Keep on Trucking...
A word which gets used a lot these days is "growth". Everyone grows -children, teenagers, adults. There is physical growth, emotional growth, and intellectual growth. Some of us are so into that what we have achieved so far means less to us than whether we are "growing" -making progress. And there is something to that. At least when it comes to spiritual growth, there is no such thing as standing still. One is either going up the ladder of spirituality or coming down. You're either ascending or descending -there is nothing in-between.
That's why, when we reach this time of year, it's a good idea to make an assessment as to where growth is leading us. We're fast-approaching one of the focal points of spiritual growth for the entire year -the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Having left behind the limitations of body and spirit that were imposed upon us in Egypt, and having counted the intervening days of travel in the desert, we're now ready to receive the ultimate growth experience, the source of all growth -the Torah"or are we?
Kaballah compares the Jewish people in Egypt to a baby in the womb, "head between its knees, three within three". The first three represents the intellectual faculties of insight, understanding and knowledge, which in the embryo are latent, buried within three instinctive faculties of action, reaction and perseverance. The baby produces nothing; it only receives from its mother, upon whom it is totally dependent. Thus, the Jews in Egypt were spiritually bereft -they couldn't grow. Kaballah refers to this stage as spiritual pregnancy -growth has not begun.
Just as it's the mother's labour which results in birth, so it was a G-d-driven act which resulted in the exodus from Egypt. The Jews didn't have the power to leave of their own accord; they had to be taken out. Thereupon though began the process of growth. Just as parents count the days and weeks as the baby develops, so the Jews counted the days and weeks leading up to receiving the Torah. The exodus was the birth, and it was followed by a period of growth. The baby learns to stand, to walk, and eventually to talk. It develops from an instinctual being into an emotional being. What characterizes this stage is instability -the baby either wants or doesn't want to sleep, to eat, to cry. So the Jews emerging from Egypt vacillated between a strong and healthy desire to progress to their homeland, and a retrogressive impulse to return to Egypt. Kaballah refers to this stage as spiritual nursing, or childhood.
The counting which we do at this time ("sfirat ha'omer", in Hebrew) is called by Kaballists the "entrance of intellect". Each day represents a further influx of intellect into the emotional creature which is the child, or the Jews emerging from Egypt. This is the maturation process which led to receiving the Torah. But what constitutes maturity, or adulthood? The sages had a down-home way of expressing it. They said, "The child doesn't know how to call out to its father until it tastes grain". Until the child can digest grain, it can't speak out to his parents. The sages liked to speak symbolically; that way they could hide some of the greatest secrets of the Torah in simple words. Grain is the spirituality of the Torah; it satisfies and introduces growth. By "parents", the sages meant G-d. Maturity, they are telling us, comes about when we are ready to call out to G-d, to our Father Above. This corresponds to the stage when we are able to express ourselves, to talk. The analogy is to a two-year old, and yet we re-live this process every year from Pesach until seven weeks later, on Shavuot. Maturity, the Kaballists tell us, is when we realize that there is a Higher Authority in this universe, and we figure out how to call out to Him.
Then, we can really start trucking!
The Grain of Truth
When the Sages said that "the child doesn't know how to call out to its father until it tastes grain," they were expressing something that we already know; that is, that we are what we eat. As we gain sensitivity to our bodies and how the body reacts, we realize that even something as individual and personal as spiritual growth is strongly influenced by the food we eat.
Therefore, it's interesting to note that not one, but two different kinds of grains are significant in our spiritual growth this time of year. After Pesach, as we are involved in the process of growth which we call "sfirat ha-Omer" --counting-- the main grain is barley, and when we reach Shavuot, the receiving of the Torah, the main grain is wheat. (We know this because the respective offerings at these times in the Temple were of barley and wheat).
Chassidus and Kaballah explain to us just what are the meaning of each of these grains to our spiritual development. The Hebrew word for barley is se'or. The same Hebrew letters also spell the word "shiur" or measure. We eat se'or --barley-- during the time that we're taking stock, taking the measure of our personalities, during the counting leading to receiving the Torah. Se'or --barley-- is representative of the aspect of g'vurah --G-d's power-- to act thorugh constriction and breaking things down. The facet of behavior leads us right up to the time of receiving the Torah, when the main grain becomes wheat. Wheat --"chitah" in Hebrew-- has a numerical value of twenty-two, for the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, it represents the power of speech. When we eat wheat, we are indicating that we have the ability not only to break things down and take their measure, but to recombine them and learn from them in new ways. The power of that is that it lets us put together the letters of the Torah in new ways in order to reach new spiritual heights.
Having learning to "talk," so to speak, we are ready for the next step. The Torah teaches us how to grow. It tells us how to progress in spiritual attainments. The process is called "halacha," from the Hebrew word "halicha," which means walking or progress. Once the child recognizes and calls out to his father, he's ready to receive instruction from him. The bond between father and child is such that the father always shows him the next higher level, never overwhelming him, yet challenging him to meet ever-greater levels. He has only the good of the child in mind. Halacha is what gives the framework for growth and spiritual enlightenment. And then is when we really start trucking...
The month of Nissan is associated with the right leg. It is the leg of decisive action, the leg which enabled the Jews to take the plunge and cross the Red Sea. The month of Iyar, on the other hand, is the month of hte right kidney. The kidneys are like ministers; they serve the king (being the mind and heart) by giving advice. The Jews at this point had left Egypt but couldn't yet see their goal. It was the right kidney which provided the proper "gut reaction" to follow MOses blindly to the Holy Land.
The month of Sivan is associated with the left leg. After receiving the Torah this month, the Jews become like soldiers, marching to the beat of the commander with a mission. And a soldier starts off on the left foot ("left-right, left-right").
Nissan is also the month of speech. We go from the soft, persuasive speech of the Egyptions (pe-rach) who succeeded in enslaing us, to the liberating speech of the seder night (pe-sach) in the Haggadah (literally, "the telling).
uring the month of Iyar, associated with thought, we are called upon to think about the experience and internalize it, through counting. The point is to become a psychologically as well as physically free people.
The month of Sivan is associated with walking. Having become a free people, we receive the Torah and accept the "halacha" which is the Torah's framework for spiritual progress, and literally means "way of going."
The letter "hay" of Nissan is the source of all speech. Our breath emerges initially as a "hay" and only afterwards becomes expressed as elocution, or speech.
The letter "vav" though represents joinnig and connection ("vav" means look), and even its vertical form symbolizes connection between what's above and what's below. We make a connection this month by counting, drawing down from above to below.
The letter "zayin," associated with the month of Sivan, has the numerical value of seven, representing the completion of the cycle of nature. The letter is a "vav" with a "yud" on top, symbolizing G-d. When nature is crowned by G-dliness (as it is this month when the Torah was given), it is truly complete.
Kaballah, and the inner dimesion of Torah in general, talks about ways and techniques of attaining a higher level of spiritual awareness. One of these tecniques comes into play now, during the period between Passover and Shavuot (between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah). It's called counting the omer-- in Hebrew, "sfirat ha'Omer." One counts something when every unit of the counting is significant, when ever unit matters. Here, we're referring to the fifty days between the holidays in which we count both the days and the weeks. This is because each day and each week represents a new fraction of spirituality, another building block in a fabric of G-dliness.
The Kaballists called this particular path "fifty gates of understanding." The Zohar refers to this understanding as the "understanding of the heart." In other words, hidden deep within the heart are emotions which in various ways connect us with G-d. But, as with everything worthwhile in life, they need to be cultivated. Each emotion, whether love, fear, or mercy, must be broken down into its components. Kaballah and Chassidus tells us that there are seven such emotions: love, fear, mercy, pro-action, re-action, perseverance, and humility. Each one, though, must be broken down into its own seven components of love, fear, mercy, etc. Hence, seve-times-seven or forty-nine, corresponding to the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot (Shavuot itself is the fiftieth day).
To understand this path of spiritual enlightenment properly, we must know that "sfira," which we said above means counting, can also mean "polishing," or making something shine. In the case of the counting the Omer, we are breaking down the personality into its emotions and components in order to polish them, improve them, and make them shine. The essence of this technique is to deal with parts and fractions, rather than wholes. The whole of the human personality is too much to deal with; it must be broken down to its components in order to become manageable. When one polishes a gem, he does so facet-by-facet. The same is true when we polish the personality -- it's a forty-nine facted gem which is too much to be taken on all at once. It must be dealt with facet-by-facet, one day at a time, until we have made all forty-nine facets shine. Only this way do we have hope of affecting the entire personality. Thus, the sfira, or period of counting, is mainly a technique of polishing and working on ourselves. Only when we analyze and break down our emotions do we begin to understand "where we're coming from." Then we can make adult decisions which enable us to grow.
When Moses died, he was buried on a mountain called "Mt. N'bo." Nobody knows where it is -- nor did they ever. In Hebrew, the name works out to "the mountain with 'nun' in it." "Nun" is the Hebrew letter which has the numericl equivalent of fifty (50). Moses was the only man ever to achieve the fiftieth gate of understanding -- therefore he gave us the Torah. Fifty represents the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. One can never put a finger on the spiritual whole -- only on its parts. But when we break the whole into parts, polish them, and then put them back together, we're rewarded with a new whole, a new story to be told, a new level of spiritual enlightement.
Which brings us to the third meaning of sfira; from the word l'saper, or to tell a story. When the pieces are polished and put back together again, a new story is told. A story is also a whole which is more than the sum of its parts. Each episode taken in isolation is void of meaning; it's only when they're put together the story takes on meaning. The same is true of sfirat ha'Omer. The technique involves not only breaking down and polishing, but also recombining the pieces in new ways. When all facets of the gem are polished and recombined, it shines as never before, and a new story is told. The whole of the personality is more than the sum of its parts. This is why we receive the Torah over and over again every year, because each year represents a quantum leap of spiritual growth through the technique of "sfira." When from year to year we break down, polish and reassemble our connection with G-d, we receive the Torah in a whole new way, corresponding to the new story of our personalities, from year to year.
The Rebbe's Voice
The giving of the Torah took place in the month of Sivan, the third month of the Jewish year. From this, it is understood that the Torah is connected with the concept of "three" (third). Aside from the fact that everything which happens in the world is through Divine Providence (especially those things which have to do with Torah and mitzvos), we find the connection between Torah and the third month quite openly stated by the Sages (Gemorra Shabbat, p. 83), "three-part Torah, given to the tripart nation, in the third month.",
It is not understood what exaclty is the positive aspect of the "third" month, when we know that the emphasis of the Torah is on one G-d, Who gave one Torah, and Who emphasizes unity, rather than three (of any other plurality). What then is the unique connection of Torah with the third month of Sivan?,
The answer is as follows: the ultimate goal is unity and not plurality. The question is, what is the true unity? When one is aware of other entities and nevertheless sees unity, this is true unity. When one is totally unaware of other existence, he has no proof of unity, and we don't know what he would think if he became aware of other existences.
This can be explained by a parable regarding the descent of the soul to the physical world to be enclosed in a body; whn the king wants to test his son's behavior, he sends his son to a place far away where there are people who act immodestly and tempt the son. If, while there, the son continues on good behaviour, as the son of a king shoudl conduct himself, then we see that he is truly connected to the king. So it is in our matter; when one arrives to awareness of multiplicity, and the contrast with oneness does not bother him, then we see that he truly understands unity.
Within this framework, we can discern two approaches: (1) The person who ecounters multiplicity can completely ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist. (2) He can take the multiplicity itself and see in it unity. This second option is a deeper and more true approach. When one ignores the existence of plurality, then that existence remains a contradiction and disturbance to the concept of unity, even though one doesn't deal with it. When, however, one deals with the apparent contradiction to unity and sees oneness within it, it becomes true unity.
The above three approaches are represented by the three spring months of Nissan (April), Iyar (May), and Sivan (June). Nissan is the first month, in which took place the exodus of Egypt. Then, the King of Kings revealed Himself from above in such a way which had no connection with the world of that time. The point was to get the Jews out of Eypt, to get them to drop everything and attach themselves to G-d. The world as such was not taken into consideration.
Iyar is the second month, in which we count the Omer. The point of this month is to deal with one's emotions, one's animal nature, and to purify and elevate it from below. The existence of a body and animal soul is indicative of multiplicity, which has not yet been converted to unity and G-dliness. Here we encounter multiplicity.
Sivan is the third month, in which the Torah was given from above and received from below. It was meant to take the two opposites of above and below, and to make them a third entity, which is above both extremes -- the tree unity and all inclusiveness of G-dliness.
The Torah was given in the third month because the Torah represents unity. Through Torah, one's mind becomes united with the will and wisdom of the creator. This is the true meaning of the "third" -- the unity of one's mind with wisdom of G-d, so to speak, in order to achieve a third objective -- All is One. (Paraphrased from LikuteiSichos, Vol. 2, p. 301).
Contemplate a bit on the convert who said to the sages, "teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot". The Creator of the month on Nissan created the right foot which is specially suited to jumping and springing -and when creating Sivan He created the left foot which is suitable for marching and walking. The question of the convert was that good is the right foot alone when by jumping and springing one always falls back again? And the Sages answered him, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbors" -which is the mitzva of love of G-d for the Jewish people. The Sages meant to explain to the convert that even though the Torah, when given all at once as an act of love, is likely to be forgotten (as one who jumps on one foot is likely to fall backwards), nevertheless it leaves enough of an impression for the person to continue on the spiritual path on their own (hence the left foot).
B'nei Yisachar, Chodesh Sivan.
Just as on fixes the date of a wedding and if the bride and bride groom desire each other, they count the days to their wedding, and they include the date itself in the counting, so the Torah commands us to count fifty days to the giving of the Torah. End even though we actually count seven weeks (which is forty-nine days), nevertheless in our minds is included the fiftieth day since then is achieved the goal -the wedding of G-d and the Jewish people through the giving of the Torah.
Paraphrased from "Avodas Yisroel", regarding Shavuos- R'Yisroel b R'Shabtai of Koznitz.
"The mitzvot are, by way of example, like pillars coming from the height of heights, the Will of G-d, down to this lowly physical world. Thus, they are as translucent columns surrounding and enclothing the soul or spirit or enlivening energy of the person as he does the mitzvah, and through these columns his soul is elevated to the highest of heights, to be united with G-d".
Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh #29, R'Shneur Zalman of Liadi
From the director's desk...
Like we said in our previous winter issue, the cold months are a time for "building the kelim" -that is, providing the vessels and infrastructure for the revelation which is later to come. And so it has been, as least for myself as director, for the last several weeks. Building th ekelim has meant travelling to America, South Africa, Australia, and even the far east (I had the pleasure of helping at the Passover Seder in Katmandu, where over a thousand Israelis were present). My travels have brought me face to face with all kinds of people, from Israeli backpackers to famous movie stars and major businessmen. I hope I have managed to impart some of the inner dimensions of Torah. I know I have received the strength to continue our outreach work in the old city, and I am looking forward to a summer of light and warmth. Thank you to everyone who has helped us, and please visit! In the meantime, keep on trucking!