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 shisha asar yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot ushnei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’tiferet

“uprightness and justice are the shape of Your love, the earth is full of Your kindness”

tonight we consider the interinclusion of discernment in compassion. but it is also Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, the first of the 2 new moons that fall withing the period of sefirat haOmer. and it is not incidental that this Rosh Chodesh actually presents us with a nice way to illustrate the notion of discerning compassion….that the strong 5th line (5 represents the power of division, of breaking things down to facilitate understanding, or a powerful discernment, if you will) of Psalm 33 points it up so well is, perhaps, not coincidental.

the central thrust of gevurah in tiferet is the question of whether the compassion you feel and act upon is commensurate with the need of the one receiving it, or the situation that elicits it. there is also the issue of discernment of interest in compassion–there are those who focus all their compassion close to home in family and friends (it is not compassionate to say that the poor of vietnam are the concern of vietnam, for instance), and others who do the opposite, focusing on those in distant lands, directing little compassion to those in need close to home (why would anyone overlook needs in their own community to only give to help the poor in vietnam, for instance?). and discernment is also brought to bear in the tzedakah that is dispensed–how much must we examine the likely use of any help we give?

the doing of compassion can be more or less efficient….the unbound chesed is not the middle way. we can pick and choose amongst charitable opportunities….within limits, being careful to start close and work out in ever widening circles of righteousness. but there is a simple baseline: if we are asked to help provide food by a needy person, we must give something if we have anything at all to give…even if we don’t know for certain that the funds will be used for food.  we needn’t contribute to bus fare, or housing, or “just help” if we have reason to suspect fraud, though we are also taught not to be suspicious. but food help cannot be turned away so long as you have so much as a penny that you can afford to give.

the words used in Psalm 33 are “tzedakah” ‘uprightness’ and mishpat ‘justice with a strong notion of law’….and chesed ‘loving-kindness’. so we have obligatory responsibility giving, law compliant giving, and loving-kindness, which includes actual involvement in volunteering time and person as well as giving.

it is this complex that will bring 33, rosh chodesh, and minhag/halachah to bear as an illustration of gevurah in tiferet of a different sort. many of you probably know that we are in a limited state of aveilut (mourning) during a large part of the time of counting. this is due to the deaths of r’ Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students (chevruta…the arguing friends of talmudic study) within 33 days during the sefirat haOmer period in the time of the rebellion against Rome. perhaps fewer of you know that the students were said to have died of the plague due to failure to “respect” each other….they failed to achieve the harmony of tiferet, hence, there Torah was not a suitable carrying on after the great r’ Akiva.  (the standard is very high for yeshiva students, yes?!)

so to this day, we mourn the deaths (which nearly wiped out Torah in the Land) by refraining from enjoying music, dancing, frivolity, and grooming beyond what is necessary for hygiene and tsniut. (a mazel tov shout out to r’ mendy and alta goldstein, whose son will have “upsherin”, his first haircut at age 3, this coming Lag b’Omer!). but there are 2 customs regarding the period of mourning. the sefardim and most chassidim begin mourning with the onset of sefirah and break off at the 33rd day of the Omer count, ie, Lag (it means 33rd day) b’Omer.. the central/western mitnaged tradition is to begin mourning at Rosh Chodesh Iyar and continue until the day after Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which is 3 days before Shavuot. the third way is that of the Maharil, who held that 33 days during sefirat haOmer was crucial, but that no students died on the holiest of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, ie, 17 days comprising the 7 sabbaths, 6 days of Pesach, the day after Pesach, and the days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Sivan. so 33 days of mourning out of 50,  but not in an unbroken succession.

this could lead to problems in many communities with mixed populations of sefardim, chassidim, mitnagdim, and those who follow the ruling of the Maharil. what if a mitnaged held a wedding and invited his sefardic friends to attend the blissful holiness during the mourning period for the sefardim? or vice versa?  r’ Moshe Feinstein, the only just about universally recognized Torah decisor of the last century, ruled that any jew could, and should, attend a wedding for one of a different tradition regardless of their own mourning tradition. indeed, he also ruled that jews could switch their mourning period from year to year if need be….so long as they observed 33 days within the time of the sefirat haOmer (with some caveats for maintaining peace within a community).

r’ Moshe Feinstein’s compassion in this decision allowed for mutual respect between the different minhagim. by taking this approach, without missing the central halachah of 33 days, r’ Feinstein did a rectification of the error of the 12,000 pairs of r’ Akiva’s students by multiplying the harmony in the People. THAT is using discernment/gevurah in compassion/tiferet….oh, and if you need to spruce up with a trim for Rosh Chodesh or a wedding? well, that’s ok too!

mussar for gevurah she b’tiferet

gevurah-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   we should all be aware that our personal need for space will affect our relationships with others. sometimes we need a little more space than at other times. assess your needs and set appropriate boundaries for the good of your relationships with others.

gevurah-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   you are responsible not only to your relationships, but also to yourself. if you don’t already, set up a calendar and get rigorous about recording appointments and other necessary times so you can navigate your world in better balance.

kabbalah for gevurah she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    editing (which i need to do more carefully in these posts) is the process of rectifying error and bringing about better form through discernment.  we can do the same with out spirit traits. consider your traits and practices. which are the necessary? prune out the deadwood of habits to bring clarity to your way.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    it takes a village to raise a child, they say. and they mean that we all have something to offer to those in need as they grow in their character. examine your spirit skills. which are the ones that you could most usefully teach to another?  just do it.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    harmony doesn’t just happen in music or color or amongst people. each of us has to think through the available notes, or pigments, or spirit traits to find which will balance or harmonize best in each situation.  focus on your harmonies in family and community. contemplate what prompted you to bring those notes, colors, attitudes to bear.  respect the balance you have achieved.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    each of us has a prayer or a reading from Torah that seems most beautiful to us. or maybe you find beauty in other places and need to do hallel for those findings. contemplate the beauty you find and pray it…raise it up as an offering to G’d.

kinyan 16 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Ta’anug….Moderation in Pleasure.  jewish mourning is a stripping down of the joy we ordinarily seek to build as part of our avodah, our work for G’d in the world.  like fasting, it is a practice that puts away things that tend to carry us away….the result being that we have the stillness internally to be more present to other things.  usually to things that we don’t ordinarily take as much to heart. r’ Akiva’s students, in spite of having the greatest Torah master of their generation (of perhaps any generation) failed to get simple mutual respect, balance and harmony between them correct. due to this sever error a great plague (read disharmony and unbalance) was unleashed amongst them. disharmony is death to the highest aspects of spirit, and the fundamental underpinning of compassion is respect for the person and circumstance of your neighbors, family, friends, and community.  empathy is a fellow feeling, and when it is lacking, rachamim (the embrace of the womb) is elsewhere.

“moderate your pleasures of olam hazeh (this world), but maximize the pleasures of olam haba (the world to come)–the pleasure that comes from serving the other. “

haYom chamisha asar yom, sh’heim shnei shavuot v’yom echad, laOmer: chesed she b’tiferet

“loving-kindness and truth are met together”

occasionally the sod (deep kabbalistic meaning) springs to the surface. it is so here in Psalm 85 wherein the hebrew actually says that chesed and emet (a second name for tiferet) encounter each other. and the result is the ‘kissing’ of peace and righteousness, which again reveals the balance that is wrought by the interinclusions in tiferet. so strong is this tendency toward G’d’s truth in harmony, the the tzedek of gevurah and wholeness of chesed are cheek to cheek.  we end up with what we might call loving-righteousness, or compassion. this is the essence of  G’d’s truth, for it too has both the quality of overflowing exuberance and obligatory goodness….remember that in the phrasing of the attributes of the Holy One (Exodus 34:7), G’d proclaims that this is a singular middah ‘quality or trait’:

“….v’rav chesed v’emet….”

G’d is ‘abounding in kindness and truth’; G’d is the very essence of bounty, harvest almost without measure in this arena. so it was revealed to Moshe as he was held in the cleft of rock, from which perch he saw only G’d’s back…perhaps the knot of G’d’s t’fillin….the eternal reminder of the exodus from mitzraim.  since the time of Moshe, this view has been the “what to see” when one makes the stricture of totafot  between your eyes real. it is always the knot of G’d’s tefillin that we bring into view, focusing through both eyes on the letter dalet of the knot. we can’t see the t’fillin on our head, but we can call that dalet knot sighting to mind, courtesy of Moshe Rabbeinu.

so what does dalet have to do with the interinclusion of chesed in tiferet? what does it have to do with chesed and truth?  well, the very name “dalet” is cognate with the hebrew “delet” or ‘door’. the dalet letterform is said to be an open door. the word “dolim” means “needy ones” so whenever we see a dalet we are to be thinking about opening our door (p’raps the gates to our spirit) to the needy. the Maharal teaches that dalet, with a numerical value of 4 represents also the physical world (but also the 4 spirit worlds, see below) upon which we walk in the 4 directions, north, south, east and west…..which, of course, is why Avraham’s tent is open to all 4 directions, extending an open door to all who walk the earth: this is the omnidirectionality, the overflowing of chesed.

but the dal of doleh (needy) actually has a deeper meaning of uplifting. and also its opposite, ‘downletting’, if you will. when one goes to a well to draw water, one does “doleh doleh” (see Exodus 2:19) to draw water, ie, one lets down the bucket in order to bring water up from deep down in the earth. so dalet also reminds us of the up and down directions, so we have again our 6x6x6 of the cube…the shape of the t’fillin box, and the way of waving both the lulav and the omer. and the path of G’d extends up and down the tree of life via the sefirot.

but what about truth in all this? well, the downness of the bucket in the well is only to be raised up: the truth in the exodus is that G’d sent the People down so as to raise them up in aliyah to the Holy Land and the way of Torah. it was (and still is) the upness that is the reason for the downness. you want to see that explicitly?  well, the verse after the one about the meeting of chesed and truth with which we began this d’var says:

“truth springs out of the earth; and righteousness looks down from on high”

truth is G’d’s watchword. placed upon the clay of the golem, the word truth brings the earth to life. G’d’s truth is ever near to you here on earth…adam is taken from the earth and G’d’s truth is in humankind from formation. but as the Slonimer Rebbe pointed out to his chassidim: “truth jumps out of the ground as you walk, but you are too stubborn to bend down to reach for it.”  walk humbly, chevrei, see the dalet and answer the need “below” you, then gather ye the rosebuds of truth while ye may.

mussar for chesed she b’tiferet

chesed-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   Hillel teaches (Ketuvot 17a) that one should always compliment the beauty of a bride, even if she is not beautiful to you, for she is certainly beautiful to the groom in so many way you cannot even imagine. there is no lie here. it is a truth born of empathy, of the chesed in tiferet, extending a kind eye to find a greater than mere surface ‘truth’.  seek the beauty in everyone you meet, for G’d’s truth springs out of each of us.

chesed-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    remember that truth is another name for the sefirah tiferet. at the end of the last paragraph of the Shema, we add the word “emet”, ‘truth’ to the last line of the verse: “I, the Lord, am Your G’d” “truth”. remember that in this truth is the balance, harmony and beauty of tiferet. so when preparing to say Shema before retiring to bed, consider where in your day now past you erred in balance, creating disharmony when you could have made greater beauty. resolve to do better today.

kabbalah for chesed she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   Moshe brought the teaching of dalet to us, but Miriam brought the well into which we must dip and raise up if we are to drink of the stream of Torah. tiferet is the sefirah of “rachamim” compassion, and “rechem” or ‘womb’ derives from the same root. it is by way of the watery womb of mothers that all of us come to walk on earth. how will you extend loving-kindness to all the women you meet today?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   the Slonimer pointed out that even his chassidim stubbornly refused to look earthward and see the truth that constantly sprung up before them. is is so within the human psyche as well as outside it. we are so often busy measuring ourselves against external ideals that we fail to see the beauty within ourselves. reaching in is like looking down, contemplate your own beauty, it is your truth.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   the dalet reminds to look 4 ways round and 4 ways up and down. but tiferet is a middle way, neither right nor left (though listing to starboard). the middle matzah is broken, representing the broken word of now and looking toward the afikoman, taken from now, only to be restored in the future. the middle way has a4th dimension, time. meditate on walkin’ humbly with G’d in time.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    many today seem to look earthward with a scientific eye only, seeing the truth only of the physical and material. seeing the dust, but not the watchword of G’d that can make of clay a human. contemplate the leap from inanimate matter to animate matter. what truth springs out at you?

kinyan 15 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Miyut Derech Eretz….Moderation in Worldly Affairs.  “this book of Torah shall not depart from your mouth; you shall meditate in the words day and night” (Joshua1:8)…..but also, “you shall gather your grains, your wine and your oil” (Deuteronomy 11:14).  well, which is it? do we study Torah all day or do we work all day?  can’t live without eating, so you gotta work. but what if you take the verse in Joshua literally?  keep the Torah constantly in your mouth…in thought and expression and deed….and you will find that your work itself is Torah as well. it isn’t one or the other but each in the other. your work informs your reading of Torah, and Torah informs your approach to the Way in work. the Besht teaches: “when a man prays largely for material benefits, his prayer of supplication is wasted. it forms a material curtain between G’d and himself because he has brought too much matter into the domain of spirit. he receives no ‘answer’ whatsoever.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mussar for chesed she b’gevurah

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

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

kabbalah for chesed she b’gevurah

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

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

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

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

kinyan 8 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

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

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

(Proverbs 22:11)

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

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

sefirat haOmer T-3: one way or another, you’re gonna find you

2 ways of counting: days and then weeks and days. and 2 ways of making it count more: mussar and kabbalah. it’s not at all that they are divorced from each other, and we will be doing a bit of both over the course of the 49 days. but i thought we should know a tad more about why we are doing a bit of each.

the way of mussar

the mussar way is based on contemplative practices, actions mapped to each day.  simply put, you do each spirit exercise in order to focus on and then clear away the accretions of habits, leanings, and just plain imbalances that prevent the inner light of your soul from shining forth.  just as in mainstream kabbalah, the crucial understanding is that each of us is a soul yearning for the G’dly.  hence it should be no surprise to any of us that major kabbalistic thinkers often are associated with the most powerful mussar texts….

and we are reminded of that  today as it just happens to be the yahrtzeit of r’ yosef karo, master halachist and kabbalist who worked no small amount of mussar  (derech eretz) into the weft of the warp he is best known for, the Shulchan Aruch.

there are a couple of touchstones for mussar in sefirat haOmer.

one springs from the Pirke Avot 6:6 where we learn that there are 48 kinyanei Torah, ie, 48 ways to acquire Torah.  48 is mighty close to 49, and the plan is to study 1 of the 48 each day of the counting, leaving the 49th day for review of the lot. we will touch on one of the kinyanim (or middot) each day.

the other approach stems from r’ elazar’s teaching, also in Avot, that the most important middah is a lev tov (a good heart), which has a gematria of 32.  so on each of the first 32 days of sefirat haOmer we will dwell on actions that improve relations ben adam l’chavero (between person and person), using the last 17 days to do mitzvot ben adam l’makom (between man and G’d).  those of you who remember lag b’omer, ie, the 33rd day of omer, will immediately see that it would correspond to the day on which the work changes from the human-human sphere to the human-divine sphere.  a lot of you may also notice that this 2-part approach parallels the work of the Days of Awe, during which we set things right with people before we can finish the setting aright with G’d.  we’ll try to honor this approach as well during the sefirah.

the way of kabbalah

the kabbalistic way is polymorphic, but focuses on a more purely mystical meditation or hitbonenut. we will try to relate each interincluded day (interinclusion is the all in one idea that each sefira comprises all the other sefirot within it) of the count to meditations rooted in the spiritual levels of the 4 worlds:

assiyah…the world of completion/doing associated with nefesh (the indwelling/resting soul)

yetzirah…the world of formation associated with ruach (the free will/turbulent soul)

b’riyah…the world of creation associated with neshamah (the renewable/breathing soul)

atzilut…the world of nearness to G’d associated with chayah (the life-force/living essence soul)

we will examine/contemplate on aspects of our existence that allow for the soul to shine forth and rise up through the levels of the worlds to get closer to our root in G’d.  ideally, these contemplative exercises will dovetail into the mussar practices more days than not!

so that is the sheaf of mindblowing, soulglowing methods we will ripen into for each of our days, shredding the husks that confine us as we swell in soul…nurturing our individual hearts of wisdom….readying better selves for the receipt of Torah again in Shavuot.

sefirat haOmer T-5: all in one, one in all

Norman Fischer seems to grasp the counting of the Omer in his lovely translation of Psalm 90:12:

“help me understand how to count my days…how to embrace my life…that i may nourish a heart of wisdom”

we have to count the days, AND we have to count the weeks.  it isn’t a simple count that gets you to a heart of wisdom, it seems.  oh, and that ‘how to embrace my life‘ part isn’t literally in the hebrew of the psalm at all….but boy is it ever in sefirat haOmer, in the understanding of counting the days.

we have to cycle and cycle again…7 days per week, 7 weeks (each of 7 days) for the whole of sefirat haOmer.  and in each day we have a reciprocating cycle of interactions of sefirah that is in sefirah.  7 paired interactions, 1 pair per day,  of sefirot in each other ; every week focusing on another of the sefirot as the dominant aspect of the week, and working through the 7 sets of interactions each has with each other.

chesed with gevurah with tiferet with netzach with hod with yesod with malchut….working through each interaction down the tree…but simultaneously up from selflessness in chesed to majesty in malchut.

so while we will follow the interaction of each sefirah in every other sefirah as we move down the lower 7 of the etz chaim, we will with every day of week add up to a week. we move down the sefirot as we count up the days…not unlike the angels of Yaacov’s vision of the ladder:

“….and here, messengers of G’d were going up and down on it'” (Genesis 28:12)

up and down, back and forth, each in each to each from each.  our messengers from G’d are found in the way we interact with ourselves and the world, for in our spiritual character, our emotional responses, our ethical ways of interacting that we find our clear vision of G’d in the world.  it is in the aspects of ourselves as affected by all else that we find the image of G’d in which we have been uniquely created.

to sum up, we perceive G’d in the world according to how we relate with the world in all its myriad differences.

let’s make it simple, yes? say we have a family of 7, from 2 grandparents through 2 parents with 3 kids.  we will be exploring the affect of the grandfather on himself, the grandmother on the grandfather, the father on the grandfather, the mother on the grandfather, the eldest child on the grandfather, the middle child on the grandfather, and the youngest child on the grandfather.  that is 1 week. then we do the same with each on the grandmother, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

we all of us understand that each is affected by every other in a family, right?  and maybe that the dynamic of the interactions between them is more than the mere sum of the parts?  each of us is more than just the sum of our encounters with each other and the world…..but in each encounter all are touched, and from each touch we affect our next touch of another…up and down, back and forth, cycling each in each to each from each.

hugs all round, i say, and somewhere in that embrace of life we will each find that heart of wisdom that we were born to nourish.

sefirat haOmer T-6, but not yet counting

today we start to countdown to the time we begin to count up…again…as Leviticus 23:15 requires we should:

“You shall count for yourselves…from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving…7 weeks, they shall be complete.”

we count up 49 days and the 7 weeks from the night of the second day of Pesach (feast of passover) right up to the night before the festival of Shavuot (feast of weeks…get it?!)…itself the 50th day.  jubilation!

the simple mitzvah is literally to say a blessing and count each night for the full 7 weeks. you will find the text of the blessing and the formula for the counting the Omer in just about any siddur….take a look. now, we have been minding these 49 days every year since the exodus from egypt, for we know from Torah that it took 49 days for the People to reach Sinai and to encounter the beginning of the Torah journey that has been our walk ever since.

but numbering alone hasn’t been enough for spiritual jews for centuries.  the Israelites began the work of walking out of spiritual bondage into freedom, and since then we have seen the time between Pesach and Shavuot as a long march of self-reflection and self-redirection–‘count for yourselves’–much like the instruction to Avraham Avinu to ‘lech l’cha’ or ‘go toward yourself”.  it is a time for reaching into our emotions, our opinions, our acts and efforts…for reaching into our very souls.  we try to build up our character traits; build up our prayer ability;  build up our ability to love one another; build up our ability to be closer to G’d.  we build our abilities to ascend Sinai one day at a time; week by week.

and the kabbalists among us recognized that the  7 weeks corresponded to the 7 ’emotional’ sefirot from chesed through malchut.  each week is associated with 1 major sefirah:  and since each sefira contains the aspects of all the others, each day focuses on the affect of another of the 7 sefirot on that week’s major sefirah.  for those of you with the tree of life in hand, take a look.  we will speak more of the plan in the day’s leading up to Pesach.

what we will try to do this season here at walkinTorah is offer thoughts, meditations, emotional and spiritual exercises…and encouragement!… to help all of us reach into ourselves daily in order to open out to the world of G’d’s creation more fully as each day and each week passes.

for those who are members of congregation beth shalom–and you know who you are–we will try to meet each sunday morning EXCEPT on 8 April 2012, which is the the second day of Pesach (and the first day of the Omer count), to share the week past and prep for the week to come.  for those who join us but can’t do the face-to-face meetings, we’ll try to make sure that enough information is published daily on walkinTorah to help you keep up the pace.

let us go then, you and i, when the evening is spread out against the sky…..and learn to measure out our lives in more than coffee spoons!