Omer: Day 49 Culmination

Malchut shebbe Malchut: Kingship within Kingship

Today’s middot (character traits) are malchut shebbe malchut (autonomy 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 personal fulfillment; in other words, the culmination of the soul’s mission in life. Under G-d’s directive, through His hasgacha peratis (divine guidance) that is placed upon us all, we are guided to what will steer us in the right direction.

In the Biblical sense, Solomon simplifies the essence, the underlying goal, to focus on, namely, “the sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d, and observe His commandments; for this applies to all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, JPS 1985 Tanach). By staying on course, within the framework of G-d’s commandments, including all of the guidance that stems from them, one’s potential as an individual may be fully garnered, along the way towards the Kingdom.

The path is a unified one, inclusive of the soul in relationship to G-d. Moreover, to think in terms of self actualization, as well as directing ourselves to be in accordance with G-d’s expectations of us, is not incongruent. Although, in the strictest psychological sense, Maslow may have intended self actualization an expression of inner potential; within the light of a divine plan, it is ultimately through the negation of self to a higher cause, that the self may realize its fullest potential within G-d.

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 the L-RD 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 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Omer: Day 48 – Being Oneself

Yesod shebbe Malchut: Foundation within Kingship

In regard to yesod, a strong foundational belief system is necessary in order to maintain a sense of autonomy (malchut). Without reference points, in regard to one’s identity, it would be too easy to be swayed by this, that or the other opinion, trend, or viewpoint. A tenacious adherence to a set of values and beliefs, as well as an overall conception of oneself will be a fence around an individual’s autonomy.

There is a teaching from Zusha, who taught that when he gets to Shomayim (Heaven), he isn’t going to be asked why he wasn’t like Moses. He will be asked why he wasn’t like Zusha (himself). Everyone is an individual, who will best relate to truth in the manner that G-d will show to him or her. Therefore, the spiritual achievements, past education, or knowledge of others should only inspire us. For G-d designates unto each and every individual, according to his own capacity.

A foundational belief and practice is really integral to the overall spiritual health of every human being; otherwise, we could potentially drown, so to speak, in a sea of nihilism, where values ultimately do not matter, and life has no directive towards an ultimate purpose. G-d forbid. Therefore, to cling to the truth through deveykus (attachment) is paramount not only to connect to G-d, but to also remain steadfast on the derech (path) of life.

note: this was recorded and posted before Shabbat.

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 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 15 Chesed shebbe Tiferes

April 12, 2021

Love within Beauty

The quality of loving-kindness expressed in a harmonious manner as represented by tiferes is integral to lending a helping hand in time of need. True kindness is not measured, per se, by any limiting factors; yet, flows outward from a place of sincerity, knowing how to quench the emotional thirst of others, like a river following its natural course. Even so, the natural expression of loving-kindness is rare, especially when almost everyone’s source of inner kindness is being tested by trying times. Therefore, finding the right measure of kindness at the appropriate time, in harmony with the specific needs of others requires discernment.

If we are in harmony with ourselves; i.e., as so many others have said in various ways, we need to be kind to ourselves. To some degree how we treat others, may actually be reflecting how we treat ourselves. The commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is considered a cornerstone of Jewish thought, through which all of the other commandments must be viewed. In respect to chesed shebbe tiferes, loving-kindness within harmony, the flowing out of love from a balanced place within an individual, can help to temper our efforts to do mitzvoth (good deeds), by tinging all that we do with a certain amount of kindness. In this manner, harmony may be either created or restored by always “keeping chesed in mind.”

[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 14 Malchut of Gevurah

sovereignty within strength

Wielding power from a position of authority requires discernment. The autonomy of the sovereign must reflect his own deference to G-d, for no one is above the law. Moreover, the sovereign must respect the autonomy of his subjects; and, not rule in a manner that diminishes their individuality and rights. Every human being is granted a certain amount of autonomy from Above. If G-d gives us free will, then we must also recognize the autonomy of our fellow human beings.

Omer: Day 13 Yesod of Gevurah

foundation within strength

The foundation of strength, from an integral standpoint, has to do with “moral constraint.” Gevurah is also associated with judgment; therefore, judging ourselves within the context of our foundational beliefs may compel us to see if we “measure up” to the standards that we would like to uphold in our lives. A proper assessment of our foundational strengths is necessary to test the integrity of the overall “structure” – the beliefs and presuppositions that our lives are based upon.

dvar Shemini 5781 – Inner Shame

B”H

dvar for parashas Shemini 5781

“And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the L-RD appeared unto all the people.  And there came forth fire from the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 9:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The fire came down like a pillar from heaven to earth.” – Sifra

The people had grown expectant, to the point of concern, over the previous seven days, in which Moses daily performed the inauguration service on his own. On the eighth day, corresponding to the first of Nissan, one year after leaving Egypt, everything was in place; yet, still there was no fire from Shomayim (Heaven).

The offerings of that day included a calf as a sin-offering, of which commentary mentions atoned for Aaron’s role in the making of the golden calf.  Also, a goat as a sin-offering to atone for the people. Additionally, an olah, and the people’s shelamin – peace offering – as well as the daily morning Tamid offering.

It was at this point, that “Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting.” According commentary, one possible explanation, offered by Rashi, who refers to Sifre, is that when Aaron perceived that the offerings had been made, yet, the heavenly fire had not descended, he thought that H’Shem was still angry with him, because of his role in the sin of the golden calf. He pleaded to Moshe, in the midst of his “inner shame,” whereupon they both entered the sanctuary to pray.

Even upon beginning his role as Kohein Gadol (High Priest) upon making the first offerings, Aaron recalled his sin, and through his prayers, may have sought further atonement for his transgression. Surely, this must have been a humbling experience for him; elsewhere, commentary explains that even though he felt ashamed, this was precisely why he had been chosen, because he remained humble, as a result of recalling his sin. The principle is encapsulated in the pasuk (verse), “my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:5). If we keep our past sins in mind, this will help us to keep our ego in check.

motzei Shabbos: Tapestry of Life

Nissan 1, 5781

Our thoughts may be woven together, in order to form a tapestry in this life. The nature of our thoughts will determine the quality of the tapestry. In regard to the paroches (partition) that separated between the area where the Ark was kept and the less holy area of the Mikdash (sanctuary), consider the variety of materials used, “blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen; with cherubim the work of the skilful workman shall it be made” (26:31, JPS 1917 Tanach).

According to the Talmud, the craftsmen “embroidered the place where they had designed” (Yoma 72b). Thus, first a pattern was made on the material, then they embroidered the design. Our thoughts surface first in our mind; these thoughts may be likened to a pattern that is based upon our soul; therefore, the design that is eventually woven in our lives is a reflection of who we are.

Yet, are personalities may often influence the overall design, either positively or negatively, dependent on what kind of other thoughts occupy our minds. If only the true light of the soul could shine through, irrespective of our own limiting factors, we would be able to create a beautiful tapestry in our lives, unimpeded by our faults, character defects, and aveiros (sins).

The soul is constructed, inasmuch that our lower nature may interfere with our higher aspirations; the challenges in our lives to succeed, despite our yetzer hara (evil inclination) makes all the difference. In Freudian terms, our life giving side, eros is opposed by thanatos. Therefore, like skilled crafts persons, we need to discern positive from negative, right from wrong, and light from darkness.

On an additional note, in regard to our thoughts, the tapestry we weave separates to some degree, between our inner sanctuary (the depths of our mind), and the persona we present to the world. Only behind the paraoches (partition) of our soul, are we intimately connected to H’Shem, in like manner that the Ark of the Covenant rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies).