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 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 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.’