There is something about order that mesmerizes us. It just feels comforting to see, for example, a complex system at work – an assembly line, a computer – millions of different parts, each doing their thing, all coordinated toward one end.
A beautiful musical composition or a masterful piece of art, a great book or a powerful information database structure (or at least its results), the eloquence of mathematics or the rhythm of business systems – touches us in a place that resonates. Perhaps our gravitation to mosaic-like harmony reflects the order that we so long for amidst an external sea of chaos. Perhaps it stems from the inherent unity within existence. Perhaps it manifests our craving to see what makes the world “tick.”
Just look at the wonder on the face of a child (or the inner child of an enchanted adult) taking apart a clock, studying the wheels, gears and springs in their intricate, interactive dance. (Not quite as easy to see in today’s digital clocks).
One could even say that all of life is about alignment – setting things straight, allowing our systems to breathe, ensuring that all the details of our lives are part of a “well-oiled” machine.
The ultimate system is of course our own bodies and the universe itself. No words can describe the wonder of nature; the fluency of so many different systems and species all working in synchronized harmony and balance.
One of the most eloquent systems ever devised is the Hebrew calendar. The months, weeks and days of the year are seen not as disjointed fragments in time linked merely by their proximity. They are all components of a flow of energy. Each segment – day, week, month – linked together in a chain, building a structure, telling the story of the vicissitudes of our lives, in all its richness and splendor, in all its challenges and mysteries.
When we “live with the time” – as Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi once phrased it – we tap into the synchronized fluency of time and align ourselves accordingly.
This time of year – between Passover and Shavuot – is especially poetic.
Technically, Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt 3318 years ago. Following the Exodus, the Jewish people began to count the days in anticipation of their receiving the Torah 50 days later, on Shavuot. This transition period – connecting Passover to Shavuot – is known as the 49 days of the Omer. As we read in this week’s Torah portion:
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [second day of Passover], from the day on which you bring the omer offering [omer was a measure (around two quarts) of barley which the Jews brought as an offering on the second day of Passover], seven complete weeks shall there be; until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days, and you shall proclaim that very day a holy festival.” (Leviticus 23:15)
Even after the destruction of the Temple when we no longer bring the omer offering, the tradition of counting the omer continues.
That’s the technical calendar. Here’s the inner rhythm behind this calendar:
On Passover we celebrate transcendence – our ability to get beyond (pass over) all our inhibitions, fears and constraints, be they physical or psychological. Passover lifts us on its wings – the “wings of eagles” – and takes us to heaven.
However, every inspiration from above will just as quickly dissipate. The next stage requires integration: Personalizing the transcendent experience. We therefore count the 49 days of the Omer, each day reflecting on and refining another aspect of our emotional personality. Thus, we internalize the transcendent Passover experience.
This in turn prepares us to absorb the 50th day – the Sinai experience, an even greater transcendent dimension, when we receive the Divine blueprint and power to fuse matter and spirit. We don’t count the 50th day, but we cannot reach it unless we first count – refine and illuminate (“count” in Hebrew also means to shine and tell a story) – our 49 (7×7) personality features.
These three stages – Passover transcendence; 40 Omer days of personal refinement; Sinai revelation – are also reflected in the sequence of these three consecutive months:
Nissan is month one of the lunar calendar (chesed), symbolizing the transcendent unity that is rooted in the Divine. Iyar is month two (gevurah), reflecting the duality of the Divine inspiration that comes from above and the work that is required on our part below to integrate the transcendent experience. Sivan is month three (tiferet) – the synthesis of both previous dimensions.
In Kabbalistic/Chassidic terms – as explained in the Samach-Vav discourse delivered 100 years ago this week:
Every person, generally speaking, has two aspects to their lives; two voices: 1) The spiritual voice – our transcendent and sublime experiences, 2) The material voice – the one that is immersed in the struggle and needs for survival (eating, sleeping, work), and the pursuits of physical pleasures.
A harmonious – if I may say, eloquent – life consists of addressing both dimensions: Allowing your soul to express its spiritual yearnings, and sublimating your material involvements in higher purpose.
1) Souls of the world of Atzilut, whose primary nature, even as they live in bodies in this material world, is spiritual. These unique individuals – like Moses – are completely selfless, and their service consists of revealing the absolute nullification of their souls in face of the Divine. These souls are compared to “sons” who have access to the “most intimate chambers and secrets of their father’s home.”
2) Souls of the worlds of B”iya (Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiya), whose primary nature is material, and their service consists of the hard work to sublimate the “egocentric” personality of matter. These souls are compared to “servants,” who are strangers in the palace, and their access is not by virtue of their “genes” but by their hard work and dedication.
More specifically, each of us has subtle elements of both souls, and times when one type of experience is more dominant than the other.
The transcendent (Passover) experience is a revelation from the Divine world of Atzilut. The counting of the omer is the work of refining the materially driven “animal” within (the omer was of barley, which serves mainly as animal feed) – the emotional drives and desires, which are comprised of 7×7 (49) dimensions (for a breakdown of each one, click here). This work internalizes, each according to his/her level, the spiritual, and prepares us for The Sinai revelation, which combines both transcendence and integration.
This Samach-vav explains the inner meaning of the mitzvah (in this week’s portion):
“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, seven complete weeks shall there be.”
The Hebrew word used here for “count” is “v’sefartem,” which also means “to illuminate,” “to glow.” This refers to the luminous spirituality of the ten Sefirot of the world of Atzilut.
The verse then continues: “V’sefartem lochem,” “Illuminate – for yourselves,” a seemingly superfluous word (what would be missing without this word?) – to tell us that the luminous Sefirot of Atzilut have to be drawn down and illuminate “to yourselves” in your material involvements (in the worlds of biy”a). And this light gives you the power to refine your emotions, drives and desires.
“From the day after the Sabbath” refers to the level of Chachma, the highest point in Atzilut. And “seven complete weeks” is the Divine light that is higher than Atzilut – telling us that the counting (illuminating) of the omer accesses the highest levels of the Atzilut and beyond, reaching into:
“[The] most intimate chambers and secrets of their father’s home.”
The reason being because Atzilut is a reflection of the hidden Divine light of higher levels, and serves as an “interface” between the Divine and the human, as discussed in previous articles.
Much has been said about living a life of purpose, a meaningful life (you know where you heard that before…), a happy and healthy life, and a fulfilling one.
Here is a blessing of yet another dimension: May you live an eloquent life. Filled with poetry and music. Recognizing the shades and fluctuations of your life as nuances of one beautiful tapestry – one that carries may mysteries, hidden even from us.
As my family and I mark the first yahrzeit of our beloved father, the eminent journalist, Gershon Jacobson – a storyteller par excellence: his articles addressed the inner, hidden script that lay beneath the stories of the day – please accept my blessings for many healthy, happy, meaningful – and eloquent – years.
To live an eloquent life. Ahh, what a dream.