead he opened his mouth and spoke forth in gevurah, pointing out that Israel had sinned its way into its sorry state, but giving also the balm of promised deliverance.

in the wielding of the sword of the shochet, the word comes first in blessing. the killing of animals for food and for sacrifices is a divine compromise with the bloodlust of humankind from the time of Noach. we are all gevurah in our desire for meat.

we are all chesed, however, in the rules of slaughter. the knife must kill with a single carefully placed and swiftly drawn stroke. the blade used must be minutely inspected for nicks and other irregularites before use and AGAIN immediately afterward.  the slightest flaw is thought to be able to give pain to the animal being killed. if flaw is found after the cut, the carcass is rendered treif, ‘torn’ and not kosher for consumption by jews. such carcasses will instead be sold to nonjews, unless, of course, they are following the same stringent guidelines.

the injection of chesed into gevurah makes us careful molders of our moral world (with physical effects in the case of slaughter). we are locked into the interplay between the two. even if we elect not to eat meat, kosher or otherwise, we require kosher parchment for mezuzot and Torah scrolls, and kosher leather for t’fillin.  the emergence of eco-kashrut adds yet another set of considerations into our moments of gevurah, of stern consumption and taking; a chesed, loving-kindness, for the environment on a larger scale than that of the intimacy of shochet and animal. every bit of consumption we do, all of which is the product of consuming selection, measurement, technological repurposing, and a taking, must come under strictures of caring for what is consumed.

chesed in gevurah is symbolized beautifully in the touch of circumcision, a cutting that is the seal-making of covenant. it is the sword made into a pen to mark the covenantal agreement in each generation. seppuku of foreskin.

mussar for chesed she b’gevurah

chesed -gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   the Rabbis teach that the court that sentences any to death more than once in 70 years is cruel, yet the death penalty is not forbidden. it is the way it is used–more importantly–the merciful (chesed) seeking of ways not impose it that matters.  we learn that ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is forbidden through the standard of loving your neighbor as yourself. painless as you would want your own death should be the death of another….if die anyone must.  when you feel wronged, you are exercising gevurah, but G’d decided at the time of Creations that the world could not survive in strong justice alone. extend forgiveness to one who has hurt or offended you today.

chesed-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   our everyday actions have effects beyond what we anticipate, and the direction of those effects can be either good or bad. when you take a decision, any decision, you are exercising the power of your judgment, your spirit in gevurah. are you being careful to decide with both good and bad unexpected consequences in mind?  consider carefully how people may view your actions, for nothing you do has effect only on you. seek to act in the world today in ways that will be kiddush haShem, that is, that will project the holiness of the Name of G’d into the minds of those around you.

kabbalah for chesed she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   most of you are returning to eating chametz after the constraint of matzah for the last week. you are now free and you may enjoy the taste of freedom. but lessons learned through restraint during Passover should linger thereafter. meditate on the ways restraint should work to mold freedom….and savor both the blessing and the taste of that first piece!

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   in the aleinu prayer, we refer to G’d as ‘yotzer breishit‘, the former of Creation. this suggest not a momentary blast of power, but a contemplative manipulation of the stuff of creation.  we create ourselves by way of manipulating our own feelings, modulating between decision making, and letting decisions be made for us.  contemplate on when you have exercised your own power in forcing a decision. have you ever felt better after not taking a decision that you once thought unavoidable?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   the famous house of Shammai was said to be always very strict in assessing halachah. the house of Hillel was said to have been more liberal in its decisions on how we should behave.  yet we are told that both opinions are correct, both left and right of the tree are correct. study some Torah and then imagine a strict way of interpretation and a liberal way.  meditate on how you will bring both to bear in your own thoughts and actions.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition  “kol haneshamah tehallel y-h, halleluyah” how do you hallel, praise G’d now? do you quietly mouth the words in the siddur, relying on silence to carry you message? do you sing out loud to push your words heavenward? do you shout the primal holler?  cry tears that flow to G’d?  try a method today that is not your usual way. try one that your sense of decorum does not allow usually, and learn from it.

kinyan 8 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Taharah….Purity.  Rambam teaches (Moreh Nevuchim) that we are where our mind is. if we are thinking G’dly thoughts, we are closer to him than when we are dreaming of material pleasures….or planning our next consumer purchase.  the mind is where we both glean words of Torah and develop teachings. it will only be as ritually fit for that purpose as we keep it so.  we wear tzitzit to keep from following our eyes into paths of thought that are unworthy, let alone to keep from acting in ways that are hillul haShem (profanation of the Name of G’d).

“those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech will have the King as a friend”

(Proverbs 22:11)

how important is it to keep loading our brain with the good? consider the story told by the followers of Kotzk:

once a person came up to the Kotzker Rebbe saying that his prayers are always interrupted by ‘foreign thoughts.’  the Kotzker Rebbe turned in surprise and said plainly, ‘foreign thoughts? they are not foreign. they are your own!

hayom shiv’a yomim, sh’heim shavua echad, laOmer: malchut she b’chesed

CHEVREI: quick note to point out that we count now by days and weeks. we have tallied the first week with tonight’s counting! baruch haShem.  for cbs’ers, we will not meet this sunday….there’s no room at the inn! chag sameach and shabbat shalom….r’av yo

“for from You is all, and from Your hand we have given to You”

David haMelech, who exemplifies rectified malchut (‘sovereignty’) points this out in 1 Chronicles 29:14.  we see immediately that even the great king has nought which to give save that which is given him by G’d.  in malchut the left-side sefirot flow most keenly to create a ‘negative’ space (not a downer space!), a receiving space, which the giving flow of the right-hand sefirot promptly fills.  and what of the middle road down the tree through tiferet and yesod?  well, self-consciousness, a balanced and rectified awareness is the marker of the middle path in the decidedly female directed malchut.

so we see in malchut she b’chesed the work of the left-side in creating the cleared path that is needed to walk with G’d, and the work of the right-side in naturally flowing in that cleared path with a rush of goodness, and the balanced, steady harmony of the middle flow elevating the clearing and filling into wholeness.

malchut in chesed is full ripeness of chesed, channeled now as it must be, but flowing freely in a position of power, operative in the wholeness of harmony in sovereignity. wow. that was a sentence, eh?

what it means for us in the count today is that we have achieved a week of the count. why is that significant? because the mitzvah is to count the weeks complete, that is, whole. shalem, shalom. entire. and because we are blessed this year with a special calendar alignment of the shabbat with the counting of the weeks, we will all be welcoming malchut as the sabbath bride herself.  it is a perfect, complete week. baruch haShem. shabbat oneg (joy) and shabbat menuchah (contentment) rule in chesed this week.  make this a giving, ripe shabbat for all around you.  rule your shabbat with wave-rolling, righteous-aware loving-kindness, and bring it out of shabbat with you when you re-enter the coming week, for the count continues on the other side in the sefirah of gevurah.

mussar for malchut she b’chesed

malchut-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   what would a regal but giving malchut be?  perhaps one who would not begin shabbat rest without designating a certain act of loving kindness to run out from shabbat into the week. perhaps a special set aside of tzedakah to be delivered after shabbat? the JUF is at cbs this sunday, i believe…an opportunity, perhaps.  or maybe an organizing of time in the coming week…to spruce up the cbs section of the cemetary?  wrangling the efforts of others to do chesed shel emet?

malchut-chesed with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    during the week of the song of the sea, we frequently the story of nachman ben aminadav, who took the first leap (the very meaning of ‘pesach’ after all is leap, not “pass”, but leapover) into the void created by the pulled-back waters. there is chesed shel emet, for only with a perfect faith could nachman have known that he would even survive the step!  be a nachman! take a leap and risk drowning in your shabbat rest this week. just do it!

kabbalah for malchut she b’chesed

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion  on shabbat, of course, the completion rules and the doing eases into deliberately limited classes. Deuteronomy teaches us something important about the ruler that the People will elevate: “when the ruler is seated on the royal throne, the ruler shall have a copy of this Torah written for the ruler alone on a scroll …let it remain with the ruler and let the ruler read in it throughout life, so that the ruler may learn to revere G’d…”  study Torah this shabbat as though your understanding of it would set the standard for the kingdom, and know that your own lifestyle would be the model for all around you.  are you a worthy ruler?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   G’d is Melech haOlam. this shabbat you are in malchut of your locus in the universe.  you are struck in the image of royalty, right?  well, enjoy being a daughter or son of the royal family today. you have unique access to the melech haolam, delight in it….nap the nap of a queen, eat with the hearty lust of a king….and feel the possibility of whole (and wholesome) power of the divine within you.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   a royal can decree things.  your domain this day is shabbat, so issue an edict that a new blessing is to be said. write a blessing, or  a psalm as did David haMelech…he wrote well more than a hundred! but he started with just 1.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   malchut is a receptacle to be filled and overfilled so as to share the bounty with all the People. “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my adversity and moisten my head with oil. surely my cup is overflowing and goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. and in the long days beyond, i will always live within You house.”  G’d’s house here on earth is shabbat, so meditate on letting the wholeness of shabbat overflow into your weekday life….to always live in G’d’s house.

kinyan 7 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Simcha….just plain Joy.  acquire the Torah in Psalm 5:12…and be embraced by joy:

“but as for me–bathed in Your encircling kindness i enter your house, bow myself down before Your Presence in awe and wonder…then all who put their trust in You will rejoice….will shout out their joy in your protection…will exult in You all who love Your unsayableness.  for You bless the faithful, circling around them round like a shield.”

haYom shisha yomim laOmer: yesod she b’chesed

“who is like You? glorious in holiness, awesome in praises, doing wonders?”

it is on the 7th day of passover that the Israelites found themselves between the sea and the army of pharaoh. G’d acted profoundly on the part of the People, splitting the waters of the sea to allow passage for the Israelites, and then sending the waters crashing down again on the army of pharaoh, destroying them utterly. at this moment, the People Israel knew that a new relationship had most certainly been established…a new yesod, ‘foundation’ established for a holy relationship between the two.

among sefardim, this day is known is known as Yom Vayyosha, ‘the day of the song of the sea’.  aside from the song that we know in Torah, there is a ladino tune, Ketuba del Seten Dia de Pesah, or ‘Ketubah  for the 7th Day of Passover,’ for this day is said to be day on which a marriage between the People and G’d was made.  something foundational was established that day when the People broke out into spontaneous song at the awesome wonder of G’d who had just saved them from certain annihilation.

yesod is the sefirah of foundation.  it is also the seat of sexual energy in the tree. and there is something very, very sexy in the intoxication of that 7th-day consummation.  the incident at the sea produced an intimacy between the People and G’d that had not sprung from the plagues, had not sprung from Moshe’s return and proclamation of the immanent end of slavery, and had not sprung even from the beginning of the exodus from the land of Goshen. it was only in the exclusivity of the chesed shown in the division of the waters that the People came to know the Love that G’d held for them….a love once again as intimate and immediate as that between G’d and Avraham Avinu at the beginning of the jewish journey.

crossing the seabed was the ‘passover’, the pesach, the ‘leap’ from mitzrayim to “outside mitzrayim,” a going forth from the existence the People had been born into to a new life in which they would have to rely on their bound partner.  just as one steps away one’s parents and family upon marriage, so does yesod in chesed urge us to consider founding and securing something new and awesome in love with our mate and with G’d.  in judaism, marriage is associated with holiness.  and the creative energy of sexuality is foundational for each couple in their marriage.

intimacy in love, the cleaving of mate with mate, is the closest our embodied spirits will get to the cleaving to G’d that we are urged to do.  yesod is the strong foundation upon which the necessary mutual trust in love is built.  yesod in chesed is enduring certainty in love.

mussar for yesod she b’chesed

yesod-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    what happens in a relationship when chemistry moves into intimate contact?  when interest becomes closeness?  when separate souls cleave in married love? in the deep love of friendship?  find a way to show how deep is your love for another today. do something that gets at the foundation of that love you share.

yesod-chesed with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   we all feel cornered sometimes.  are you sometimes surprised by the parting of the waters that you fear will drown you?  do you trust enough in G’d to open yourself up to faith? pray for an opening to the Holy One today….feel embraced.

kabbalah for yesod she b’chesed

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   one can only lead a life of chesed from a strong foundation.  you need to feel a little secure in order to share deeply with others. the nefesh, the indwelling soul, is created uniquely for you and is your companion for life (and beyond).  try to sense the nefesh of  another today; then settle in your own indwelling soul and do some small kindness for the soul you find in the other.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   sexual energy is profoundly creative.  but we all know that therein lies the potential for destruction as well.  the life and death situation that faced the People deepened their faith profoundly. contemplate how you can use your sexual energy in ways that build holiness….what would it be to so secure in the foundation of your relationship that you could know or know again a holy lust?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   we say in the blessing before Torah study ‘la’asok b’Torah’, ie, to transact with Torah.  but ayin-samekh-kuf has a slang meaning of have an ‘affair’.  meditate on your marriage to Torah (Shavuot is coming!) but also contemplative the possible offspring of your affair with Torah….

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   we have spoken of the need for an abiding faith, a steadfast, enduring trust in G’d….a faith that withstands slings and arrows of what seems like fortune, but is, as we must ultimate recognize, all G’dsend.  ahavah and echad have the same value in standard gematria, which means that the Shema is telling us that G’d is love is the same as G’d is one.  “Know this day, and lay it to your heart, that G’d is G’d in heaven above and upon earth beneath; there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39).  meditate on the steadfastness of G’d’s love in both the good and the bad, for it is all one.

kinyan 6 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Eimah… Being Awestruck.  r’ chaim volozhin points out that G’d only resides in the 4 amot of halacha, hence, when studying Torah one should be in a state of awe not unlike that felt by the high priest on Yom Kippur.  in yeshiva, we were urged to consider, whenever we would stray into some small idle talk, or daydream late in the day of study, whether we felt that G’d, who is sitting and studying with us after all, appreciated our ease in breaking off from study.  what can one possibly reply, save to immediately re-busy ourselves in the text?  being awestruck can be everyday when your worldview truly acknowledges how close G’d is to us in all our activities….and how much more so when we study.  r’ avraham yehoshua heschel reminds us that “the question, ‘where  shall wisdom be found?‘ is answered by the psalmist: “the awe of G’d is the beginning of wisdom.”  so, you see, being awestruck is a powerful kinyan not only to the study of  Torah, but also to the application of Torah!

haYom chamisha yomim laOmer: hod she b’chesed

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.’