Omer: Day 9 The Restraint of Might

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

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.

note: 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 6 – Foundation of Love

Yesod shebbe Chesed (Foundation within Love)

The foundation of love rests upon our ability to bond to others. Therefore, the strength of our love towards others is empowered by how we bond. Conversely, it could be said that the intensity of our love is strengthened by our bonds to others. An everflowing pattern develops, akin, by way of analogy, to the way water circulates on the earth.


“All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Moreover, when water evaporates, the droplets ascend to rakia (sky), from where they are condensed within rainclouds; then, the water droplets fall back to the earth in a continous cycle. I hope that this analogy may benefit your understanding of my reflections on hod shebbe chesed.

note: 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

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. 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 exaggerating our talents, nor our accomplishments, this will pave the way towards an honest assessment of ourselves.

From a point of humility within, we may act with sincerity towards others. Only when we humble ourselves, can we truly allow G-d’s splendor to inspire us to give to others. In expressing kindness to others, we are actually reflecting the Image of G-d, whose splendor flows to all who observe His commandments. As explained in chassidus, the performance of a mitzvah (good deed) draws down His light through the presence of the Shechinah (Practical Tanya, ch. 41, section 9).

note: 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 3 – the Harmony of Kindness

Omer Day 3 tiferes within chesed (beauty within love)

The nature of tiferes, in terms of its expression as a middah (character trait), can best be designated as “harmony.” Therefore, one question for today could be construed as whether or not one’s acts of loving-kindness are performed in a way that denotes a harmonious balance to all concerned in the endeavor. Moreover, in our own personality makeup, where is the harmony within that can promote feelings of kindness to others? For, is it not so, that sincere kindness should ideally flow from a peaceful, harmonious place within our very selves?

Tiferes also represents balance; by contrast an imbalance in the personality could be rectified through tiferes. Are you able to envision your heartfelt acts of kindness bringing harmony to the lives of others? Or do you think of your kindnesses only as a small drop in the bucket? If so, consider that the ripple effect may be greater than you can imagine. Further reflect upon the realization that your answer as to how potent an act of kindness may be, reflects your own perspective on self-worth, and how efficacious you perceive your efforts to be for the sake of others.

Tiferes also has to do with “centeredness;” therefore, if one is not in harmony with him or herself, one may not feel inclined to show kindness towards others. Sometimes, moving past any hesitancy to give of ourselves to others, will help to transcend our egos, our personal limited selves, thereby surpassing any need in the moment to remain constricted. An act of kindness in and of itself may lift our hearts up in joy as the resultant feeling of performing that act. This can be understood in the adage, “change the behavior and the feelings will follow.”

Furthermore, consider the commandment to love G-d with all of our heart, soul, and might. Being commanded to love may seem like a conundrum, if we only perceive love as a natural felt feeling that we either have or do not have. However, the Hebrew word for love is “ahavah,” and has the connotation of giving. To give of ourselves to G-d, based upon the commandment of our responsibilities to do so, will increase our love towards Him over time.

The same is true in our relationships with others. To perform an act of kindness for a “loved one,” is to willingly accede to the requirement of “love,” that is to “be giving.” Although, unwillingness to give may precede an act of giving, the feelings may follow, whereas one will feel better for doing so. This may also be seen in the adage that “it is better to give than to receive,” because the giver actually does receive the positive feelings that result from giving.

note: 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).

Rearrangement

reflections: Likutei Amarim, middle of chapter 29

If we return to H’Shem, He will return to us (Malachi 3:7, Jeremiah 29:12). As we follow through with a sincere teshuva (repentance; literally, “turning”) in our lives, H’Shem will meet us halfway, in our efforts to return to Him through a thorough shift in our values, and lifestyle. We should examine ourselves each day for the sake of rooting out past sinful habits. Our thoughts should be examined as well as our emotions. Only with help from Above, may we purge ourselves of the accumulation of spiritual darkness that surrounds us as a result of our transgressions. B’ezrach H’Shem.

Thus, this is an ongoing process; additionally, there are levels of teshuvah, inasmuch that the more we change over time, the more we are able to better recognize our faults and make amends for them. This is spiritual progress, based upon an inward desire to cleanse the soul: even to the extent that we may be free, figuratively speaking, from the mire wherein we would otherwise sink. King David’s concern for his sanctity is a positive example, as he said, “My sin is constantly before me,” inasmuch that his recollection of past sins kept him humble and served as a reminder against committing these types of sins in the future.

If only we could be so careful as to recognize that all aspects of our life should fall under the guidance of Torah. In like manner that the Kings of Israel were required to keep a copy of the Torah at hand all of the time, who are we to think that we can do as we please, regardless of the guidelines given to us for a life of sanctity. For the sake of character development, one method of travailing in sincere efforts to change, would be to focus upon a single fault, making an effort to root that out of our lives. There is no better time than now; and no need to put off this resolution.

Mishnah Insights: Spiritual Cleanliness

Mishnah Daily Study: Berachos 3:4-5


In regard to prayer and study, in that order, to what extent is spiritual purity required? The Mishnah addresses this question in specific terms, while I will attempt to draw a broader perspective. Various views range from distancing oneself from prayer and study, until one has become spiritually cleansed (through immersion in water), thus freeing his conscience from guilt, versus permitting oneself to engage in prayer and study in a less direct manner, such as forming the words of prayer in one’s mind, and studying without reading aloud, even before immersion.

I ask myself, what is the concern at hand, in regard to engaging in prayer or study, with unclean hands (see Psalm 24:4)? Perhaps, because G-d is a consuming fire, as is mentioned elsewhere, so that if we approach Him in a condition less than pure, or a state of mind that is not reconciled to Him, we risk the occurrence of having our soul singed. Thus, approaching G-d in an unworthy manner, could have the effect of bringing judgment upon ourselves (G-d forbid).

Moreover, both prayer and study require concentration; so, so the soul needs to be recollected, in order to engage in these meaningful spiritual activities. This is not to say, that we can not approach G-d in our unworthiness, and ask Him to cleanse us. Rather, the traditional times of prayer and study that we are accustomed to would be diminished in their effectiveness, if we are still wallowing in the dirt of our aveiros (transgressions).

In the time of King Solomon, a large vessel made of brass, described as a “molten sea” was placed on twelve oxen, also cast of brass, placed in proximity to the entrance of the Beis HaMikdash or Temple. The waters contained therein were for purification. Before we enter into dialogue with G-d, we need to cleanse our hearts through teshuvah (repentance).

deveykus

When merged

within the singsong chant

of a chassidic melody,

the congregant’s souls become one

for a brief moment, encapsulated

by the deveykus (connection)

to G-d that is fostered

by the unity.

~~~~~ ~~~~~

The sway

of the congregants

while davening (praying),

like flickering flames on candles,

reaching toward heaven,

assist the soul’s yearning

for deveykus (connection).

Seeking Meaning

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch as each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. Common language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the burdensome task of “finding oneself” given to the young adult. Also, consider the pressure of higher-level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college-bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, especially if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). There is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; yet, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Additionally, each child may be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, and learning style. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

Unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for themselves, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of societal norms. Yet, there is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up within a more traditional framework. This would include those within cultures that embrace traditional morality, as well as those that uphold religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each was committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard.

Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. We need a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example for us to seek meaning and the utmost good for our lives.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham, the Hebrew – Part Two

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeira 5782

There is an added dimension of Judaism that can be learned from the example of Abraham, when he is not cast in the light as being the first Jew. Words have connotations that can sometimes be misleading when the word is applied in a more general manner than its normal usage. Case in point, in regard to Abraham, who led an exemplary life, about four hundred years, before the Torah was given. How was he able to live in a manner that exceeded the level of morality of that generation? One answer is found in the phrase, derech eretz (literally, “way of the land”), that connotes being a mentch (good person), inclusive of basic ethics, a sense of responsibility, and consideration of others. In fact, this is considered to be a prerequisite for the observance of mitzvoth (commandments, as per found in the Torah). So, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob serve as examples of derech eretz, whereof we can learn the basic positive character traits that G-d would expect of us, before we even place ourselves, figuratively speaking, of course, at the base of Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given.

Yet, if Abraham is cast in the framework of being the first Jew, as if being Jewish were synonymous with the observance of the mitzvoth, then we will totally miss the point of what the moral legacy of Abraham has to offer us. Furthermore, above all else, Abraham exemplified emunah in the form of his faithfulness towards H’Shem, as demonstrated by his obedience to H’Shem’s directive, when tested ten times throughout his life. Torah specifically states, about Abraham, “And he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, let us not forget the primacy of emunah (faith) in our lives, when considering our own relationship to H’Shem. Is this faith also a prerequisite to the observance of Torah? If we consider the nature of the first commandment, then faith is primary, as stated, “I am the L-RD your G-d,” a declarative statement that according to commentary implies that the first commandment is the directive to believe in G-d; only then, to receive the mitzvoth based upon the authority of the One who  gave us the commandments at Sinai.