Lag b’Omer 5782

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 The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased.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.

The historical 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 was given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A 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

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

Omer: Day 31 Kaleidoscopic Splendor

Tiferes shebbe Hod: Beauty within Splendor

(Otherwise rendered as harmony within humility).

As explained elsewhere, only through bowing down in our hearts to the splendor of the L-RD, may we also acquire splendor, by way of reflecting His Splendor. Therefore, we may find through harmonizing ourselves enough to show deference to G-d, we may bear the light bestowed upon us through our reconciliation with Him.

By way of harmonizing ourselves, I mean to bring the soul into alignment with truth, by sifting through the various inconsistencies in character, called from a psychological perspective, “cognitive dissonance.” Ideally, the result would be like viewing the shapes combined into patterns within the kaleidoscope of our soul. Imagine all of the variegated shapes being lit up by light in the background; this effect would be akin to G-d’s splendor being reflected by our souls.

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 30 Stand Humble

Gevurah shebbe Hod: Power within Splendor

The splendor of the L-RD is energized by the eternal source of Life that is synonymous with His existence: He existed before the beginning and brought all into being. Therefore, any sense of strength that we might have as human beings, is ultimately only from Him. And, furthermore, we are most able to reflect His splendor through our humility, in acknowledgment of His greater splendor.

The strength (gevurah) of humility (hod), contrary to misconceptions, is not found in cowardice, nor timidity.  We should be aware of the potential for false humility, that manifests as emotional imposters in our hearts, claiming that we may not be worthy enough, courageous enough, or strong enough to stand up against evil. If we are able to face the negative aspects of our own character, then we can also make a difference by challenging wrongs found outside of us.

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 29 The Kindness Bridge

Chesed shebbe Hod: Love within Splendor

Otherwise rendered as kindness within humility.

The role of chesed (kindness) within the quality of humility. How does kindness influence the potential for humility? Kindness seems like a key ingredient of humility. Yet, kindness may actually be a result of the quality of humility. To humble ourselves before G-d, and others, downplaying our plusses, and acknowledging our minuses, places us in a position to better appreciate others, by not seeing ourselves as better than them. Therefore, kindness may be a consequence of recognizing our inherent sameness with others. It is easier to be kind to those whom we feel a common connection. Recognizing our own humanity, reflected in the eyes of others, may help us to bridge the gap with personal acts of kindness.

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 27 Foundational Truths

Yesod shebbe Netzach: Foundation of Endurance

How well am I able to maintain an active participation in the foundational truths of my life? Do I only have an intellectual understanding of those truths? Or, am I able to ground those truths within the framework of my everyday life? Moreover, when faced with challenges, within and without, how well will that foundation prove to support the overall structure of my belief and practice? The stronger my foundation, the greater my ability to endure the storms of life. If my foundation is like a house built upon a rock, then it would be more secure than a foundation built upon sand.

A sure foundation is one that will withstand the changing seasons, because the underlying principles are founded upon timeless truths, such as those found in the Bible. Yet, a foundation built upon the shifting sands of societal norms will not last. This should be clear to anyone who reviews the values in American society, from the 1950’s until today. There has been a substantial shift away from traditional values toward liberal ones, even going beyond all that was considered decent yesterday. And, where will this trajectory of descent lead? Cancel culture continues to impact society as whole, for the most part by diminishing traditional voices.

What is considered normative in society changes over time. Especially, when there is an attempt to influence the societal norm in favor of an agenda that is secular, it seems that traditional godly values fall by the wayside. This is something to consider for both those who identify with traditional values, and those who do not. Where will the proverbial “line in the sand” be drawn? On what side of that line will we find ourselves, as individuals?

Without building blocks that will provide a sure foundation, a structure built upon empty truths, ultimately, will not be established. The measure of strength of a foundation may very well be its resistance to change; therefore, only time-tested truths will ultimately prevail. And, the establishment of any foundation that is not in accord with those truths will ultimately fail to provide the shelter that only G-d can provide, under the wings of the Shechinah.

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. May all, including myself, who might fall into the category of an undernourished soul, think twice about what is important in life. For the soul is eternal, and, therefore, significantly more important to nourish; whereas, the body will be subject to entropy over time, and return to the dust.

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 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. 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).