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 esrim yom, sh’heim sh’nei shavuot v’shisha yomim, laOmer: yesod she b’tiferet

“all trees rejoice in G’d’s resonance….and all plants dance in G’d’s rejoicing”

this from the Midrash Heichalot Rabatti (24:3) is but a single indicator of how the resonance of G’d is shot through the core on Creation. but i think it also surprises us a little. dancing plants is a little outside the mainstream judaism you grew up with, yes? but r’ nachman wouldn’t be surprised:

“how wonderful it is when one is worthy of hearing the song of the grass. each blade of grass sings out to G’d without any ulterior motive and without expecting any reward. it is most wonderful to hear its song and worship G’d in its midst. the best place to meditate is in a field where things grow. there one can truly express his thoughts before G’d, for grass will awaken the heart.” (Sichot Haran 163)

and the stream is not of recent vintage, no matter how modern it will sometimes sound:

“since you are composed of all of creation, the animals in your environment mirror important qualities back at you. they are part of what can keep you in balance. live in balance with the creatures of the world and they will be good for you.” (Midrash Tana D’bei Eliyahu Rabbah 1)

these are lessons not only in the deep implications of evolutional thinking, but also simple statements about the nature of yesod (foundation/development/procreation) in tiferet (balance/harmony/beauty/compassion).  yesod is associated in soul with the power to contact, connect and communicate with outer reality…it is in league with the utter grounding that the trees and the grasses literally and spiritually rely on.  tiferet is the reflection of malchut, which is the deep grounding below yesod, and yesod is the pivot point (mapped literally to the genitalia) that brings the upper worlds of soul (in tiferet directly from keter) into conjunction with the lower worlds of soul (in malchut, separated from the upper worlds only by yesod).

let’s make it simple: we have learned that the genitalia are the nexus between soul realm and physical realm. procreation is foundational, and it relies on bonding of the Created to make one flesh of twophysically and spiritually….conception is the point of bonding between the two. there is the dna of the Created World and the still older life-force of the Inserted Primordial Light. gestation is the melding of spiritual-biological in a unique yet characteristically enspeciated Creature. and the inner world of soul melded into the outer reality of biology recognizes all the other melded forms in the world, whether in grasses and trees, or the birds and the bees.

the bonding of the all is especially available to us in the vegetation that has been our purpose (stewardship of the garden) and our temptation (choosing the wrong tree from which to eat). centered in the generative; anchored in the soil. are we surprised that the genitalia are the nexus of both the miracle of giving forth life (birth) that is nonetheless the most natural thing  on the planet (birth), hence not miraculous at all?

we see the bonding of spirit and form best in this. we all see it and feel it. whether we then later deny and belittle it depends on the strength of our yesod in tiferet.

if you are more attuned to the melding in all of Creation around you, you know the trees have presence beyond their wood. and we are making huge fuss about grasses, ain’t we? after all, what is barley? what is wheat? what is Omer? during pesach we reground the grass fruits that sustain us….then re-enruach them in the sefirat haOmer, rebalancing ourselves by Shavuot.

there is no spiritual parallel in the world of animalia…except through the korban. do you see how our practice is veggie focused?

we call bread the staff of life. yesod it is the symbol of life in the midline of the tree of life. even in death:

“may our soul be bound/sheafed up in the binding/sheaf of eternal life.”

mussar for yesod she b’tiferet

yesod-tiferet with another….bein adam l’chaveiro   we have an expression, “my word is my bond.” mean it, and be sure to speak truth always. make sure your soul is bound up in the binding of current life.

yesod-tiferet with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo    the emotion that breaks bonds most quickly and assuredly is anger. it makes trees of grasses, mountains out of molehills. but the blood in the head lessens your hearing…your bond with the song in the grasses is sure to be broken. “keep it together” and avoid anger entirely today.

kabbalah for yesod she b’tiferet

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion    harmony/balance is the opposite of chaos/imbalance, right? yesod is foundation/strength and you have the opportunity today to add “backbone”…or maybe ‘trunk’…to harmony or alternatively to chaos. which do you choose? contemplate how to make the better choice firm.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   when we are boun to the entirety of the world around us, we sense the celebration of all in G’d. we acknowledge this in prayers, but how often do we go outside and listen to it? find time to get back to the island of world and mind.

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation    every whisper/of every waking hour/i’m choosing my confessions/trying to keep an eye on You….G’d. say it. mean it in your prayers. the world is there to cheer you on if you listen. if you will it, it is no dream.

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   we pray in the morning: “the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and soul that You breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that You placed in our mouth….all of them shall thank and bless and praise  and glorify and exalt and revere and sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name….all my bones shall say: ‘G’d, who is like You?”  the grasses sing and, come Messiah, the trees will clap hands and sing as well.  prayer is ‘groundwork’….it is yesod heavy. dwell in your gut, can you sense your innards rejoicing in G’d today?

kinyan 20 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Erech Apayim….Slowness to Anger.  this is actually one of the 13 essential attributes of G’d that were revealed in the wake of G’d’s passing before Moshe as he was held in the cleft of stone. we recite it on holy days throughout the year, and most memorably often during the Days of Awe. when you work to put your anger in your pocket, instead of in readiness between your eyes, you are following after the way of G’d G’dself. as we learn in Ecclesiastes (7:9…nothing to do with the borg in this case, you trekkies):

“Don’t be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the heart of fools”

and we have said that your innards should spend their time in thanks/praise/glorification/exaltation/reverence/sanctification of haShem

make like the grasses and the trees if you want to acquire Torah and a heart not of anger, but of wisdom.

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 shisha yomim laOmer: yesod she b’chesed

“who is like You? glorious in holiness, awesome in praises, doing wonders?”

it is on the 7th day of passover that the Israelites found themselves between the sea and the army of pharaoh. G’d acted profoundly on the part of the People, splitting the waters of the sea to allow passage for the Israelites, and then sending the waters crashing down again on the army of pharaoh, destroying them utterly. at this moment, the People Israel knew that a new relationship had most certainly been established…a new yesod, ‘foundation’ established for a holy relationship between the two.

among sefardim, this day is known is known as Yom Vayyosha, ‘the day of the song of the sea’.  aside from the song that we know in Torah, there is a ladino tune, Ketuba del Seten Dia de Pesah, or ‘Ketubah  for the 7th Day of Passover,’ for this day is said to be day on which a marriage between the People and G’d was made.  something foundational was established that day when the People broke out into spontaneous song at the awesome wonder of G’d who had just saved them from certain annihilation.

yesod is the sefirah of foundation.  it is also the seat of sexual energy in the tree. and there is something very, very sexy in the intoxication of that 7th-day consummation.  the incident at the sea produced an intimacy between the People and G’d that had not sprung from the plagues, had not sprung from Moshe’s return and proclamation of the immanent end of slavery, and had not sprung even from the beginning of the exodus from the land of Goshen. it was only in the exclusivity of the chesed shown in the division of the waters that the People came to know the Love that G’d held for them….a love once again as intimate and immediate as that between G’d and Avraham Avinu at the beginning of the jewish journey.

crossing the seabed was the ‘passover’, the pesach, the ‘leap’ from mitzrayim to “outside mitzrayim,” a going forth from the existence the People had been born into to a new life in which they would have to rely on their bound partner.  just as one steps away one’s parents and family upon marriage, so does yesod in chesed urge us to consider founding and securing something new and awesome in love with our mate and with G’d.  in judaism, marriage is associated with holiness.  and the creative energy of sexuality is foundational for each couple in their marriage.

intimacy in love, the cleaving of mate with mate, is the closest our embodied spirits will get to the cleaving to G’d that we are urged to do.  yesod is the strong foundation upon which the necessary mutual trust in love is built.  yesod in chesed is enduring certainty in love.

mussar for yesod she b’chesed

yesod-chesed with another….bein adam l’chaveiro    what happens in a relationship when chemistry moves into intimate contact?  when interest becomes closeness?  when separate souls cleave in married love? in the deep love of friendship?  find a way to show how deep is your love for another today. do something that gets at the foundation of that love you share.

yesod-chesed with yourself….bein adam l’atzmo   we all feel cornered sometimes.  are you sometimes surprised by the parting of the waters that you fear will drown you?  do you trust enough in G’d to open yourself up to faith? pray for an opening to the Holy One today….feel embraced.

kabbalah for yesod she b’chesed

in assiyah….the world of doing/completion   one can only lead a life of chesed from a strong foundation.  you need to feel a little secure in order to share deeply with others. the nefesh, the indwelling soul, is created uniquely for you and is your companion for life (and beyond).  try to sense the nefesh of  another today; then settle in your own indwelling soul and do some small kindness for the soul you find in the other.

in yetzirah….the world of feeling/formation   sexual energy is profoundly creative.  but we all know that therein lies the potential for destruction as well.  the life and death situation that faced the People deepened their faith profoundly. contemplate how you can use your sexual energy in ways that build holiness….what would it be to so secure in the foundation of your relationship that you could know or know again a holy lust?

in b’riyah….the world of thought/creation   we say in the blessing before Torah study ‘la’asok b’Torah’, ie, to transact with Torah.  but ayin-samekh-kuf has a slang meaning of have an ‘affair’.  meditate on your marriage to Torah (Shavuot is coming!) but also contemplative the possible offspring of your affair with Torah….

in atzilut….the world of nearness to G’d/intuition   we have spoken of the need for an abiding faith, a steadfast, enduring trust in G’d….a faith that withstands slings and arrows of what seems like fortune, but is, as we must ultimate recognize, all G’dsend.  ahavah and echad have the same value in standard gematria, which means that the Shema is telling us that G’d is love is the same as G’d is one.  “Know this day, and lay it to your heart, that G’d is G’d in heaven above and upon earth beneath; there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39).  meditate on the steadfastness of G’d’s love in both the good and the bad, for it is all one.

kinyan 6 of 48 ways to acquire Torah

Eimah… Being Awestruck.  r’ chaim volozhin points out that G’d only resides in the 4 amot of halacha, hence, when studying Torah one should be in a state of awe not unlike that felt by the high priest on Yom Kippur.  in yeshiva, we were urged to consider, whenever we would stray into some small idle talk, or daydream late in the day of study, whether we felt that G’d, who is sitting and studying with us after all, appreciated our ease in breaking off from study.  what can one possibly reply, save to immediately re-busy ourselves in the text?  being awestruck can be everyday when your worldview truly acknowledges how close G’d is to us in all our activities….and how much more so when we study.  r’ avraham yehoshua heschel reminds us that “the question, ‘where  shall wisdom be found?‘ is answered by the psalmist: “the awe of G’d is the beginning of wisdom.”  so, you see, being awestruck is a powerful kinyan not only to the study of  Torah, but also to the application of Torah!