days of repentance: 4 Elul

“it is I, I myself come to comfort you”

so we will learn from the prophet Isaiah (51:12) in the upcoming 4th haftarah of comfort this coming Shabbat. my own practice is to begin saying full slichot prayers daily beginning on 3 Elul, yesterday, rather than Rosh Chodesh Elul, as is traditional for most sephardim. it is because of the number of days that elapse between the 3rd day and Rosh haShanah: 26. 26 reminds me of G’d’s personal comfort in the time of t’shuvah, for it is the simple gematria for the Name haShem, ie, the tetragramaton to the secular: yud is 10, heh is 5, vav is 6 and heh again is 5….26.  and the 4 letters of the name can teach us a fundamental practice for doing t’shuvah: to be completely in the moment. to do NOW…how do we know this from 26?

we learn that the 4 letters can permutated to create 3 words that cover the realm of time: ‘haya’ means “was”; ‘hoveh’ means “is”; ‘yihyeh’ means “will be”. the Infinite, logically, compromises past present future, but we learn that G’d has actually always expressed G’dself in the order of the letters in the Divine Name, ie,  ‘yod-hoveh’ (sounds like jehovah, yes?), which is the “‘yod’ of the is”….of the present moment….of the eternal “NOW”.

consider the letter yod itself. it is the smallest character of the alphabet, always hanging in the air….barely there, really. it is the first letter that begins to form when a scribe begins to write a Torah scroll….the rest of the letter grows into the bet of bereishit, but the letter itself begins as a yod (that never gets its short tail). this is the point of Creation. the beginning of time, before which nothing Created was, and after which nothing is yet known in the Creation. the letter yod is the moment of Creation, which is repeated in each moment, each of which is Created in a moment. it is the eternal present. the moment we should always be living in–indeed, is there any choice?–especially when doing t’shuvah. t’shuvah is the getting behind you of the wrong, and the gaining of the hope of future good action, but it is gained ONLY in the moment. every mitzvah can only be done in the particular moment that it presents itself and is taken up by a doer.

there is another method of gematria, the “full measure”  or “full value” method, in which the value of each letter is multiplied by itself, so the 4-letter Name tallies up as (10×10) + (5×5) + (6×6) + (5×5)….or 186. 186 is the simple gematria of the Name of G’d which is haMakom, ie, “the Place”, which takes care of the spatial aspect of the space-time continuum for us….haMakom, the Place, is wherever it is in the moment….the eternal “HERE”:

G’d is here and now


so the chant would be “where is G’d?”   HERE    ” and when is G’d here?”  NOW….

to turn (return) to G’d, you turn where you are in order to face where you are. and when do you turn? in the moment you are in. the first lesson of t’shuvah is to

be in the moment

and there is a jewish way of getting yourself into the moment. most of you know something about it…kavanah. kavanah is ‘intention’. it is usually a set of words that say 2 things….’i am here ‘(make like Avraham avinu)….and  ‘i am ready’

ready to do what? well, to walk with haShem.  before you turn on your computer in the morning (or just wake it up), try a simple kavanah with the intention to insert the Divine into that moment…..”here i am, haShem, ready to do the mitzvah of my work by starting my machine, grateful for the opportunity, and mindful of Your Presence.”

not so hard, right. find your own moments of import in your day and bring a kavanah to the doing of each. make this an “established” habit and you are on your way to living more fully in every moment….cheek to jowl with where G’d is and just in time!

ketiva vachatima tova

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”