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Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor: Counting "Sefirah", polishing our sapphire and emulating G'd's Sefirot
Throughout the days between Pesach and Shavuous we are instructed to count "Sefirah" every day. In the Zohar this counting is compared to a woman preparing herself for her husband. As they prepared themselves to become G'd's chosen nation at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had to go through special purification of seven times seven days, somewhat similar to a bride that purifies herself for seven days prior to her wedding. The Jewish soul is compared to the Tablets that Moses brought down at Mount Sinai. Every year we have the opportunity to go through a personal exodus from the "impurity of Egypt" as a preparation to accept the Torah. G'd created the world through the means of ten Sefirot, and through these same Sefirot G'd is conducting all affairs of the world ever since. The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero elaborates on how we must emulate G'd in every one of the Sefirot. Another great Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim Vital, explains that only if we work on our character traits can we fully accept the Torah.
In this week's parasha, G'd instructs Moses regarding the Festivals. The Torah connects the Festival of Pesach with the Festival of Shavuous with the mitzvah of counting "Omer", also known as counting "Sefirah". The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 306) explains that this counting was initiated by the Jewish people themselves after the exodus from Egypt. Before they left, Moses told them that they were going to receive the Torah after seven weeks. They understood the great significance of this event, and the day after they left they started to count towards it.
Counting seven days
The Zohar (Ra'aya Mehemna 97) compares this counting to a woman preparing herself for her husband. She counts seven days of purity after which she immerses in a Mikvah (ritual bath). In this way, she does her share to purify the world from the impurity caused by Eve when she listened to the snake and ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and served it to Adam.
Seven times seven
The Or Hachaim (Vayikra 23:15) explains that similarly the Jewish people needed purification from the impurity of Egypt. As they prepared themselves to become G'd's chosen nation at Mount Sinai, they had to go through a purification similar to a bride who purifies herself prior to her wedding. However, due to the extreme impurity of Egypt, the Jewish people needed to count seven times seven days, whereas a bride only needs seven days of counting.
Restoring precious souls
The Or Hachaim quotes the Kabbalists who explain that the Jewish soul is compared to the Tablets that Moses brought down at Mount Sinai. Our sages explain that these Tablets were made from the precious sapphire stone (see Rashi Shemos 34:1). Just like a gem will get covered with dirt if it is not well preserved, so will the Jewish soul be soiled if it is not properly guarded. However, just as a precious stone can be cleaned and polished to bring it back to its original glory, so can every Jewish soul be restored and polished to reach its full shine. It is amazing to note that every Jew can get up in the morning, irrespective of how he has lived his life in the past, and say (Artscroll Siddur p.18-19) "My G'd, the soul that you have given me is pure." The outer layer might be soiled but the inner soul (neshamah) always remains pure.
Polish our soul
The Or Hachaim points out that there is a connection between the Hebrew word for counting, Sefirah, and the sapphire stone. Our daily counting can help us to "polish" our precious souls, and prepare ourselves to accept the Torah. The Kabbalists explain that every year we have the opportunity to make a personal exodus from the "impurity of Egypt" and subsequently to accept the Torah. When we count the forty-nine days, it is a time to rid our souls of any foreign particles that soiled them and restore their full beauty and shine. In this way, counting can help us get ready to personally receive the Torah.
However, the obvious question is how can the counting help us to achieve this? We may find an answer by analyzing the word Sefirah. The Kabbalists explain that G'd created the world through the means of ten Sefirot, and it is through these Sefirot that G'd conducts all affairs of the world ever since. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:1) says that G'd created the world with "Ten Sayings". These Ten Sayings correspond to the ten Sefirot. Similarly, each of the Ten Commandments corresponds to one of the Sefirot. The Zohar explains that the three highest Sefirot (Keser, Chochmah, and Binah) are so elevated and spiritual that they are beyond human comprehension. The lower seven Sefirot correspond to the seven days of the week and the seven years of the Shemitah cycle. There are two basic Sefirot known as Chesed and Gevurah. They correspond to the two basic ways G'd conducts the world: kindness and judgment. G'd blends the two into a perfect combination known as the Sefirah of Tiferet which translates as "beauty". This can be understood in the following way. G'd conducts the world in a beautiful blend of judgment and kindness. There is no contradiction between the two. The next three Sefirot Netzach, Hod, and Yesod support and correspond to the previous three. These six Sefirot are channels through which all Heavenly blessings flow. Subsequently, these blessings are executed through the final Sefirah of Malchut.
It says in Parashas Eikev (Devarim 8:6) "And you shall walk in His ways." The Talmud (Shabbos 133b) explains that this means that we shall strive to emulate G'd. Just like G'd is merciful and compassionate, so shall we conduct ourselves with mercy and compassion. The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Tomer Devorah Chapters 5-9) elaborates on how we shall emulate G'd in every one of the seven Sefirot. Each Sefirah corresponds to a character trait or way of conduct on a human level. On the one hand, we must conduct ourselves with the character trait of chesed, such as doing acts of kindness. This also includes expressing our love for G'd, as well as His children, our fellow human beings. However, we must also conduct ourselves with the character trait of Gevurah, restricting ourselves and controlling our cravings and impulses. The way to conduct ourselves with the character trait of Tiferet, says Rabbi Cordovero, is through the study of Torah. For the Torah teaches us the right combination of chesed and Gevurah, when to use the character trait of kindness and when to apply the character trait of strictness. He continues to explain that the conduct of Netzach and Hod are through supporting students of Torah with monetary donations and other acts to help Torah scholars. He further explains that in order to properly conduct ourselves with the character trait of Yesod, we need to be extremely cautious to sanctify our thoughts, speech and actions. The control of our thoughts is only possible if we control what we watch. If someone watches improper or immodest people and their conduct, it influences his mind and thought processes. Subsequently, says Rabbi Cordovero, this will cause nocturnal emissions, which is the antithesis of Yesod. The conduct of Yesod obligates every male to guard the holy covenant of Brit Milah and to limit his relationship to his spouse when she has gone through the proper purification. Finally, the character trait of Malchut obligates us to be subdued and humble with a constant awareness that we can do nothing ourselves, and that we are totally dependent on the Heavenly blessings flowing down from above.
Many people have the custom of saying a special prayer after counting "Sefirah". In this prayer we ask that, in the merit of the counting, G'd shall assist us to fix any blemish we caused in the Sefirah, corresponding to that particular day. We further ask that we shall be purified and sanctified with Holiness from Above, and through this there shall be an abundance of Divine flow in all the worlds. The prayer concludes with a request that we shall be purified from all blemishes that may have soiled our souls in the past. If we internalize the words of this prayer, our daily counting enables us to review our daily conduct, analyzing whether we used the right character traits in the right way. This is the only way we can prepare ourselves properly to accept the Torah on the Festival of Shavuous. As another of the great Kabbalists, Rabbi Chaim Vital (Shaarei Kedushah 1:2) explains, only if we correct our character traits will we be able to fully accept the Torah. May G'd help us to utilize these special days to grow in the conduct of our character traits, so that we will be able to personally accept the Torah on Shavuous.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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