Omer: Day 39 Dream Realization

Netzach shebbe yesod: endurance within foundation

The emotional correspondents of the day are netzach (endurance) within yesod (foundation). Building a foundation in life requires a persistent endeavor. It is through netzach that goals may be brought to fruition. The quality of endurance, constant effort despite the challenges in life, gives us the tenacity to achieve our dreams. Yet, the actual building of a foundation in life, requires channeling one’s ideas into a realized dream. To dream is not enough; rather, to accomplish one’s dreams, in the actual sense, is to draw on the quality of netzach.

Omer: Day 38 Foundational Beliefs

Tiferes shebbe Yesod: Beauty within Foundation. Otherwise rendered as harmony within foundation. Tiferes represents unity, harmony, and the resultant beauty of a perfect blend of opposites. A foundation needs to be a structure that is balanced enough to support a building; foundational beliefs need to be congruent, in order to provide a basis for an overall belief system.

In life, many people have implicit assumptions that guide their thought and action. Yet, for the most part, unless a conscious effort is made to discern the nature of one’s presuppositions, they remain hidden. For myself, I would like to be able to harness all of my thought, speech, and action, to be in accordance with my belief and practice. Yet, it is possible that unknown presuppositions, contrary to my belief system, may hinder this endeavor.

So, while it is assumed that predominantly, people who have not immersed themselves within a comprehensive belief system, are guided or misguided by their presuppositions, I do not think that anyone, including myself is immune to facets of their lives that have not been fully accounted for or reined in, so to speak, to use another metaphor, “under one’s thumb.” Ideally, all aspects of oneself need to be brought into alignment within an overall framework of belief and practice.

This is the basic structure not only of religion, also any ethical or moral system. Belief, and commandments based upon that belief. Ethics, and a way of life based upon those ethics. Morals, and a life grounded in morality. If there is a disconnect between the two, whereof, the adherent is not walking in accordance with sound principles, then there is a neglect of practicing what one upholds as truth, or a standard of righteousness.

For those who live solely according to their presuppositions, the path is unclear. Without a standard, there can be no foundation of a basic groundwork, tenets, and truths. The ideal task for anyone, including myself, would be to harmonize all areas of one’s life; especially, so that one is truly in accord with a standard in life. The ethical and moral principles of the commandments are derived from the authority of G-d: so that belief in G-d is primary in order to receive the commandments as divine decrees. Yet, for those who are simply trying to be a mensch (good person), I commend you.

Omer: Day 37 Ma’oz Tzur

Omer: Day 37 Gevurah shebbe Yesod

Gevurah shebbe Yesod: Power of Foundation

Otherwise rendered as the strength of foundation.

What is the strength of my foundation? Will my foundation stand on its own? Or do I need additional support from other sources? I would be the first to admit, that my foundation sometimes seems weak and wobbly. Other times, my foundation appears sturdy enough to keep me safe and secure. I do not always seek extra support; nor, do I consistently build upon my foundation, in order to strengthen it against adversity ahead of time. Yet, prevention measures are important, knowing that the storms of life will not cease to occur from time to time.

In regard to my chosen derech (path) in life, the terrain ahead of me is full of challenges. Yet, my foundational beliefs will sustain me, if I make every effort to increase my understanding day by day. Ultimately, my source of strength is from G’d, because my own power is limited. In recognition of the greater strength of G’d, I know that my foundation rests upon solid ground. When the tides of change will make waves strong enough to sweep away the unwary, I will stand upon a Rock. Ma’oz Tzur.

Omer: Day 36 Foundational Love

Omer: Day 36 Chesed shebbe Yesod

Today begins seven days of emphasis on the middah (character trait) of yesod, meaning foundation, amongst other renderings, such as covenant, bonding, and Tzaddik (Righteous One). Where is the stability in our lives? Are there consistent factors in our lives that contribute to a sense of stability? Or are we standing on shifting sands, always changing with the winds of the time? Trends and societal norms will always change; yet, lasting values are grounded in sound ethical, religious, or moral principles. G-d is key to my foundation in life. If at all possible, I would hope and pray that every aspect of my life be permeated by His wisdom.

Today’s unique combination of sefirot, expressed as middot (otherwise referred to as soul attributes), is chesed shebbe yesod (rendered as love within foundation). Chesed may also be rendered as mercy, kindness, or loving-kindness. How is my foundation built? If not with love as a quality that can be found within all of the building blocks, then how will that structure provide shelter for others? Moreover, I need to create a place within my foundational beliefs that permits space for others to grow in their own beliefs. In order to provide for respect, tolerance, and kindness toward others, chesed is key.

Omer: Day 35

Omer: Day 35 Malchut shebbe Hod

malchut shebbe hod: kingdom within splendor

Otherwise rendered as as sovereignty within humility.

Malchut may represent sovereignty, dignity, and autonomy. We can walk with humility, while still maintaining a sense of dignity. This is because being humble does not mean becoming a doormat for other people to step on with soiled shoes, figuratively speaking. Rather, humility permits us to acknowledge our weaknesses without disregarding our strengths.

While pride is an overexaggerated sense of self importance; in contrast, humility is a fair assessment of ourselves as limited, yet, sufficient human beings. When we stand with integrity, without placing ourselves on a pedestal, so to speak, we act in humility by not pretending to be more than who we really are. This requires self examination, as well as a complete honesty with ourselves. If we accept who we are, with all of our faults and foibles, then we do not need to try to aggrandize ourselves.

Omer: Day 34 Tragic Lessons

In light of the recent tragedy at Meron, due in part to overcrowding, I would like to recount some insightful renderings made by others, concerning what can be learned from this tragedy. Any tragedy must be viewed as a significant event, meant to bring us to a greater understanding of ourselves, the condition of the soul, and a greater awareness of our connection to G-d. The insight is not my own, rather it is based on a few responses, given by certain authorities within the rabbinic world as well as a few other reputable sources.

A key thought to keep in mind, is that nobody is immune from judgments that are brought upon us as a people. Teshuvah (repentance) is first and foremost the primary response, in order to acknowledge that could have been us, if things were different. It is meaningful to do teshuvah, in respect to this tragedy, because this will place our response in the proper context, knowing that this is a wake up call to make heshbon hanefesh (an account of the soul) by examining our conscience.

The point was made by another source in the Jewish world, that Rabbi Akiva’s students, almost two thousand years ago suffered a high mortality rate due to a plague, attributed to their inability to respect each other’s viewpoints, thus showing a lack of respect towards each other. Showing respect to others is a basic quality that should be considered as part of our humanity.

It was mentioned that the type of overcrowding that leads to a neglect of acknowlegding the physical boundaries of others has been evident at other events of a similar nature. The worst case scenario of this kind of neglect has tragically occurred; as a result, to make this tragic event meaningful would include, not only doing to teshuvah for the sake of our own souls; also, to consider our own awareness of the physical space we give to others, respecting their boundaries. Of course, if I may add to this, the greater task at hand would be to also respect other people’s emotional and psychological boundaries.

I would not be writing any of this, except to reiterate as respectfully as possible, points already made by others much more qualified than me to make such statements. However, I will conclude with an attempt to connect the the attributes of the day to these lessons. Perhaps, one of the foundations of humility is to recognize that we all share a common humanity with each other. When we see ourselves, more or less on the same level as everyone else, then we will not try to lift ourselves up above others in any manner whatsoever. Thus, we would not disrespect others in our own attempts to fulfill mitzvoth (commandments) or minchagim (customs). Every mitzvah should be performed with the following commandment in mind, “to love our neighbor as ourself.”

Please, pray for healing of all those who suffered from this tragedy. The wounded, as well as the first responders who dealt with the psychological trauma of witnessing the aftermath. Also, for the consolation of the bereaved families and friends of those who lost their lives in Meron. Thank you very much. And, may G-d bless all of us in our endeavors to excel at improving ourselves.

Lag b’Omer 5781

In light of the recent tragedy in Meron, at the Lag b’Omer celebration there, this essay is dedicated as memorial to those who perished, those who were injured, and those who are recovering from shock and ther psychological trauma after witnessing the event. Also, comfort and solace to those who are in bereavement; the families and friends of all who have suffered on this day. Usually, an auspicious day, honoring R’Shimon bar Yochai, the reputed author of the Zohar, the event turned tragic after the collapse of a structure, where some were celebrating. Full details are not available at this time.

Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot. The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased. With his five remaining students, he began again to promote Torah instruction to his students, including Shimon bar Yochai. The message being that because the reason given for the plague is the baseless dissension amongst the students, the importance of respect towards others who have differing opinions and viewpoints, inclusive of various interpretations should be respected, despite the differences. A timely message for today’s world.

It is proclaimed by the most devoted advocates of the Zohar that the author of the premier mystical literature of Judaism is indeed R’Shimon bar Yochai. Yet, not everyone agrees with this claim; in particular, from a scholarly perspective, the work has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon of Spain. When the Aramaic writing is deciphered according to its grammar and other idiosyncracies, these have much in common with the grammatical structures and manner of conveying ideas at the time and place that Moses de Leon lived. Additionally, there is testimony from that time, that indicates he wrote the work, yet because of his own relative obscurity, assigned the authorship to Shimon bar Yochai to bring an air of authenticity to the writing.

Shimon bar Yochai, according to a reference in the Talmud lived in a cave for many years, in order to escape persecution by the Romans. When he left the cave, he is given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A likely story that was later developed into a greater myth by the author of the Zohar, assigning the mystical treatise itself to his authorship. Yet, any astute reader can note that the “companions” of the character, Shimon bar Yochai in the accounts given over in the Zohar are historical personages whom did not even live during the same time span as each other. Yet, they all gather around Shimon bar Yochai as if they are alive and well, irrespective of when they actually lived.

While it is true that the Zohar does contain many ideas, teachings, and Torah gems not generally found in more traditional works, these mysteries of Torah are revealed by the actual author based upon his knowledge of prior mystical treatises. So, perhaps, it may be considered as a moot issue, who the author of the Zohar is, if indeed it’s words help to further understand the secrets of Torah.

On the other hand, it is a concern of my mine, that Shimon bar Yochai is described as a holy lamp, subsequently elevated as the chief expositor of the mysteries of Torah, when some of what is conveyed in the Zohar are foreign to Torah, Tanach, and Talmud, such as gilgulim, transmigration, and the error of reincarnation. The specific teachings in regard to reincarnation do not bring light into the world; rather, they cast a shadow of darkness upon the truths of Torah. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation detracts from the clear understanding having to do with the Tehillas HaMeisim (resurrection of the dead). Whereas, the soul is restored to the body and we are judged according to how we lived this one life that we are all given.

Furthermore, glorifying Shimon bar Yochai seems to detract from the expectation of the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi revealing the secrets of Torah, upon his return. Incidentally, since the prophet ascended into Heaven on a chariot, his return would not be counted as reincarnation. Additionally, the role of the Messiah in part is to bring to light the essential Torah truths for the generation that will see his crowning as King in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the the sabbatical millennium, when G-d’s Kingdom is ushered into existence.

Ad mosai – how long until the fallen sukkah of David is restored?

“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”

– Amos 9:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

Omer: Day 33 Essential Humility

Omer: Day 33 Hod shebbe Hod

hod shebbe hod: splendor within splendor

Otherwise rendered as humility within humility

What is the essence of humility? At the depths of our humility, the soul is encompassed by splendor. Because hod is sometimes rendered as humility, and other times as splendor, there must be a connection between these two aspects of the middah (character trait). One explanation, in a nutshell, is that by humbling ourselves, we are able to reflect the splendor of G-d.

In the eyes of others, those who are sincerely humble, are often overlooked; yet, their splendor radiates in unseen realms. On the other hand, those who aggrandize themselves, do so to be seen; yet, they may only be great in their own eyes. The splendor that lasts is conferred by G-d, and G-d alone. His glory outshines ours; yet, He may bestow some of His glory upon us, when we humble ourselves before Him.

“For thus saith the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” – Isaiah 59:7, JPS Tanach

drash: parashas Emor 5781 – the Holy Days

“And the L-RD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: The appointed seasons of the L-RD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.”

– Leviticus 23:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Torah explains the imperative to observe “the fourteenth day of the first month,” when the Pesach offering was made (Leviticus 23:5). Also, the Torah prescribes a seven-day observance, beginning on the fifteenth of Nissan, when we refrain from eating chometz. This is “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6). Next, “When ye are come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest” (Leviticus 23:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This was brought to the kohein [priest], on the day after the first rest day of Pesach. The offering is referred to in Torah as the waving of the Omer; it was only enacted after B’nei Yisrael entered the Promised Land.

Then, the Torah mentions, “even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto the L-RD” (Leviticus 23:16, JPS). That is, fifty days were counted from the second day of Passover, onward until on the fiftieth day, the first wheat offering of the harvest was brought “unto the L-RD.” (The offering that was made prior to this – the Omer – on the second day of Passover, was the first of the barley harvest). Today, we refer to the fiftieth day after Passover as Shavuot (Weeks), in commemoration of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).

In Autumn, we celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is considered a Festival, like Passover, and Shavuot; so, it is the third of the Festivals: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42, JPS). We build Sukkot (Booths) to commemorate the protection we received from the Clouds of Glory, while dwelling in booths, during our forty-day sojourn in the desert. On the eighth day, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret, symbolizing Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

Omer: Day 32 A Modest Estimation

Netzach shebbe Hod: Endurance within Splendor

Otherwise rendered as endurance within humility.

Netzach has to do with the “grit” of endurance, in order to persist until victory arrives. Perhaps, victory and humility seem incongruent. One does not generally go into the battlefield, so to speak, in all humility, showing deference and respect towards his enemy. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city (Proverbs 16:32, JPS).

Israel is called to show all humility and deference to G-d, in acknowledgment that He will fight our battles for us. Figuratively speaking, this may apply to the inner battles that we face everyday with ourselves, especially, in our attempts to rule over our passions.

In order to maintain humility, we should be aware of pride in all of its manifestations, such as arrogance, haughtiness, and self centeredness. By diminishing the potential for pride in ourselves, we allow for the presence of humility. Pride is an overexaggerated sense of self importance. Therefore, self esteem is an exception to pride. Self esteem is both healthy and necessary in a person’s life. Yet, there may be a fine line, between self esteem and pride that would need to be drawn by the individual.

Maintaining a modest estimation of oneself and one’s abilities is not an easy endeavor. There is the lure of human tendency to aggrandize ourselves, compete against others, and climb up the ladder of egoism towards self glory. On the other hand, humility does not require becoming a doormat, for others to wipe their feet upon.

An accurate understanding of our strengths and weaknesses will grant us self knowledge. To know the truth about oneself, will further guard against narcissism, and the potential to form a false persona. Ultimately, by humbling ourselves before G-d, we can allow Him to raise us up, to build and rebuild our lives, and to cast His glory [splendor] upon us.