Omer: Day 7 (Malchus of Chesed) The Sovereignty of Loving-kindness

B”H

April 4, 2021

Omer Day 7
Malchus shebbe Chesed

(Kingdom within Love)

The corresponding emotional attributes, sovereignty (autonomy, dignity, etc.) within loving-kindness are key qualities in healthy relationships. To be “there for the other person,” in essence, requires a strong sense of inner fortitude, knowing who you are, in order to relate to others from a centered awareness of one’s own identity. Maintaining healthy boundaries, by recognizing the other’s autonomy is also integral to being able to express love in an appropriate manner. Acts of kindness, done in a way that respects the other person’s dignity is important.

Our own inner worth, the value we place on ourselves in regard to personal dignity, reflects the One whose sovereignty rules over our hearts, if we permit Him to do so. Yet, if we see ourselves as separate from G-d, then we risk narcissistic pride, that creates an illusion of ourselves as being more important than our abilities and accomplishments would indicate. The expression of love to another person from a place of self aggrandizement may only result in posturing ourselves above the other.

Yet, in not overstepping the boundaries of the other, by accepting the other as a unique individual, two people in relationship to each other can coexist. This holds true for our interactions with all human beings, inasmuch that we endeavor to respect and appreciate others for who they are. Recognizing the inherent value of our fellow human beings, can be done without diminishing ourselves; nor, on the other hand, by thinking that we are better than the other. G-d, Who is sovereign over all is the Ultimate Judge.

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

Omer Count: Day 5 – Splendor of Love

April 2, 2021

Omer 5781 Day 5 – the splendor of love
hod shebbe chesed splendor within love)

The attribute of hod has to do with the character trait of humility. In this respect, when we humble ourselves before G-d, then His splendor may shine through us. Also, hod is likened to the quality of sincerity in our lives. A certain amount of sincerity is required to be humble. For example, when we are sincere about our abilities , without exagerating our talents, nor our accomplishments, this will pave the way towards an honest assessment of ourselves.

From this point of humility within, we may act with sincerity towards others. Furthermore, it is possible to recognize that only when we humble ourselves, can we truly allow H’Shem’s splendor to inspire us to give to others. Therefore, in expressing kindness to others, we are actually reflecting the Image of G-d, whose splendor flows to all who observe His commandments. This is explained in chassidus, as the mitzvah (good deed) drawing down His light through the presence of the Shechinah (Practical Tanya, ch. 41, section 9).

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

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.

parashas: Perception

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shelach 5780

In parashas Shelach, ten out of twelve men of great reknown, leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, fall prey to a negative perception of themselves, in contrast to the local inhabitants, who were like giants. The ten spies perceived themselves to be like grasshoppers, “in their own eyes;” hence, they thought that they must also look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants. Deeming themselves, nor the people of Israel as no match for the inhabitants of Cannan, they returned, and spoke ill of the mission to enter the long awaited promised land of Eretz Yisrael.

It is interesting to note that the preceding passage to the incident of the spies concerns lashon hara, whereof Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke ill of him. She was chastised with leprosy, until Moshe prayed on her behalf for H’Shem to heal her. If these two events are in chronological order, then the spies did not learn the lesson. Instead, their own lashon hara demoralized the entire people, and elicited consequences that would last for forty years; that entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb passed away in the wilderness, excepting the women and children.

Lashon hara is a transgression that the Torah indicates is committed by the best of us; yet, this does not make it excusable in anyway; rather the prolific contagion, as demonstrated by the people’s acceptance of the spies’ ill report of the land shows how easy it us to succumb to this transgression. Today, lashon hara, and its counterpart, retzilus (gossip) are so widely accepted, so as to be said to be institutionalized within the greater part of society; also the widespread use of the Internet intensifies the bane.

Yet, how can the proliferation of what is considered the norm be interrupted? By the realisation of consequences that stem from what goes unchallenged. If only we could see the consequences of our own actions ahead of time; by thinking, before we act, we can visualize the potential ramifications of our decisions in life. Instead of speaking impulsively, we should reflect more on our words, before voicing our own thoughts.

parashas Shelach 5780

Restoration

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nasso 5780

“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

  • Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

parashas Nasso 5780

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.

Reaching Out

B”H

tiferes shebbe malchus
(harmony within sovereignty)

Tiferes represents harmony, beauty, and compassion. The polar opposites of chesed (kindness) and gevurah (severity) are balanced within tiferes. In relation to malchus (sovereignty), tiferes may be explored as the amount of felt compassion towards others, necessary, when honoring other’s autonomy, dignity, and self-worth. A healthy respect for the autonomy of others includes, an appreciation of who they are as a unique individual.

In order to appreciate the other, it may be necessary, to step out of the “egoic shell.” A preoccupation with self will not allow an individual to see the beauty in the lives of others. To be sovereign over oneself, to the extent that the door is closed to others, leaves an emptiness, devoid of the vicissitudes of life – the ever changing moments. In other words, self autonomy should not preclude vulnerability; no man is island.

Omer Day 45

The Kind Judge

B”H

gevurah shebbe malchus

(strength within sovereignty)

Gevurah represents discipline, severity, and judgment; incidentally, gevurah is the opposite of chesed (kindness). Malchut (sovereignty) is often denoted as autonomy, for the sake of this series that explores the sefirot as middot (character traits), during the seven week counting of the Omer.

G-d’s sovereignty is made known through His commandments; his gevurah (strength, justice, severity) through his judgments. On the otherhand, His attribute of chesed (mercy) is exhibited through His kindness. These two attributes work in tandem.

If He did not let His judgments be known through His interactions within the affairs of the world, He would appear to be tolerant of mankind’s shortcomings to the extent of a permissiveness that would convey a lax attitude on His part, as if any behavior on our part is acceptable. Yet, when we turn our hearts towards Him, He will bestow kindnesses upon us.

Moreover, He will help us improve ourselves, so that we will not fall under judgment. Because His expectations of us are clear, as represented by His commandments, His judgment is valid. Yet, often His judgment is in the form of chastisement, designed to compel us to return from our errant ways. As is written, “For whom the L-RD loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:12).

Day 44

Reflect Kindness

B”H

Day 43

28 Iyar 5780 (May 22, 2020)

chesed shebbe malchus

(kindness within sovereignty)

Today begins a seven day focus on malchus (sovereignty), in combination with the other six emotional attributes. The first of these to be explored in relationship to malchus is chesed (kindness, mercy, love). Malchus (sovereignty) may be said to represent autonomy. Human beings are created in G-d’s image, so we are obligated by our godly nature, at least to make an attempt to reflect His attributes. We were also given free will; therefore, to varying degrees, we may seek an autonomous stance in life; yet, to see ourselves as independent of G-d would only be self-deception.

In our quest to seek autonomy in life, to define ourselves as an individual, with a unique personality, we should add a measure of kindness. It is not necessary to shout, “this is who I am;” rather, simply to assert ourselves in regard to our personal viewpoints. Be kind to others; allow them to express their own viewpoints; give warm regard for shared thoughts about life, the universe, and G-d. Healthy respect for the autonomy of others includes allowing enough space for others to share; spiritual growth thrives when given room to grow. Sometimes this requires silence on our part, for the sake of listening.

Day 43