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 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 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 sh’losha asar yom, sh’heim shavua echad v’shisha yomim, laOmer: yesod she b’gevurah

“monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never disappear”

how strongly settled a foundation does our restraint need?  that is what abraham joshua heschel is pointing at. what we might want to keep in mind is that pharaoh built monuments of stone…..

the stone that pharaoh built ‘wonder of the world’ high, or at least what remains after looting and repurposing over the ages, remains piled.  but to what is it monument?  the afterlife cult of the ancient egyptians is long gone, replaced, even in the heartland, by Islam….even the language of the pharaohs is but a historical note (very ‘picturesque’ though) in the log of bygone civilizations.  the great pyramids are monuments to the piling up of stone, of engineering that still astounds us….which sort of makes them monuments to the underlings and  slaves who built them….which sort of makes them monuments of, well, the Israelites.

didn’t see that coming, did you pharaoh?  heschel’s larger point for yesod in gevurah is that we should be mindful to make our day today of spirit and not of heaped up stone. even when the stonyheap still stands, its significance does not. pharaoh, and the way of the pharaoh, is no more living today than the frogs, locust, lice and wild beasts of the plagues. but the frogs, locusts, lice and wild beasts are still spoken of in families over dinner…monument to a Torah that remains the living presence of G’d and a People  that ol’ pharaoh tried to dismiss….or retain, i guess, but to no lasting effect. petrifaction of the spirit is death to the spirit.

heschel also points up how monuments in time, even just a day at a time, last. they accumulate, the like the days of the sefirah, adding up over time.  a growing presence in the very medium that persistence is measured in.

the entirety of the just and righteous way is in the Torah, yet it is recorded on flexible, perishable parchment. the letters chip and fade…..but then need regular repair maintaining the connection to the spirit in real time. when the parchment finally gives out, a new one is made. refinishing the pyramids is unthinkable. rewriting the Torah is a mitzvah for each of us to aspire to do or take part in. and it is actually done by a single hand, in daily repurification, with the care and attention that a living mind and heart brings.

think of it this way: Torah scrolls don’t draw pigeons…..stone monuments…well, you get the picture.

yesod is the firmness of a settling of foundation; a suitable basis for spiritual action.  but it should not be ramrod rigid. rather, as the proverbial reed, it should demonstrate its integrity by bending in the winds of time and change.  the justice of gevurah should be established in the same manner, exhibiting high tensile strength.  gevurah needs stretching, and bending, and drawing out to prove its mettle for application in human society, and through human spirit.

let’s each make a Torah for ourselves, establishing it upon a base of experience, knowledge, and practice…limber, supple, adaptable…..built solidly of these renewable resources. THAT monument is sustainable to the end of time; nothing can tear it asunder.

mussar for yesod she b’gevurah

yesod-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   a pillar of judaism is family life and the values cultivated within. these days synchronous family activities seem a bit lost: one child has soccer practice, another cheerleading. it’s mama’s night out….dad’s with the brotherhood. try sitting down all together for a meal. count sefirat haYom together today. re-erect that pillar of spirit in time.

yesod-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   examine your mindset for correcting things that people do today. do you do it with love, or with anger? if with even a little irritation, ask yourself why something is so set in you, so set in your ways, that it matters in a way that leads to anger. is that any way to build relationships?

kabbalah for yesod she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   we sing about the 3 things on which the world stands. when we sing about it, we are re-establishing the yesod (foundation) of these 3 for the jewish way of life: “al haTorah, al haAvodah, v’al gemilut chasadim”…Torah, Spirit Work (ie, prayer , service, devotion), and Acts of Loving-Kindness. these are foundings and not merely foundations. the work of building on them is ongoing. consider how you support these foundings on which the world stands.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   in what are you spiritually grounded? in learning? in practice? or merely in nostalgia?  in ethnic cuisine? or maybe your judaism is grounded in fear? (ch’v)  contemplate whether your grounding is righteous….is secure enough to build on. if not, what will you do to change it?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    each generation’s understanding of G’d, of practice, of prayer is built on the teachings of generations that came before and conditioned on contemporaneous experience. examine your own understandings. from which generation do your dominant foundational understandings spring?  we always say that times change and judaism changes apace. meditate on where your understandings came from and where they have gone. is it enough?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   again with the Heschel….”prayer is our attachment to the utmost.”  prayerfully contemplate your connections….is the utmost amongst them now?  and if not now, when?

kinyan 13 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Mishnah….Repetition in Learning and Teaching.  a good teacher, a true chacham/rabbi, will have rehearsed much of Talmud and Zohar in addition to Chumash. today, though, we seem to have rabbis who do not even seem to have completed a single reading (let alone careful study!) of any of the Holy Texts. why is this ok? espedially since the rule of rehearsal holds for the rest of us as well–the ideal of mishnah for all is in the Shema:

“…teach them repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit at home and when you travel on the way, when you lie down and when you rise….” (Deuteronomy 6…)

haYom asara yomim, sh’heim shavua echad ushlosha yomim, laOmer: tiferet she b’gevurah

“you should judge your neighbor righteously”

the “b’tzedek” here, in this quote from Leviticus 19:15, is translated righteously and not as justly to reflect our interinclusion for this day of the Omer, tiferet in gevurah, or balance, harmony, compassion in judgement, restraint, limitation.  tzedek can, of course, be both words, but the aspect of righteousness (NOT self-righteousness, mind you) is more balanced than ‘just’ may sometimes be seen as being.  we all know too well that what may be legally correct is not always a deep justice, ie, righteousness, but merely a thinner layer of justice…and we mean righteousness herein.

the question is whether our interinclusion of tiferet in gevurah calls on us to go further….perhaps requiring us to go as far as Yehoshua ben Perachia in saying, “judge everyone favorably” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Rav Aryeh Levin once quipped (but with Torah intent) that G’d made everything for a purpose, even “krum svara”, ‘twisted logic’, served the purpose of helping us to always be able to judge another favorably, even in the most difficult circumstances!  and the Chafetz Chaim, perhaps the greatest master of the laws of avoiding evil speech,  goes even further, pointing out that lashon hara should be stopped at the level of unspoken thought.  to never pass a negative judgement in your mind is the ideal way to do the mitzvah of judging righteously.  even if the issue is 50-50, you must come down on the side of the good in your judgement….and even if it is MORE likely to be judged negative by a normal person, it would be better to leave the doubt in the matter unresolved in your mind.

and the Besht comes down even more strongly by pointing out that we are best at recognizing our own faults in others, hence, before we decide to judge another negatively, we should examine our own fault in the trait…..only after we have rectified it in ourselves are we ‘permitted’ to judge another. BUT even then the same compassion that we applied to ourselves we must apply to our neighbor, hence instead of judging, we focus on how we can most compassionately help the person improve as we ourselves did.

the negative judgement is left undone.

this is the effect of tiferet in gevurah.  the Sages teach us the way of savlanut (‘patience’):

“As G’d is called compassionate and gracious, so should you be compassionate and gracious; as G’d is called righteous, so should you be righteous; as G’d is called holy, so should you be holy. ”

(Sifre 85a)

when your greater goal is compassion, even your severity of judgement must be more situational than you might think to be ‘justice’.

mussar for tiferet she b’gevurah

tiferet-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   in spite of giving the benefit of the doubt, we are also mitzvah bound to gently reprove another when they have clearly done wrong.  getting the right balance of restraint and release is the challenge.  be compassionate in reproving another who has wronged you….remember that there must be love even in discipline.

tiferet-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   we are subject to conflicting emotions within ourselves. how do we judge them? and judge between them?  take the core compassionate step and try to more deeply understand why your internal conflicts persist. find the validity in what you might have thought to be wrong….judge the persistence of the conflict within yourself favorably!

kabbalah for tiferet she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   we use harmony in discernment when we love through our self-restraint. …when we avoid the negative judgement if at all possible.  in Ashrei we learn that G’d “opens up G’d’s hand and satisfies every living thing,” even the evildoer.  consider how to approach your day with an open hand and not a clenched fist.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   gevurah is also strength and power.  there are times when we have to correct misjudgement of another.  when we have to take responsibility for a wrong we did that others may not have known….these too are opportunities to get at tiferet by using gevurah.  consider whether there are ‘things unsaid’ or ‘wrongful thoughts to right’ that require strength of will on your part. visualize how you will approach them with compassion, then set out to do them.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation  teshuvah (‘repentance and return to G’d’) requires supreme strength. asking forgiveness when one has allowed  i’m sorry to go unsaid for a long period demands great focus and diligent strength. yet we know that without it we cannot, simply cannot get ‘right’ with G’d. there is no crutch to fall back on.  tikkun olam (‘repair of the world’) requires more than anything else that we discern (an act of judgement) the balance that was lost in the brokenness of the world.  where is the discord and disharmony in your life?  can you, through greater tolerance–to yourself, to your neighbor, to your children, to your spouse–effect a repair? can you through restraint of judgement grow compassion in your heart, thereby learning not to harden your heart in ways you may be accustomed to?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition    you may pray today the amidah. you will begin: “open my lips, G’d, that my mouth may declare Your Praise.”  do we ever ask thereafter to have them shut? to cut off praise? consider this.

kinyan 10 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Dibuk Chaverim….Closeness with Friends.  we did not mention it yesterday, but the day of gevurah in gevurah is also the day on which King David surrendered 7 sons of Shaul to the Gibeonites, who killed them and hung their carcasses up in public to ‘make amends’ for Shaul’s killing of Gibeonite civilians during the battles against David.  this is hard to understand…it is like Aharon’s making of the Golden Calf….and act we can scarcely imagine doing ourselves. of course, we were not in the situation and cannot walk in their shoes in their time, so can we judge?  however, David did do a positive good in the offspring of Shaul that he reserved from slaughter–Mephiboshet, son of Jonathan, grandson of Shaul, was not given over. why? out of respect for the bond between him and Jonathan….the closeness of friends even after death.:

“and it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….”  (1 Samuel 18:1)

in the love of friends, we may learn more about how to do the Torah of loving your neighbor as yourself.

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.