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

“loving-kindness and truth are met together”

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

“….v’rav chesed v’emet….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

mussar for chesed she b’tiferet

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

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

kabbalah for chesed she b’tiferet

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

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

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

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

kinyan 15 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

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

haYom shneim asar yom, sh’heim shavua echad vachamisha yomim, laOmer: hod she b’gevurah

“my G’d, the soul You have placed within me is pure”

the innate quality of hod is anavah, humility, a sense of restricting oneself in the face of the magnificence of so many other things in the Creation. wiser people, bolder people, power in nature….and me, just me? not so much.  well, if such humility combines in gevurah, with its innate strength of restriction, severe justice and power in limitation, you have a hard veer into drawing away from engagement in the world.

and that is never any good.

couple it with the weight of memory that touches all of us as we step into the darkness of Yom haShoah, and you begin to see how evil can find a foothold in a judgement of despair.  we are not metaphorically  just dust and ashes, but we are the children, the small remnant of those who were made dust and ashes. this could be a powerful inducement to withdrawal from engagement in a murderous world.

but that is never, never, never any good.

we do well to remember that hod also has a radiant power side that can ally to the just power in gevurah. double strength….the power to rise, a spirit phoenix from the dust and ash.  rise, as did Aharon, from his stricken silence upon the inexplicable death of his sons Nadav and Avihu.

we have the phrase ‘i who am but dust and ashes’ directly from Avraham Avinu, who shows us the way to radiate beauty from seeming weakness:

“Avraham answered and said, ‘behold, i have ventured to speak to G’d, i who am but dust and ashes. suppose 5 of the 50 righteous are lacking….will you destroy the whole city for lack of 5?” (Genesis 18:27-33)

Avraham strove after that small remnant of the righteous that can and will bring redemption. the bargain struck at the time of sodom and amorah was 10, simply 10 righteous and the whole would live to repent.  but some have suggested that Avraham stopped too soon. it took that other humble master, Moshe Rabbeinu, to plead for an entire People in which there were fewer than 10 righteous now and then. the humblest  among humans and one who is but dust and ashes can accomplish much…..this is the radiance of hod, the beauty of hod in justice.

but perhaps we need only focus on 1. for we pray each morning as above…’my G’d, the soul You have placed within me is pure’…and that alone is enough to make us more than mere dust and ash.  we are worthy by reason of innate purity from the Source of All.  G’d’s choice therein makes us more. if i am not for myself, who will be for me?  well, the Holy One of Israel, for starters.

and if we rise for ourselves as well, we can make more righteousness with the soul we are given. if there are 10 righteous in a sea of antisemites, yet will we seek to fix it with righteousness. if there is but 1 righteous remaining, we will remember that the entire world was Created for that 1….and regrow the way from there.

‘the neshamah You have placed within me is pure’ and nothing and nobody will prevent me from letting it shine forth.  i am of the People that watches evil empires fall….so are you. baruch haShem we know the radiant power of hod in gevurah.  consider what has been wrought by but a still small voice….

mussar for hod she b’gevurah

hod-gevurah with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   what you do will matter for others. make like Avraham and in spite of the odds, act for righteousness. take a deep breath of optimism, and exhale all the despair.

hod-gevurah with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   there is power in the gratitude of hod as well. G’d has given you a pure soul.  give thanks for it, and for every wrong you avoid in your own actions (take credit for outdoing your own yetzer hara) and for the avoidance of wrong in the actions of others due to your use of your pure soul to make a difference in the world.

kabbalah for hod she b’gevurah

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   hod-gevurah are both sefirot of the left side of the tree of life, the physical weak-hand side for most. but it is also the strong spirit side, bound in t’fillin. flex your left hand, lift your left arm while still bound, and feel the strength within….the strength secreted away in the left of hod in gevurah.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   another secret strength is the intuitive feeling in our gut. many of us survive today due to the gut feeling of an ancestor who went off to america. be mindfully ready to ‘go with your gut’ today.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   b’riyah is the soul level of neshamah in the body.  we can either innately sense purity within, or create it without. focus on purity within yourself. can you find the neshamah?  praise G’d from it.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   neshamah, the breathed in/in-breathed soul is the highest level we can directly experience.  mind your breath and know that G’d is delivering strength to you through it, for both body and soul. reflect on how near G’d is to you and how G’d is exalted.

kinyan 12 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Pilpul haTalmidim….Sharp Discussion between Students.  there is a time for quiet reflection, and a time to speak out strongly in interpretation. we learn in the aggadah that r’ Hama said, “what is meant by ‘iron sharpens iron’? (Proverbs 27:17).  it tells you that just a piece of iron is used to sharpen another piece, so 2 scholars sharpen each other’s mind by fierce discussion of Torah.”  acquire yourself a study partner and friend, and go at it!

haYom arba’a yomim laOmer: netzach she b’chesed

“from the diligence of Haman learn to do with enthusiasm the will of Mordechai”

americans like their victories to be decisive and one-sided, it seems….so do Jews (american or otherwise) though our preferred mode seems to be snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  and that is because our enemies have a knack for being implacable and monomaniacal. what the Besht is urging here is that we actually learn a little netzach (endurance, diligence, ambition, or victory) lesson from our persistent foes.  as intent on destruction as they are, so should we be intent on chesed.

netzach veers back to the right side of the etz chaim and aligns under chesed, so the distance between chesed and netzach is already short on the sefirotic tree.  but we arrive at netzach (victory) by way of tiferet (balance, compassion), and that will be important to remember.  think for a second about what all the martial arts teach about centeredness before redirecting action and you will see the parallel clearly.  after all, aikido is sometimes translated as the “way of the harmonious spirit.”

as Matisyahu sings, we are all “warriors fighting for [our] souls,”  and we do that battle by way of netzach. we’ve already said that the beauty of tiferet is in being ready–the victory in netzach is in being steady.  we mentioned in the discussion of chesed already that there is a necessary aspect of ongoingness in doing chesed….that one-off acts of kindness are lesser than sustaining ones. well, bolstered by endurance in netzach our chesed practice can be what Morinis calls “generous sustaining benevolence.”

the ambition aspect of netzach also adds a note of forward motion to the mix.  something like netzach ambition, steadiness and drive made Moshe Rabbeinu what he was.  we know that he did not begin in confident striding toward his role as the on-the-ground (’embedded” if you will) spokesagent for G’d’s power of redemption.  he drove himself into and through the role of leader of the People, relying on that same endurance, tolerance, and abiding faith to cajole G’d into continuing the freedom march of the Israelites even when their own powers of steadiness, ambition, endurance and abiding faith flagged again and again and again.  the persistence of his chesed toward Israel truly faltered only once….and it cost Moshe his share in  the simple reward of passing over into the Land of Promise.  his was  a great act of chesed shel emet, true kindness without personal reward….and all via netzach in chesed.

mussar for netzach she b’chesed

netzach-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   do something memorable and sustaining for your people–your family, your friends, maybe your students or others who look to you for important guidance.

netzach-chesed with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   do you remember the core lessons that shaped you?  that you needed more than one iteration to take to heart?  do you remember the persistent, enduring, persevering work that teachers, friends, family and  especially parents did (may still do) for you?   now, what do you say?  if you can, do.

kabbalah for netzach she b’chesed

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    we are taught  “righteousness, righteousness, shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). the word for pursue is the same as that used for hunting someone down.  it is not enough to sit back and agree that righteousness is a good thing.  get out there and volunteer, or protest, or counterprotest…but get out there and participater persistently in a movement intending chesed…get that couch potato, indwelling  nefesh out there!  random acts of kindness are not netzach in chesed!

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   we are all tested in life. Avraham Avinu, the master of chesed, was tested sorely 10 times….and in none of them was his mastery of chesed itself tested!  it was his strength in chesed that bore him up as he worked through each test.  that is the way: you will be tested in your weaknesses that you may rectify them…your job is to pull up those sparks.  use netzach in chesed to do the good work you’ve intended to do by visualizing yourself leading a stiff-necked person…yourself!

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   you are heir to the enduring physical and spiritual struggles of a small but mighty People.  we are loved by G’d’s everlasting love–now, what are you going to do with that constant divine flow? energy wants to be used in the world.  meditate on your warriorship,  both for your own soul way and for the generation of souls in which you have grown up.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   the word ‘olam‘ has both the sense of eternal and the sense of hidden.  deep within each of us is a faith…that may be more or less hidden.  meditate on how you can nuture that faith…almost an instinct…and abide in it, turning away the easy, comfortable  blandishments of a secular culture.   is matzah just in the eating?  or does it mark something much greater?

kinyan 4 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Sichlut haLev….Living with a Perceptive Heart   Yaakov said “surely G’d is in this place, and i, i didn’t know it.”  the way of Sichlut haLev is the way of Yaakov, the way of Avraham, the way of Yitzchak. they all 3 answered a call from G’d, as did Moshe…..but as also did Aharon. did Aharon get a call from an angel? did he dream a ladder? did he answer from the altar?  no, his call came simply in seeing the return of his brother Moshe, who revealed what was to be done. Aharon persisted without a direct dream or vision for the longest time!  he perceived the voice of G’d acting in Moshe, and that was all it took.  the perceptive heart will intuit more and more meaning from Torah as it is used.  aerobic conditioning is not the only  cardio work you should be doing: train yourself a heart of wisdom by bringing it to Torah learning in every encounter.  your endurance  for study will grow, and your understandings will multiply.