Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Working on Oneself During the Sefirah - What it Takes

During Sefirat HaOmer we work on ourselves especially hard. We try to refine every part of our human characteristics that are in need of "purification".  Giving – for example may be good. But if one has not refined the aspect of giving, then one may fall into the trap taught by the Torah that "If one is kind when one should be cruel, then one will be cruel when one should be kind." Balance and a refinement of character means to be able to master our main attributes and make use of them when necessary. By doing so, we become fitting receptacles for the Divine Presence. We literally become chariots (like a car or horse to its rider) to fulfilling G-d's will. We become angels – yet with completely free will – a level even higher than angels!

When working on oneself, there are a variety of areas one can concentrate on. Some of the important themes to consider will be:
  • How can I improve my relationship with G-d?
  • How can I improve my relationship with my fellow man?
  • How do I work on the spiritual limbs of my body?
  • When are the best times for doing what?
  • Consider that there are 49 days to the Omer, and 48 ways of acquiring Torah (Avot  6:6). Each day provides the opportunity to reflect on one particular way (and then working through them all on the last day again.) 
Because there are 7 Sefirot (Middot) – 7 main spiritual attributes that G-d uses to interact with the world and us (save for the 3 intellectual aspects) – and that man is a complete microcosm of the world, this means that there are seven main areas of work necessary.

Because the Sefirot are combined of themselves within each individual Sefirah, and they too inside themselves ad infinitum, this means that not only must we work on the Sefirah in its "raw" state, but that we must also work within the part inside the "raw" which brings it (and us) to a more balanced state. In fact, one who could truly master this "level within a level" may well think of the level within level within level… but for most mortals, just getting to grips with the raw and the level within a level is enough to work on. For the Sefirah, our focus is on these seven of the ten Sefirot.

Let's take an example of the concept of Torah study. In fact, we could find the need to work on all 7 levels within 7 levels of Torah study itself. But let's use some practical ideas and see which attributes we would be working on when cleaving to particular Sefirot at particular times.

What is the essential Sefirah that defines Torah?

The written Torah is paralleled to the Sefirah of Tiferet – beauty, harmony, balance and truth. The oral Torah is parallel to the Sefirah of Malchut – royalty, kingship, receptivity. When learning Torah one can actually cleave to these Sefirot and master them – perfect them within ourselves – depending on whether one is learning the written or oral Torah. One should keep in mind that one is repairing these aspects that need repair – as one goes about involved in Torah study.

If we talk about the limbs of the body, the entire trunk of the body parallels the Sefirah of Tiferet.  Therefore one should immerse the entire body in one's learning. Just like when one dances, one moves the entire body together with the limbs, so too, when involved in Torah, one should literally immerse the entire body in one's learning (a possible reason for shockeling when learning!) When studying, one needs to "excite" the main part of the body which connects all the limbs – as one goes about one's learning.

If one asks about the time to learning Torah, one may wish to consider the "level within level" aspect of the Sefirot so as to know the best time to learn a particular area of Torah. For example, since the Sefirah of Chessed – kindness, corresponds to day-time, when working on this, one should involve oneself in learning Torah in the day time with the express purpose of perfecting Chessed SheBeTiferet.

One should also constantly keep in mind the person who corresponds to the particular Sefirah, as it gives us an insight into the full power of the Sefirah. For example, if one considers that the Sefirah of Tiferet corresponds to Yaakov Avinu , then one can focus on the life of Jacob when working on perfecting Tiferet.

In addition, each Sefirah corresponds to one of G-d's Names. This gives us the opportunity to actually see the Sefirah in action when mentioning a name of G-d. Example: Tiferet corresponds to the Tetragrammaton (the Ineffable 4 letter name of G-d.) When one sees this name, one can also visualise that the attributes of truth, harmony, balance etc. are emanating and being brought into the world.

When talking about improving our relationship with G-d, we need to interweave the Sefirot again by placing one within the other and bringing each out at a point in time that brings us closer to G-d. For example, if we were talking about studying G-d's Torah which is somewhat Pareve, we could add to this the Sefirah of Chessed – kindness by letting others know of the kindness of G-d. In this way we bring ourselves closer to G-d. 

Of course, if this meditation actually leads us to giving charity or the like – we would be physically manifesting the aspect of giving through having learned the Torah – or to say it another way Chessed SheBeTiferet – kindness of truth/balance/harmony/the written Torah.

Each of the 49 days is a composite of the seven Sefirot as they manifest themselves within each other. Our duty is to understand what each Sefirah is in terms of time, place, limbs, Names of G-d, relationship of ourselves to G-d, relationship of ourselves to our fellow man. Once we begin to internalise the power of each Sefirah, we are able to perfect our emotive attributes that lie within ourselves. Through this we come to appreciate our bodies and souls. We begin to appreciate the value of time. We learn to appreciate the spiritual powers that emanate through pronouncing G-d's names as we pray. We begin to see the greatness and importance of refining our relationships to others and to G-d. It's a process and takes much time.

During the Sefirah – that period between Pesach and Shavuot, we have the opportunity to work even harder at understanding how to truly refine ourselves, to be better people and fill this world with Divine goodness, bringing happiness to ourselves and those around us.

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