Omer: Day 9 gevurah of gevurah – restraint of might

The strength of gevurah relies on the ability to restrain oneself. “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). Yet, restraint of ourselves is key, not only for the benefit of our soul, also for the sake of being in a position to offer diplomatic relations to those who enter into conflict with us. Another effective saying to keep in mind is that “he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Proverbs 15:18). We would do well to learn from the wise words of King Solomon, for our hearts are heavy with the burdens we face; yet, too often, we are tempted to respond to others in a reactive way, rather in a manner of restraint.

If I may further explain, by way of a concrete example too rampant today. We might have fallen prey to the divisiveness that permeates society, dividing people into subgroups of us and them; the bitterness that festers as a result of demonizing the other, will only further the perpetuation of the lack of harmony in our lives, especially when our thoughts and rhetoric approaches the vitriolic. Being critical of others, through an excessive expression of gevurah, has the potential to devolve into the creation of newly marginalized classes of people in society, that may be increasingly demonized through generalizations. In this manner, tyranny rules the heart (G-d forbid).

Omer Count: Day 2 – the Boundary of Kindness

17 Nissan 5781

March 30, 2021

gevurah within chesed

What follows consists of my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

The middah (character trait) of gevurah may be expressed as a measure of strictness. Therefore, one way of conceiving of gevurah within chesed could have to do with applying a measure of strictness to the quality of kindness. Placing a limit on our kindness, in response to the awareness that not every situation is best suited to respond in kindness involves a dash of wisdom. Therefore, chesed may require the use of discernment, in order to ascertain how much kindness would best benefit the recipient. Too much kindness might appear as ingratiating. Elsewise, being overly kind in order to please others could result in our resentment, when we give in to others demands. Placing a boundaried response on others requests, gives us a sense of acting from our center being, keeping our needs in mind, without overextending ourselves.

Consider how G-d’s chesed, His sense of kindness may be purposely limited at times for a specific reason, actually for the sake of the recipient. He is known to test the faith of those who have a certain level of trust in Him, by delaying a response to one’s tefillah (prayer) requests. This would be enacted on His part to test the strength of our faith. Also, He may not respond in the manner that one expects, because the specific request if answered in the way that the prayer was framed, would not best benefit that individual. In like manner, we should also be cautious, and excercise discernment in regard to how we respond to others who may seek our time, attention, or help.

Additionally, it might seem counterintuitive at the time; yet, a withholding attitude may be required at times, for the sake of another person’s personal growth. Refraining from helping someone too much may serve to encourage that person to do more for him or herself. So, often there needs to be a balance between chesed and gevurah in our responses to others; so, that the demands of the situation may be met in the most beneficial way to all concerned. An extreme version of applying a strong measure of gevurah to chesed would be the case in certain rare circumstances, to apply the notion of “tough love.” In this case, an act perceived as severe by the intended recipient might actually be more of an expression of sincere love, than giving in to another person, thereby enabling the other to perpetuate an undesirable behavior.

Utlimately, finding the right balance in any situation is not easy. Often our response depends upon our own personality; for example, whether or not we are a chesed person, naturally demonstrating loving-kindness or whether we are more of a gevurah person, who is inclined to be more reserved and circumspect in responding to others. This example may best serve as a segue towards tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), the precise purpose of the forty-nine day spiritual journey. To take an honest look at ourselves includes evaluating our character. If we withold kindness from others when we should be kind, this may denote an imbalance in the personality. Conversely, if we routinely find that being too nice to others has negative consequences for ourselves, then there may also be an imbalance of these qualities in our personality.

The task at hand is to reflect upon ourselves, in a manner that will bring the greatest level of shalom (peace) to our souls, as well as the lives of others on this journey. Moreover, in like manner that the Children of Israel had the opportunity to prepare themselves along the way to Sinai for receiving the Torah, so may we refine ourselves for the sake of our relationship to G-d. The first five commandments have to do with our connection to G-d, while the second set of five commandments are in regard to our relationship with others. Both are necessary on the journey of life; so, to shape our personalities in accordance with G-d’s will has the potential to bring the greatest overall benefit to our self and others.

Omer Count: Day One – Overview

The Road to Spiritual Improvement


overview, weekly synopsis, day one

16 Nissan 5781
March 29, 2021

The Omer Count – counting of the Omer – may serve as a spiritual journey of sorts from Egypt to Sinai. We are called upon to leave our own personal mitzraim (Egypt; from metzeir, meaning “limitations”) behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). This is a forty-nine day journey, aka self improvement plan, that begins on the eve of the second day of Passover. Each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven middos (character traits) that we will have the opportunity to improve upon in our lives.

The first week is devoted to the middah of Chesed: primarily love, expressed as kindness, mercy, and compassion. The expansiveness of chesed is opposite the constrictive quality of gevurah. Chesed has to do with an openness of personality, as well as a friendly attitude towards others. From a psychological perspective, chesed would be akin to a high rating on the The Big Five personality traits to agreeableness. When we give from the heart to others we are giving with chesed.

Day 1 – chesed within chesed

What follows consists of my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

The amount of kindness that we show to others, despite other traits that might be less conducive to friendliness, is dependent on how we view and treat ourselves. Genuine kindness is from a place of empathic consideration for the other. The mercy that we show to others, in times of weakness, when we might otherwise respond in a harsh manner, is a way of transcending the egotistical drives that fashion us as human beings, instincts that are mostly focused on ourselves. Yet, being truly human means to go beyond our comfort zone, by not giving in to our lesser inclinations and selfishness.

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

reflections: The Path of Life

B”H

the path of life

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.”

– Proverbs 3:6 , JPS 1917 Tanach

If the path of life seems broad to the individual, who deems that he is freely given the reins of his life, to think, feel, and choose as he would like, a second thought is required. In fact, are not most of us more likely to think that we are free, because there is such a vast array of choices to choose from in life? Yet, if we reflect on our choices, we may find that we are not free at all. Rather, we are subject to the influence of others in ways that we may not even recognise. It is often our peers, who influence us during our childhood years, perhaps, even more so than our family, depending on the circumstances. Even so, if we look closely at our own character, we will invariably have to admit the similarities to our parents.

In families where the reins were kept loose from an early age, the world may appear to be an amusement park; yet, there may be no rational basis in our early years, in regard to the formation of a worldview; hence, we are shaped by our peers, as well as our own rebellion from whatever family values, we feel may have been imposed upon us. If our teenage spirit is not reined in by a balanced perspective of life, regarding some amount of self discipline and self control, then we are subject to follow the unbridled dispositions of our heart.

Not that I mean to make a sweeping generalisation; yet, this seems be the norm, unless brought up in a more traditional home, wherein, religious, ethical, or academic standards were clearly demonstrated and inculcated. These are my thoughts, encapsulating my limited perspective, on the issue of personal identity, having to find my own, after partaking of the smorgasbord of life, without carefully considering the ramifications of my appetite.

My standard is now grounded in the wisdom of G-d, rather than the shifting sands of my emotions, inclinations, and worldly perspective. Rather than a leaf, being blown in the wind, I have grown roots into the rich heritage of my belief and practice. Reishis chochma yiras H’Shem – the beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-RD (Psalm 111:10). In what will continue to be a lifelong attempt to walk a fine line down the road of life, I try to foster a balanced perspective, based on the little that I understand, from gleaning the guidelines set before me, within the pages of the original blueprint of the world.

This blueprint is found within the pages of what may amount to the most popular self-improvement book, that surprisingly enough, can never be found on the shelf where all of the other self-help books are located. That is because, the book that I am referring to can not actually be categorized as a self-help book at all; rather, it is a book wherein one may improve his or her life with the help of G-d. With the inspiration of the words from this book, along with the authoritative words of those who have studied this book more than me, my roots continue to bring spiritual nourishment to my soul, strengthening my resolve to follow the derech (path) set before me.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Reflections: A Balancing Act

B”H

When our environs do not bring us peace and contentment, what is the proper course of action? Where is the remedy to be found? I believe that within the midst of our nisyanos (troubles), G-d must be sought out for solace; otherwise, our peace of mind would be relative – dependent upon ever changing circumstances. What other resource is as potent as the Omnipotent?

There is a maxim, expressed in various forms, that happiness is to be found within ourselves. Yet, I prefer to reframe this adage, “true contentment is found within our connection to G-d.” This becomes more apparent, considering the overall inability of anyone to remain completely stable, having a disposition of equanimity towards all things, in every situation.

At least, I can certainly speak for myself, inasmuch that it is not within my own power to be the cool, calm, and collected kind of person that I once used to be. Hence, I seek out G-d in every moment, in order to connect with His higher wisdom. I also seek out lesser means, such as good music to comfort the soul, journaling to express my emotions and inner feelings about this, that, and the other in life; and, additionally, I make sure to exercise, in order to work out the stress that manifests in my body.

My own personal discontent with certain circumstances in my life, may only be a reflection of my spiritual impoverishment. Perhaps, in the past, before my religious, aka, “spiritual journey” began, I may have been more content with worldly endeavors and creature comforts. Yet, as is demonstrated by Moshe’s own personal encounter with G-d, as well as other scriptural narratives, the way to ruchnius (spirituality) is opposed to gashmius (materiality), despite any attempt to reconcile the two; otherwise, the endeavor is compromised, and the soul remains in stasis, along with the status quo.

Case in point, if there is a constant struggle between the yetzer hara (literally, evil inclination) and the yetzer tov (good inclination), each inclined towards its corresponding realm of preference, then the soul is subject to one or the other at any given moment; those who are unaware of this battle, nor the presence of these two inclinations, are at a disadvantage, as dominance is given to the yetzer hara by default, otherwise known as the “animal soul.”

Chassidism teaches that there needs to be a balance between the “godly soul,” and the “animal soul;” yet, this seems like a compromise to me; besides, I have never been able to find that balance. Rather, I am compelled to make a sharper delineation between the two, than is often mentioned in certain chassidic sources.

The balance to be found is then relegated to the peace of mind that results, by staying focused on H’Shem; also, to look towards Olam Haba (the World to Come), instead of becoming entangled in Olam HaZeh (This World), to the extent that we can not see the forest for the trees.

self renewal

B”H

Today’s middot are malchut shebbe malchut (sovereignty within sovereignty). This may be compared to the goal of self-actualization as found within a psychological framework. Finding a meaningful path to pursue in life will lead to ultimate personal fulfillment. The soul’s mission in life may also be compared to the goal of self actualization. Under G-d’s directive, whether we realize it or not, through His hasgacha peratis (divine guidance) that is placed upon us all, we are guided to what will steer us in the right direction.

On Shavuot (the fiftieth day), the culmination of the forty-nine day journey through self renewal, by way of examining our character, reaches its goal. As H’Shem said to Moses, “when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). We receive the Torah anew, in the very present moment of our lives. H’Shem willing, the refinement of our soul over the past seven weeks has brought us closer to the fulfillment of peace and wholeness in our lives.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4 :118, JPS 1917 Tanach

Omer Day 49

Humble Mountain

B”H

hod shebbe malchus

(humility within sovereignty)

Humility is a necessary ingredient of character, inasmuch that any attempt to raise oneself above a modest estimation of one’s abilities should be placed in check by a fair analysis of oneself. Lowliness of spirit is a deterrent against pride. Showing deference to others helps to foster a sense of humility.

Ultimate deference must be shown to G-d through obeisance of His commandments, and an acknowledgment of His greater wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9). The middah (character trait) of Hod is also reckoned as “splendor.” This type of splendor is the resultant state of humbling ourselves before G-d. “Before honor goeth humility” (Proverbs 15:33). When we bow to G-d in our heart, He will bestow his shefa (divine flow) upon us. 

B’nei Yisrael received the Torah at Sinai. Why was Mt. Sinai chosen from all of the other mountains? Because Sinai was not the highest of mountains; this teaches us the importance of humility. Only when we humble ourselves before G-d in full acknowledgment of our limitations, may we receive the Torah anew within the quietude of our hearts.

“The reward of humility is fear of the L-RD” (Proverbs 22:4, JPS 1917 Tanach). When we humble ourselves, we can begin to appreciate our relationship to H’Shem, acknowledging Him with awe, reverence and respect. His sovereignty over our lives becomes easier to accept, when we recognize that we are limited beings, without all of the answers in life.

Omer Day 47

Good Deeds

B”H

netzach shebbe malchus

(victory within sovereignty)

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Netzach, most commonly associated with “victory” may also be reckoned as success and accomplishment. In combination with malchus (sovereignty, autonomy, self-worth), one topic that might be relevant is the relation of success to autonomy. For example, what is the effect of success on the autonomy of an individual? Success in any endeavor would strengthen one’s sense of autonomy. Accomplishments are akin to gemstones in the crown of a king, each one sparkling in its place. Another metaphor, a crown of laurels, received by those who are honored. Yet, there is a saying, that it is not wise to rest on one’s laurels.

Another way to symbolize accomplishments is like fruit on a tree. According to scripture, man is likened to a tree. In like manner that a tree is able to bear fruit, man, through his mitzvot (good deeds) may also bear fruit. Continuing the metaphor, fruits on a tree may be partaken of by all who enter the orchard. Therefore, following the metaphor, accomplishments that benefit others are more like fruits on a tree. The yield of fruit is seasonal, and may be continually renewed year after year.

I prefer not to speak about “success” as an abstract attainment, as if it is a level that one reaches, or a pinnacle that one stands upon. I am more inclined to speak about success in terms of individual accomplishments. A substantial amount of good deeds done for the sake of others will bear fruit in the lives of the recipients. The value of these mitzvot will accrue over time, gaining interest as they continue to influence others in a positive way. In this sense, any measure of overall success would be dependent upon how much good we have done in this world.

Omer Day 46

Path of Kindness

B”H

Our artistic proficiency as human beings is ultimately limited in comparison to the artistic rendering of Creation by G-d. Yet, many artists over the ages, as well as more contemporary artists, even photographers, and graphic artists have made the attempt, and continue to make a concerted effort to capture the essence of G-d’s creative expression. Even more so, all of us created beings should endeavor to imitate and internalize the inner qualities of G-d, in respect to our character, especially the thirteen attributes of mercy.

“And the L-RD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘The L-RD, the L-RD, G-d, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

– Exodus 34:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

By adhering to these attributes in our lives, the world will become a better place; personal changes, the ones shaped within ourselves, first influence the inner person, as well as one’s immediate surroundings, for example, family, friends, and community, before having an impact further outside that social and environmental milieu. The ripple effect, could permit even one act of kindness to make waves that effect others in ways that we may never know.

The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, mentioned in scripture, are part of the liturgy for the Holy Days, requesting G-d’s forgiveness, as well as His mercy upon us. However, the prayer of the Thirteen Attributes has been added to the daily services, being performed three times a day at the Western Wall, specifically, to combat the plague of the coronavirus. This prayer is considered to be a segulah – a remedy in times of dire need. Incidentally, this prayer is traditionally only said with a minyan (quorum of ten congregants).

Yet, these actual characteristics of mercy may be reflected in everyone’s life who takes the time to make the effort to imitate G-d with respect to His qualities. This may be done through forgiveness of others, a calm forebearance towards those who we find hard to bear, and mercy towards those whom we may feel do not deserve to be shown kindness. When we forgive and forget other people’s wrongs, as well as perceived slights against our character, we permit change to occur in ourselves and others for the good. A bruised ego, set aside, creates for the potential to overlook other’s people’s faults.

“It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”

– Proverbs 19:11, JPS 1917 Tanach