Thursday, 29 April 2010

Day 30 of the Omer - Strength of Acknowledgement

The combined Sefirot for today's counting of the Omer consists of Gevurah (Strength) and Hod (Glory/Splendour).

"Who is strong?" – asks Ben Zoma in the first Mishna of chapter 4 of Pirkei Avot. "One who conquers his inclination," is his answer. Such an answer should be safe guarded well knowing well that it comes from no less a person than one of the four great rabbis who entered into the Pardes – the deepest secrets of Torah.

There are two ways to understand strength. One way is to view strength as power – which it certainly is. The other is to see strength as having the ability to hold oneself back when it is necessary too. Sometimes strength is necessary, "Be as strong as a lion to serve your Father in heaven" (Pirkei Avot 5:20). At other times, the necessary quality of Gevurah must be restrained. Speaking boldly with strength about Torah, G-d and goodness, is a virtue! But speaking boldly about the negative character traits of another (or practically anything about another person which has no benefit to it) is a sin! At that point, the quality of holding back, restraint – becomes the essential necessary trait of Gevurah.

Hod – glory, relates to Aharon HaKohein – a man filled with peace, empathy, kindness, and consideration to, and acknowledgement of others. In Hebrew, the word to say "thanks" is Todah. This is because thanking someone is an acknowledgement of who they are and the favour they have done for us. The most essential trait of any Jew is the quality of appreciation to another. For this reason, he is called a Jew – a Yehudi – again from the word "Hod," a word that not only means glory and splendour, but also "thanks." When Leah gave birth to her fourth son – Yehuda, she called him this because she showed her appreciation (the first person in the Torah to,) for G-d having blessed with far more than was her due.

One who wishes to improve himself through the combination of these two Sefirot would do well to get a feel for the qualities inherent in both of them. Let's take a look at a beautiful approach to seeing the force of these Sefirot in real action!

One should contemplate G-d's powers in the world (Gevurah), that through them he literally saves the Jewish people each and every moment – and all the more so each individual from the many pitfalls and destructions that can come about. On Purim, G-d saved the Jewish people from the wicked Haman who wished to destroy us. In each generation there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people. It is a wonder that we continue to thrive – successfully in the world around us – in spite of the persecutions and the plots made by the nations of the world (whether in private or in public.)

Those that live in Israel know well the news when a bomber is found with kilograms of dynamite and other explosives strapped to his body. We tend to think that it was a once off. Months go by until another incident is published regarding the efforts of the Israeli army in representing the physical side of G-d's protection of the Land of Israel. But what of the hundreds of incidents not published, whether for political reasons, safety reasons or other?! G-d's great powers are at work constantly saving the Jewish people from the plans and plots of the enemies. "In every generation…" as we read in the Haggadah, "But G-d saves us from their hands."

The Lavan's of the world – those whose exteriors sport complete purity wearing the whitest of the white garments (Lavan-white), whose real interiors are blacker than black! The Lavan's who kiss and hug the Jew externally with warmth… as their hands touch ever so slightly (and sometimes quite heavily!) the pockets of the Jew to find out if there may be some jewellery, other precious stones, or money inside them! Or perhaps a warm kiss on the mouth, wondering if perhaps they could not find the wealth inside the pockets, that it might well be hidden inside the mouth of the Jew (where it certainly is… in the form of words of Torah and kindness!)

One could and should consider the continual miracles (Gevurot) G-d performs for us individually and to our entire families and households when they may be in danger (even unknowingly). One needs much time to consider how frequently these occur (surprisingly!) We are a generation that has lost the sensitivity to realise the numerous miracles around us – each moment! It is here that we must give thanks (Hod.)

When one see the ways of the wicked being successful – and it seems that they have miracles being performed for them through their evil plots – many turn towards their deceptive and crooked paths (Rachmana Litzlan) acknowledging their apparent powers. Instead, here, one should strengthen oneself (Gevurah) to not be pulled after them. One should instead take it to heart that King David himself was amazed at their success when he said, "These are the wicked, but they are always tranquil, they have attained great wealth" (Tehillim 73:12,) but continues, "Only on slippery places do You set them, You cast them down into destruction. How have they become desolate in an instant! They came to an end, they were consumed through bewildering terrors" (74:18-19.)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai gave over his very life in order not to acknowledge – to accept, to show any liking towards their success – to such a degree that he was forced to flee to a cave because he was sentenced to death because of this.

The Gemara teaches (Shabbat 33b):

Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Shimon were sitting together, when Yehuda ben Geirim came and sat by them. Rabbi Yehuda said, "How beautiful are the deeds of this nation that they have market places, they have built bridges and bathhouses!" Rabbi Yosi kept quiet. Rabbi Shimon answered, "Everything that they established, they did only for themselves. They established market places to bring in immorality, they established bathhouses to pamper themselves and they established bridges to impose for themselves taxes." Yehuda ben Geirim went to the government and reported the event to them. The government decreed that Rabbi Yehuda – who praised them, should be promoted. Rabbi Yosi, who kept quiet, should be exiled to the city of Tzipori. Rabbi Shimon who degraded their deeds should be killed! And so, Rabbi Shimon fled for his life together with his son – to the desert of Lod, and they lived there for 13 years!

The government were far from issuing decrees for nothing. Rabbi Akiva – Rabbi Shimon's teacher would himself be killed for nothing worse than teaching Torah!

Rabbi Shimon understood the importance of balancing the true value of appreciation and knowing when it is to be used – and when not. Appreciation is a trait to be used in connection with G-d Himself. One thanks, when it comes to thanking G-d or others because of the greatness of the right things in life – the greatness of good in the world, the appreciation of blessing and kindness in this world. But when this trait is misused, disaster results!

One who wishes therefore to master the Sefirot of Gevurah SheBeHod – should pull all his strength into knowing when and where to exercise his power of thanks. A trait to be praised… Hod – thanks – but when misused can bring disaster to the world. As the Torah teaches, "When one is kind when one should be cruel, one will be cruel when one should be kind…" (Kohelet Rabba 7:16.) Real growth means being in charge of every attribute and knowing just when the right time is to use it.

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