Monday, April 30, 2007

A Word to the Wise

Today is the twenty-eighth day, which is four weeks, of the Omer. Today is Malkhut of Netzach. Netzach means victory as well as endurance/perseverance. Today is when that quality of endurance is finally made manifest in this world, this is endurance leading to victory, winning through, overcoming the obstacles.
When we are manifesting Netzach, it is important that our perseverance be influenced by the higher sefirot of Chochmah, wisdom, and Binah, judgment. If we just plow ahead without thought, without guidance, blindly staying the course, then Netzach can lead to spectacular defeat, and destruction.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Today is the twenty-fourth day, which is three weeks and three days, of the Omer. Today is Tiferet of Netzach. Tiferet of Netzach would be the balanced point of my determination/perseverance, when the idea of relentlessly pushing through all obstacles is eased by consideration for others that may cross my path. You know, I haven’t really achieved this. I’m far enough out from the middle of the see-saw that the poor person on the Chesed side just got launched across the playground.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

When the Going Gets Tough

Today is the twenty-third day, which is three weeks and two days, of the Omer. The essence of the day is Gevurah of Netzach. Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain our forward momentum in the face of opposition. This is where Gevurah of Netzach comes into play.

The Little Rebbetzin loves to go canoeing, she constantly asks to go and is very excited about going, right up to the point of actually getting into the canoe. As soon as she needs to step into the wobbling canoe she has a massive panic attack and screams and sobs how she really doesn’t want to get in the canoe and she will just wait there on the shore. This happens every time. Now, I understand that some things can be frightening to a small person, but I also know that the only way to get beyond that fear is to confront it and then keep going. If I allowed Chesed to rule the situation, we would pack the canoe up and go home and try again when the L.R. was “ready.”
I am more the Gevurah sort. We came to go canoeing and we are going to do it, no obstacles will be tolerated. The L.R. is told that she is going to stop crying, RIGHT NOW, and she is going to, GET INTO THE CANOE. She does, we push off, and the L.R. says: “I love canoeing.” As she dangles her hands over the sides and rolls around on the bottom of the canoe.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

All About Me

Today is the twenty-second day, which is three weeks and one day, of the Omer. The essence of the day is Chesed of Netzach.
Netzach is called victory, it is the embodiment of perseverance, it is also my name, so this week is all about ME!

I am a task-oriented person, once I start something, I will keep at it until it is completed, I am not deterred by obstacles. Many years ago I had the following exchange at a job interview:

Human Resources Drone: What tricks do you use to do your job?
Me: What?
H.R.D.: You know, what games do you use so that you can finish your work?
Me: I just do it.
H.R.D.: Huh?
Me: I know what I have to do, and when it has to be done, and I work at it until it’s finished.
H.R.D.: But what do you do to motivate yourself, you know, when you don’t want to work?
Me: It’s my job, it has to be done, so I do it.
H.R.D.: Oh, I guess that works for you.
Me: Yes, it does.

While working on something I generally do not wish to be distracted, this can appear as if I am being rude or purposefully ignoring other people. Chesed of Netzach is the aspect of kindness that tempers the pure drive of perseverance, it prevents me from running roughshod over others while I am pursuing my task. It is the aspect of myself that allows me to stop what I am doing and patiently listen while the Little Rebbetzin informs me in great detail why she needs to borrow the car to drive to the moon because it is too far to travel by bicycle.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Whole Truth

Today is the twentyfirst day, which is three weeks, of the Omer. It is Malkut of Tiferet.
Today is truth made manifest in this world. When acting in truth, it is important to not be acting from our personal truth but from universal truth. It is the difference between mishpatim and chok. Mishpatim laws are ones that we can understand or rationalize a reason for observing, chok laws are the ones that we must observe even though we cannot see the reasoning behind them, we keep them because they are true.

Half Full or Half Empty?

I came across the following passage during my learning. It made me think of the phrase “my cup runneth over.”

Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 46B, Schottenstein ed.:

The characteristic of earthly matters is such that an empty vessel can hold what is poured into it, whereas a full vessel cannot hold anything more. But the characteristic of matters pertaining to HaKodesh, Baruch Hu, is such that a full vessel can hold an even greater measure, whereas an empty vessel cannot hold things at all. As is stated: And if you will listen, you will listen. This teaches that if you will listen at first you will be destined to listen yet another time. But if you do not listen at first, you will not be able to listen later either. Another thing: If you will listen to the old, by reviewing again and again what you have already learned, then you will be able to listen to the new, but if your heart turns away and you abandon that which you have learned by failing to review it, then you will not listen subsequently, i.e. you will not subsequently be granted these insights.

The image of the cup overflowing is meant to indicate unlimited bounty being bestowed, but from the above quotation it would seem that the overflowing cup is in fact undesirable. Overflowing would mean that no more can be absorbed or accepted, perhaps, also, some of what is already received is being lost. Rather than asking that our cup overflow maybe we should request that we be given all that we are able to receive, and that we be granted the ability to absorb even more than that.
It also indicates that we should value that which we already have, and by using and cherishing what which we have already received we earn the privilege of receiving more in the future.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Just the Facts Mam

Today is the seventeenth day, which is two weeks and three days, of the Omer. It is Tiferet of Tiferet. The truth of truth. Complete truth without deference to judgment or mercy. The truth that is not softened with kindness nor given with harshness to punish. It simply is. It is said that “There is no truth in beauty,” but there is beauty in truth.
Interestingly beauty is another term that is used to refer to Tiferet.

Keeping Count

When I read the following passage I thought it an appropriate addendum to my post on Jewish time, it also ties in nicely with blogging the omer.

From Hayom Yom for the 1st of Iyar:

…someone said to my father, “The Alter Rebbe’s Chassidim were always keeping count.” My father took a great liking to the saying, and he commented: “That idea characterizes man’s avoda. The hours must be ‘counted hours,’ then the days will be ‘counted days.’ When a day passes one should know what he has accomplished and what remains yet to be done…

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Today is the sixteenth day, which is two weeks and two days, of the Omer. The essence of the day is Gevurah of Tiferet. Gevurah of Tiferet occurs when the culmination of emotions has favored the side of harshness over kindness. The sun can burn you, sometimes the truth hurts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Time Isn't Holding Us, Time Isn't After Us

This month's new practices.

Step 15 on Rav Breiter’s list: Every day recite a portion of the collected prayers of Rabbi Natan, Likutey Tefilot.

I do not currently own a copy of this work, so I will have to delay taking action on this one until October when I usually make most of my annual sefer purchases.

Step 16: Make fixed times each day for Torah study.

When I began to formulate what I was going to write on this post my original idea was to tally up the time that I spent davening and learning each day and then post that figure. A sort of, pat myself on the back, look and see what a good Jew I am, I spend X amount of time each day doing Jewish stuff. The more that I thought about it, the more uncomfortable that idea became. It seemed to impose a dichotomy, these hours of the day are my Jewish hours, and the other hours are my regular person hours. Did I really feel that during part of the day I was just like everyone else, and at other times I took on my “secret Jew identity”?
I decided to look more carefully at what I was considering “Jewish time”. Obviously the three prayer services were in this category, as was any time in my current learning schedule. What about the time spent saying grace after meals, or any of the various brachas before and after eating? What about other brachas said during the course of the day?
Was there an amount of time that was too small to be significant? Did the second it took to kiss the mezuzah when going out the door matter? Did that action influence the time immediately following it to make it somehow “Jewish”? If I started humming a niggunim while washing the dishes did the dishwashing become sanctified time?
Was there a minimum Halachic content in a conversation that made it more Jewish?:
Little Rebbetzin: Daddy, what do people taste like?
Me: I don’t know, I’ve never eaten anyone.
L.R.: Oh that’s right people aren’t kosher.

I realized that although sometimes I felt like “I’m not an actual Jew, I just play one on TV,” really there was no point in the day that was “regular time,” it was all “Jewish time” if that was what I made of it.


Photo courtesy of SDAC, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Today is the fifteenth day, which is two weeks and one day, of the Omer. The essence of the day is Chesed of Tiferet. Tiferet, the blending of Chesed and Gevurah, is the middle ground between kindness and harshness. In Zoharic kabbalah Tiferet is known as Truth,the Great Light. It represents the male counterpart to the feminine Malkhut. It is the sun to Malkhut’s moon. Tiferet is the culmination of the emotional/mental qualities of Chesed and Gevurah. These two sides have each had their influence on any decision we have made regarding any action or speech we are about to perform, the combination of their influences is Tiferet. In Chesed of Tiferet that combination has favored kindness. Our resulting actions will show less of the analytics of judgment and more of the openness of kindness.

Monday, April 16, 2007

When the Whip Comes Down

Today is the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, of the Omer. The energy of the day is Malkhut of Gevurah. Malkhut is the manifestation of the divine in this world. Malkhut has no innate quality or energy of its own. It receives all from the sefirot that precede it in the sefirotic tree, as such, today is discipline actualized, it is no longer merely a mental process that affects our decisions, but behavior itself, how we physically manifest the concept of discipline and judgment in our activities and interactions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Partner in Correction

Today is the thirteenth day, which is one week and six days, of the Omer. Today is Yesod of Gevurah. Yesod is the point at which the downward flow of divine energy collects before it is delivered into this world. When the sefirot are arranged into the shape of a human figure, Adom Kadmon, Yesod is located in the position of the reproductive organs. In Zoharic kabbalah it refers specifically to the male sexual organ. Just as the sexual organ is the point of physical joining between two individuals, so Yesod represents the point where divine energy is connected and exchanged with the physical world. Yesod of Gevurah represents that condition that occurs when a person’s judgment/disciple encounters and has an effect upon another individual. Ideally we are not just heaping criticism upon an unwilling recipient. Instead the other individual is a partner with us, we offer corrective and helpful advice which the other gratefully accepts and acts upon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Just a Love Tap

Today is the tenth day, which is one week and three days, of the Omer. Today is Tiferet of Gevurah – the quality of the balance point of judgment and mercy. Similar to Tiferet of Chesed, Tiferet of Gevurah represents the times when the quality of righteous anger is moderated. Left untempered absolute judgment would destroy all it encounters. Balanced judgment recognizes that there are exceptions to the rules.

Ramban,Commentary to Bereishit 18:23, translation Rabbi Yaakov Blinder, Mesorah Pub.

But it is not appropriate even under the Attribute of Strict Justice, to bring death upon the righteous along with the wicked, for if such a thing were done the righteous would be punished like the wicked, “and people would say, ‘It is useless to serve G-d.’” All the more so would such action be inappropriate under the Attribute of Mercy, for G-d is the Judge of all the earth; He is the One Who does justice with compassion.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mind in a Whirl

photo courtesy of NOAA

Today is the ninth day, which is one week and two days, of the Omer. This day is Gevurah of Gevurah. The quality of absolute discipline. An unquestioning, and unyielding adherence to the exact letter of the law, no mitigation, no tempering.

Lately I have been having trouble staying focused during davening. Since I have not been able to concentrate I have been tempted to skip parts of the service in hopes of staying focused on the other portions. It seems that this is a case where extreme discipline is needed. Reb Natan writes in his commentary on the Talmudic tale of the Wise Men of Athens:

Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6
…even a person on a low spiritual level, who whenever he begins to pray immediately finds his mind distracted and preoccupied, must nonetheless remain firm and continue praying to G-d….This then was the question of the Wise Men of Athens: “What of the person who prays and serves G-d , only to find that what he does is confused and incoherent?” As mentioned, this is something which happens often to most people: even when they force themselves to pray, they can only manage a little bit before becoming distracted and incapable of going on…. “If that’s the case that his prayers and devotions are always confused,” the Wise Men asked, “why did he then pray again? After seeing that he is incapable of praying properly so that his prayers ascend, why does he keep trying? These latter prayers will also prove inadequate and leave him confused?”…. “don’t let this surprise you,” Rabbi Yehoshua answered them. “Even those who engage in Torah study and the performance of mitzvot are incapable of elevating their devotions without the true tzaddik..….This likewise applies to the person who whenever he begins to pray, immediately finds his mind distracted and preoccupied. He gets so confused that he cannot go on praying. Nonetheless, he must remain firm and continue praying to G-d, again and again, throughout his days. For the tzaddik, while elevating all the other prayers, will elevate also these confused and incoherent prayers.

Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end
-Robert Fripp

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stormy Waters

Today is the eighth day, which is one week and one day, of the Omer. This week we enter the realm of Gevurah – the quality of judgment or discipline. Last week we experienced Gevurah of Chesed, when mercy and kindness was seen to have limits. There are times when it is necessary to restrain our expression of love. Today we enter Chesed of Gevurah, subtly different, when we render judgment, such as disciplining our child, it should not be done with absolute anger. Retribution must be tempered and applied with mercy.

Tehillim 32 : 6

Let everyone who is devoted to You offer this prayer at the moment You are to be found:
That when punishments are sent to scour him at least they should not come upon him like a swelling flood of water.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Middle of the Road

Today is the third day of the Omer, it is Tiferet of Chesed. Tiferet is the balance point between the complete restraint of Gevurah and the the unlimited giving of Chesed. Tiferet is when the two are harmonized with each other. Each moderating the other to produce a harmonic whole. It is the middle path.

Kitzur Schulchan Aruch, vol. I, Chap. 29:

Men differ widely on their temperaments: Some area chronically angry, others are of a placid disposition who never become angry, or become so once in many years; some are too haughty and others are too humble; some are sensuous, never satisfied with pleasure, others are ascetic, having no desire even for small things which are the necessities of life; some possess unbounded greed, not satisfied with all the wealth in the world, as it is written: “He that loveth money will not be satisfied with money;” others are improvident, satisfied with the little they have, and they do not even seek to earn enough for their necessities; some are avaricious, afflicting themselves with hunger, while they keep on hoarding money, and whatever they do spend for their food they do so grudgingly, others are spendthrifts, spending all their money lavishly; and the same is true with other dispositions and views: the naturally melancholy and the gay; the villain and the noble; the cruel and the compassionate; the gentle and the hard-hearted, and so forth.

The good and right course for one to follow is the happy mean, and not the extreme….And so with regards to the other attributes, a person who adopts the middle course is called wise.

The Shulchan Aruch, as quoted above, advocates moderation in all things. It says that a person should be an Ish Tam, a simple man, the dweller in town, the one that quietly learns in the yeshiva, follows the rules, and is satisfied with his lot. My difficulty is that I have always lived as the Ish Sadeh, the man of the fields, the individual that craves the wild, that pushes the envelope, that tends to extremes, and wants to experience things with more intensity. I’m not sure how to achieve that state of moderation, as an Ish Tam I feel muddled and static, it is the excitement of the Ish Sadeh that actually brings me focus and allows me to access the calm inner center.

Boy, don’t you worry... you’ll find yourself.
Follow you heart and nothing else.
And you can do this if you try.
All I want for you my son, is to be satisfied.
And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.
- Ronnie Van Zant

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Letting My People Go

Today is the second day of the Omer. The quality of the day is Gevurah of Chesed, the aspect of restraint within giving. The prune juice represents Chesed, it keeps things moving. Unlimited consumption of prune juice would not be desirable. The Shmura Matzah represents Gevurah, it is the aspect of holding back and retention. When Shmura Matzah is combined with prune juice there is neither endless flow nor complete constriction, but a necessary tempering of both effects.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mercy, Mercy

Today is the first day of the Omer.
On the this day the quality of chesed of chesed is manifest. This is the aspect of absolute and unconditional giving. Giving all of yourself, your possesions, your emotions, without restraints or limits or questions.