days of repentance: 9 & 10 Elul

“G’d would speak to Moshe face to face

just as a person speaks with a close friend”

so we learn in Exodus 33:1. but we learn later in Deuteronomy that no other like Moshe ever rose….who knew G’d face to face (34:10).  and there’s the rub. we ALL of us want to make like Moshe…no, no, that’s not it….we all EXPECT to be like Moshe Rabbeinu, speaking to G’d face to face….even though we also know from Torah, that even Moshe could only see G’d’s back when he asked to see G’d’s Glory (Exodus 33:18).

so, what is it, face to face, or face to back, or even

“you may not see my face. no one shall look upon me and live”

at Exodus 33:20ff, which is where we left off 8 Elul with G’d’s shadowing hand as G’d passed before Moshe, who was hidden in the cleft of the rock.

how many times have i heard someone say, “if only G’d would answer my prayer clearly”, or “if only i had a sign”…..then i would believe. well, of course, if G’d spoke to you directly, unambiguously, and face to face, you wouldn’t need faith, for you would only have observational science.  humans are about observational science much of the time. G’d, and the faithful individual,  is about intuitional science, to coin a phrase.

but the demand for observational data regarding haShem is the quintessential modern indicator of the presence of a belief in pirud (“separation”). so very many find it effortless to believe in pirud, but not in Presence. and it is the belief in separation from G’d that initiates the steps toward absence. it is the space created by belief in separation that gives breathing space to the ruach shtut, the spirit of folly, the temporary insanity that leads us to step away from the path and even accelerate toward aveirah, the crossing of  internal boundaries into actions evincing disbelief. as the cynicism, the negativity builds, the tiniest of separations will seem to become overwhelmingly huge. it will be utterly real to the creating beholder. it is this possibility that leads someone, in bratslaver terms, to believe that you can destroy without believing the you can fix simultaneously.

it all starts with an unintentional error born of our own nature. but the important thing to know is that our true nature is NOT negating and not cynical. we all know that by spending time with children…it is abundantly clear that cynicism is taught/learned. not that you won’t hear a lot of “no”, but this “negativity” is born of human selfishness…….so let’s talk about the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov and that popular modern derivative, the ego. the 2 yetzers are the “negative (hara) inclination” or selfish impulse and the “positive (hatov) inclination” or selfless impulse. the word yetzer itself is from the same root as yatzar, meaning “to form, or build, or construct”. so our “inclination” in jewish terms is an innate will or impulse to form, build, or construct desire, and then to actuate it.

before we go further, let’s make it quite clear that haShem finds both inclinations “very good” parts of Creation (B’reishit 1:31), so we aren’t looking to get rid of the yetzer hara. this is important for t’shuvah (and kabbalah).

so what’s so all-fired good about the selfish impulse? well, without a little lust, people don’t couple and marry, they don’t have babies, they don’t have the same drive to build a home and raise and support a family. the selfish is survival centric, and that is very good.

uncoupled from a counterbalancing selfless impulse, though, it becomes what all of us know these days as egocentric. ego counterbalanced is inclined toward survival, toward strength, toward plenty…all of which are part of the Promise of G’d in the Land and as the natural reaction to right behaviour.  without counterbalance, though, ego becomes central and overwhelming, thinking nothing of the well being of any other, and thinking nothing of the effects likely to stem from any action constructed by greater selfishness.  ego is not evil per se, but it can easily become a tool for evil. and the root of the potential for evil is in the ego’s definition of “the other”.  there is me, and there is you. and i’m for me….the pirud, separation opens up. but

hear….G’d is One

human nature in Creation is to have a “working out” of things between 2 antipodes of inclination. and one can err on the “good” side too, mistaking the denial of desire as a greater good than a holy desire (eg, celibacy instead of kiddushin)….G’d is down with this be fruitful and multiply idea, after all.

but the yetzer hatov, the selfless inclination, gets at the central mitzvah

“love your neighbor as yourself”

the other is to be dear to you….recognize that her ego, his ego, is just like your ego. so we should all form, or build, or construct with others in mind as well as ourselves. it is the humble walk, which is not alone with G’d as we might prefer it. think about it, we are all equally required……the walk is crowded in its universal unity.

the ultimate expression of the worldview of separation is avodah zarah, literally “strange worship”, but usually rendered as idolatry. it is the error of thinking a bit of something is equivalent to the everything that is G’d. chassidut (chassidic theory and practice) sees the root of every evil act or negative construction as stemming from an idolatry. there is a substantial dollop of this sort of idolatry in the expectation that G’d answers to us to the degree that we be able to see his face and get a personal sign….if you want a material G’d, go build one….don’t expect haShem to do it for you.

and it is essential to t’shuvah that we get this idea of counterbalancing yetzers right because to live in the moment is very different from to live for the moment. for the moment is to limit the now to what is happening and what we desire. in the moment is to open yourself to the entirety of time that is in every moment…it is only on that scale, the comprising of past and future in the present, that one comes to dwell in the achdut, the unity of all things. the Presence is about the correspondences interconnecting all things, not their material distinctions.

“that evil confronts good gives man the possibility of victory”

which aphorism, attributed to R’ Yechiel Michael of Zlotshov, is very much in line with Zoharic teaching (2:163a) about the very purpose of our existence

all that the Holy One has made, both above and below, is for the purpose of manifesting His Glory and to make all things serve Him….indeed, the yetzer hara also serves the will of G’d

a practical way to get at this is to stop and ask at as many junctures as you can (you get good at it with time and practice): how does this thing i intend to do serve more than just my ego? then go further: how does this thing i intend to do serve others as much as it does me?  then go further still: how does this thing that i intend to do serve the Holy One, blessed be?  if you can’t answer these questions very well, then your path tends toward the idolatrous, toward constructing for you alone, which is not the way of the humble walk. it aint about the bit of something that is the focus of my desire, but rather about the EVERYTHING all together through my desire. egocentric practice is zarah, strange, in that it is not an expression of full-bodied human soul. generosity, with a healthy greed, is good. just plain greed is strange worship indeed.

you can ask the questions at many junctures every day, but you can also hold a kabbalistic mantra in mind to help you comprehend the reality of the Oneness of G’d which underlies all the rest of soulful practice, and also is the basis of t’shuvah:

ein od me’l’vado

(there is nothing else but haShem alone)

 

 

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 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”

haYom sh’monah asar yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot v’arba’ah yomim, laOmer: netzach she b’tiferet

“there is no light as brilliant as that light that emerges from out of the darkness”

the Holy Zohar (vol 3, folio 47b) brings this teaching to illustrate the importance of challenging the obstacles that face all of us in rectifying our spiritual traits and in learning to walk more humbly with G’d. essentially, the more difficult the obstacle overcome, the more powerful the rectification…..it is the effort that matters and not simply the achievement (see Avot 5:26). the example given is none other that the power of G’d, who brought light to the tohu v’bohu, bringing it out of utter darkness and absence of light.

r’ Tarfon offers a variation on the theme of struggle, also in Pirkei Avot (2:20): “yours is not to finish the task, yet neither are you free to desist from it.”  it is the effort that matters most…..always walking humbly, never ceasing from the great task of doing the Way to repair the world.

netzach in tiferet is the courage to fight the good fight for compassion and the beauty it brings in truth. it is NOT easy to be compassionate to all always. anyone can find a situation or person or circumstance that is so personally revolting that we must struggle mightily to overcome loathing in order to do the compassionate good. i will never forget the scene in the film ‘Ben Hur’ in which Judah finally resolves to go deep into the dank, close cave in the valley of lepers to rescue his sister, going from disease-ridden, curtained shelter to shelter, viewing countless suffering in eaten away flesh and despair, and ultimately putting himself in direct contact with his nearly dead sister by lifting her and carrying her out of the cave. netzach came to me right then and there.

in netzach we channel our desire to risk-taking to rip off the husks that conceal the still burning embers of Divine Light. the compassion is all the greater for the force that must be brought to bear to make it happen in the world.

but few of us will face the valley of the lepers. most of us will have to battle a far more insidious enemy to strive to bring tiferet to all our waking moments: the world of distraction, convenience, conventional thinking, indolence, listlessness, ennui, inertia and habit. habit is the great enemy, for it is mindlessness reminding itself only of itself in an endless feedback loop of unthinking regularity and familiarity.

compassion withers in the face of this sort of wasting away to what is less than your soul-self. doing compassion takes effort and time. it is inconvenient almost always. it has to get in your way, get in your face. netzach is the courage of your compassion. the resolve to stay balanced, to persist,  and to make harmony where none is yet found. it is steel in the magnolia.

mussar for netzach she b’tiferet

netzach-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    we love to argue, don’t we? try to find the truth (the tiferet) in opposing opinions within your familiy or with a friend or acquaintance.  s0metimes the compromise reached is its own new truth.

netzach-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    bring to mind 2 mitzvot: 1 that you already do, and 1 that you know you should do but dont. analyze the 1 you already do and understand why you do it. can you bring that understanding and make it bear upon the mitzvah you don’t yet do?  (yes, i said ‘yet’.)

kabbalah for netzach she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   humans are full of underused brainpower and undeveloped potentials…this is true in soul as well. netzach must be applied to get that indwelling couch potato nefesh up and moving in an unfamiliar direction. find something within you that you’ve expected/hoped you had, and plan a path to develop it.

in yetairah….the world of feeling/formation    remember a time when you had great clarity of purpose, and persistence of spirit to see some particular thing done. did it feel good? did you feel more powerful then? ambition is ok within spirit-driven ambition. remember that clear strong time, and enjoy the feeling again.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    clarity and persistence sometimes happen by accident, but the spirit warrior will bring intention (‘kavanah’) to bear on potential and on power. apply cosmic intention to one of your best potentials or proven strengths and make it more. before you do the act next time, say that you are doing it to restore harmony of the Creation with the Creator…..and mean it.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    gravity continues to hold you to the surface of the earth. your electrons don’t just linger in some improbable positions. you wake up breathing, your heart still sending oxygen to the farthest corners of you being. there is netzach within and without you always…quietly persisting, driving. recreating. meditate on this.

kinyan 18 (am yisrael chai!) of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Sichah….Moderation in Speech.   sometimes it is just a matter of slowing it down. those of us who have overcome a stutter, or who still tend to stammer, have practiced for years to slow down our speech pattern to establish better breath control and to bring room for easing into sounds. how silly is it that we don’t ordinarily bring a similar discipline to the content of what we say and the frequency with which we say it?  if you wish to speak with soul deliberation, you will weigh your words on the scale of truth (tiferet) before you speak them at all.

haYom shiv’a asar yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot ush’losha yomim, laOmer: tiferet she b’tiferet

” the Rushing-Spirit of G’d flitted over the face of the waters”

this is the description in Genesis 1:2 of the Presence within the tohu v’bohu (’emptiness’ or ‘chaos’) of the as yet unmade creation. i have always viewed this description as being the ‘physicalesque’ manifestation of G’d presence in the unprecedented state of tzimtzum (‘withdrawal within’)….it answers in a way the question of what was the Presence of G’d in the Absence of G’d that G’d created in order to Create.

the whole of Creation being the utter release of Chesed within the utter confines of Gevurah in the emptiness made within the withdrawal of the without end….making a border where none could have been….ein sof is literally ‘without end’, without border, without phase change, without delimit of time or anything else, without escape horizon….suddenly self-limited within.

ruach is the rushing-spirit, the wind spirit, the spirit of turbulence, of flitting. the waters are the primeval Torah in which all, absolutely all that is knowable is to be known ultimately. i imagine that when G’d is not everywhere in absolute ein sof, then G’d’s touch is without stop, flitting/hovering over and around every part of the emptiness, forming and unforming like clouds, else it would again immediately become ein sof, for there is utterly nothing sustainable–nothing itself is not sustainable–without the Touch of G’d constantly.

the gematria of this phrase from Genesis is 1369. 1369 is also the gematria of the first triad of the lower 7 sefirot: chesed (72), gevurah (216), and tiferet (1081). the first and greatest center of all the interinclusions, for tiferet is center of centers in the middle way of the tree. tiferet is itself Torah in that it is the only sefirah that is directly connected to all the others…save malchut. and it is Shechina that is the Divine Presence in malchut, the Presence of G’d in Creation that is not Torah, that is independent of Torah, that was not created out of or by way of Torah. but to end the exile, malchut will have to be gathered into tiferet, and Torah into Shechina, to end the exiles of Creation. we should all know that sovereignty will have to be all compassionate to achieve the great rectification. no more war, no more dictatorial rule, no more market forces…….just compassion in its expression in power–rule by way of nothing but empathy/integration/harmony….the great Beauty, tiferet in tiferet…..entering into malchut in the end times.

1369 is also the square of 37, and the earliest gematria of 37 is in the name of Hevel (Abel), the son of Adam and Chava whose offering of First Fruits was the perfect and accepted korban (‘bringing near sacrifice’). but Hevel was slain by Kayin (Cain), whose offering of the carcass of one of the flock was not accepted. and power outside of compassion was born, in severity of the left side.

the Omer is all about the first fruits of barley, leading to the first fruits of wheat at Shavuot…the new year for the sustaining grains that are the bread that feeds the world. the bread brought forth from the earth directly by G’d, in his compassionate will, as we say in the motzi blessing. Hevel brought the Omer, the barley to begin the count. and in a real sense, we still await the ripening of the wheat in the times of the Moshiach, when swords will be beaten into ploughshares to tend the fields….and none will know war no more.

the word “hevel” also means ‘vapor,’ which is what rises from our heated study of the sea-waters of Torah, engaging ourselves vigorously in plumbing its depths…..as Chazal teach:

“the Torah of this world is hevel compared to the Torah of the world to come”

but therein the beauty of the integration in integration that is tiferet in tiferet, for we all know the rain cycle, yes?  evaporation from the great waters condenses in the clouds till water precipitates as rain and returns to earth and to the waters, over which the clouds hovered. do you see now how G’d’s great mark of compassion, his rachamim for us all, works?

“if you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then i will bring your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees shall yield their fruit”

when we choose the waters of Torah, we choose life. all in harmony, all in balance, all integrated; the life-giving rains raining the rachamim upon our heads and hearts and hands. tiferet in tiferet is the water in the vapor in the rain….the Rushing-Spirit of the Chai haOlamim (‘life of the worlds’) still flits above…wandering lonely as a cloud.

mussar for tiferet she b’tiferet

tiferet-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   my teacher, r’ mordechai eliyahu, zt”l, taught that raising both your right and left hands together while saying the line in the ashrei prayer “You open Your Hand and satisfy the needs of all creatures” was a great yichud in hiddur, signaling the harmonizing of chesed and gevurah in tiferet. when you shake someone’s hand today, use both your hands. it is an embrace in tiferet.

tiferet-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   consider your most deeply held opinions about the nature of people. is your current view balanced? if expressed, would it tend to bring people together and create harmony? if not, work hard today to rid yourself of this error in your thinking. make your mind ready for compassion, not division.

kabbalah for tiferet she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    this time of year, the wording of our prayers changes focus from rain to dew. consider how dew is another life-giving precipitation of hevel in compassion. contemplate what is the sign in dew that is parallel to the rainbow in rain?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    most of us who are not afflicted with a psychological pathology, ch’v, are able to harmonize our good qualities with out faults. we do it without thinking most of the time. meditate on this harmony today. what else can you fold into it to make it more beautiful?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   Proverbs 10:6 teaches us that ‘blessings are upon the head of the righteous’. can you make the blessings that are upon your head rain upon that of another?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    r’ kantrowitz brings this teaching: the 17th word of Psalm 67, the psalm we say each day as part of the counting of the Omer (see the spirit guide in this blog, is “yoducha” (‘they will thank you’). today is the 17th day of the Omer. meditate on the deep gratitude you owe to G’d for the blessing of spirit, the blessing of existence in Creation, the blessing of rain in its season.

kinyan 17 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Sheinah….Moderation in Sleep.    my personal favorite (see Proverbs 6:9, 10). there is a popular story told to yeshiva students about an encounter between the Netziv, legendary rosh yeshiva of volozhin, and his younger co-rosh yeshiva, r’ chaim soloveitchik (founder of the Brisk method of talmud study). r’ chaim told it as follows (with “me” swapped out for r’chaim, as i am not he):

one night at 3am the Netziv, who was very old at the time, called for his granddaughter’s husband, r’ chaim soloveitchik. r’ soloveitchik. r’chaim rushed to the Netziv, worried that the older rav was not well to be calling him at such an hour. when he got to the Netziv’s room, he found him studying from several volumes of talmud.  the Netziv said that he wanted to show him (r’chaim) a proof of something they had argued out the previous day.  r’ chaim asked the Netziv to give him a minute to make the blessing for Torah study, seeing as he, r’ chaim, had just woken up. the Netziv heard this and started weeping. “what will become of this younger generation? it is already 3am and you, reb chaim, haven’t yet said birkat haTorah!”

the proverb (6:9. 10) asks, “how long will you sleep? lazybones. when will you rise from your sleep?”, but i prefer in this case Milton’s Comus:

“what hath night to do with sleep? night hath better sweets to prove”