dvar: parashas Emor 5781

“You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you.”

– Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org

In struggling against the yetzer harah (evil inclination) we confront the part of ourselves that is inclined towards what Freud would call our instinctual drives. His theory, in regard to the id, ego, and superego, explains that without putting a reign on the Id, man would be subject to these drives, to the extent of not being able to function within the limits of societal norms.

Man, himself, is composed of two natures, the godly soul and the animal soul. Freud’s Id represents, to some degree, the instincts of the animal soul; moreover, the ego’s role, from his point of view, is to place the Id in check, according to what he called the Reality Principle. This is done by applying the standards of the superego, an amalgamation of moral values instilled in us through family upbringing and collective societal norms.

Inasmuch that Judaism teaches the significance of following the inclinations of the godly soul, as opposed to that of the animal soul, the standards are raised – Torah calls us to a higher standard. Especially, consider that the values of Austrian society that dominated Freud’s time and place at the time of his psychoanalytic practice (Vienna, from1886 to 1938) are not held in esteem by the majority of the world today. Rather, modernity is influenced, to a lesser or greater degree by norms that would be considered substandard, when compared to those that Freud was familiar with. This decline epitomizes the lack of a substantial claim to consistent values, over the years, within society.  

Yet, the L-RD’s ways, given to us through the Torah do not change. “His ways are higher than our ways; His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). We are expected to be righteous to the extent of subduing the inclinations of the “yetzer hara,” akin to the “animal soul,” by way of self-denial. In doing so, we make ourselves an offering, by denying ourselves for the sake of following a higher path, than the one that our animal soul would follow, were we to let it lead (G-d forbid). Shall a donkey lead the rider? Nay, a donkey (chomer) represents the body, which must be guided by the soul. In this manner shall the L-RD’s name be sanctified amongst us: “That I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you” (Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org). Through H’Shem’s help, we will be sanctified.

Omer: Day 25 One Life to Live

Netzach shebbe Netzach: Endurance within Endurance:

(The attribute of netzach may also be rendered as “victory” or “eternity”).

The attribute of Netzach carries the weight of eternity on its shoulders, in like manner that Atlas, in the Greek myth, carried the world on his shoulders. In truth, according to a Biblical theme, G-d carries both of these burdens for all of mankind. Yet, we may be made privy to them in a manner that is not burdensome: our place in this world, and our time in eternity is sweetened by the victory of life over death, as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. “He will swallow up death for ever; and the L-RD G-D will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The question is not often asked, what is the ultimate purpose of our lives? Nor, is the answer readily inferred from worldly knowledge; nor, deduced from general knowledge. Yet, G-d has placed eternity in our hearts, so that we might have a glimpse of eternity within us. Therefore, we are able to aspire towards that eternity, having sensed a time and place of continual existence in our heart. Otherwise, what reward will we have at the end of a life well-lived? If we endure the challenges of this life for the sake of monetary gain, pleasure, or posterity, then we are being misled by the false promises of this world.

Consider endurance of each and every day, living our lives for the sake of an eternal reward, knowing that this life is a test. “This world is like a vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule, that you mayest enter into the banquet hall” (Pirkei Avos 4:21). We are to prepare ourselves, through the refinement of our character, and living a morally upright life, according to G-d’s standard, for the sake of obtaining a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come). This begins upon our admittance into the coronation banquet of the King, at the beginning of the Messianic Era. For the soul lives on for eternity.

Omer: Day 24 Balancing Challenges

Tiferes shebbe Netzach: Beauty within Endurance:

Otherwise rendered as harmony, balance, or compassion within endurance.

Tiferes represents the ability to blend or harmonize opposites; thus, the strong-willed efforts to endure challenges in life, may require tenacity; yet, a measure of compassion for ourselves and others also plays a role. Endurance in regard to forbearance of others, is supported by compassion, mercy, and leniency towards others. Also, we would benefit from some show of compassion to ourselves, when even our best efforts do not immediately amount to success. By acknowledging our mis-tries as stepping stones, we can learn how to do better next time; this does require a certain amount of self-compassion, lest we judge ourselves too harshly for our failures.

The tenacity to endure the nisyanos (challenges) of our lives, especially when we are running low on reserves, may benefit from acknowledging that we are not superhumans; rather, we are beings built to be dependent on the earth, our fellow human beings, and G-d Himself. When we reach the point of ayin (nothingness), when we find ourselves barely able to cope, then we may note a sense of powerlessness. This is exactly the state of mind that we should turn towards others for help; and, primarily, to accept that the only One who may be able to effect a situation from Above for the good, is the One who created the situation in the first place.

While it is true that we may often create the circumstances for our own negative situations; at times, we may find ourselves being tried by G-d. This was the case for Joseph, who was refined in the fires fire in Egypt, before he ascended to a place of sovereign rule. The trials that he endured shaped his character; so, he proved himself to be capable of being placed in a position of leadership, within the overall framework of G-d’s design. G-d has a divine plan for every individual; when we begin to see the challenges in our lives as tests that will bring us to the next level of spiritual improvement, then we may be in harmony with our circumstances, others, and G-d’s blueprint for our lives.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. 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.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 23 Soul Care

Gevurah shebbe Netzach: Power within Endurance:

(otherwise rendered as discipline within endurance).

The motivating factor for endurance is discipline; in any endeavor, a regimen that is followed with discipline, will lead to endurance in that endeavor. The path to success, may be said to be paved with sweat, especially in regard to an exercise routine. Yet, to neglect the soul, while placing undue emphasis on the body, will lead towards spiritual undernourishment. Both body and soul are important aspects of human beings. While disciplining the body seems to be an endeavor that is well undertaken by many, who are concerned with well being; the discipline of the soul is also necessary, and should be kept in mind, when dividing one’s time.

The two may complement each other; I am not advocating neglect of the body in favor of the soul. However, I imagine that in contemporary society, neglect of the soul may be all too common, and not necessarily due to an overemphasis on the body. Rather, any focus on the soul, is often diminished in favor of other preoccupations, such as entertainment, socialization, and internet use. I would encourage any readers who fall into the category of an undernourished soul, to think twice about what is important in life. For the soul is eternal; whereas, the body will be subject to entropy over time.

With that in mind, the discipline of the soul might entail the same type of regimen, planned out on a regular basis, akin to a jogging or exercise routine. Spending a few moments of quiet time at the beginning of the day, will lead towards a lasting benefit – a spiritual charge – if you will, that will continue throughout the day. Also, connecting to the soul in a meaningful way, before retiring in the evening, may help to settle the mind, and calm the nerves. Therefore, in this manner, it can be clearly seen that there are practical advantages to soul care.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. 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.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 22 Chesed shebbe Netzach

Love within Endurance

Being kind to ourselves in respect to the aspect of netzach, rendered as endurance, is tantamount to an everlasting kindness, that we can only approach as an ideal, based on the aspect of chesed, that H’Shem shows to us, not only when we might deserve so; also, when we do not necessarily deserve to be treated with kindness from G-d, He will still show His kindnesses to us, in order to win us over to His love for us. If he loves us, then we may also show love in return towards Him through our obedience.

To endure in “right relationship” towards Him, is no easy task; rather, we need to keep being drawn back to Him by some reminder, or effort on His part, as well as our own. As long as He sees us trying, he will meet us halfway in our walk towards Him. This ideal may also be applied in our relationship to self and others. If we are kind to ourselves, we are more likely to treat others in the same manner; as is mentioned in Torah, to love your fellow human being as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). To extend love outwards beyond family and friends may seem to amount to the impossible; yet, the idea can at least be kept in mind, the next time, a challenging situation might occur.

Instead of responding to others, whether family friends, or acquaintances in annoyance when something is less than perfect in our lives, remember that any relationship’s endurance is dependent on kindnesses. I.e., the concrete expression of kindness in accordance with what is able to be expressed towards others. A smile, a kind act, or overlooking the other person’s faults. All of these and more will contribute to the endurance of the relationship.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. 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.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 21 – Balanced Autonomy

malchus shebbe tiferes: kingdom within beauty

(Otherwise rendered as sovereignty within harmony). The sovereignty of G-d over His creation is tantamount to keeping order in the world, according to His frame of reference, a perspective that transcends our limited viewpoint. In our own lives, we are granted a certain amount of autonomy over ourselves, that should not be taken for granted. Therefore, we need to be responsible decision makers, while also recognizing that we can not control all the circumstances of our life; even so, we can still choose how to respond in any given situation.

Yet, our sense of autonomy is best taken into consideration with respect towards the greater context of our relationship with G-d, as well as our fellow human beings. With that in mind, reflect upon how important these relationships are to our own sense of well being. No man is an island; we all need some amount of social interaction, to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the individual. Additionally, as limited beings, we may benefit from turning towards G-d for comfort, guidance, and inspiration, especially through prayer, as well as reading kitvei kodesh (holy scripture).

Lifting ourselves up above our station in life, trying to make ourselves out to be more than who we really are, would be presumptuous. In recognition of our dependency on G-d, we realize that we have limitations, and do not rule the world. Acknowledging the value of others in our lives, helps us to comprehend, that an overall sense of harmony, is promoted by accepting the contributions that other people make to our well being. Moreover, by respecting the autonomy and boundaries of others, we may be interdependent; yet, without treading on another’s toes.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. 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.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 20 – Building Wisely

Yesod shebbe Tiferes: Foundation within Beauty

(Otherwise rendered as foundation within harmony). What foundation have I built in order to bring harmony, meaning, and an overall sense of peace into my life? Am I the sort of person that permits myself “to go with the flow,” in hope that if I trust in the Universe, everything will work out for the best? Or, do I have a set of tangible principles, rules, and guidelines in my life, that governs my lifestyle, so that I might decide how to respond to the events in my life, rather than letting them passively shape me? Am I able to make wise decisions, based upon higher truths? Or do I go with the whim of my feelings, letting my emotions rule me instead?

The psalmist requests of the L-RD, that He show favor towards Zion, that He “build Thou the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:20, JPS 1917 Tanach). By analogy, this may be rendered as well for the sake of discussion, as the walls of our foundation that will preserve our inner sense of peace. The protective measures that we put in place to preserve our values, so that the sanctity of our lives is not diminished by outside factors. Additionally, a strong foundation built upon wisdom is necessary, in order to navigate the challenges of life.

From where is your harmony derived in your life? Upon what kind of foundation do you build your peace of mind? Do you have a lasting peace of mind? Is there something that will contribute to the restoration of your soul, when you might be thrown off balance by the world? A strong foundation is a sure and lasting one, that will provide shelter from the storms of life. Harmony and inner peace must be maintained, through returning, and returning again, each and every day of our lives to our central focus in life. If our focus is on G-d, then true peace is attainable through His presence.

Omer: Day 19 Hod shebbe Tiferes – A Sure Peace

Hod shebbe Tiferes: Splendor within Beauty

(Otherwise rendered as humility within harmony). Thus, one “role” of acquiring humility, in relationship to “peace of mind” is as follows:

Humility may serve to temper a false sense of harmony within, by compelling a soul to recognize that any sense of inner peace is often fragile, especially if that peace is not drawn from a higher source. Are we willing to admit to ourselves, that we are dependent on many circumstances, needs, and expectations to maintain a sense of peace? To think otherwise may be an overestimation of one’s own ability to secure sure peace of mind with self and others.

Yet, if we would like to be able to transcend our dependence on the requirements that we set for ourselves, in order to bring us a peace that may actually be a fragile peace, then, through recognition of our limitations to secure this peace, we may humble ourselves before G-d, in acknowledgment of the everlasting peace that can provided through Him. “The L-RD will bless His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Omer: Day 18 Netzach shebbe Tiferes – Centering

Endurance within Beauty

(Otherwise rendered as endurance within harmony). The center will not hold: my sense of balance will be thrown off, if my center is predicated strictly upon a sense of self. Rather, a transcendent focus will support a sense of balance, by way of transcending ourselves, so that a higher perspective may be gained. Victor Frankl explains that a greater sense of fulfillment than our own selfish pursuits must ensue from “one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning).

The ego thrives on pride, and a sense of accomplishment attributed to the efforts made by oneself. Yet, because we are limited beings, this kind of image, focused only on self will not endure. True harmony within may only endure through help from Above; otherwise, the weight of our own worries and concerns in this world, may become overwhelming. For myself, I would overestimate my own sense of self importance, if I thought that I could rely on my own moral, emotional, and intellectual reserves.

Because we are interdependent human beings, our lives are dependent on various factors, and the contributions of others, as well as our familiar and social connections. Therefore, we are somewhat dependent, to a greater or lesser degree, on others outside of ourselves. Ultimately, from the point of view of scripture, G-d would like us to depend on Him. “Cast your burdens upon the L-RD, and He will sustain you” (Psalm 55:23). For, His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isiah 55:9). Therefore, G-d may serve as a prolific resource.

[These are 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 own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].

Omer: Day 16 Gevurah shebbe Tiferes

B”H

Gevurah shebbe Tiferes: Power within Beauty

Strength must be modified, in order to be compatible with a specific end in mind. For example, gevurah as a measure of judgment in the form of an admonition, should be balanced by tiferes, for the sake of harmony in accord with the given situation. Opening a tin of sardines does not require as much strength, as prying open a car door with the jaws of life. So, it follows that correcting a student’s mistake in pronunciation, is less demanding than chiding a teenager for misbehavior.

For the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), we should judge ourselves in a manner that is not too harsh, nor too lenient; rather, in way that would prove to be of the most benefit to the soul. Thus, a balance is necessary, in regard to how critical a person is of himself. A certain amount of positive self talk will compel a person to feel encouraged: yet, it is also necessary to critique thought, speech, and action, in hopes of being able to improve any faults in these areas.

Precisely because we are human beings, we may improve upon ourselves, by way of transcending any negative characteristics. Ultimately, harmony within the framework of mind, body, and spirit will lead towards the ability to excel in accordance with the design given to us by the Creator. Abraham Twerski points out that human spirituality is dependent upon the distinguishing characteristics of humans that make them different than animals.

These would include free will, i.e., volition, inclusive of the ability to use discernment, delay gratifications,and put others ahead of oneself in certain situations. Achieving harmony within ourselves sometimes requires prioritizing our needs,in favor of higher, more noble aspirations. The discernment of gevurah will assist on the road towards freedom from our lower nature, The heights of spirituality rest upon the decisions that we make for ourselves, that are most in accord with being truly human.

[These are 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 own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].