haYom sh’nayim v’esrim yom, sh’heim sh’losha shavuot v’yom echad, laOmer: chesed she b’netzach

“has the kindness of netzach disappeared forever?”

this is how r’ Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla, 13th century kabbalist and student of Abulafia, translates Psalm 77:9, doubling down on the significance of the “l’netzach” as both the sefirah of the name and the sense of eternity or forever.

the king james version in contrast, translates it (remember it is verse 8 in christain bibles) more colloquially as “is His mercy clean gone for ever?”—imagine!  “clean gone” used to be the king’s english!!!

but back to Gikatilla, who was reading very carefully, for the next verse goes on “is His promise come to an end for evermore?”  ‘forevermore’ is “l’dor vador”, which we usually translate as ‘from generation to generation’, even though that is not a close reading. but, thinks Gikatilla, if “l’dor vador” means eternity, than what is meant by the use of “l’netzach” in the first part of the verse?

being a good kabbalist, he immediately associates the presence of the word “chesed” (‘loving-kindness’) with netzach with more than just an expression of eternity. netzach is also victory, and we know that G’d’s victory does not change…

“the Netzach of Israel [G’d] shall not deceive and not regret (read shall not change His mind), for He is not a man who regrets” (1 Samuel 15:29)

chesed is directly connected to netzach on the right side of the sefirotic tree. the effects of chesed need not even pass through tiferet (the 3rd sefirah of the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad), so they are very direct and exert great influence on the work of netzach. the persistence of netzach, the power of it,  is not to be regretted anymore than that of  loving-kindness. only the dark side would even consider taking the eternity away.

so, how do we work with this chesed-netzach nexus in the first sefirah of the triad that starts the 4th week of the Omer count? well, in kabbalistic thinking, the only real impediment to the extension of G’d’s loving-kindness in the world is the imposition of death since the transgression of the Foreparents, Adam and Eve.  netzach is associated with the bringing of Moshiach…specifically with the practical steps needed to help bring that ultimate tikkun about. netzach is all about the sort of victory that is t’shuvah, ‘repentance’. t’shuvah argues against the harsh decree…which ultimately means death (look again at the unetane tokef).

the Lurianic teaching is that in kedushah, in marriage, which is the lower union of tiferet (last week’ sefira hashavua) and  malchut (the still to come final week’s sefirah), the union of the spouses takes each to a higher sefirah: the groom to netzach and the bride to hod, both intermediated by yesod, the sefira of the genitalia. yes, sex is more than it might sometimes seem, chevrei. the groom enters into a state of consciousness of timeliness within time. a little bit of immortality, a fending off of death, in the possibility of engendering new life and the ‘out of the world’ sensations that go with it. (we’ll talk more about the lovely bride next week, don’t worry, ladies).

is it any surprise then, that chassidut (‘chassidic philosophy/kabbalah’) associates netzach with bitachon, ie, ‘confidence’?  and the forcefulness in G’dly action that comes of bitachon. so chesed in netzach is loving-kindness dispensed through and with confidence. and it is the chance for us to look at the obstacles that seem to keep us from loving well as a glass half full! why? well, we are imitating the spirit ways of G’d, whose victory/netzach is eternal/netzach and never a matter of regret or doubt. it is for us to make the Netzach Yisrael (‘G’d’) manifest in the world. G’d opens G’d’s hand and satisfies the needs of every living thing. for us, then, the hand that we open to offer with chesed is held wide open and extended as far as our powerful right arm can reach in netzach….there ain’t no pullin back.

mussar for chesed she b’netzach

with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   doing kindness for someone can change the world for the better in ways that none of us can fully imagine. know that. KNOW that. it is not accident that l’netzach netzachim (‘forever and ever’) is related to l’dor vador (‘forever, as handed down from generation to generation’), so know that the action you take today in loving-kindness has eternal impact on the world. now, what kind thing are you going to do for someone today? (and therefore forever?)

with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   it’s a little trendy for me, but might work well for others, so here goes: formulate a mission statement for your life….or at least for the next decade or so…..do some personal long-term strategic planning (not tactical!) for your walk with G’d.

kabbalah for chesed she b’netzach

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   consider how you can make your good work in the world persistent. remember a time in which you lost yourself in the doing of hard work….for any sort of good end. look to that sort of losing yourself as the model to repeat in your efforts in loving-kindness.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation    a person needs a good dose on energizer bunny netzach when faced with chronic problems. family problems, friendship problems, spiritual problems with G’d, ch’v. all need chesed to be extended and not a one-off sort of thing. and the big issue with chronic problems is not the problem itself, but rather our accumulating negative feelings about something that just won’t go away very easily….seem like they never will. netzach is also the power of invention in these times…the energy that emboldens giving a shot at a new way of addressing chronic problems….and the energy to keep doing the necessary repetitive approaches as well.  meditate on how G’d manages to put up with us and our failings day after day, week after week, month after month….l’dor vador!

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    let’s extend the idea begun in yetzirah….every obstacle we face in actualizing our personal mission statement, our moral strategic plan, is chronic until we overcome it. we organize and break things down into manageable parts in our work, right? contemplate one of the areas of improvement you have identified….sigh, if you like….but break it down into steps…and consider it some loving-kindness for your own psyche!

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   athletes talk about “breaking through”, or what we used to call “getting a second wind”. we all of us get a second wind daily if we open up to that fresh neshamah (breathed/breathing soul’) that is breathed into us daily. meditate on part of the daily morning prayer “Nishmat Kol Chai”: “ruach kol basar t’fa’er….tamid” (the spirit (ruach) of all flesh shall honor You…..always). can anything but persistent actions ‘honor’ the Eternal?

kinyan 22 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Emunat Chachamim….Belief in the Wise.   actually it is faith in the teachings of the wise, and belief in the goodness of their efforts in the world. we may doubt whether some teachings are less helpful for us, but we should never turn aside the teaching of our great rabbis and thinkers completely, even when we have good reason to disagree, for we must know, have emunah (‘belief’ in the form of trust) that they intend good in all their teachings. and that they have more claim to wisdom than most of us! Torah is learning as well as teaching:

“faith is the essence of Torah”

now, go study and engage deeply with Torah with that in mind…learn from the wise wherever they are found.