Thursday, 2 October 2008

Tomer Devorah - Learning During the Ten Days of Repentance

Every time period brings with it the opportunity to increase in one’s learning in a subject specifically related to that time.

The Ten Days of Repentance – the Asseret Yemei Teshuva – are no different. Many people want to learn something focused on these days. Something that can help them in growing correctly to prepare them from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur and onwards.

The suggested material for this time period is the well known Kabbalistic work Tomer Devorah written by the RaMaK – Rabbi Moshe Cordevero. This work – small in quantity yet HUGE in quality covers everything necessary for a person to master to become a more refined and decent person.

The RaMaK was one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. He lived from 1522-1570 and the holy Arizal considered him his teacher. Before leaving this world, he told his students that a very great man would lead them after he died. When they enquired who, he informed them that they would know, because a pillar of fire would appear by his coffin.

On the day of his burial, the Ari noticed the pillar of fire – which nobody else could see. While everyone began directing where the RaMaK should be buried, the Ari pointed out that the pillar of fire was positioned differently and that it was to that place that they should follow. The student knew immediately that he was the successor of the RaMaK.

The RaMaK and Arizal are buried next to each other in the city of Tzefas. Even though the Ari’s Kabbalah differed from the RaMaK’s due to his expressing everything in terms of Partzufim, whereas the RaMaK spoke of everything in terms of Sefirot – nevertheless this does not detract one iota from the RaMaK’s expertness in Kabbalah. The RaMaK wrote many works – most notably his Ohr Yakar – a complete line by line commentary on the Zohar and a foundation for all learning of Zohar today.

The RaMaK himself – in his modesty – says that he could not understand how he was able to write such a wondrous commentary. He could not believe that a man of flesh and blood could explain such mysteries. He expresses that he would sit down to write – with not much to say – and find himself suddenly overcome with the Divine Spirit – Ruach HaKodesh – and would simply write off his ideas – one flowing into the next.

His work Tomer Devorah – an absolute classic in both Kabbalistic and Mussar teachings – teaches a man how to improve his Middot – his attributes – his character traits. He bases the improvement of one’s character traits on the Ten Sefirot – the ten “tools” by which everything in the world exists and happens. Just as there are ten days from the start of Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur – so too a man can learn one of these Sefirot – it’s qualities and it’s values – and implement these traits into oneself on each of the days. After ten rigorous days of true growth, one will find oneself complete in likeliness to what the ten Sefirot are all about.

Indeed, the best way we can improve – as the RaMaK points out, is to liken ourselves to our Creator – just as He is merciful – so should we be merciful. Just as He is kind, so should we be kind. As He clothes the naked, we too should clothe the naked etc.

This is the time of the 13 attributes of mercy. A time when mercy reigns and G-d delivers an abundance of kindness and goodness on everyone. This period begins in the month of Elul, continues in strength over Rosh HaShanah – and progresses even further until Yom Kippur – when ultimately the slates are cleaned, and we each have the opportunity to begin “again” with a truly clean slate!

But, we need to know how to be kind. We need to know how to give. How to hold back (and when!) We need to know how to see another Jew in the correct light. We need to know how to hold ourselves back when filled with anger. How to judge another and realise who he is – and his importance and contribution to the world. Just as G-d has patience with all these same people that we have difficulties with (at the best of times!) – we too need to learn to see life through the eyes of G-d Himself – so to speak.

Once we can align ourselves to interacting with others – just as G-d interacts with us, we are able to grow to levels we cannot imagine. Just when we think we know what it means to interact with another and how to show who is in charge – the RaMaK comes through, informing us that we have much to learn. Life is not just about being in charge. In fact, it’s more about lowering oneself – even when others are truly in the wrong.

But in order to arrive at a balance can take a life-time of work. The RaMaK’s brevity seems too simple to be true. Yet, after reading through the text a number of times, one realises just how full and expansive his knowledge really is – just how much it does take to work on oneself and better oneself. How to judge oneself – and how to judge another.

It’s a must reading for this period of time. If you don’t yet have this book, you can purchase it directly from Nehora Bookshop (see link below) - the cheapest online Jewish bookshop around.

If you don’t manage to get it before Yom Kippur – don’t worry, you can still get it any time during the year and learn it throughout the year.

But, if you’re keeping up with the times, get a hold of this book as fast as you can. You’ll get to understand some beautiful Kabbalistic concepts, to understand the Sefirot in more detail, to see what it truly means to work on oneself, and be able to integrate so much more in your life in simply how to be a good person.

It takes a life-time of work though, so don’t give up! As with all Torah learning – it is advisable to take such learning with more than a spoonful of sugar too – through the learning of Chassidut. Sometimes, when learning direct Mussar, one finds oneself at a loss at knowing just how to internalise everything, and instead of sweetness, a variety of other tastes may come out. To combat this, the bowlful of sugar will do well to help the medicine go down!

If you’re looking for a learning partner to learn this special book with, please contact Rabbi Eliyahu – and we can learn together on Skype or simply exchange emails until you feel comfortable enough to turn it into a learning session!

Don’t delay, purchase Tomer Devorah today. Keep up with the times – master these ten attributes. Liken yourself to your Creator, and become the wonderful person that you are. Laregest Selection of Jewish Books on the Internet

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