haYom sh’mona v’esrim yom, sh’heim arba’a shavuot, laOmer: malchut she b’netzach

I am the Infinite One who makes All”

“who stretched forth the heavens alone; who spread abroad the earth by myself”

who, in fact, “formed each of us from the womb”, as it is written in Isaiah 44:24ff,  who “says to the Deep: ‘be dry, and i will dry up your rivers”.  this is absolute sovereignty, absolute eternity…infinitude is the ultimate endurance. and only One Who Creates a Womb Within (through tzimtzum, ‘internal withdrawal’ to create nonG’d space for Creation) can claim to have brought forth everything according to G’d’s own desire….and due to G’d’s absolute will to share love with Creation.

malchut in netzach has this aura of sovereign eternity following only self-same ends, motivated by nothing external to itself, beholden to nothing other. this is strength. and as we imitate the aspects of G’d, it is for us to find a way to bring an evocation of this majesty into our own way of walking, humbly, with that absolute Creator…..who nonetheless desires us to walk alongside!…or maybe just a tad behind as we are always following in G’d’s way.

the Sefer haBahir (Mishnah 22) interprets these verses in a useful way for us, explaining that the Sovereign We actually had a more down to earth end in mind:

“it was I alone who planted the tree of existence, so that the entire universe would derive pleasure from it. and I carved everything within this tree, and called its name The All. because the very existence of all is suspended from this tree; all come from it, all are in need of it, all gaze upon it with hope, and all souls are derived from it”

Avatar, anyone?  there is nothing new, apparently, even under alien suns….but this rerendering by the author of the Bahir gives us not only a technical tie-in of the sefirotic tree and Creation, but also some very human sounding options to consider. for us the existence of All is to be experienced in pleasure and with hope. hope and pleasure might well be the Indwelling Presence within Endurance, for they are the unexpected, the purposive, the nonrational, unpredictable, not rationally looked for aspects within the random system of our understanding of Creation.

how do hope and pleasure dwell with randomness in so many aspects of the underlying realities of the world?  we have most of us experienced how the world bustles on around us even thought the news dishes up tragic stories nightly. 20 dead in a traffic accident here…..so, like, where should we go for lunch?  tsunami inundates fukushima and the nuclear reactors are seriously compromised….i am SOOOO looking forward to Midnight in Paris…have you seen it? i hear that its woody’s best picture ever.

there is a spiritual source behind our ability to be aghast and then move on. we are created to not only serve, and to do justice, love kindness, but to also walk humbly with G’d….and to do that we have to be able to derive pleasure and gaze to the future with hope….lest we become self-righteous, or so troubled by the brokenness of the world that we can find no pleasure in it.  THAT is not humility in the walk; normality is.

we often see the Divine Presence in the wonderful event….the happiness of a new marriage, the birth of a child….but we must also see the Divine Presence in the bad situation calling out for our help. the good times ought to be a nudge to us to step up to that other call in the bad times…..we serve G’d in The All. and it is precisely the pleasure and the hope that gives us the ability to face the bleak and the dark.

those who make volunteering a regular part of their weekly schedule know this. they see how the one feeds the strength for the other. and those who bring their persistent strength to bear in acts of good know the sovereignty in the quiet call to justice, to mercy, to caring and compassion. and after they have given? they can laugh again without regret, or guilt. as you serve the needy, you hope for their pleasure….you hope for their hope.

Shechinah is a mom. ruling one minute over a birthday party, the next over an emergency trip to the hospital for an unforeseen tumble. to and fro. pleasure to hope….and back again. mom’s rule because they endure….they are all malchut in netzach.

mussar for malchut she b’netzach

with another…..bein adam l’chaveiro    make it a practice to donate an amount equal to one of your entertainments in each week. that is a material/spiritual way to link the pleasure and hope to the just and kind, and to acknowledge the sovereign persistence of G’d in All.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   make it a practice to say “b’ezrat haShem’ (‘with the help of G’d’) when you give an assurance that you will do something, or make a promise. including when you make a date to go out and have some fun.

kabbalah for malchut she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    you have a personal share in the root of Shechinah through you indwelling nefesh.  the ruach, the emotional soul, may flit about, but the nefesh abides.in fun and pain, in effortless and in effort. meditate on this personal indwelling presence of G’d.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    when we see the light of recognition in a student’s eyes, or see someone on the mend making progress in physical therapy, do we worry about the failure and the difficulties that are still to come for that student or that patient? no, we smile and know the pleasure of recognizing a small bit of fixing in a broken world. and we spur on with hope and encouragement. “b’ezrat haShem, you can do it!”  meditate on how we can bring ready openness to pleasure to all the situations we or others around us face that need hope…that seem distant to pleasure.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation     we see bumper stickers urging us to do “random acts of kindness”. but we are after sustaining kindness, enduring compassion, sovereign  loving. contemplate how to bring the spirit of “randomness” productively to your sustaining kindnesses….(hint: think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and learn pleasure and hope in hardship).

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    the Kotzker teaches that “G’d dwells/abides wherever/whenever we let G’d in”.  for some G’d is invited when they are happy; for others when they are sad and in need. Song of Songs teaches “the voice of my Beloved, here it comes”,  suggesting that G’d is ever arriving in the moment. can you lay out a welcome mat worthy of The All?

kinyan 28 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Ahuv….Being Beloved.   combining pleasure with hope and persistence was not alien to the Rabbis, or to our Foreparents. consider this from Avot d’Rabbi Natan 31:

“3 things make a person beloved: an open hand, a set table, and a sparkling wit”

and open hand is both cheerful greeting and generous giving; a set table is both hospitality in entertaining and planning/readiness to meet needs; a sparkling wit is both bon vivance and humble compassion (“splendor” of hod and “brilliance”  of tiferet)

haYom shiv’a v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot v’shisha yomim, laOmer: yesod she b’netzach

“i will betroth You to me in righteousness, in justice, in kindness, and in mercy”

this is one of several verses from Hosea (2:21ff) that we say when we are wrapping the t’fillin strap around our middle finger….making a ring.  yesod is the level of foundation and of the figurative genitalia. and our relationship to G’d, as r’ Akiva pointed out in insisting that Song of Songs be included in the canon, is as one lover to another. this relationship is Holy of Holies, in a way….a boundless love for G’d, and by G’d for G’d’s People.

“the entire universe is unworthy of the day that the Song of Songs was given”

so what are we to make of this (Yadayim 3:5ff)?  perhaps, that we should be very serious when we marry. it is not called kiddushin (‘holiness’ and part of the wedding ceremony that gives its name to the whole) for nothing, fot it reflects the love of G’d for us….in good times and bad….in sickness and in health.

the love between the well-wedded is the one place wherein we can all see enduring victory built upon the most solid of foundations, spiced with the delight of lovemaking and the promise of yet another life-long covenantal love relationship with the children of the marriage.  all yesod in netzach, all the time! baruch haShem!

but we know that the conventional sociological view of modern marriage seems to show us something very different….something built on shifting sands in an active seismic zone.  no clear foundation…no enduring….no touch of eternity in G’d.

the problem seems to be that yesod is the seat of the ego and the associated genitalia. we know that each of those can go oh so wrong, but when the ego is confident (netzach) but not overweening, and a touch of a real notion of eternity in acknowledgement of G’d, there is foundational reliability (yesod) in the loins….probably literally and figuratively. the touch of eternity matters fundamentally, for it is also the suggestion that the ego, the individual will,  is superceded by something….if by nothing else than by the relationship and the other to whom one is convenanted. seems so easy to grasp, yet we fail in it so often. Rachel weeps for lack of children; Leah weeps for lack of her husband’s love. Sarah laughs at the possibility of offspring in senescence, and Rivka had to intervene in a father-son relationship for the sake of both of them. marriage is a life-long wrestle….in and out of the sack….that is the enduring bedrock of Creation. think about it.

not perfect, marriage, but it really does work when people enter into covenant–not just lip service–through it. 2 souls, each retaining independence, nevertheless strive to become one flesh. the very model of cleaving to G’d. and in the parent-child relationships that come of marriage, there is the reiteration of Eden and the chance to do a better leave taking from it in each generation….less wandering…perhaps no wandering of Cain at all!

all relationships take part in this relationship, for all of us are either children of parents, or married and out of our parents home….or both….and this colors our capacity to love our neighbor as ourself in powerful ways.

and we experience the joys of stable relationships only to the degree that we mirror a good marriage in even our platonic relationships. mutual respect regards the yesod of each participant as something to be honored. compromise of self-centeredness is the directing of the capacity of netzach to tend to tolerance in persistence.

yesod in netzach gives each of us the potential for enduring victory, conditioned most directly by chesed and tiferet, by way of hod.

mussar for yesod she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   is your individual strength, your netzach, strengthening the foundation, the yesod, of your relationships?  or are you overweening? if the latter, remember the covenant that underlies your friendship, or your marriage, or your parenting. remember that a covenant expects performance from both parties in balance. work on coming through on your initial promises in your relationships.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    consider writing an ethical will (google it!) this week. the aspirational values statement that you would leave to your beloveds should you die. after you write it, consider how well you yourself live up to it.

kabbalah for yesod she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    doesn’t the ideal of a solid foundation for your best ambitions seem wonderful? take stock of your ambitions for good and assess how solid are the foundations you have established for each. bolster the foundation of at least 1 that remains on shaky ground.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    it is difficult to assess relationships sometimes, for they are always packed with memories and feelings. it can seem tiresome to even think about relationships after a number of years. yesod in netzach can also serve as a battery recharger, providing you with energy to examine your life in relationships, and come out stronger for the examination. how will you use your charge?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation       Ahad Ha’am said that “more than the jews have kept the sabbath, the sabbath has kept the jews”.  time is the touch of eternity that helps get each of us out of our self-relational space in place. contemplate how jewish time, the holy days, the rosh chodesh, the weekday reading schedule, affest the jewish psyche and soul.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition     for thousands of years, jews have been wrapping themselves in the leather straps of t’fillin and betrothing themselves to to G’d. put on your t’fillin today…borrow a pair if you haven’t any of your own–and meditate on yourself as the spouse of G’d.

“and i will betroth You to me in faithfulness….and you shall know G’d”

kinyan 27 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Eino Machazik Tovah l’Atzmo….Claiming No Credit for Yourself.     ideally, each of us sits to learn Torah with a friend. the modern academic model of sitting down by yourself and reading silently is alien to the heart of judaism….we learn through public reading and arguing over Torah! it is a shared endeavor….like marriage!

“if you have studied much Torah, do not take credit for yourself, because that is what you were created to do”

haYom shisha v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot v’chamisha yomim, laOmer: hod she b’netzach

“if a ruler’s anger rises against you, don’t leave your place;

for calmness lays great offences to rest”

this enigmatic verse from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 10:4) really gets at the idea of hod she b’netzach, for it suggests a blend of standing pat while also laying low, and most importantly, practicing ‘calmness’ because it works! hod is an odd sefirah (we will study it in greater detail next week) in that it comprises things that we don’t often hold together in the west: passivity, deference, humility…and SPLENDOR, as in brilliance, majesty and grandeur!

certainly kazan’s “splendor in the grass” doesn’t strike us as having to do with victory through restraint! or does it?

but the kabbalists are thinking very differently…. hod and the female  (left side of the sefirotic tree) are indeed associated….and they are thinking of Aharon–second fiddle and a sort of help-meet to Moshe–who ends up in the fanciest duds of all as High Priest. vast stretches of Zohar are devoted to the deep meaning of the splendorous clothing of the High Priest. and it is only Aharon who can actuate atonement, via the way laid out by G’d, for the People. he is the master of ketoret (‘incense’ perhaps even perfume) that heals the plague and brings back joy.  (think about this, ladies: how many of you have beloveds who are masters of scent? not every dude is a spice merchant….)

Aharon’s face is never veiled like Moshe’s, even though Aharon spends lots of time in proximity to the Divine Presence. and he attains his high stature even though he once gave in to the vile urges of the mixed multitude and takes part in the “shaping” of the golden calf. most amazing indeed.

Aharon is the central figure in repentance. he both needs to do it in a way that Moshe is not called on the carpet for, and is the pleader  with Moshe to pray for healing for Miriam when she is afflicted with t’zara’at (‘spriritual skin affliction’), and he  is the  key figure in the Mishkan (‘temple in the desert’) and the rites of returning to G’d through offerings. it is Aharon who becomes the keeper of the fiery snake (the antisnakebite snake that later was kept in proximity to the Temple) just as he was the one who laid down the staff before pharaoh for it to become the flexible staff that is a snake….the wavy manipulation of the serpent in Eden spoke to Chava, so we know how powerful it can quite calmly, unassumingly be…

hod in netzach is simple really. it is to recognize that you don’t achieve the greatest ends alone, but rather with the help of others. with the help of G’d; with the help of humans. it takes the wisdom of Aharon to be joyous at the news that his brother would be G’d’s designee to free the People, and that he would be, at least at first, Moshe’s assistant. Aharon shows us the power of the team–Moshe, the captain does not–and quietly, calmly, as attends to so very much business behind the scenes…as do the masters of hod in our world, women…the more flexible, yielding, yet healing, watery set. we should all remember that the path of shefa (‘divine flow’) to foundation (yesod)…to the penis, if you will…goes by the water way of women…and men like Aharon who can muster the water way as well.  is calmness and magnifence making a little more sense now?  splendor in the bending, wavy water way of the grass……

mussar for hod she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   you will find in this interinclusion that (once again) your mother was right…..you should always say thank you. the harder part can sometimes be to recognize the help of all those who get you to where you are, and where you need to be. indeed, none of us is an island….so say thanks to everyone you meet today who might even remotely be helping you in your walk with G’d today…even say thanks to those whose help you only begrudgingly acknowledge…whose approach you mostly have to endure!

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   for many folks, the hardest part of teshuvah is confessing your wrongs. but careful cheshbon nefesh (‘accounting of the soul’) is the necessary base on which teshuvah is built thereafter. admit your errors, and admit also that you still have the power to work at the tikkun olam (‘repair of the world’) in spite of your errors. face it and thank G’d for this splendor in your persistence.

kabbalah for hod she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    ther is splendor in the constant power of a waterfall; and it was the enduring drip of water on the stone that convinced Akiva that even unlearned he could become a rabbi (and such a one!). consider how water over eons can carve a grand canyon in stone…how water as ice can flatten the landscape over which it drags…..think on the power of water as you wash your hands today. purity and power in one.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    emotions are often said to run like water. but we are directed in the words of Amos (5:24) to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.  contemplate the fluidity called for here. do your judgements have either the easy altering course of water or the ever-flowing quality of steadiness?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    think of how fluid scientific discovery is…splashing information from very different starting points into a coherent stream of thought. halacha means ‘walk’ or ‘way’, and hold within it the same quality of meander….while it is a a cohesive legal voice, it is nonetheless made up of the interpretations of thousands over many, many generations. meditate on constancy in judaism in spite of the absence of central authority.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    opinion is the enemy of righteousness, for it is formed and no longer plastic. righteousness is not a chiseled monolith of practice gleaming in the sunlight. we see justice and righteousness instead as flowing water, glinting with splendor as light strikes its unendingly changing facets. still water, however, runs deep…..contemplate how G’d’s light can nonetheless reach it….unfailingly.

kinyan 26 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Siyag l’Dvarav….Fencing Ourselves Away from Distraction.   in order to study productively, you have to get away from everyday distractions. yeshivot are designed to help you do that, but most folk are not able to get that far away. but each of us can make a time or place temporarily away from the rush of everyday life. even if it is just 30 minutes over a quiet cup of coffee, or before bed, or on the train commuting. if you can do something more substantial, all the better. but you must be as removed from temptation as possible in order to achieve real concentration on Torah and not on your feelings of deprivation.  but remember that teaching is also study…..

“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”

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

“i will multiply, multiply your pain in pregnancy; in painstaking-labor shall you bear children”

likewise Adam would get food from the ground only through painstaking-labor (Genesis 3:16).  the same hebrew root is used in both cases…what i’ve translated as ‘painstaking-labor’ is also just ‘pain’, ‘suffering’, ‘travail’ (labor/pain as one word!), or ‘anguish’. the point is that endurance and persistent effort will be required….not just physical pain but psychic pain….and only with great effort will the necessary and the good be brought forth.  whenever you need sustenance…whenever you seek to reproduce….no gain without pain.

but in each case, there is reward, yes? children and, well, food. for the People, who would know repeated and sustained exile from their Land, the pain of exile, first in slavery, then in persecution, and finally in genocide would have to be endured to attain the ambition of return. child-bearing yields stronger women; slavery, persecution and genocide ultimately yielded a stronger People.

“exile contains redemption within itself, as seed contains the fruit. right work and abiding diligence wil bring forth the hidden reward.”

none other than the Gerer rebbe so taught. netzach in netzach is abiding diligence, enduring effort, with confidence (“bitachon”) that you are able, through your abiding diligence, to effect the ultimate reward, of course with G’d’s help, no matter how hidden. this actually is a great summation of the cosmos in kabbalistic terms, for the work of tikkun olam (‘repair of the world’…’rectification of time and space’), the very reason for human existence,  is touched with eternity and unending effort and intensity. but so is the redemption.

it is very important to remember that reward is explicit in the banishment from Eden, painstaking-labor, yes, but IN IT you shall bear children and bring forth your living. it is not endurance, perseverence, abiding for its own sake! consider the words of the insight of r’ Henoch of Alexander:

“the real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they had learned to endure it”

there is no sense of endurance for it’s own sake in netzach. no sense of purgative suffering, rather it is a tool of spiritual ambition, “ratzon” (‘desire’ or ‘will’) directed toward getting at a better end. walking longer each day and more humbly with your G’d requires bitachon and netzach: confidence and abiding diligence. again with the Heschel, who points out that “our task is…to change, not only to accept; to augment, not only to discover the glory of G’d.”

“i believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though (s)he may tarry, i anticipate every day that (s)he will come”

the jude abides, man

which will also bring us to bitachon redux in hod she b’netzach tomorrow…. 

mussar for netzach she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    are there some people you can barely stand to listen to? some you regularly brush off? resolve today the change that relationship and tolerate, even with painstaking-labor your interactions until such time as you see what it is they bring in G’d’s world. it will be something you never imagined.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo     bring bitachon (‘confidence’) in the coming of Moshiach to your practice today. bring it to your prayers. bring it to bear in the kavannah you bring to all your doings of good and your avoidance of evils. just bring it.

kabbalah for netzach she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    the traditional ideal is to make your life a continuous kiddush haShem (‘sanctification of G’d’s Name’), not through martyrdom, but through endurance, strength and persistance for you ambition to cleave to G’d. step one, however, is ceasing to do chillul haShem (‘desecration of G’d’s Name’) in your habits…many of which are as hidden to you as is the Presence of G’d, no doubt. contemplate on the many desecrations you do regularly, ferret them out with deep contemplation of your actions, and imagine how you would go about curbing and then abolishing them.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   kabbalah teaches that each of us has a soul ‘root’ that extends back into and through Adam and Chava and up into the realm of G’d. dwell on how this root draws you into the time of Eden….and what can you draw back from the experience into your life today?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    the rabbis ethan and joel coen didn’t just pull “the dude abides” out of thin air, you know. consider Psalm 102:26ff), which describes how the earth and the heavens are  G’d’s handiwork….”even all this will perish, but you will endure”.  haDude abides. meditate on what this means for how you divide your intellectual time….are overinvested in that which will perish?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   soul and body are interincluded and utterly real. each matters, each supports the efforts of the other in growing near to G’d. but spirit abides in “l’olam” (‘forever’), whereas body abides in “ba’olam” (‘the world’), and G’d is G’dself abiding in olam as “helem” (‘hidden’).  meditate on how your walk with G’d partakes now of l’olam, now of ba’olam, and even now and then of olam/helem.

kinyan 25 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Samei’ach b’Chelko….Being Happy with One’s Lot.   the very well know story goes like this: the Chofetz Chaim (renowned author of Chafetz Chaim on the halachah of evil speech, Mishna Berura  commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, and Ahavat Chesed on the commandment of lending mondy to the needy, among many other texts) wanted to change the world when he was a boy. at some point he saw that that ambition might be a bit too bid, so he resolved to change just the people in his town….likewise with limited success. sho he decided instead to change his own family.  even that proved elusive, so the Chofetz Chaim finally decided to focus on changing jut himself…and THAT was the ticket to changing the world of traditional jewish practice through his saintly example in living his own life and  his voluminous but accessible teaching.

“ben Zoma said: ‘who is rich? those who are happy with their portion’

(Shabbat 32a)

     

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)

haYom sh’losha v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot ush’nei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’netzach

“how long shall the Land mourn and the herbs of the whole field wither?”

and all due to the prospering of the wicked and the wickedness they bring to the Land simply by dwelling in it.  so asks Jeremiah (12:4) of G’d. why is it that bad people sometimes seem to do just fine, and good people seem to suffer?  and it gets worse, for only a few verses later G’d tells Jeremiah that he is throwing Israel to the birds of prey and to the beasts of the field. it is very, very bleak:

“i have given the dearly beloved of My Soul into the hand of her enemies”

it don’t get no worser than that. so we have in chapter 12 a battle of the endurance fighters: in one corner Jeremiah on behalf of the People, and in the other G’d, who has endured His People’s failure to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with G’d. to which will come victory….victory as in netzach?  not victory as in a prizefight, but victory touched with eternity?

G’d is practicing gevurah she b’netzach, for G’d’s promise to the People is covenantal, and the heritage cannot be forever revoked, or, ch’v, cancelled. the Land is the Land of the Promise, after all. what is happening herein is cosmic tough love.

for you see, Jeremiah is missing the point, really. the People suffer, absolutely. but to frame it as he has is to ignore Torah by suggesting that Torah is abrogated by G’d, in a way. the wicked are prospering; the good suffer…sup w’dat? the Land will not bear/cannot bear its fruits, hence we can’t bring things like, well, the omer, or the minchah of shavuot and its famous requirement for 2 loaves. cain’t do it, G’d, cuz we is suffrin sumthin awful under yer wrath.

really? REALLY? let’s do a little Torah 101 and see wherein the real suffering and the real enduring toward netzach….

” I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. now choose life…”

choose life that you and your children may live. this is the G’dfather of all offers that one can’t refuse. G’d’s answer to Jeremiah’s question as to how long must the Land mourn is simple: until you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Me.

gevurah in netzach calls us to consider whether our endurance, whether our spirit forces, are directed against proper obstacles or not, and whether they are focused at the right time.  we, none of us, don’t need no stinkin jeremiads….stop with your kvetching and consider carefully redirecting your energies to do what you KNOW should be done…and helping others to do so too…

“G’d has told you, o man, what is good….”

and you should prepare to endure anything to do what is good. therein is the discipline of your perseverence. therein is the potential for victory that is touched by eternity and cosmic effects, for only G’d’s way can share in eternity. knowing, sincerely knowing that G’d has told you what’s what (now go study) alone should give you some mighty bitachon, some mighty confidence that persistent effort will pay off. what is stunning is that discernment in netzach is not so very hard, for G”d has told you what is good!  it don’t no plainer than that. baruch haShem.

mussar for gevurah she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    what is hard about netzach and gevurah in it, is doing the good in the face of powerful sentiment in the souls of those around you  against it. the unconventional step is hard to take against peer pressure….but justice is, and mercy is, and humility is….each as real as the person who tells you they are not. but you must choose life for the sake of future generations as well as your own. better yet, help your neighbor choose life too!

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    consider why it seems to be that resolutions come and go, but goals are pursued. think about it. how many goals have you pursued and celebrated in the achievement? and resolutions?  resolutions are pointless unless there is t’shuvah (‘repentance” with a goal to do better next time). confess the wrong, apologize, and set the goal to not fail in that particular again. plot a goal in t’shuvah today…don’t wait til Yom Kippur!

kabbalah for gevurah she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    goals are strategic, but there must be tactics in support of the strategy. you must decide small actions to take on the way to a larger goal of spiritual improvement. what gevurah in netzach brings is the attention and the temimut haratzon (‘sincerity in desire’) to determine all the steps you must take to achieve a goal…no matter how long it takes; no matter how many false starts; no matter what else must also change for the good in some small way in support of the greater good.  recall a goal that you met through careful, stepwise planning. devise the plan to apply that same approach to a spirit goal.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    consider how temimut (‘sincerity’) in bitachon (trust-born, faith-born ‘confidence’) will keep you from hubris. from the showoff goal. KNOW WELL that your choice in improving your spirit traits comes down to choosing between a blessing and a curse…comes down only to choosing life. maybe not quite so easy, but the principle is….sincere confidence and cheer in pursuit of life through self-improvement is no vice!

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    Thoreau teaches that “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  is the “unexamined choice of life, the unexamined choice of blessing”  also not worth choosing? consider this.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    we generally hold to Lao Tzi’s old saying “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” to practice gevurah in netzach is sometimes to simply choose your first step. meditate on the your possible first steps toward achieving your nesxt spirit goal. can you discern which is best easily?

kinyan 23 of 48 ways of acquiring Torah

Kabbalat haYisurin….Acceptance of Suffering.  the most commonplace practice of gevurah she b’netzach is in putting the leisure we would prefer away in order to go to work, to do homework, to file our tax return. this is so in the perpetual contest of material comfort against spiritual uplift. we know which one is better for us (‘G’d has shown you…’), but we also know which one is easier, more comfortable, less effortful….it is so in spades with the study of Torah. Torah is not easy. it is profoundly weird, and dense and cryptic….and has required the combined effort of thousands of the most brilliant scholars that the People has produced just to explain something as simple as kosher slaughter. you just kill that critter, right?  not quite. and to study the ways of Torah means giving up some time with a virtual game or a consumer activity that leaves you with cool new stuff. remember this watchword:

“gam zu l’tovah” (Ta’anit 21a). ‘even this is for good’ 

haYom sh’nayim v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot v’yom echad, laOmer: chesed she b’netzach

“has the kindness of netzach disappeared forever?”

this is how r’ Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla, 13th century kabbalist and student of Abulafia, translates Psalm 77:9, doubling down on the significance of the “l’netzach” as both the sefirah of the name and the sense of eternity or forever.

the king james version in contrast, translates it (remember it is verse 8 in christain bibles) more colloquially as “is His mercy clean gone for ever?”—imagine!  “clean gone” used to be the king’s english!!!

but back to Gikatilla, who was reading very carefully, for the next verse goes on “is His promise come to an end for evermore?”  ‘forevermore’ is “l’dor vador”, which we usually translate as ‘from generation to generation’, even though that is not a close reading. but, thinks Gikatilla, if “l’dor vador” means eternity, than what is meant by the use of “l’netzach” in the first part of the verse?

being a good kabbalist, he immediately associates the presence of the word “chesed” (‘loving-kindness’) with netzach with more than just an expression of eternity. netzach is also victory, and we know that G’d’s victory does not change…

“the Netzach of Israel [G’d] shall not deceive and not regret (read shall not change His mind), for He is not a man who regrets” (1 Samuel 15:29)

chesed is directly connected to netzach on the right side of the sefirotic tree. the effects of chesed need not even pass through tiferet (the 3rd sefirah of the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad), so they are very direct and exert great influence on the work of netzach. the persistence of netzach, the power of it,  is not to be regretted anymore than that of  loving-kindness. only the dark side would even consider taking the eternity away.

so, how do we work with this chesed-netzach nexus in the first sefirah of the triad that starts the 4th week of the Omer count? well, in kabbalistic thinking, the only real impediment to the extension of G’d’s loving-kindness in the world is the imposition of death since the transgression of the Foreparents, Adam and Eve.  netzach is associated with the bringing of Moshiach…specifically with the practical steps needed to help bring that ultimate tikkun about. netzach is all about the sort of victory that is t’shuvah, ‘repentance’. t’shuvah argues against the harsh decree…which ultimately means death (look again at the unetane tokef).

the Lurianic teaching is that in kedushah, in marriage, which is the lower union of tiferet (last week’ sefira hashavua) and  malchut (the still to come final week’s sefirah), the union of the spouses takes each to a higher sefirah: the groom to netzach and the bride to hod, both intermediated by yesod, the sefira of the genitalia. yes, sex is more than it might sometimes seem, chevrei. the groom enters into a state of consciousness of timeliness within time. a little bit of immortality, a fending off of death, in the possibility of engendering new life and the ‘out of the world’ sensations that go with it. (we’ll talk more about the lovely bride next week, don’t worry, ladies).

is it any surprise then, that chassidut (‘chassidic philosophy/kabbalah’) associates netzach with bitachon, ie, ‘confidence’?  and the forcefulness in G’dly action that comes of bitachon. so chesed in netzach is loving-kindness dispensed through and with confidence. and it is the chance for us to look at the obstacles that seem to keep us from loving well as a glass half full! why? well, we are imitating the spirit ways of G’d, whose victory/netzach is eternal/netzach and never a matter of regret or doubt. it is for us to make the Netzach Yisrael (‘G’d’) manifest in the world. G’d opens G’d’s hand and satisfies the needs of every living thing. for us, then, the hand that we open to offer with chesed is held wide open and extended as far as our powerful right arm can reach in netzach….there ain’t no pullin back.

mussar for chesed she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   doing kindness for someone can change the world for the better in ways that none of us can fully imagine. know that. KNOW that. it is not accident that l’netzach netzachim (‘forever and ever’) is related to l’dor vador (‘forever, as handed down from generation to generation’), so know that the action you take today in loving-kindness has eternal impact on the world. now, what kind thing are you going to do for someone today? (and therefore forever?)

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   it’s a little trendy for me, but might work well for others, so here goes: formulate a mission statement for your life….or at least for the next decade or so…..do some personal long-term strategic planning (not tactical!) for your walk with G’d.

kabbalah for chesed she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   consider how you can make your good work in the world persistent. remember a time in which you lost yourself in the doing of hard work….for any sort of good end. look to that sort of losing yourself as the model to repeat in your efforts in loving-kindness.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    a person needs a good dose on energizer bunny netzach when faced with chronic problems. family problems, friendship problems, spiritual problems with G’d, ch’v. all need chesed to be extended and not a one-off sort of thing. and the big issue with chronic problems is not the problem itself, but rather our accumulating negative feelings about something that just won’t go away very easily….seem like they never will. netzach is also the power of invention in these times…the energy that emboldens giving a shot at a new way of addressing chronic problems….and the energy to keep doing the necessary repetitive approaches as well.  meditate on how G’d manages to put up with us and our failings day after day, week after week, month after month….l’dor vador!

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    let’s extend the idea begun in yetzirah….every obstacle we face in actualizing our personal mission statement, our moral strategic plan, is chronic until we overcome it. we organize and break things down into manageable parts in our work, right? contemplate one of the areas of improvement you have identified….sigh, if you like….but break it down into steps…and consider it some loving-kindness for your own psyche!

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   athletes talk about “breaking through”, or what we used to call “getting a second wind”. we all of us get a second wind daily if we open up to that fresh neshamah (breathed/breathing soul’) that is breathed into us daily. meditate on part of the daily morning prayer “Nishmat Kol Chai”: “ruach kol basar t’fa’er….tamid” (the spirit (ruach) of all flesh shall honor You…..always). can anything but persistent actions ‘honor’ the Eternal?

kinyan 22 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Emunat Chachamim….Belief in the Wise.   actually it is faith in the teachings of the wise, and belief in the goodness of their efforts in the world. we may doubt whether some teachings are less helpful for us, but we should never turn aside the teaching of our great rabbis and thinkers completely, even when we have good reason to disagree, for we must know, have emunah (‘belief’ in the form of trust) that they intend good in all their teachings. and that they have more claim to wisdom than most of us! Torah is learning as well as teaching:

“faith is the essence of Torah”

now, go study and engage deeply with Torah with that in mind…learn from the wise wherever they are found.

haYom echad v’esrim yom,sh’heim sh’losha shavuot, laOmer: malchut she b’tiferet

“man should put his traits before him and direct them to the middle road…”

in order that “he will be complete in his person”. so advises the Rambam in his Hilchot De’ot (‘the Laws of Behaviour), perhaps mindful of the line between tiferet and malchut that is interrupted by yesod. it is the middle wqy, to be sure, but it is an interrupted flow…tiferet has a direct path to each of the sefirot except malchut.

hence, the kabbalists teach that malchut is in exile from tiferet, and that drawing tiferet and malchut together by way of yesod is a holy thing, not unlike the marriage of a woman and a man. just “come together, right now…. over me” says yesod.

in the interinclusion that makes 3 weeks this shabbat, we are considering malchut in tiferet, sovereignty in harmony. shechina in beauty is not hard to see, yes? but how do we make this bit of one in the other into a greater coming together of one to the other?  how do we build upon an interinclusion to make for an intercoursing of shefa (‘divine flow’)? this is always the question when malchut/shechina are discussed….how to “return the princess to her king,” as Matisyahu puts it. we must do it by way of our middot, by improving our middot, we redeem sparks and are ready to do the mitzvot that will uncover the hidden fallen light that is trapped in the klippot (‘husks’).

we know that the shortest distance between 2 points, in this case between keter in the upper world  (shamayim, ‘heavens’) and malchut in the lower world (olam, ‘the Creation’) is the middle road with tiferet being the center node and yesod being just below it, closer to malchut. look at the tree of life, ie, the sefirotic tree and you will immediately see this…no mystery therein.

we get a very, very straightforward directive from G’d about how to rectify our middot, don’t we? are we not told to be holy because G’d is holy?

“…you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy,

because i am holy…”

well not exactly. the verse  (Leviticus 11:44) instructs us to get holy before we learn why…the cart seems to be  before the horse. and it is important that we realize that we have to work down here in olam and not look to the heavens as our starting point. malchut is utterly grounded, the lowest of the sefirot. tiferet is middling, but unimpeded between middle and the heavens. we are forced to work around the yesod pivot point, as we learned yesterday.

Rashi explains that we are to make ourselves holy on earth, and G’d will make us holy above. the Baal haTurim goes further, telling us that: “one should sanctify oneself at the time of marital relations.” well, that is pretty earthy. so this holiness stuff…when we do IT, we, uh, DO it. woot.

but malchut in tiferet is but a hint of how. but it is a very important hint: no manipulation, no controlling, no domineering, harmony in beauty calls for equals in love, just as it calls for us to be balanced in our approach to everything else. be passionately harmonious, chevrei, not merely so.  we are taught to “acquire” a friend for ourselves, which is taken to mean a study partner, but the great “kinyan” (‘acquisition’) is the ketubah, in which a spouse legally acquires a spouse by binding contract….so the verse might just as well be telling us to acquire a friend in marriage. malchut in tiferet is a marriage of friends sefirotically…a balancing of desires seferotically. we are to be ourselves harmoniously of 2 minds….not divisively, but harmoniously…and the flow of shefa by way of yesod reminds us of the bonding of 2.  but you always knew that 2 heads are better than 1, right?

it is shabbat, all you marrieds…..remember, it is a greater mitzvah on shabbat. presence in beauty…malchut in tiferet.

mussar for malchut she b’tiferet

malchut-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   be aware of your affect with all those you meet…as aware as you are with a lover. THEN you want to put your best face forward, of course, but to do it always is bring sovereignty of a smile and an engaged mien to bear in the wider world. you prefer to see a bright face, yes? well, love your neighbor as yourself.

malchut-teferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   it is commonly said that it requires more muscular exertion to make a frown than to make a smile….but that isn’t true. smiles are harder work. so give yourself a better workout. smile. it is a most infectious form of exercise.

kabbalah for malchut she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    to make balance in the world, is to give harmony greater sovereignty in the world. this is sanctifying yourself on earth. but it can be a team sport. as this completeness of 3 weeks falls on shabbat, bring balance to the world by visiting the elderly and sick, particularly by bringing children to seniors. when you see the smiles that will arise, note them well, and hold that image in mind thereafter.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   another way to bring harmony and balance into the world is to receive it!  we all need somebody to lean on, so seek guidance from a friend you have acquired this shabbat. listen well, for advice from those who’ve walked some of our paths is essential to any spiritual journey.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation     we’ve been going out into the beauty (tiferet) of the world in spring this week, but there are ‘mindscapes’ that also must be walked. shabbat is such a mindscape year round. walk less in the world today and more in your mind. are the features of your shabbat mindscape as rich as those in the world outside? if not, do a little shabbat-worthy work and make your shabbat mindscape more rich…shabbat is for remembering Creation after all!

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    r’ Heschel teaches that “prayer is an invitation to G’d to intervene in our lives.” as you pray this shabbat, invite the Holy One in….a sure path to the holiness that is malchut in tiferet.

kinyan 21 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Lev Tov….Good Heartedness.   your attitude in the world and the face you bring to others will directly influence both the quantity and quality of Torah you gain. good cheer, open engagement, careful listening, and eagerness are all ways to not only change the climate of the world around you, but to come to superior understandings of the meaning of Torah. lishma should be in joy, so we end the week of tiferet with a very easy to understand quote from the sefer Tiferet Yisrael:

“a good heart includes a soft nature and the ability to act joyfullyfor the benefit of others”

haYom esrim yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot v’shisha yomim, laOmer: yesod she b’tiferet

“all trees rejoice in G’d’s resonance….and all plants dance in G’d’s rejoicing”

this from the Midrash Heichalot Rabatti (24:3) is but a single indicator of how the resonance of G’d is shot through the core on Creation. but i think it also surprises us a little. dancing plants is a little outside the mainstream judaism you grew up with, yes? but r’ nachman wouldn’t be surprised:

“how wonderful it is when one is worthy of hearing the song of the grass. each blade of grass sings out to G’d without any ulterior motive and without expecting any reward. it is most wonderful to hear its song and worship G’d in its midst. the best place to meditate is in a field where things grow. there one can truly express his thoughts before G’d, for grass will awaken the heart.” (Sichot Haran 163)

and the stream is not of recent vintage, no matter how modern it will sometimes sound:

“since you are composed of all of creation, the animals in your environment mirror important qualities back at you. they are part of what can keep you in balance. live in balance with the creatures of the world and they will be good for you.” (Midrash Tana D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah 1)

these are lessons not only in the deep implications of evolutional thinking, but also simple statements about the nature of yesod (foundation/development/procreation) in tiferet (balance/harmony/beauty/compassion).  yesod is associated in soul with the power to contact, connect and communicate with outer reality…it is in league with the utter grounding that the trees and the grasses literally and spiritually rely on.  tiferet is the reflection of malchut, which is the deep grounding below yesod, and yesod is the pivot point (mapped literally to the genitalia) that brings the upper worlds of soul (in tiferet directly from keter) into conjunction with the lower worlds of soul (in malchut, separated from the upper worlds only by yesod).

let’s make it simple: we have learned that the genitalia are the nexus between soul realm and physical realm. procreation is foundational, and it relies on bonding of the Created to make one flesh of twophysically and spiritually….conception is the point of bonding between the two. there is the dna of the Created World and the still older life-force of the Inserted Primordial Light. gestation is the melding of spiritual-biological in a unique yet characteristically enspeciated Creature. and the inner world of soul melded into the outer reality of biology recognizes all the other melded forms in the world, whether in grasses and trees, or the birds and the bees.

the bonding of the all is especially available to us in the vegetation that has been our purpose (stewardship of the garden) and our temptation (choosing the wrong tree from which to eat). centered in the generative; anchored in the soil. are we surprised that the genitalia are the nexus of both the miracle of giving forth life (birth) that is nonetheless the most natural thing  on the planet (birth), hence not miraculous at all?

we see the bonding of spirit and form best in this. we all see it and feel it. whether we then later deny and belittle it depends on the strength of our yesod in tiferet.

if you are more attuned to the melding in all of Creation around you, you know the trees have presence beyond their wood. and we are making huge fuss about grasses, ain’t we? after all, what is barley? what is wheat? what is Omer? during pesach we reground the grass fruits that sustain us….then re-enruach them in the sefirat haOmer, rebalancing ourselves by Shavuot.

there is no spiritual parallel in the world of animalia…except through the korban. do you see how our practice is veggie focused?

we call bread the staff of life. yesod it is the symbol of life in the midline of the tree of life. even in death:

“may our soul be bound/sheafed up in the binding/sheaf of eternal life.”

mussar for yesod she b’tiferet

yesod-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   we have an expression, “my word is my bond.” mean it, and be sure to speak truth always. make sure your soul is bound up in the binding of current life.

yesod-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    the emotion that breaks bonds most quickly and assuredly is anger. it makes trees of grasses, mountains out of molehills. but the blood in the head lessens your hearing…your bond with the song in the grasses is sure to be broken. “keep it together” and avoid anger entirely today.

kabbalah for yesod she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    harmony/balance is the opposite of chaos/imbalance, right? yesod is foundation/strength and you have the opportunity today to add “backbone”…or maybe ‘trunk’…to harmony or alternatively to chaos. which do you choose? contemplate how to make the better choice firm.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   when we are boun to the entirety of the world around us, we sense the celebration of all in G’d. we acknowledge this in prayers, but how often do we go outside and listen to it? find time to get back to the island of world and mind.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    every whisper/of every waking hour/i’m choosing my confessions/trying to keep an eye on You….G’d. say it. mean it in your prayers. the world is there to cheer you on if you listen. if you will it, it is no dream.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   we pray in the morning: “the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and soul that You breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that You placed in our mouth….all of them shall thank and bless and praise  and glorify and exalt and revere and sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name….all my bones shall say: ‘G’d, who is like You?”  the grasses sing and, come Messiah, the trees will clap hands and sing as well.  prayer is ‘groundwork’….it is yesod heavy. dwell in your gut, can you sense your innards rejoicing in G’d today?

kinyan 20 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Erech Apayim….Slowness to Anger.  this is actually one of the 13 essential attributes of G’d that were revealed in the wake of G’d’s passing before Moshe as he was held in the cleft of stone. we recite it on holy days throughout the year, and most memorably often during the Days of Awe. when you work to put your anger in your pocket, instead of in readiness between your eyes, you are following after the way of G’d G’dself. as we learn in Ecclesiastes (7:9…nothing to do with the borg in this case, you trekkies):

“Don’t be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the heart of fools”

and we have said that your innards should spend their time in thanks/praise/glorification/exaltation/reverence/sanctification of haShem

make like the grasses and the trees if you want to acquire Torah and a heart not of anger, but of wisdom.

haYom tish’a asar yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot vachamisha yomim, laOmer: hod she b’tiferet

“her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace”

many of you will recognize this as the next to last line in the “etz chaim hi”, said as the Torah is returned to the ark. i read it as a proof text for permission to relax now and then in my errors of interpretation and understanding….or just the many errors of explication that i’ve made already (and will no doubt make more of) in this effort to share the sefirat haOmer. for even when the explanation doesn’t work, the study nonetheless happens…and that is Torah lishmah (‘study for its own sake’, understood to mean ‘for the sake of Heaven’) even without our intention when we err!

if yesterday was devoted to the force of netzach in breaking down barriers to compassion/balance/beauty, today, in hod, associated with humility/gratitude/splendor, we grow quiet in the face of compassion, balance, beauty and harmony that already surrounds us. it is always there; there is no place without it because all of Creation is a manifestation of G’d’s glory, and there is no where where that glory is not. G’d’s glory fills the earth.

but to understand hod in tiferet, splendor in beauty, we have to put away so much of our self. we are called “m’daber” in the rabbinic literature, ‘the talker’ for our proclivity to name and classify and analyze with exquisite subtlety in words all that catches our attention. we erect barriers in our efforts to understand more deeply. we are all-in-one machines that erect new barriers even in our process of stripping down to get closer to seeing another glimpse of G’d in nature….nature being the only aspect of G’d’s wonder that we can always grasp (if we are only awake). nature is the G’dstuff in which we live, the stuff of which we are….that we bluster through… over… around and beyond daily, every waking hour.

all the paths of Torah are pleasantness; all of them….even the broken, breaking, dissecting errant ways we sometimes derive are ultimately paths of peace. why? well, can you think of any self-understanding that comes without making mistakes? even pharaoh’s path was Torah, right? he quite literally descends to G’d, and with that descent comes freedom and peace, precisely as G’d intended all along.

but Chazal (rabbis of the talmuds) point out an even easier way. they teach that G’d created all with Torah….so everywhere you look is another path of Torah. and r’ nachman made the fields his place for Torah and prayer and meditation on G’d. everywhere.  just look and see. and he also made clear that his every step was itself a step toward the Land of Israel, that is, the place of rectification and cleaving to G’d. every step is on a derech noam, on a ‘pleasant path’ toward the great good. just look and see.

it is hard to think of anything more beautiful than beauty…until you traverse the tree of life a little further and come to the splendor of beauty in quiet hod, beauty in thanks, in a smile without a word and without even the sound of a laugh. “hinei,” people….’behold’ all around you. it is all in hod. silent, eloquent, all a testament to the splendor and wonder of a G’d that gives us simple splendor in the grass…

why am i not a flower, a person-flower?

bless me, my spirit with tenderness instead of might.

to own smiles instead of words, and always bring light to the world.

to be able to give love, good fortune with my hair, like orchids.

and may my way through rooms be like finger-touches on piano keys.

tenderness, you ineffable name of G’d, be my image of G’d!

mussar for hod she b’tiferet

hod-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    i’ll bet that a lot of you welcome folks home from school and work with a pleasant “how was your day?”  there is a little everyday compassion in that. but it might well be answered with the grumbles of daily disappointments and disaffections….or the disconnected minimalist “fine.”  so get a little rad and reset the routine gently…..ask “what were the beauties, the wonders of your day?” if they can’t tell you, send them outside immediately to lay in the grass and look up, or down, or all aroun. at’ll fixem.

hod-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    smile when you make a blessing today….no quick-get-it-out-of-the-way utterances, please.

kabbalah for hod she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   baruch haShem, we are not only given to using words to make or find beauty.  we decorate our living spaces. we spend lots of time getting just the right paint for a room’s walls, yes?  and then what? we let our own creative work, our own engagement, recede into, well, wallpaper as we direct our attention to the television, the radio, the internet (well, yes, even this blog), hanging on the distracting and novel and noisy and sparkly. we consume without a lick of appreciation. go back to your own spark of creation in your place and remember why you so loved a particular paint for a wall, or a painting or a vase, or even the order that you impose in your cabinets in how you put your dishes away, or how you insist the dishwasher should be stacked…..it is all your sense of beauty and order at work. pleasant ways are found therein. don’t be unmindful of it!

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    every year the garden brings forth changes. changes in what you planted…changes in the volunteers that have taken root….changes in expression of abundance. remember the blooms of a previous year. compare them to this year’s early arrival of almost everything. be grateful for the variety that continues to enrich the order of your garden. and let your ruach flit with joy.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    pray from a siddur today (if you can read this, you can find one online if need be) and try to be mindful of the ‘order’ (“seder”) of the prayers. compose a brief transitional explanation or 2 for yourself. or read this week’s parshah for shabbat, mindful of the fact that the selection that is the week’s ‘portion’ is itself an ordering of words. be grateful for the words and for those who took great care in ordering their use for the betterment of your spirit.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuituition    get out in the fields and forests like r’ nachman and the Besht. listen. pray. try to return the birds’ calls. see if you can see the Presence of G’d in the hiddenness of his nonCreation nature….G’d is not made of Creation stuff….but all of Creation is of made of G’dstuff. as you are looking, remember that every move you make, every breath you take, G’d will be watching you….

kinyan 19 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut S’chok….Moderation in Levity.    Ben Sira 21:20–“a fool raises his voice in laughter; the wise smiles in silence”