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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
It is time to brush off the dust, shake off the kicks of our readers, put the matzah and avocados aside, and get back to the business of t’shuva.
This is not the rantings of some Chicken Little from Hollywood, but rather the teachings of the holy lantern of the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
As we mentioned, the Jews in Egypt were ensconced in the 49th level of impurity and would have been doomed if G-d had not miraculously delivered them from their physical and spiritual bondage. Throughout the Exodus, G-d did all the work, and we followed passively along. On Pesach, our salvation came from Above. From now however until Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, 49 days away, G-d steps back and we are to do all of the preparatory work of personal spiritual cleansing in order to be able to receive the Torah’s holy light. The famous Hasidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, compares this to parents who hold their child’s hand when they first teach him to walk. Then, after a while, they step back and let the child walk on his own. This parallels the seven week period of Sefirat HaOmer. G-d steps back and leaves us to purify ourselves by having to climb up the 50 rungs of the ladder of holiness, day after day, until we reach the supremely exalted 50th gate, when we immerse in the purifying mikvah on the night of Shavuot, just before morning prayers.
Like everything else in Judaism, our Sages have given us explicit directions how to achieve this spiritual rehab. If you look in your prayer book, you will notice that in addition to the list of days and weeks of the Omer, you will see written in tiny letters the character traits that we are to work on each day. For instance, the first day is Chesed of Chesed; the second day is Givorah of Chesed; the third day is Tiferet of Chesed. The fourth day is Nezach of Chesed. Day five is Hod of Chesed. Day six is Yesod of Chesed. And day number seven is Malchut of Chesed. What does this mean? Chesed is related to kindness. Givorah is related to strength. Tiferet is related to the splendor. Netzach is related to victory. Hod is related to praise. Yesod is related to sexual purity. Malchut is related to kingdom, representing the combination of all of these traits. These are all aspects of kindness. Thus the first week of the seven-week rehab is devoted to kindness, when we are called upon to rectify any blemishes we have in the character trait of kindness. The second week is devoted to rectifying the seven different aspects of Tiferet or strength. We continue in this manner, seven weeks times seven traits, for a total of 49 days which serve as steps up the ladder of holiness, cleansing us of our impurities.
These traits are also called sefirot. The sefirot are the spiritual worlds, or channels, that G-d uses to bring His light and blessing into the world. To illustrate, imagine a paper cup with its bottom cut out. Let’s say this is a sefirah, or spiritual channel. If you put six of these plastic cups, one inside the other, you have a representation of the six lower sefirot. (The upper sefirot of Chochmah, Binah, and Daat are above our grasp and not included in this counting). The channel of Chesed flows into the channel of Givorah; Givorah into Tiferet; Tiferet into Netzach; Netzach into Hod; and Hod flows into Yesod. Now, put all of these into that last plastic cup without cutting out its bottom. This cup represents the sefirah of Malchut which receives the light and blessing from all of the other sefirot. This last cup represents our world, the world we live in, with all of its different aspects.
Now for the few readers who are still with me, the Kabbalah teaches that because man is a microcosm of the universe, these Sefirot have a parallel in each and every one of us. The right arm parallels the sefirah of Chesed; the left arm the sefirah of Givorah; the body the sefirah of Tiferet; the right leg the sefirah of Netzach; the left leg the sefirah of Hod; the organ of the Brit the sefirah of Yesod. Thus, for example, when a man raises and waves a lulav with his right arm, this sends an invisible laser beam streaking through all of the heavens until its strikes the great plastic cup of Chesed in the sky, releasing zillions of liters of kindness into the world. In the same manner, should a person steal something with his right hand, the laser beam he creates strikes the sefirah of Chesed, damaging the channel, and restricting the flow of kindness into the world. With every wrongdoing that we commit, we damage one or more of the channels of Divine blessing. Therefore, in correcting our character traits during the Omer period, we are concurrently rectifying all of the damage we caused in all of the spiritual worlds through our sins.
Now we can understand why the Kabbalists emphasize the importance of the guarding sexual purity. Because the sefirah of Yesod is associated with the organ of the Brit, any sexual wrongdoing damages the channel of Yesod. If you will remember our example of the cups, the blessings from all of the cups flow into the Yesod before reaching our world of Malchut. The Yesod is like the spout of the funnel. Therefore, when we damage the channel of Yesod through sexual wrongdoing, we cut off all of the flow of blessing. This stunting of blessing leads to disastrous individual and national consequences. If sexual misbehavior reaches national proportions, not only is the flow of Divine blessing to the individual severed, Divine blessing is also cut off from the nation, resulting in economic hardship, a plague of traffic accidents, Intifadas and wars, G-d forbid. This understanding is stressed again and again in the Zohar. Take a brief glimpse at some of the passages from the Zohar that are translated on our website, and you will see that this is not the rantings of some Chicken Little from Hollywood, but rather the teachings of the holy lantern of the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Readers interested in a more comprehensive explanation of these matters can also check out the chapter, "The Spiritual Blueprint," on our website. For the purposes of this current blog, we can see from this brief introduction that the seven weeks of Sefirat HaOmer have cosmic significance. Our Sages tell us that these days are the root of the year. Our behavior during this time determines what will be in the months to come. Someone who cleans up his act now will breeze through Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Since we are here in this world to correct our character traits, this is a propitious time to do some serious t’shuva. This is why we said at the end of our counting today:
"Therefore, may it be Your will, L-rd our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that in the merit of the counting of the Omer that I counted today, the damage I caused to the channel of Tiferet of Chesed will be rectified, and I will be purified and sanctified with a transcendental holiness. And that this in turn will cause a great influx of blessing in all of the worlds to rectify our beings, spirits, and souls from every impurity and blemish, to bring an exalted purity and holiness upon us, amen, selah."