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 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’losha yomim laOmer: tiferet she b’chesed

“Father of Compassion, favor Zion with your goodness”

think about it. at the beginning of the Torah reading service on shabbat morning we exultantly say “who is like You?” and then ” You are master, You were master, You will be master for eternity…G’d will give Israel strength…and bless his People with peace”  and then suddenly the niggun gets darker, almost pleading  “av harachamim…”

but wait. this sounds like a petitionary prayer….on shabbat? nu?

if ever known in your life, if even once, you know why compassion is so important that we crave it even during the otherwise peace and contentment of shabbat.  for  the sefirah of tiferet, ‘compassion, harmony, balance, beauty’ is on the mainline from haShem, the first full station stop in the central trunk of the tree.  tiferet is the sure-footed balancing of chesed and gevurah, neither too free nor too tight, but just right.

the hebrew rachamim is powerfully associated with death in many prayers…the kel molei rachamim….the full av harachamim….compassion is what one needs in hard times when the tendency is too easily to go gevurah (why did this one have to die? it isn’t fair), or too easily toward the loving-kind (it is a terrible thing…i know exactly how you feel…i lost my uncle bernie when i was 6…).  the prayer for compassion is a prayer for return to harmony in life.

if ever balanced, if ever truly living  compassion toward others, you will ever strive to get back to it when you tilt to extremes…..we know center when we feel it.  and we know the divine in ourselves when feel empathy for the situation of another AND also know just what to do…not too soft…not too hard…just right.  not too much good inclination, and not too much bad inclination.

the kabbalists teach that the central sefirot tend ever so slightly toward the right-side of the tree, a gravitational sort of attraction, so tiferet naturally ranges toward chesed. but the tending has no fixed point, so maybe it is more like the probability function….a region closer to chesed in which compassion is likely to be found.

and that feeds into another important aspect of tiferet: the readiness is all.  to be compassionate, one must be ready to do what is needed in the situation.  sometimes, as when visiting the sick, it is to speak and give cheer; other times, as when visiting the mourner, it may be to sit in silence.  the compassionate jew is one who is ready and nimble.

mussar for tiferet she b’chesed

tiferet-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   visit the sick with a smile.  smile upon the well. “greet every human with a cheerful and pleasant countenance” (Pirkei Avot 1:15), for it is the basic compassion.

tiferet-chesed with yourself…bein adam l’atzmo    this week we are all foregoing chametz as a matter of mitzvah and religious practice.  but as a special practice today, forego something else in empathy with others who simply don’t have.

kabbalah for tiferet she b’chesed

in assiyah….the world of doing/complation   these days, we take something like pride in being multi-taskers.  but research is beginning to show that multi-tasking is too often a matter of shortchanging everything…it is not necessarily more productive.  we end up astounded that we finish everything….but what if i asked you to be compassionate in all the many things you are doing?  would that interfering with the “getting things done”? consider which should matter more….and be sure you multi-task something just for you into your routine today….to keep yourself balanced, for from there you can extend harmony outward.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   worry is anathema to compassion. worry is by definition out of balance, and usually a cramping in gevurah.   we parents give youngins timeouts to get things back in manageable range. why do we think it won’t work for us as well?  go ahead, give yourself a timeout–you deserve it!  meditate on the centrality of compassion in G’d, and see yourself as a potential piece of the expression of G’d’s compassion here in Creation.  are you in harmony with creation?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   r’ kantrowitz teaches us that we sometimes know compassion best in our friendships.  friends can observe flaws in each other and help correct them with compassion–and meet a compassionate response!  this is the full beauty of tiferet in a way.  so remember a time when you were a really good friend and knew exactly what to do and say because you were deeply empathetic in your feelings and hopes for your friend.  now what would it take to extend that to others?

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition  tiferet can be in the bond of mates in love making. it can be in the cooldown  following exercise.  chazal took time to prepare before prayer so as to be in tiferet before uttering a word….and they remained silent after prayer for a time to hold onto the compassion that had been given them through prayer.  find your time for ‘afterglow’ and use it to instill balance from which you can live the rest of the day.

kinyan 3 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Arichat S’fatayim….Speak-Teaching   the Vilna Gaon would stress the learning of Mishlei (Proverbs) in his first year students at yeshiva specifically so that they would be able to go out and teach others.  and he would require that they teach orally both in reading the text and in explaining it.  speaking what you learn is the balance between learning on your own and being able to hear, truly hear what is being taught. hence, taught the Gaon, the learning of Mishlei brings forth 2 gifts: a gift of adam l’chaveiro when each student goes out to share and reteach what is learned, and a gift of G’d l’adam for the Holy One is inspired by the character improvements that the learning brings to the students and responds immediately from his rachamim to assist all who teach and all who study. the character improvements are a surefire way to awaken G’d’s compassion!  So speak up and teach!