days of repentance: 19 Elul

“now, if you will obey My Voice indeed, and keep My Covenant, then….”

this is the king james version of the conditional preamble of  Exodus 19:5. does it puzzle you like it does me? first because of that “indeed”….obey me indeed. how does one obey more than just to obey? and is that the standard against which we measure whether we have failed in the doing of a mitzvah (“commandment”)? if so, doesn’t it seem that we are all pretty much doomed to fail? to obey indeed…to obey extremely well….to go the extra mile in obeying…..tough standard…indeed.

but this translation, like virtually all of the english translations is simply wrong. but not so much in the use of the intensifier “indeed” as in the use of the word “obey”, for in biblical hebrew there simply is no word for “obey”. surprised?

it isn’t that we are not to do the commandments. there is a word for “to do” in Torah. and we have a word for “to guard/keep/watch over”…in fact, it is the word that you see before “My Covenant” in the quote we began with. but “obey”? nope. the word used at Exodus 19:5 for what is translated as “obey” is the root shin mem ayin, the familiar shema, usually translated as simply to hear/to listen. at 19:5 it is intensified as shamoa tishm’u…perhaps “really hearken to My Voice”.  and it is used hundreds of times in Torah, most often in connection with mitzvot and how we are to react to them.

the 19th day of Elul is for t’shuvah for the month of cheshvan, which has the distinction of being the only month in the jewish calendar that has no particular holidays or mitzvot associated with it.  many modern jews see it as a sort of break after the heavily “burdened”, if you will, month of Tishrei, which has not only the Days of Awe, but also the long Festival of Sukkot, and all the particular mitzvot associated with all those special days and that special season. there is, of course, Rosh Chodesh in Cheshvan and Shabbatot, but none with special character associated with that month.

but Cheshvan does have something special in it (aside from my birthday, which is neither here nor there), for being the 8th month of the year (why the new year begins in the 7th is for another time), it is associated with the beyond natural…..and we learn in the kabbalistic text Sefer Yetzirah that Cheshvan is reserved for the Messiah and the mitzvot that will come to be understood in that Time. but the thing to remember is that the month is associated with redemption….

and that brings us back to why there is no word for obey for redemption is not a matter of obedience, but of hearing, truly listening to the Voice of G’d in the mitzvot, in the world, in ALL.

“we will do and we will hear”

this is the third and definitive reply of the People (Exodus 24:7) to the call to hearken and to keep that we began with. through the doing we will get at the hearing, the listening to the Voice of G’d, which is full understanding. and it matters, for transgressions are less “wrongdoings” in the end than “wronghearings”, akin to “misunderstandings”.  we learn that “we will do what we understand” (Mekilta d’rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 24:7). and it is this distinction that allows for chesed (loving-kindness) to overtake gevurah (strict justice) allowing for t’shuvah to be the central point in judaism…not obedience.  sin is disconnection that comes from “wronghearing”. t’shuvah is getting the listening/understanding aright. the life of t’shuvah is one that gets and stays attuned to the Voice of G’d. and the mitzvot are the notes and and the holidays the rhythms by which we

“sing unto haShem a new song”

perennially new, miyom l’yom (“from day to day”), everyday, as King David, model and sire of the line of Messiah, sings in Psalm 96. maybe in Cheshvan we have the time to listen to all the doings of Tishrei as they echo in our souls…the lingering sostenuto.

a practice to follow might be to linger on what you are doing right…what brings you close to G’d already…the “righhearing” you already have. abide in it today.

ketiva v’chatima tovah

days of repentance: 18 Elul

“the month of Elul, a time of t’shuvah, a time of healthy tears”

This is the Ari’s comment on the nature of the month of Elul. healthy tears are life restoring, and that is something to remember on this chai day, for traditionally it is on this day that we begin to examine our failings more analytically, dipping into memory to recall our wrongs in time, month by month.

today begins the last 12 days of Elul, conveniently corresponding to the months of the year. and as you would then guess, today we reflect on our shortcomings and errors of Tishrei of the year now passing. indeed, we look again to the wrongs in our way from last Rosh haShanah on! so if you remember wondering the rabbi’s sermon would end more than you remember the message…..well, this is a good day to rectify that and reintegrate your ability to learn from every jew every day into your spiritual walk……

but wait…didn’t we finish with last RH on last YK? well, think about it. what is judged on Rosh haShanah? the walk we have walked in the year previous to that Rosh haShanah. and what judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur? the judgment from Rosh haShanah that just passed that year, so the judgment for your way between RH last and forward is yet to come….and this is another reason to remember that t’shuvah is not a one and done affair, but a continuous way.  hei vav hei…not hei and then just vav.

“bring us back to You, haShem, and we shall return to You”

ends a conversational debate between the Creator and the People recorded in midrash (Lamentations 5:21). G’d tells us to return, we say that it requires the power only G’d G’dself has! and guess what? we are right. let’s turn again to the letters of haShem: hei is the letter representing t’shuvah, the letter with a narrow escape route into the future, and the vav is the extent of G’d’s expression from “above” Creation all the way through it to the Creational level in which we walk–it is the representation of the straight line between the Holy One and us.  we’ve said already that hei brackets the vav…there is t’shuvah on either side of the axis between heaven and earth. to understand the midrash, we can just turn to the hei vav hei. the first hei is our own earthly impetus to return as we recognize G’d, and the second hei, the one after the reach down from heaven, as it were, is the G’d-empowered return.

“haShem is my light and my redemption…whom shall i fear?

haShem is the strength of my life…whom shall i dread?

yes, Psalm 27 yet again, chevrei. but it gives us another important way to look at the hei vav hei way of looking at t’shuvah. haShem as light source is 1 hei; haShem as strength source is the other. Chazal teach G’d is revealed before every transgression as a light to us (are we looking?), and after a transgression haShem is revealed to us as our source of strength for return. it is the “strength of my life” that we count on in the next 12 days to finish the work of rectifying a year’s worth of trudging cheit and aveirah. but i know also that this is the time of embracing and being embraced by beloved G’d

“may His left hand [gevurah] be under my head

and Her right hand [chesed] embrace me”

now do you see why R’ Akiva insisted on including Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) in the “canon”?

ketiva v’chatima tovah

 

haYom arba’a v’arba’im yom, sh’heim shisha shavuot u’sh’nei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’malchut

“I have set my rainbow in the cloud”

we read about the covenant after the great flood in Genesis 9:13ff and may only rarely appreciate what an extraordinary idea this is. it is an explicit sign of covenant established between G’d and humankind, between G’d and all the living, between G’d and the earth. that much we all get. and it is a sign of the explicit agreement that never again will there be a “cutting off” of all flesh by the waters, and that never again will there be an earth-destroying flood. right. there’s the basics.

the idea of covenant of such a sort is astounding, but it is more extraordinary still in its implications. look carefully at the text (Genesis 9:12ff) and you will see why, i think. who looks at the rainbow and why?

“…I will remember my covenant….I will look upon it to remember my everlasting covenant….”

G’d is looking at rainbows….not us. it is a sign for G’d. for G’d to remember what is everlasting….to remember a particular judgment taken and punishment made, and to not follow that same course of judgment and punishment again.

G’d needs a reminder of what G’d has made everlasting?

well, yes, apparently. the rainbow is the great symbol of gevurah in malchut….self-restraint of sovereignty. and more….it is constraint of unlimitedness in a climate of  repentance. and it is something repeated in each incidence of possible flooding rain forever. there is no taking for granted here….

do we have any images of rainbows from space? nope. but pilots high in the atmosphere report seeing the full circle of some rainbows…apparently all of them tend that way, but from our viewpoint, the circle is broken by features of the horizon. so we don’t see raincircles, but rather rainbows.

this is a strictly terrestrial sign, then.  for G’d to see it, G’d would have to be standing where we are. and that is the point.

malchut is the Divine Presence amongst us as Shechinah. for us, then, the rainbow is a sign of the Indwelling Presence as much as it is of the covenant against world-destroying floods. malchut is described by kabbalists as the prism through which G’d’s unending light streaming through the upper sefirot is concentrated and then separated to shine into the lower worlds. malchut is a rainbow maker.

and one lesson of the prism is that we all need reminders about proper justice and severity. reminders to limit our desire/urge/tendency to limit strictly. to imitate G’d is to look to signs of restraint of constraint.

gevurah in malchut is in part the rainbow symbol of  repentance on a cosmic scale….and the light that refracts is the light through chesed with which G’d created all.

mussar for gevurah she b’malchut

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    this one is easy….and, oh, so hard: do what you say you will do!  you are master of a realm, and to be a good sovereign, you must do what you say you will….else you become arbitrary like a tyrant….and that is not the model of sovereignty.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    examine your motivations for your reactions to things in the world. if you are angry…why?  if you are sad….why?  “the unexamined life is not worth living”, said Thoreau….a bit extreme. it isn’t a matter of “worth”. rather the meaning might better be, “the unexamined life is not living”. examine your motivations…..

kabbalah for gevurah she b’malchut

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    you have unwritten covenants with all the people around you. unspoken, assumed agreements about intimacy, deportment, sharing, etc. consider, then, what would be the signs of these covenants that you would rely on, but like a rainbow, could also be seen by those affected? and how would you share those signs with the covenanted?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    many have suggested that G’d might have regretted having destroyed the world by flood. we’ve argued here that the rainbow is a symbol of repentance, the very heart of malchut. we know that confession is essential…that sort of facing up to wrong is necessary. and we know that resolve not to wrong again is essential. but can one repent without experiencing regret?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    it may be important to see clearly that G’d does not promise to never again destroy the earth and all the living, but rather promises only to not do so via flood. we could suppose that the myriad other options are still on the table….when one of us humans says “i’ll never do that again!”, do we mean  a broad “i’ll never do anything that has that effect again” or i’ll never achieve the same result doing a particular thing again….but i might achieve it doing something else? consider this for yourself. when you repent of something, how specific or broad are you?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    a rainbow is a diaphanous and passing phenomenon on a massive scale. meditate on how the signs of G’d’s Presence that you perceive are like a rainbow.

kinyan 44 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Lomed al M’nat l’Lamed…..Learning in Order to Teach.  people talk of going to college theses days to learn a profession. specifically to get a good, well-paying, not-likely-to-be-outsourced sort of job/career for life.  it has been a long-time since i’ve heard anyone suggest that they want to go to learn in order to teach what they learn. can’t really be a rabbi if you don’t teach….most of jewish practice individually and communally is do-it-yourself (or is intended to be). fortunately, we haven’t yet concluded that rabbis are amongst those who can’t do….so they teach! but so important is the intent to share your learning that Rabbi Yishmael, amongst the greatest of our teachers of Torah, says in Avot 4:5:

“who studies in order to teach is afforded adequate means (by G’d) both to study and to teach”

haYom shiv’a u’sh’loshim yom, sh’heim chamisha shavuot u’shnei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’yesod

“tell your brother Aharon that he shan’t enter the Holy of Holies at just any time”

we learn this (Leviticus 16:2) shortly after we learn of the death of Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu for bringing a strange fire into the Mishkan (‘temple in the desert’) on their own accord, without being commanded.  many of us might have been hard pressed not to snap back, “ya think?”

but few of us are as mighty as was Aharon, master of joy and peace in the most difficult of circumstances. as it turns out, Aharon would ultimately enter into the most Holy area behind the curtain once a year….on Yom Kippur. this is a pretty strict rule, but one from which we can learn a lesson of gevurah (restriction) in yesod (foundation, connection, bonding), for Aharon was a very special communicator with the People, he was the leader of the bringing of the Cohanic Blessing to the People (Numbers 6:24ff):

“may G’d bless you and keep you!

may G’d shine his face upon you and favor you!

may G’d lift up G’d’s face toward you and grant you shalom!”

and this is how G’d chose to put G’d’s name on the People and to bless them. that is a rather significant communication indeed. yet if offered just willy nilly, it would not be right. and we have a tendency to do that these days….this blessing is offered by just about anybody and just about anytime these days. a lack of gevurah in yesod.

think about the importance of taking the helm in building a relationship and then maintaining it. yesod comes to teach about establishing the way you will walk in them. too much gevurah and the contact points between people, no matter how deeply in love they may once have been, will atrophy like a muscle unused. but too little, constant communication of the wrong sort, or ill-timed insistence on, say, talking about the relationship, and all you end up with is meta-ralationship…..all talk smothering the individual walk. or perhaps the third errant way: all texting….constant not-quite-contact of all communication, virtually.

it holds between humankind and G’d as well….else the shechechiyanu (‘blessing for the particular special moment’) would have no more moment to bless. and none can look upon the face of G’d and live.

the good that comes of restricting communications, governing contact is that each person in a relationship gets to simply be in the relationship….with no more than the small gesture or look….or just a glimpse. perhaps exactly what gets one going in the first place….

mussar for gevurah she b’yesod

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   rabbeinu Gershom, the same rabbi that put the 1000-year ban on polygamy into effect in the year 1000 ce, also ruled that it was against the way of Torah to read another person’s mail. privacy continues to be a valid concern in Torah, regardless of the current-day cassandras of the death of privacy. take care to keep your nose out of other folks’ business.

with oneself….bein adam l’atzmo    we all know peer pressure in how we act in the world, especially in regard to our community.  but it is incumbent on each of us to make our own understandings and not simply follow blindly. when we see something that is against the walk with G’d, we should not make it foundational for ourselves. truth is the watchword of G’d…..and it works for people too.

kabbalah for gevurah she b’yesod

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    in the morning prayer we bless G’d “who makes my steps firm”, ie, makes my walk with G’d confident.  but how often do we stop an assess what contacts and communications we might undertake to strengthen the foundations of the community we walk in?  consider this…then act.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    kony 2012 is now famous…indeed, the words are spray painted on many surfaces of buildings downtown.  now what? well, for the building owners, it means time and expense to clean up. the campaign is a good example of non-foundational effort….all text and you tube without reeal effects in the world. more than anything, it represents a missed opportunity to do some real good. consider how you can capture the fire of a compaign to do good in the world and then direct it into actually doing the good, for it is the DOING THE GOOD that is tikkun olam (‘repairing the world’), not just the desire to do it.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    privacy is important, but it can sometimes lead to concealment of possibility. we are not always being active judges of our own potential. spend some time evaluating the hints of possibility in yourself…what can you bring to getting justice done? to spread loving-kindness? do you have what to offer in a new way?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    the loftier the building/effort/understanding/holy-making (add your own word), the deeper, broader, more strategically anchored must be the foundation. meditate on whether your spiritual foundations are worthy of supporting your loftiest aspirations.

kinyan 37 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Nosei b’Ol Chaveiro….Bearing/Sharing the Burden of Another.  loving your neighbor as yourself is a mitzvah that has a complex of associated/related mitzvot, each of which defines a part of the way in the doing of the central mitzvah. honoring your parents, accompanying a bride to huppah, burying the dead, visiting the sick, and comforting the mourner, among others, are all mitzvot supportive of “loving your neighbor”.  and all of the kinyanei Torah are spirit traits that support the great mitzvah as well…for they all support  walking humbly with Your G’d.

haYom sh’loshim yom, sh’heim arba’a shavuot ush’nei yomim, laOmer: gevurah she b’hod

“while i live my songs will be for You, while i am i’ll speak my gratefulness”

not so far from Psalm 104 to a love song, yes?  ok, so maybe ‘gratefulness’ is a bit less sung in love songs, perhaps because they are largely focused on the next tryst….but that itself points to gevurah in hod….a love song born of more maturity suits this 30th day of the sefirat haOmer. 30 days from the onset of shiva is the normal end of strictest mourning, sh’loshim.  30 days reflects the mourning period recorded in Torah for Aharon and then later for Moshe. during the 23-day period after shiva and before sh’loshim,  traditionalists return to many aspects of life, but still reserve a few particular things: they avoid festive outings that involve music (usually including films, if they attend films normally), and they continue to avoid perfume and scents until the 30th day.

music and scent are the 2 things that most viscerally bring a loved one back and renew pain in loss. it is a very precisely targeted reserving, and that is what gevurah brings to a more general humility. the care of attitude in hod is targeted with the judgment and discernment of  gevurah.  but it also works the other way, in the attitude of hod, you can tend to miss larger issues for the sake of focusing on the splendor of the very, very small….literally miss the forest due to gratitude for the splendid bark of the trees. gevurah/judgement informs the reserve/focus of ‘unbridled’ hod/splendor.

but we are at 30 days, and only 3 days from lag b’Omer, the day on which all mourning customs associated with the sefirat haOmer are tossed aside….for bonfires, archery, kosher marshmallows/s’mores, haircuts (i know i need one), etc. so let’s consider a love song in proximity to Psalm 104:

“you are here, so am i….maybe millions of people go by…but they all disappear from view…

and i only have eyes for you….”

and, of course, that would be the purpose of tzitzit…to make sure that we don’t go about straying after the distractions of the eyes. but when it comes to Israel and G’d, is this pop lyric so far from a psalm that teaches out of gevurah in hod, discernment in reserving ourselves for the walk with G’d? Psalm 104 again….

“refreshing the face of the earth, Your Glory endures forever

Your work is an endless rejoicing”

ok. i find i have a showing of gevurah in hod today in my bride over which i can’t help but rejoice. she is prepping for an upcoming metal clay class she is teaching. and on the bedroom floor are spread out notecards with simple instructions, and an apportionment of just the right amount of supplies/materials for the doing in the class. she has been doing this since early this morning, stopping now and then for coffee and chat, or to watch the storm roll in. i see it and am overwhelmed with gratitude  for the love of a woman who brings such care and discernment to every thing she touches. gevurah in hod is this quiet work in the world, paying close attention to the particulars, considering the needs of others and preparing with wisdom gained from experience, seeing both the forest and the trees. baruch haShem yom yom for this love.

“my soul is for Your blessing”

Psalm 104 starts and ends in this refrain…..it absolutely rocks hod.

mussar for gevurah she b’hod

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    appreciate the beauty in your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your rabbi, your cantor. we all have a sheet of charges to level against others now and then.  just rip it up today. why? just for the sake of the splendor that you KNOW is in each of them somewhere, even if not in the place you would prefer it to be. be grateful that you have the beauty and suitability of the people you have.

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    this is a tough exercise, i fear….just don’t complain today. not even to yourself. not even once….not even in the background. to everyone  you speak to today be nothing but thankful…show off that attitude of gratitude.

kabbalah for gevurah she b’hod

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    when i go to the analgesics aisle at the drug store, i get a headache…maybe they plan it that way, eh? but i feel weariness and pain at the multitude of ridiculous choices we have for aspirin, acetominophen and nsaids….but everyday we are presented with oodles of temptations in choices. few are really good for us. many simply don’t matter much. and many others are downright bad for us. meditate on your choices of the past week, are there any of which your are particularly proud? any where your discernment played in to affect your ultimate choice?

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    my bride is very particular about the purses she buys….and she loves purses (can i get a witness?). it is less about how they look, i think (though i’m sure they all look swell as well) than how they function. the right compartments, pockets, attachables for the organizing of the mary poppins collection of stuff that must be carried about. if purses were alive, would they evolve? contemplate how powerfully operational suitability fits into the entirety of Creation. be thankful for the adaptations that allow you to function rather effortlessly in the world. and why is it that organizing a closet leaves you feeling so good?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    apparently we humans were created with an obvious skill to categorize and distinguish between things. we may have been put in the Garden of Eden to tend the veggies, but the first thing we are recorded doing is naming the animals. consider your skill in judgment, in calling a thing by its right name…how much of your ability is inbred? how much do you bring from experience? be thankful for both.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    remember a time when you felt particularly close to G’d. did you think your way there? were you in a particular circumstance? did you meditate to that point? or did it just happen? can you put your finger on it? the effort partakes in gevurah in hod.

kinyan 30 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Ohev et haBriyot….Loving all Creatures.  we know that all the animals on the planet are important from the story of Noach. we may hypothesize that plants have a unique relationship with G’d, for they were left to their own devices, perhaps setting seed that could withstand the period of deluge was their ticket. but we learn this trait from the great r’ Hillel, who teaches we should all be like Aharon, loving peace, loving your fellow creatures, and attracting them to the study of Torah. we sort of have to assume that Hillel was thinking of humans…for attracting slugs to Torah is a fool’s errand.

unless we take the Ramban to heart. he teaches that the Torah is but one extended name of G’d and that all of Creation, therefore, has a relationship with it….even if we do not recognise it. therein is the acquisition of Torah as well.

stewardship is all inclusive, consider Psalm 8:

“you have given them care for the works of Your Hands…

placed the solid growing earth under their feet”

so when you walk humbly (in hod) with G’d, think fondly of the Demodex you host.

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. “