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Rabbi Akiva said, malady “Love your fellow as yourself” is a great principle of the Torah. A similar principle is gleaned from the famous story of a proselyte who wished to convert to Judaism on condition that someone would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder accepted his conversion and told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]?that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

 

Obviously, the entire Torah is a true, God-given Torah, but Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva teach us that there is room to meditate on the principle that is the Torah’s “great principle”; the signpost that puts us on the right track.

The need for such guiding lights is most necessary when an outsider wishes to approach the infinite sea of Torah and needs an anchor to show him where to begin. This is why the Torah’s greatest principle is learnt from a proselyte who comes to convert. A true convert is not obliged to know the entire Torah before he converts, but he does need to know the principal foundations of Jewish faith; then he can accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvot in all sincerity. Rabbi Akiva, that great Torah sage, also arrived at the Torah as an “outsider”; he was a ba’al teshuvah (secular Jew who becomes observant) who only began his Torah study at the age of forty.

These two “outsiders,” the ba’al teshuvah and the convert, who begin their Torah study from scratch at an advanced age, are in need of a short-cut strategy and it is our privilege to learn the Torah’s great principle through their merit. Our generation too is a generation of teshuvah (repentance); so many Jews are distant from the Torah and so many wish to return to their source. This is why, more than ever, we need a path that allows us to approach the Torah after years and generations of detachment and begin from a generalization that incorporates all the details and explanations. One example of such an approach is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who chose twelve noteworthy verses for the children’s movement of Tzivos Hashem (“God’s army”) that are good even for adults to learn and repeat them by heart on a regular basis.

Obviously, identifying the Torah’s principle philosophies is important for everyone, not only for those who are not yet competent in Torah study. Even the greatest Torah scholars and tzadikim need to identify them too. Yet, they do not have the same need to search for it as the “outsiders” mentioned above. They study the entire Torah and observe all 613 mitzvot and they can relate naturally to the great principle as a simple premise. When the proselyte demands that he be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel reveals the great principle whose light he follows and now we too can benefit from his previously hidden premise, which has now become part of the public domain. Now we too, as distant as we may be, can grasp hold of this principle and allow it to help us progress to the entire Torah.

Although sometimes a great sage may find it difficult to formulate his fundamental axioms in simple terms, someone as humble as Hillel has a ready answer which is most suitable for even the most distant, lowly individual – while standing on one foot.

Five general verses

Since we are occupied with general principles, we can try to discover additional principles in the Torah. The generalization of “Love your fellow as yourself” is not just an important principle in Torah conventions and mitzvah observance, but a verse from the Torah, and since the Torah is composed of five different books, perhaps we can identify five such principles.

Let’s meditate for a moment on the book of Genesis and consider the most famous and most general verse in the book. Naturally, the verse that immediately comes to mind is the first verse, “In the beginning, Elokim [God] created the heavens and the earth.” This is the verse that begins everything and it exemplifies the entire book of Genesis?the book of creation and the beginning of mankind?in one verse.

Let’s continue to the book of Exodus: here we are drawn to the first verse of the Ten Commandments: “I am Havayah, your God, who has brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage.” This is the fundamental tenet of our faith that ties the Giving of the Torah to the Exodus from Egypt, which is the main point in the story of the book of Exodus.

When we reach the book of Leviticus, the middle book of the Torah, Rabbi Akiva has already done the work for us: “Love your fellow as yourself” is the great principle of this book. The passage that we choose from the book of Numbers contains all three verses of the Priestly Blessing, which we have the custom to read every morning after the blessings over the Torah, meaning that it is representative of the entire Written Torah. Finally, in the book of Deuteronomy our choice is simple: “Hear o’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.” This verse is the quintessential proclamation of Jewish faith, a verse that we say twice every day and the words that were on the lips of countless Jews as they were put to death to sanctify God’s Name as Jews.

Before delving into the significance of these five verses, let’s order them into a familiar structure: the total number of words in these five verses is forty-nine and we are immediately reminded of the forty-nine days during which we count the Omer. Thus, we can make ourselves an “Omer counting table” in which each word corresponds to one day?from the first day, representing “In the beginning” (???????????) to the last day, representing “One” (?????).

This correspondence is particularly suitable because the inspiration for setting these verses as general verses is from Rabbi Akiva; a most prominent figure during the Counting of the Omer. It was during this period that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not act respectfully towards one another (which is the reason why we observe certain mourning customs during this period). , Rabbi Akiva’s great principle: “Love your fellow as yourself,”?a verse which appears in Parashat Kedoshim, which is always read during the Omer period?is our principal service during the counting of the Omer; it comes as an antidote to rectify the sin of hatred and discord among Jews.

There are a number of noteworthy phenomena that can be gleaned from the table that we have just described, three of which we will mention here: a. the words “Love your fellow as yourself” (??????????? ???????? ????????) are located exactly in the center of the table at days 24, 25 and 26 of the Omer; the word “your fellow” (????????) is the middle of the center! b. the word “Peace” (???????) falls on 28th Iyar, the day on which we merited God’s miraculous heavenly assistance in returning to Jerusalem, the Holy City of Peace and to the Temple Mount (“The House of Peace”) forty-six years ago! c. the word “Israel” (??????????) in the verse of the Shema, falls on the first day of Sivan, the day when the entire Jewish people camped before Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, “as one man with one heart.”

Climbing up the ladder of the soul

Now we can meditate on the content of these five general verses, and we see that they follow a logical course on a single upward rise. In order to enrich our meditation, we will use a familiar Chassidic quintet of concepts that enumerates the five levels of our souls: “psyche,” “spirit,” “soul,” “living one,” “single one” (??????, ?????, ????????, ?????, ????????).

·        The “psyche” (??????) is the basic level, the physical life-force that we experience in our body and in our instinctive actions, which is superficially reminiscent of an animal life-force.

·        The “spirit” (?????) expresses the world of emotions and manifests in our relationships with others, a level at which we can already identify the “advantage of man over animal.”

·        The “soul” (????????) is the level that is expressed in our intellectual world. At the level of the “soul” we rise above the sensual-physical perspective and are able to think in abstract concepts (including, for example, the ability to derive a principle from a collection of details).

·        The “living one” (?????) is on a higher plane that is completely beyond our conscious minds. This plane is referred to as, “surrounding light” (as opposed to the “psyche,” the “spirit” and the “soul,” which are “inner lights”) that is still close enough for us to sometimes become aware of its influence, as an “atmosphere” of sanctity that surrounds me and guides me to my path in life.

·        The “singular one” (????????) is the source of the soul, the core point that eternally clings to its infinite source in God. The “singular one” is a “distant surrounding light,” that is revealed only at unique moments in life, such as moments of total self-sacrifice.

We can now meditate on the correspondence between our five verses and these five levels of the soul.

·        Genesis: “In the beginning, Elokim [God] created the heavens and the earth” should be my fundamental experience at the level of the psyche. God created the entire world, with mankind, the crowning glory of creation, included. God’s Essential Name, Havayah, does not yet appear here in this verse, only the Name Elokim (????????), which depicts God as Creator and Director of nature [???????? has the same numerical value as “nature” (???????)]. At this basic level of the soul we only have a pale recognition that there is something above and beyond the natural world. This verse also indicates that my psyche is not perceived as something completely different from my body, as the psyche and the body correspond to the heavens and the earth mentioned in the verse, both created by the natural Divine power of Elokim. Just as the central theme of Genesis is the account of the Patriarchs’ lives while they are still perceived as a part of mankind in general before the Jewish people became a nation, so too my uniqueness as a Jew does not yet feature at the level of the psyche, which corresponds to the verse from Genesis.

·        Exodus: “I am Havayah, your God, who has brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage.” This verse corresponds to the next highest level of “spirit” (?????), which rises above the basic life-force of the “psyche.” At this level we are conscious of the subjugation and constrictions of nature, while simultaneously being aware of the possibility of exodus and redemption from their constraints by a Divine power. This verse from the book of Exodus, which completely challenges the fundamental principles of nature, exposes us to the fact that the Jewish people are a different species altogether, “You have chosen us from all nations… and Your Great and Holy Name You have called upon us.” At the level of my psyche I experience myself as an individual who is separate and defined from all other people, but at this level the spirit dimension draws me towards social contact and a sense of “belonging.”  In Nisan, the month of redemption, every individual Jew is aroused to sense his belonging to the Jewish people and thus begins to progress towards God, his God.

·        Leviticus: “Do not take vengeance nor bear a grudge for your people, and love your fellow as yourself, I am Havayah.” This verse brings us to the level of the soul (????????). After leaving the straits of Egypt, the Jewish people become aware of their existence as an entity that has the ability to defy the world of nature and that stands apart from the great global village of the nations. Together as a people we weave a very special relationship guided by this greatest principle of all. True, at a certain level we care about the entire world and all of mankind?we love all of God’s creations?but our special love for our “fellow” Jew is on a completely different plane. This is a love that rises above all of the differences between you and me, through the deep understanding that our souls are united at their source, which is why we are commanded to love the other literally, “as yourself.”

·        Numbers: the verses of the Priestly Blessing bring us to the level of the “living one.” Having now risen to the hidden levels that surround the soul, we reveal that after all the rungs that we have climbed so far, there is an additional level at which we are so close to God that He chooses us to be His messengers “to bless the Jewish people with love.” This means not just standing before God as His beloved children, but identifying with Him so much so that we have the ability to represent Him and bring His blessing to the world. Although the power of blessing in practice is granted only to the kohanim (priests), nonetheless the kohanim themselves do this by the power of the entire Jewish people; we appoint them to be God’s messengers to bless us all. The entire Jewish people is a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

·        Deuteronomy: finally, we come to the verse, “Hear o’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.” This verse from Deuteronomy is the revelation of the highest level of the soul, the “singular one” (????????). We constantly proclaim God’s unity, but only the “singular one” of our souls can truly perceive how God is truly singular and how much the entire world is annulled and included within His Divine unity. This is the message that we receive from the entire book of Deuteronomy, which prepares us to enter the Land of Israel, a message that tells us: now, as you are about to begin “normal life” as a people in its land, you must remember well that you did not come here just to be a “free nation in our land” but to be God’s people, who testify to His unity through daily self-sacrifice in our everyday lives, and this knowledge is your raison d’être.

To conclude, we will recall that the pivot point of all five verses and the greatest principle of all is “love your fellow as yourself”; the connection of all our Jewish souls together in love. This is the heart of our being from which the levels of the psyche and the spirit are derived and from which we soar upwards to the levels of the living one and the singular one. The ultimate Torah principle is never to forget your fellow Jew!

 

This article is based on our book Klal Gadol Batorah (in Hebrew) that is dedicated in its entirety to this meditation

The Torah’s great principle

Rabbi Akiva said, “Love your fellow as yourself” is a great principle of the Torah. A similar principle is gleaned from the famous story of a proselyte who wished to convert to Judaism on condition that someone would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder accepted his conversion and told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]?that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Obviously, the entire Torah is a true, God-given Torah, but Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva teach us that there is room to meditate on the principle that is the Torah’s “great principle”; the signpost that puts us on the right track.

The need for such guiding lights is most necessary when an outsider wishes to approach the infinite sea of Torah and needs an anchor to show him where to begin. This is why the Torah’s greatest principle is learnt from a proselyte who comes to convert. A true convert is not obliged to know the entire Torah before he converts, but he does need to know the principal foundations of Jewish faith; then he can accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvot in all sincerity. Rabbi Akiva, that great Torah sage, also arrived at the Torah as an “outsider”; he was a ba’al teshuvah (secular Jew who becomes observant) who only began his Torah study at the age of forty.

These two “outsiders,” the ba’al teshuvah and the convert, who begin their Torah study from scratch at an advanced age, are in need of a short-cut strategy and it is our privilege to learn the Torah’s great principle through their merit. Our generation too is a generation of teshuvah (repentance); so many Jews are distant from the Torah and so many wish to return to their source. This is why, more than ever, we need a path that allows us to approach the Torah after years and generations of detachment and begin from a generalization that incorporates all the details and explanations. One example of such an approach is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who chose twelve noteworthy verses for the children’s movement of Tzivos Hashem (“God’s army”) that are good even for adults to learn and repeat them by heart on a regular basis.

Obviously, identifying the Torah’s principle philosophies is important for everyone, not only for those who are not yet competent in Torah study. Even the greatest Torah scholars and tzadikim need to identify them too. Yet, they do not have the same need to search for it as the “outsiders” mentioned above. They study the entire Torah and observe all 613 mitzvot and they can relate naturally to the great principle as a simple premise. When the proselyte demands that he be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel reveals the great principle whose light he follows and now we too can benefit from his previously hidden premise, which has now become part of the public domain. Now we too, as distant as we may be, can grasp hold of this principle and allow it to help us progress to the entire Torah.

Although sometimes a great sage may find it difficult to formulate his fundamental axioms in simple terms, someone as humble as Hillel has a ready answer which is most suitable for even the most distant, lowly individual – while standing on one foot.

Five general verses

Since we are occupied with general principles, we can try to discover additional principles in the Torah. The generalization of “Love your fellow as yourself” is not just an important principle in Torah conventions and mitzvah observance, but a verse from the Torah, and since the Torah is composed of five different books, perhaps we can identify five such principles.

Let’s meditate for a moment on the book of Genesis and consider the most famous and most general verse in the book. Naturally, the verse that immediately comes to mind is the first verse, “In the beginning, Elokim [God] created the heavens and the earth.” This is the verse that begins everything and it exemplifies the entire book of Genesis?the book of creation and the beginning of mankind?in one verse.

Let’s continue to the book of Exodus: here we are drawn to the first verse of the Ten Commandments: “I am Havayah, your God, who has brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage.” This is the fundamental tenet of our faith that ties the Giving of the Torah to the Exodus from Egypt, which is the main point in the story of the book of Exodus.

When we reach the book of Leviticus, the middle book of the Torah, Rabbi Akiva has already done the work for us: “Love your fellow as yourself” is the great principle of this book. The passage that we choose from the book of Numbers contains all three verses of the Priestly Blessing, which we have the custom to read every morning after the blessings over the Torah, meaning that it is representative of the entire Written Torah. Finally, in the book of Deuteronomy our choice is simple: “Hear o’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.” This verse is the quintessential proclamation of Jewish faith, a verse that we say twice every day and the words that were on the lips of countless Jews as they were put to death to sanctify God’s Name as Jews.

Before delving into the significance of these five verses, let’s order them into a familiar structure: the total number of words in these five verses is forty-nine and we are immediately reminded of the forty-nine days during which we count the Omer. Thus, we can make ourselves an “Omer counting table” in which each word corresponds to one day?from the first day, representing “In the beginning” (???????????) to the last day, representing “One” (?????).

This correspondence is particularly suitable because the inspiration for setting these verses as general verses is from Rabbi Akiva; a most prominent figure during the Counting of the Omer. It was during this period that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not act respectfully towards one another (which is the reason why we observe certain mourning customs during this period). , Rabbi Akiva’s great principle: “Love your fellow as yourself,”?a verse which appears in Parashat Kedoshim, which is always read during the Omer period?is our principal service during the counting of the Omer; it comes as an antidote to rectify the sin of hatred and discord among Jews.

There are a number of noteworthy phenomena that can be gleaned from the table that we have just described, three of which we will mention here: a. the words “Love your fellow as yourself” (??????????? ???????? ????????) are located exactly in the center of the table at days 24, 25 and 26 of the Omer; the word “your fellow” (????????) is the middle of the center! b. the word “Peace” (???????) falls on 28th Iyar, the day on which we merited God’s miraculous heavenly assistance in returning to Jerusalem, the Holy City of Peace and to the Temple Mount (“The House of Peace”) forty-six years ago! c. the word “Israel” (??????????) in the verse of the Shema, falls on the first day of Sivan, the day when the entire Jewish people camped before Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, “as one man with one heart.”

Climbing up the ladder of the soul

Now we can meditate on the content of these five general verses, and we see that they follow a logical course on a single upward rise. In order to enrich our meditation, we will use a familiar Chassidic quintet of concepts that enumerates the five levels of our souls: “psyche,” “spirit,” “soul,” “living one,” “single one” (??????, ?????, ????????, ?????, ????????).

·        The “psyche” (??????) is the basic level, the physical life-force that we experience in our body and in our instinctive actions, which is superficially reminiscent of an animal life-force.

·        The “spirit” (?????) expresses the world of emotions and manifests in our relationships with others, a level at which we can already identify the “advantage of man over animal.”

·        The “soul” (????????) is the level that is expressed in our intellectual world. At the level of the “soul” we rise above the sensual-physical perspective and are able to think in abstract concepts (including, for example, the ability to derive a principle from a collection of details).

·        The “living one” (?????) is on a higher plane that is completely beyond our conscious minds. This plane is referred to as, “surrounding light” (as opposed to the “psyche,” the “spirit” and the “soul,” which are “inner lights”) that is still close enough for us to sometimes become aware of its influence, as an “atmosphere” of sanctity that surrounds me and guides me to my path in life.

·        The “singular one” (????????) is the source of the soul, the core point that eternally clings to its infinite source in God. The “singular one” is a “distant surrounding light,” that is revealed only at unique moments in life, such as moments of total self-sacrifice.

We can now meditate on the correspondence between our five verses and these five levels of the soul.

·        Genesis: “In the beginning, Elokim [God] created the heavens and the earth” should be my fundamental experience at the level of the psyche. God created the entire world, with mankind, the crowning glory of creation, included. God’s Essential Name, Havayah, does not yet appear here in this verse, only the Name Elokim (????????), which depicts God as Creator and Director of nature [???????? has the same numerical value as “nature” (???????)]. At this basic level of the soul we only have a pale recognition that there is something above and beyond the natural world. This verse also indicates that my psyche is not perceived as something completely different from my body, as the psyche and the body correspond to the heavens and the earth mentioned in the verse, both created by the natural Divine power of Elokim. Just as the central theme of Genesis is the account of the Patriarchs’ lives while they are still perceived as a part of mankind in general before the Jewish people became a nation, so too my uniqueness as a Jew does not yet feature at the level of the psyche, which corresponds to the verse from Genesis.

·        Exodus: “I am Havayah, your God, who has brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage.” This verse corresponds to the next highest level of “spirit” (?????), which rises above the basic life-force of the “psyche.” At this level we are conscious of the subjugation and constrictions of nature, while simultaneously being aware of the possibility of exodus and redemption from their constraints by a Divine power. This verse from the book of Exodus, which completely challenges the fundamental principles of nature, exposes us to the fact that the Jewish people are a different species altogether, “You have chosen us from all nations… and Your Great and Holy Name You have called upon us.” At the level of my psyche I experience myself as an individual who is separate and defined from all other people, but at this level the spirit dimension draws me towards social contact and a sense of “belonging.”  In Nisan, the month of redemption, every individual Jew is aroused to sense his belonging to the Jewish people and thus begins to progress towards God, his God.

·        Leviticus: “Do not take vengeance nor bear a grudge for your people, and love your fellow as yourself, I am Havayah.” This verse brings us to the level of the soul (????????). After leaving the straits of Egypt, the Jewish people become aware of their existence as an entity that has the ability to defy the world of nature and that stands apart from the great global village of the nations. Together as a people we weave a very special relationship guided by this greatest principle of all. True, at a certain level we care about the entire world and all of mankind?we love all of God’s creations?but our special love for our “fellow” Jew is on a completely different plane. This is a love that rises above all of the differences between you and me, through the deep understanding that our souls are united at their source, which is why we are commanded to love the other literally, “as yourself.”

·        Numbers: the verses of the Priestly Blessing bring us to the level of the “living one.” Having now risen to the hidden levels that surround the soul, we reveal that after all the rungs that we have climbed so far, there is an additional level at which we are so close to God that He chooses us to be His messengers “to bless the Jewish people with love.” This means not just standing before God as His beloved children, but identifying with Him so much so that we have the ability to represent Him and bring His blessing to the world. Although the power of blessing in practice is granted only to the kohanim (priests), nonetheless the kohanim themselves do this by the power of the entire Jewish people; we appoint them to be God’s messengers to bless us all. The entire Jewish people is a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

·        Deuteronomy: finally, we come to the verse, “Hear o’ Israel, Havayah is our God, Havayah is one.” This verse from Deuteronomy is the revelation of the highest level of the soul, the “singular one” (????????). We constantly proclaim God’s unity, but only the “singular one” of our souls can truly perceive how God is truly singular and how much the entire world is annulled and included within His Divine unity. This is the message that we receive from the entire book of Deuteronomy, which prepares us to enter the Land of Israel, a message that tells us: now, as you are about to begin “normal life” as a people in its land, you must remember well that you did not come here just to be a “free nation in our land” but to be God’s people, who testify to His unity through daily self-sacrifice in our everyday lives, and this knowledge is your raison d’être.

To conclude, we will recall that the pivot point of all five verses and the greatest principle of all is “love your fellow as yourself”; the connection of all our Jewish souls together in love. This is the heart of our being from which the levels of the psyche and the spirit are derived and from which we soar upwards to the levels of the living one and the singular one. The ultimate Torah principle is never to forget your fellow Jew!

This article is based on our book Klal Gadol Batorah (in Hebrew) that is dedicated in its entirety to this meditation

 

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In Parashat Emor we are commanded, doctor “Do not desecrate My Holy Name, mind and I shall be sanctified within the Children of Israel.” These two mitzvot (commandments), sildenafil desecrating God’s Name and sanctifying it, can be interpreted as very general principles that guide us to sanctify God’s Name in every action that we do and not to desecrate it. Nonetheless, the particular mitzvah of sanctifying God’s Name is specified regarding situations in which we are required to give up our lives in total self-sacrifice.

Jewish law holds that human life has supreme and fundamental value and the Almighty wants us to live in this world and not to die. This is why any life-threatening situation usually overrides all other mitzvot, as the verse states, “Observe My statutes and My laws that an individual does and he shall live by them” on which the sages expound, “but he should not die by them.” Yet, under certain circumstances we reveal that there is something beyond even the fundamental essence of life, as Rashi comments on the verse in Parashat Emor, “‘I shall be sanctified’?sacrifice yourself and sanctify My Name.”

There is a distinction made in Jewish law between those special mitzvot that one must sacrifice one’s life for and all other mitzvot. For example, if a Jewish individual is in a situation in which observing Shabbat will endanger his life, or when he must eat pork to survive and not die of hunger, the law is clear-cut: desecrate Shabbat! Eat pork! But don’t die. Nonetheless, there are three transgressions that one is required to sacrifice one’s life for and never transgress: idolatry (like Abraham who was thrown into the furnace for not agreeing to accept idolatry), prohibited relationships, and manslaughter.

More precisely, there are also times when it is required to sacrifice one’s life for any one of the mitzvot. This is the case when that particular mitzvah has become representative of the entire Torah and Jewish faith. For example, if a non-Jew commands a Jew to desecrate Shabbat, not because he has any need for him to do so, but just to cause him to transgress so that he can ridicule him and his faith – then that Jew should sacrifice his life rather than desecrate Shabbat (this refers to a situation in which the non-Jew has told him to do so in public in front of ten other Jews, but if it is a time when there is a public decree against Jews, then this is the case even if the situation takes place in private). As mentioned, this law is true with regard to all mitzvot, even the most lenient rabbinical regulation. It has no bearing on the severity of the forbidden action itself but relates to the fact that it has now become the hallmark of sanctifying God’s Name. In contrast, with reference to the three transgressions of idolatry, prohibited relationships, and manslaughter, the requirement for self-sacrifice is because of the severity of the transgression and not because of any special significance that is related to it at the time.

Provoking Jewish nature

After this concise introduction to the halachic background, we will meditate on the special formulation of the mitzvah to sanctify God’s Name, “I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel.” Grammatically speaking, the Torah usually formulates commands in the active form, as in the command to “love your fellow as yourself,” “tie them as a sign on your hand,” etc. but “I shall be sanctified” is in the passive form, describing the result of our action: God tells us that He will be sanctified among us. In fact, one might think that sanctifying God’s Name is not a commandment at all, but that if we do not desecrate God’s Name it automatically results in His sanctification. Nonetheless, the halachah clearly determines that this is a positive commandment just like all those that are formulated in the active form.

The fact that this commandment in particular is written in the passive form is profoundly significant. Every other mitzvah in the Torah is performed consciously and intentionally and not instinctively. But, the mitzvah of sanctifying God’s Name has a much deeper dimension, in that it is completely natural. Although practically speaking an individual may “sacrifice his soul” in a fully conscious and intentional manner, and one might think that he needs to “force himself” to do it, the deepest truth is that the ability to die for God’s Name stems entirely from his innate Jewish essence.

The Alter Rebbe explains that the source of the Jewish affinity for self-sacrifice to sanctify God’s Name does not lie in the conscious powers of our psyche. This becomes particularly obvious when we observe the phenomenon of self-sacrifice among those Jewish souls who, although considerably distant from Torah study and mitzvah observance, when they are forced to deny God or His Torah, are nevertheless prepared to die to sanctify God’s Name. Such Jews do not actively identify with the Torah and Jewish faith in any way through the rational, conscious powers of their souls, and all their thoughts, emotions and actions appear to be completely detached from Judaism. Yet, at the deepest level of our souls, at a point beyond our comprehension, every Jew nurtures an inseparable bond with God. Even an individual who is a sworn heretic in everyday life, in the innermost point of his Jewish soul he is actually a great believer (although he is totally unaware of it). Yet, this hidden power of faith, his true Jewish nature, comes to the fore when approached by an impending outside force that threatens its very existence.

Now we can understand why this particular mitzvah is written in the Torah in the passive form, “I shall be sanctified,” because self-sacrifice to sanctify God’s Name, more than any other mitzvah, reflects our essential nature as Jews. Therefore, even a conscious, intentional act of self-sacrifice is considered automatic and instinctive. Just as I breathe and eat to allow my physical body to survive?so my Jewish soul acts naturally to ensure its spiritual survival at moments of self-sacrifice.

Incidentally, since we have mentioned Jewish nature, we will emphasize that, “I will be sanctified within the Children of Israel” refers to Jews in particular. Indeed, the halachah is that non-Jews are commanded to observe the seven Noachide laws but are not commanded to sanctify God’s Name. For instance, if a righteous non-Jew (who is deeply respected in Jewish law and deserves a portion in the World to Come) would be forced to serve idolatry under threat of his life and he would ask us how to behave, we would tell him to do so (albeit superficially) and not sacrifice his life. Only a Jew is required to forfeit his life, because only a Jewish soul has that special “component” that connects him instinctively to the Almighty above all rational reasoning.

The consummate wholeness of the Torah, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel

Let’s now return to the three special mitzvot that we are commanded to sacrifice our lives for: idolatry, prohibited relationships, and manslaughter. This is one of many Jewish “triplets” in the Torah – beginning with the three Patriarchs and including the Torah which is a “threefold Torah” (containing Torah, Prophets, and Scriptures) which is given to a threefold people (priests, Levites, and Israelites) and many, many more. If we consider our current triplet carefully, we may immediately notice its similarity to another famous triplet: the Jewish People, the Torah, and the Land of Israel, each of which is defined by its requirement for consummate completeness, as Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, often emphasized.

Completeness refers to an entity that only manifests as a whole and dividing it into pieces can never suffice because the revelation of its essential nature is complete only if it includes all its details and components. Here is a simple example: if I have a whole loaf of bread I can definitely cut a slice out of it and eat it without jeopardizing the definition of the bread. But nobody would ever voluntarily surrender a part of his body?not even his baby toe?because this would have a devastating effect on his entire body. So too, and even more so, regarding the completeness of the three concepts of Torah, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel (in fact, the three together manifest an all-inclusive completeness):

We cannot relate to the Torah as a collection of ideas that can be accepted in part. The entire Torah?all the letters of the Torah scroll and all the 613 mitzvot together?constitutes a consummate whole and the foundation of Judaism is total acceptance of Heaven’s yoke and all the mitzvot of the Torah as a whole. Just as a Torah scroll that is missing even one letter is invalid, so a proselyte who wishes to convert to Judaism and accepts the entire Torah “except one minor aspect” cannot be accepted as a righteous convert. There is no half-Torah.

Regarding the Jewish people: all Jews are fused together like the limbs of one complete body; every Jew and Jewess is unique and essential to the whole, wherever they may be, and we can never forfeit even one of them.  The Giving of the Torah would not have been viable without the consummate wholeness of six-hundred-thousand Jewish souls (corresponding to the six-hundred-thousand letters of the Torah; each individual Jew with his own letter in the Torah) who stood at the foot of the mountain “as one man with one heart.”

Regarding the Land of Israel, there are those who mistakenly state that they love the Land of Israel and want the Jewish people to live here, but what do we need the entire land for? Someone who makes such a statement has not truly grasped the essence of the land of Israel, “a land which Havayah, your God supervises, the eyes of Havayah, your God are constantly on it,” which was given to the Jewish people in its entirety and we are not authorized to give away even the smallest part of it to a non-Jew.

True, sometimes for various reasons we are unable to observe the entire Torah; we cannot always reach out to every Jew; and there have been long periods in history when we have been unable to occupy the whole of the land. But we must realize that in essence, the Torah is complete, the Jewish people is complete, and the land of Israel is a complete entity.

These three “completenesses” appear to be related to the concept of self-sacrifice mentioned above. So, for instance, we must sacrifice our souls for every Jew, because we cannot forfeit the completeness of the Jewish people for anything in the world. But when we consider these three in greater detail, we can identify a beautiful correspondence between them and the three most severe transgressions:

The completeness of the Torah clearly corresponds to the prohibition against idolatry: the Ten Commandments begin with the commandment, “I am Havayah, your God… You shall have no other gods besides Me”; the entire Torah and all the mitzvot are the finer details of this general rule, as the commentaries write that all 248 positive commandments are included in the phrase, “I am Havayah, your God,” and all 365 prohibitive commandments are included in the commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Thus, if someone is being coerced to commit an act that can be interpreted to be idolatrous, he should sacrifice his life, because this is not merely one detail of the Torah, but the entire Torah.

The completeness of the Jewish people corresponds to the prohibition against manslaughter. This correspondence is also quite straightforward, because manslaughter eradicates another Jewish soul. One particularly potent expression of the consummate wholeness of the Jewish people is in the halachah that states that if a non-Jew imposes a demand on a group of Jewish individuals to surrender one of the group to put him to death or else they will kill the entire group, God forbid, then the law is that “They should kill all of them but never surrender one Jewish soul”! At face value, the simple reasoning would be that it is better that one Jewish individual die than the entire group, but the halachah teaches us that every Jew is “an entire world” and we cannot do any act that will jeopardize the wholeness of the Jewish people, even if it involves paying such a high fee. Care of the continued existence of the Jewish people is in the competent hands of the Almighty, who commanded us to conduct ourselves in this manner.

Finally, the completeness of the land apparently corresponds to prohibited relationships, but how? In the previous parashot (Acharei-mot and Kedoshim) we saw that the Torah explicitly associates observing the laws of prohibited relationships with the right to settle the land of Israel, as the Torah states after enumerating the prohibited relationships, “For all these abominations were committed by the people of the land who preceded you and the land was defiled. But the land shall not vomit you out by you defiling it as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” We can understand this special bond with the land through the recurring Biblical image of the bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel as a husband-wife relationship, “As a young man marries a virgin, so your children will marry you.” At a deep level, transgressing the injunction against prohibited relationships means denying the possibility of a true, consummately whole relationship between man and wife with all its implications. Following this principle, the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel must be understood as a relationship of consummate wholeness: the Jewish nation in its entirety living in the whole land of Israel. Just as the sanctity of married life can never allow two men to both have an autonomous relationship with one woman, so the land of Israel can never be divided by the formula of “two states for two people” – but it will always remain “one land for one people.” The entire Jewish nation must occupy the whole land of Israel following the laws of the Torah in its entirety.

This article is dedicated to the memory of our friend, the esteemed Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, zt”l, for who these three “wholenesses” were his guiding light

In Parashat Emor we are commanded, decease decease “Do not desecrate My Holy Name, prescription and I shall be sanctified within the Children of Israel.” These two mitzvot (commandments), pills desecrating God’s Name and sanctifying it, can be interpreted as very general principles that guide us to sanctify God’s Name in every action that we do and not to desecrate it. Nonetheless, the particular mitzvah of sanctifying God’s Name is specified regarding situations in which we are required to give up our lives in total self-sacrifice.

Jewish law holds that human life has supreme and fundamental value and the Almighty wants us to live in this world and not to die. This is why any life-threatening situation usually overrides all other mitzvot, as the verse states, “Observe My statutes and My laws that an individual does and he shall live by them” on which the sages expound, “but he should not die by them.” Yet, under certain circumstances we reveal that there is something beyond even the fundamental essence of life, as Rashi comments on the verse in Parashat Emor, “‘I shall be sanctified’?sacrifice yourself and sanctify My Name.”

There is a distinction made in Jewish law between those special mitzvot that one must sacrifice one’s life for and all other mitzvot. For example, if a Jewish individual is in a situation in which observing Shabbat will endanger his life, or when he must eat pork to survive and not die of hunger, the law is clear-cut: desecrate Shabbat! Eat pork! But don’t die. Nonetheless, there are three transgressions that one is required to sacrifice one’s life for and never transgress: idolatry (like Abraham who was thrown into the furnace for not agreeing to accept idolatry), prohibited relationships, and manslaughter.

More precisely, there are also times when it is required to sacrifice one’s life for any one of the mitzvot. This is the case when that particular mitzvah has become representative of the entire Torah and Jewish faith. For example, if a non-Jew commands a Jew to desecrate Shabbat, not because he has any need for him to do so, but just to cause him to transgress so that he can ridicule him and his faith – then that Jew should sacrifice his life rather than desecrate Shabbat (this refers to a situation in which the non-Jew has told him to do so in public in front of ten other Jews, but if it is a time when there is a public decree against Jews, then this is the case even if the situation takes place in private). As mentioned, this law is true with regard to all mitzvot, even the most lenient rabbinical regulation. It has no bearing on the severity of the forbidden action itself but relates to the fact that it has now become the hallmark of sanctifying God’s Name. In contrast, with reference to the three transgressions of idolatry, prohibited relationships, and manslaughter, the requirement for self-sacrifice is because of the severity of the transgression and not because of any special significance that is related to it at the time.

Provoking Jewish nature

After this concise introduction to the halachic background, we will meditate on the special formulation of the mitzvah to sanctify God’s Name, “I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel.” Grammatically speaking, the Torah usually formulates commands in the active form, as in the command to “love your fellow as yourself,” “tie them as a sign on your hand,” etc. but “I shall be sanctified” is in the passive form, describing the result of our action: God tells us that He will be sanctified among us. In fact, one might think that sanctifying God’s Name is not a commandment at all, but that if we do not desecrate God’s Name it automatically results in His sanctification. Nonetheless, the halachah clearly determines that this is a positive commandment just like all those that are formulated in the active form.

The fact that this commandment in particular is written in the passive form is profoundly significant. Every other mitzvah in the Torah is performed consciously and intentionally and not instinctively. But, the mitzvah of sanctifying God’s Name has a much deeper dimension, in that it is completely natural. Although practically speaking an individual may “sacrifice his soul” in a fully conscious and intentional manner, and one might think that he needs to “force himself” to do it, the deepest truth is that the ability to die for God’s Name stems entirely from his innate Jewish essence.

The Alter Rebbe explains that the source of the Jewish affinity for self-sacrifice to sanctify God’s Name does not lie in the conscious powers of our psyche. This becomes particularly obvious when we observe the phenomenon of self-sacrifice among those Jewish souls who, although considerably distant from Torah study and mitzvah observance, when they are forced to deny God or His Torah, are nevertheless prepared to die to sanctify God’s Name. Such Jews do not actively identify with the Torah and Jewish faith in any way through the rational, conscious powers of their souls, and all their thoughts, emotions and actions appear to be completely detached from Judaism. Yet, at the deepest level of our souls, at a point beyond our comprehension, every Jew nurtures an inseparable bond with God. Even an individual who is a sworn heretic in everyday life, in the innermost point of his Jewish soul he is actually a great believer (although he is totally unaware of it). Yet, this hidden power of faith, his true Jewish nature, comes to the fore when approached by an impending outside force that threatens its very existence.

Now we can understand why this particular mitzvah is written in the Torah in the passive form, “I shall be sanctified,” because self-sacrifice to sanctify God’s Name, more than any other mitzvah, reflects our essential nature as Jews. Therefore, even a conscious, intentional act of self-sacrifice is considered automatic and instinctive. Just as I breathe and eat to allow my physical body to survive?so my Jewish soul acts naturally to ensure its spiritual survival at moments of self-sacrifice.

Incidentally, since we have mentioned Jewish nature, we will emphasize that, “I will be sanctified within the Children of Israel” refers to Jews in particular. Indeed, the halachah is that non-Jews are commanded to observe the seven Noachide laws but are not commanded to sanctify God’s Name. For instance, if a righteous non-Jew (who is deeply respected in Jewish law and deserves a portion in the World to Come) would be forced to serve idolatry under threat of his life and he would ask us how to behave, we would tell him to do so (albeit superficially) and not sacrifice his life. Only a Jew is required to forfeit his life, because only a Jewish soul has that special “component” that connects him instinctively to the Almighty above all rational reasoning.

The consummate wholeness of the Torah, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel

Let’s now return to the three special mitzvot that we are commanded to sacrifice our lives for: idolatry, prohibited relationships, and manslaughter. This is one of many Jewish “triplets” in the Torah – beginning with the three Patriarchs and including the Torah which is a “threefold Torah” (containing Torah, Prophets, and Scriptures) which is given to a threefold people (priests, Levites, and Israelites) and many, many more. If we consider our current triplet carefully, we may immediately notice its similarity to another famous triplet: the Jewish People, the Torah, and the Land of Israel, each of which is defined by its requirement for consummate completeness, as Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, often emphasized.

Completeness refers to an entity that only manifests as a whole and dividing it into pieces can never suffice because the revelation of its essential nature is complete only if it includes all its details and components. Here is a simple example: if I have a whole loaf of bread I can definitely cut a slice out of it and eat it without jeopardizing the definition of the bread. But nobody would ever voluntarily surrender a part of his body?not even his baby toe?because this would have a devastating effect on his entire body. So too, and even more so, regarding the completeness of the three concepts of Torah, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel (in fact, the three together manifest an all-inclusive completeness):

We cannot relate to the Torah as a collection of ideas that can be accepted in part. The entire Torah?all the letters of the Torah scroll and all the 613 mitzvot together?constitutes a consummate whole and the foundation of Judaism is total acceptance of Heaven’s yoke and all the mitzvot of the Torah as a whole. Just as a Torah scroll that is missing even one letter is invalid, so a proselyte who wishes to convert to Judaism and accepts the entire Torah “except one minor aspect” cannot be accepted as a righteous convert. There is no half-Torah.

Regarding the Jewish people: all Jews are fused together like the limbs of one complete body; every Jew and Jewess is unique and essential to the whole, wherever they may be, and we can never forfeit even one of them.  The Giving of the Torah would not have been viable without the consummate wholeness of six-hundred-thousand Jewish souls (corresponding to the six-hundred-thousand letters of the Torah; each individual Jew with his own letter in the Torah) who stood at the foot of the mountain “as one man with one heart.”

Regarding the Land of Israel, there are those who mistakenly state that they love the Land of Israel and want the Jewish people to live here, but what do we need the entire land for? Someone who makes such a statement has not truly grasped the essence of the land of Israel, “a land which Havayah, your God supervises, the eyes of Havayah, your God are constantly on it,” which was given to the Jewish people in its entirety and we are not authorized to give away even the smallest part of it to a non-Jew.

True, sometimes for various reasons we are unable to observe the entire Torah; we cannot always reach out to every Jew; and there have been long periods in history when we have been unable to occupy the whole of the land. But we must realize that in essence, the Torah is complete, the Jewish people is complete, and the land of Israel is a complete entity.

These three “completenesses” appear to be related to the concept of self-sacrifice mentioned above. So, for instance, we must sacrifice our souls for every Jew, because we cannot forfeit the completeness of the Jewish people for anything in the world. But when we consider these three in greater detail, we can identify a beautiful correspondence between them and the three most severe transgressions:

The completeness of the Torah clearly corresponds to the prohibition against idolatry: the Ten Commandments begin with the commandment, “I am Havayah, your God… You shall have no other gods besides Me”; the entire Torah and all the mitzvot are the finer details of this general rule, as the commentaries write that all 248 positive commandments are included in the phrase, “I am Havayah, your God,” and all 365 prohibitive commandments are included in the commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Thus, if someone is being coerced to commit an act that can be interpreted to be idolatrous, he should sacrifice his life, because this is not merely one detail of the Torah, but the entire Torah.

The completeness of the Jewish people corresponds to the prohibition against manslaughter. This correspondence is also quite straightforward, because manslaughter eradicates another Jewish soul. One particularly potent expression of the consummate wholeness of the Jewish people is in the halachah that states that if a non-Jew imposes a demand on a group of Jewish individuals to surrender one of the group to put him to death or else they will kill the entire group, God forbid, then the law is that “They should kill all of them but never surrender one Jewish soul”! At face value, the simple reasoning would be that it is better that one Jewish individual die than the entire group, but the halachah teaches us that every Jew is “an entire world” and we cannot do any act that will jeopardize the wholeness of the Jewish people, even if it involves paying such a high fee. Care of the continued existence of the Jewish people is in the competent hands of the Almighty, who commanded us to conduct ourselves in this manner.

Finally, the completeness of the land apparently corresponds to prohibited relationships, but how? In the previous parashot (Acharei-mot and Kedoshim) we saw that the Torah explicitly associates observing the laws of prohibited relationships with the right to settle the land of Israel, as the Torah states after enumerating the prohibited relationships, “For all these abominations were committed by the people of the land who preceded you and the land was defiled. But the land shall not vomit you out by you defiling it as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” We can understand this special bond with the land through the recurring Biblical image of the bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel as a husband-wife relationship, “As a young man marries a virgin, so your children will marry you.” At a deep level, transgressing the injunction against prohibited relationships means denying the possibility of a true, consummately whole relationship between man and wife with all its implications. Following this principle, the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel must be understood as a relationship of consummate wholeness: the Jewish nation in its entirety living in the whole land of Israel. Just as the sanctity of married life can never allow two men to both have an autonomous relationship with one woman, so the land of Israel can never be divided by the formula of “two states for two people” – but it will always remain “one land for one people.” The entire Jewish nation must occupy the whole land of Israel following the laws of the Torah in its entirety.

This article is dedicated to the memory of our friend, the esteemed Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, zt”l, for who these three “wholenesses” were his guiding light

The mitzvot of shmitah (the sabbatical year; pl. shmitot) and yovel (the Jubilee year) are enumerated in Parashat Behar where we learn that every seventh year is a shmitah year and the year following every seven shmitah cycles is a Jubilee year: “Count for yourselves seven sabbatical years, viagra sale seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you… And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and call freedom in the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee year for you.” This verse is clearly reminiscent of the mitzvah to count the Omer, which is written in a similar style, “Count for yourselves from the day following the festival… seven complete weeks they shall be.” The difference between them is that the shmitah is counting years and the Omer is counting days. Interestingly, both Torah portions are always read during the Omer.

Further back in the book of Leviticus there are two more situations in which we are commanded to count units of time. The first situation is regarding a man who has an impure discharge, “When a man with a discharge is purified of his discharge, and he shall count seven days to his purity.” Similarly, a woman who has a discharge is also commanded, “She shall count seven days and then she shall be purified.” In most years, these verses are also read during the Omer.

The ways of counting the days for a man with a discharge and for a woman in a similar predicament are identical; there are thus three different commandments to count units of time: the Jubilee year, the days of the Omer and the purification of an individual who suffered a discharge. These three are the only examples of any commandment in the Torah that requires counting something, and all of them relate to time and the awareness of the passage of time; from the seven days of counting purity, through the forty-nine days of the Omer and finally, the forty-nine years of shmitah followed by the Jubilee year.

Counting time is one of the outstanding characteristics of human culture. But it is not enough to know how many times the clock ticks; our task is to infuse time with significance. Thus it is told of the greatest Chassidic scholars who would always make a record of their time. To paraphrase a Chassidic saying, “Serving God means taking care of the hours; then the days take care of themselves. We should always know what we have done and what still needs to be done in the future, taking care that tomorrow will be much better than today.”

According to this interpretation, counting time means paying attention and attaching great importance to each day and every passing moment (because this moment is unique in that it has never been before and will never be again). We should not let time lead us?it should be us who lead time by accounting for every moment and making sure it is a significant one. The wisdom of Jewish counting (????????) began with Abraham, who accounted for all his moments and days without losing or wasting any time. This is why Abraham is described as “coming of days” (???? ??????????); all his days came with him. In addition, the book of Formation (????? ????????), the earliest Kabbalistic text, which is attributed to Abraham, reveals the secrets of creation according to the ten sefirot (?????????; sing. ????????, identical to “counting”).

Naturally seven

In addition to counting time in the sense of “collecting” each day by infusing every moment with significance, we will continue to meditate on the three “counting” commandments in the Torah in which the accumulation of time is of great significance.

The first thing that we note about these commandments is that counting time is a cyclical, periodical series of sevens. As we explained in Parashat Shemini, The number 7 is an expression of consummate nature, which, like the hands of a clock that go around in a circle, constantly rotates in a cyclic motion, “Generation goes and generation comes… around and around goes the spirit.”

In Kabbalah, the number 7 corresponds to the seven attributes of the heart (loving-kindness, might, beauty, victory, acknowledgment, foundation, and kingdom). Each day while counting the Omer we should have in mind the intention (????????) to inter-include these attributes one within the other, from loving-kindness in loving-kindness to kingdom in kingdom. In the psyche, these seven attributes are the “emotive” and “instinctive” powers of the soul; i.e., the world of feelings in the heart and the powers of action. But, above these attributes are the intellectual powers of the soul, which should direct and refine the seven attributes. The passage of time corresponds to the attributes of the heart and to nature, while counting time is intellectual. Counting time reflects our human consciousness of reality, and each of the different types of counting in the Torah expresses a different level of time-consciousness, as we will explain.

Back to front

When we compare the commandment of an individual who counts “clean” days and the commandment of counting the Omer, we find a number of differences: We count the Omer at the beginning of the day (in Jewish tradition day begins on the previous evening), making the blessing and counting out loud, “Today is one day of the Omer,” “Today is two days of the Omer” etc. In contrast, during the clean days counted after an impure discharge, the individual has no need to count the seven days and certainly does not make a blessing over counting them. The sages teach us that in this case, “counting” means, “paying attention to the days,” i.e., taking account of the days and making sure that there has been no more discharge. Another difference between the two types of counting is that the principal issue of counting the Omer is actually to count the days; after counting “today is day one of the Omer,” I have no further obligation to do anything more on that day… In contrast, when counting seven clean days, the principal interest is the end result: validating that another clean day has transpired.

On a deeper level, the difference between the two types of counting is the difference between types of awareness, or consciousness: counting clean days is a practical manifestation of the emotive powers of the soul?a relatively low type of awareness?while counting the Omer is on a higher realm of awareness. A physiological discharge is related to disease and the infected individual is occupied with verifying his/her cleanliness during the seven day period. This account of time manifests in the mundane experiential-practical dimension of consciousness and its main purpose is the practical result (being clean for seven days) and not the knowledge of how many days have passed; there is therefore no need to verbally articulate the number of days.

In Kabbalistic terms, this type of subdued information is called “back” (??????)?like the back of the head that has neither eyes nor mouth?and refers to information that is at the back of the mind, directing and vitalizing our mundane actions. In effect, those very same actions actually conceal the information, which is why it is does not need to be verbalized. The individuals who suffered from the discharge hope that by counting the clean days they will rid themselves of the illness and thus escape the cycle of impurity. By counting the clean days in this way they can rise from the lower world of emotions and connect to the intellectual powers of the soul, connecting emotions to intellect. Nonetheless, their current situation remains within the limitations of the mundane world as it exists before it is illuminated by the light of the intellect.

In contrast, counting the Omer is “frontal” knowledge, “A man’s wisdom illuminates his face”: the main concern in observing this commandment is to know how many days have passed, to the extent that one can and should explicitly express the number in speech. The emotive powers of the soul begin “immature”; i.e., unrefined, instinctive, and rather animalistic in nature and it is our task to raise them to “adulthood” by making them more refined and civilized. This transformation is expressed by the transition from bringing the Omer offering of barley, which is animal fodder, to bringing the “two [loaves] of bread” that are offered on Shavuot, made of wheat, which is human fare. The inner significance of counting the Omer is to elevate and refine the emotive attributes by infusing them with human intellect; the advantage man has over animal. Thus, during the Omer, there is an emphasis on not being swept up in an infinite cycle, but constantly advancing in a progressive clarification process that began in the month of Nisan, in which everything is renewed and when we escaped the straits of Egypt, and culminates with the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

In actual fact, the Zohar does compare counting the Omer to counting the seven clean days before a married couple can reunite: the seven clean days correspond to the seven weeks of the Omer, and the reunion between husband and wife corresponds to Shavuot when the Divine Bride and Groom?the Jewish people and the Almighty?unite. Nonetheless, the emphasis on counting clean days is on the natural emotive level of the soul, while counting the Omer emphasizes elevating the emotive attributes intellectually. More precisely, in the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, counting the clean days corresponds to lower knowledge, which resides within the emotive attributes as the soul resides within the body, and counting the Omer corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, which is above the sefirah of knowledge.

The Grand Jubilee

Now we come to counting the shemitah and Jubilee years. The uniqueness of this type of counting, in contrast to counting the clean days and counting the Omer, is that in this case, years and not days are counted, and the commandment to record the passage of time applies to the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), not to individuals. Considering the length of time, this is understandable because an individual is less equipped to record such long time periods and only the Sanhedrin, as the public representative, can keep record of the succession of years and generations.

From a practical perspective, we can say that counting the Jubilee lies in between counting the clean days and counting the Omer. This we can glean from the fact that the sages of the Talmud do not relate specifically to how the years are counted, and there are differing opinions in the Rishonim: there are those who hold the opinion that the members of the Sanhedrin count the years verbally, just like an individual counts the Omer (and they even make a blessing before counting), and there are others who hold the opinion that counting the years until the Jubilee are in the same class as counting the clean days after an impure discharge, meaning that the number of years and shmitot must be noted to verify that the correct practical result is achieved.

So, what inner significance is there in counting the years until the Jubilee Year? From a general perspective, the years of the shmitah cycle and the Jubilee year bear historical significance. In addition, the shmitah cycle symbolizes the entire progression of global history, as the sages teach that there are six thousand years of existence followed by a seventh millennium that will be similar to a sabbatical year. The Jubilee year, in which everything returns to its initial state, everyone returns to his own territory and slaves are freed, symbolizes the Grand Jubilee, which is the World to Come. Kabbalists even describe a progression of seven sabbaticals of seven millennia, followed by the fiftieth millennium, or even “fifty thousand millennia.” But, the Holy Arizal explained that this cannot be taken literally, but only refers to spiritual processes in the higher realms.

In the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, it is appropriate to make the correspondence between counting the years until the Jubilee to the sefirah of understanding. The forty-nine years of seven shmitah cycles, together with the fiftieth year, correspond to the fifty gates of understanding, forty-nine of which were transmitted to us, while the fiftieth gate remains beyond human comprehension. But, in addition to this correspondence, which also relates to counting the Omer, in the Zohar the sefirah of understanding itself is referred to as “the Jubilee.”

Understanding (???????) is so called because it is the “intermediate” (??????????) intellectual power, which lies between wisdom and knowledge and includes both “back” and “front,” The sefirah of understanding can relate to reality but is not totally engaged in it, like a mother who has “given birth” to the emotive attributes and therefore experiences together with them every fluctuation in their development, while actually guiding them slowly and surely through an ongoing developmental process. This means that “counting” (????????) each shmitah and Jubilee cycle does not bring us back to the starting point, but takes us constantly upwards on a spiral journey. Nonetheless, only the leaders of the Jewish people in the Sanhedrin can sense such long developmental rhythms.

Each type of counting (????????) tells its own story (???????): counting the clean days to purity is the personal story (???????) of the individual; counting the Jubilee is the universal chronicle (????? ???????? ????????) of history; and counting the Omer is the highest story of all, the story of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Counting the Omer illuminates all the sefirot (?????????) and all the stories (??????????) like a sapphire (???????) gemstone, ensuring us that in order to be redeemed we do not necessarily require an extended process of years and generations, instead, we can shorten the process from years to days, and we can be redeemed on this very day, as the verse is interpreted, “Today – if you hear His voice.”

The mitzvot of shmitah (the sabbatical year; pl. shmitot) and yovel (the Jubilee year) are enumerated in Parashat Behar where we learn that every seventh year is a shmitah year and the year following every seven shmitah cycles is a Jubilee year: “Count for yourselves seven sabbatical years, cialis 40mg
seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you… And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and call freedom in the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee year for you.” This verse is clearly reminiscent of the mitzvah to count the Omer, pills which is written in a similar style, sale “Count for yourselves from the day following the festival… seven complete weeks they shall be.” The difference between them is that the shmitah is counting years and the Omer is counting days. Interestingly, both Torah portions are always read during the Omer.

Further back in the book of Leviticus there are two more situations in which we are commanded to count units of time. The first situation is regarding a man who has an impure discharge, “When a man with a discharge is purified of his discharge, and he shall count seven days to his purity.” Similarly, a woman who has a discharge is also commanded, “She shall count seven days and then she shall be purified.” In most years, these verses are also read during the Omer.

The ways of counting the days for a man with a discharge and for a woman in a similar predicament are identical; there are thus three different commandments to count units of time: the Jubilee year, the days of the Omer and the purification of an individual who suffered a discharge. These three are the only examples of any commandment in the Torah that requires counting something, and all of them relate to time and the awareness of the passage of time; from the seven days of counting purity, through the forty-nine days of the Omer and finally, the forty-nine years of shmitah followed by the Jubilee year.

Counting time is one of the outstanding characteristics of human culture. But it is not enough to know how many times the clock ticks; our task is to infuse time with significance. Thus it is told of the greatest Chassidic scholars who would always make a record of their time. To paraphrase a Chassidic saying, “Serving God means taking care of the hours; then the days take care of themselves. We should always know what we have done and what still needs to be done in the future, taking care that tomorrow will be much better than today.”

According to this interpretation, counting time means paying attention and attaching great importance to each day and every passing moment (because this moment is unique in that it has never been before and will never be again). We should not let time lead us?it should be us who lead time by accounting for every moment and making sure it is a significant one. The wisdom of Jewish counting (????????) began with Abraham, who accounted for all his moments and days without losing or wasting any time. This is why Abraham is described as “coming of days” (???? ??????????); all his days came with him. In addition, the book of Formation (????? ????????), the earliest Kabbalistic text, which is attributed to Abraham, reveals the secrets of creation according to the ten sefirot (?????????; sing. ????????, identical to “counting”).

Naturally seven

In addition to counting time in the sense of “collecting” each day by infusing every moment with significance, we will continue to meditate on the three “counting” commandments in the Torah in which the accumulation of time is of great significance.

The first thing that we note about these commandments is that counting time is a cyclical, periodical series of sevens. As we explained in Parashat Shemini, The number 7 is an expression of consummate nature, which, like the hands of a clock that go around in a circle, constantly rotates in a cyclic motion, “Generation goes and generation comes… around and around goes the spirit.”

In Kabbalah, the number 7 corresponds to the seven attributes of the heart (loving-kindness, might, beauty, victory, acknowledgment, foundation, and kingdom). Each day while counting the Omer we should have in mind the intention (????????) to inter-include these attributes one within the other, from loving-kindness in loving-kindness to kingdom in kingdom. In the psyche, these seven attributes are the “emotive” and “instinctive” powers of the soul; i.e., the world of feelings in the heart and the powers of action. But, above these attributes are the intellectual powers of the soul, which should direct and refine the seven attributes. The passage of time corresponds to the attributes of the heart and to nature, while counting time is intellectual. Counting time reflects our human consciousness of reality, and each of the different types of counting in the Torah expresses a different level of time-consciousness, as we will explain.

Back to front

When we compare the commandment of an individual who counts “clean” days and the commandment of counting the Omer, we find a number of differences: We count the Omer at the beginning of the day (in Jewish tradition day begins on the previous evening), making the blessing and counting out loud, “Today is one day of the Omer,” “Today is two days of the Omer” etc. In contrast, during the clean days counted after an impure discharge, the individual has no need to count the seven days and certainly does not make a blessing over counting them. The sages teach us that in this case, “counting” means, “paying attention to the days,” i.e., taking account of the days and making sure that there has been no more discharge. Another difference between the two types of counting is that the principal issue of counting the Omer is actually to count the days; after counting “today is day one of the Omer,” I have no further obligation to do anything more on that day… In contrast, when counting seven clean days, the principal interest is the end result: validating that another clean day has transpired.

On a deeper level, the difference between the two types of counting is the difference between types of awareness, or consciousness: counting clean days is a practical manifestation of the emotive powers of the soul?a relatively low type of awareness?while counting the Omer is on a higher realm of awareness. A physiological discharge is related to disease and the infected individual is occupied with verifying his/her cleanliness during the seven day period. This account of time manifests in the mundane experiential-practical dimension of consciousness and its main purpose is the practical result (being clean for seven days) and not the knowledge of how many days have passed; there is therefore no need to verbally articulate the number of days.

In Kabbalistic terms, this type of subdued information is called “back” (??????)?like the back of the head that has neither eyes nor mouth?and refers to information that is at the back of the mind, directing and vitalizing our mundane actions. In effect, those very same actions actually conceal the information, which is why it is does not need to be verbalized. The individuals who suffered from the discharge hope that by counting the clean days they will rid themselves of the illness and thus escape the cycle of impurity. By counting the clean days in this way they can rise from the lower world of emotions and connect to the intellectual powers of the soul, connecting emotions to intellect. Nonetheless, their current situation remains within the limitations of the mundane world as it exists before it is illuminated by the light of the intellect.

In contrast, counting the Omer is “frontal” knowledge, “A man’s wisdom illuminates his face”: the main concern in observing this commandment is to know how many days have passed, to the extent that one can and should explicitly express the number in speech. The emotive powers of the soul begin “immature”; i.e., unrefined, instinctive, and rather animalistic in nature and it is our task to raise them to “adulthood” by making them more refined and civilized. This transformation is expressed by the transition from bringing the Omer offering of barley, which is animal fodder, to bringing the “two [loaves] of bread” that are offered on Shavuot, made of wheat, which is human fare. The inner significance of counting the Omer is to elevate and refine the emotive attributes by infusing them with human intellect; the advantage man has over animal. Thus, during the Omer, there is an emphasis on not being swept up in an infinite cycle, but constantly advancing in a progressive clarification process that began in the month of Nisan, in which everything is renewed and when we escaped the straits of Egypt, and culminates with the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

In actual fact, the Zohar does compare counting the Omer to counting the seven clean days before a married couple can reunite: the seven clean days correspond to the seven weeks of the Omer, and the reunion between husband and wife corresponds to Shavuot when the Divine Bride and Groom?the Jewish people and the Almighty?unite. Nonetheless, the emphasis on counting clean days is on the natural emotive level of the soul, while counting the Omer emphasizes elevating the emotive attributes intellectually. More precisely, in the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, counting the clean days corresponds to lower knowledge, which resides within the emotive attributes as the soul resides within the body, and counting the Omer corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, which is above the sefirah of knowledge.

The Grand Jubilee

Now we come to counting the shemitah and Jubilee years. The uniqueness of this type of counting, in contrast to counting the clean days and counting the Omer, is that in this case, years and not days are counted, and the commandment to record the passage of time applies to the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), not to individuals. Considering the length of time, this is understandable because an individual is less equipped to record such long time periods and only the Sanhedrin, as the public representative, can keep record of the succession of years and generations.

From a practical perspective, we can say that counting the Jubilee lies in between counting the clean days and counting the Omer. This we can glean from the fact that the sages of the Talmud do not relate specifically to how the years are counted, and there are differing opinions in the Rishonim: there are those who hold the opinion that the members of the Sanhedrin count the years verbally, just like an individual counts the Omer (and they even make a blessing before counting), and there are others who hold the opinion that counting the years until the Jubilee are in the same class as counting the clean days after an impure discharge, meaning that the number of years and shmitot must be noted to verify that the correct practical result is achieved.

So, what inner significance is there in counting the years until the Jubilee Year? From a general perspective, the years of the shmitah cycle and the Jubilee year bear historical significance. In addition, the shmitah cycle symbolizes the entire progression of global history, as the sages teach that there are six thousand years of existence followed by a seventh millennium that will be similar to a sabbatical year. The Jubilee year, in which everything returns to its initial state, everyone returns to his own territory and slaves are freed, symbolizes the Grand Jubilee, which is the World to Come. Kabbalists even describe a progression of seven sabbaticals of seven millennia, followed by the fiftieth millennium, or even “fifty thousand millennia.” But, the Holy Arizal explained that this cannot be taken literally, but only refers to spiritual processes in the higher realms.

In the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, it is appropriate to make the correspondence between counting the years until the Jubilee to the sefirah of understanding. The forty-nine years of seven shmitah cycles, together with the fiftieth year, correspond to the fifty gates of understanding, forty-nine of which were transmitted to us, while the fiftieth gate remains beyond human comprehension. But, in addition to this correspondence, which also relates to counting the Omer, in the Zohar the sefirah of understanding itself is referred to as “the Jubilee.”

Understanding (???????) is so called because it is the “intermediate” (??????????) intellectual power, which lies between wisdom and knowledge and includes both “back” and “front,” The sefirah of understanding can relate to reality but is not totally engaged in it, like a mother who has “given birth” to the emotive attributes and therefore experiences together with them every fluctuation in their development, while actually guiding them slowly and surely through an ongoing developmental process. This means that “counting” (????????) each shmitah and Jubilee cycle does not bring us back to the starting point, but takes us constantly upwards on a spiral journey. Nonetheless, only the leaders of the Jewish people in the Sanhedrin can sense such long developmental rhythms.

Each type of counting (????????) tells its own story (???????): counting the clean days to purity is the personal story (???????) of the individual; counting the Jubilee is the universal chronicle (????? ???????? ????????) of history; and counting the Omer is the highest story of all, the story of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Counting the Omer illuminates all the sefirot (?????????) and all the stories (??????????) like a sapphire (???????) gemstone, ensuring us that in order to be redeemed we do not necessarily require an extended process of years and generations, instead, we can shorten the process from years to days, and we can be redeemed on this very day, as the verse is interpreted, “Today – if you hear His voice.”

The mitzvot of shmitah (the sabbatical year; pl. shmitot) and yovel (the Jubilee year) are enumerated in Parashat Behar where we learn that every seventh year is a shmitah year and the year following every seven shmitah cycles is a Jubilee year: “Count for yourselves seven sabbatical years, here seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you… And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and call freedom in the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee year for you.” This verse is clearly reminiscent of the mitzvah to count the Omer, illness which is written in a similar style, “Count for yourselves from the day following the festival… seven complete weeks they shall be.” The difference between them is that the shmitah is counting years and the Omer is counting days. Interestingly, both Torah portions are always read during the Omer.

Further back in the book of Leviticus there are two more situations in which we are commanded to count units of time. The first situation is regarding a man who has an impure discharge, “When a man with a discharge is purified of his discharge, and he shall count seven days to his purity.” Similarly, a woman who has a discharge is also commanded, “She shall count seven days and then she shall be purified.” In most years, these verses are also read during the Omer.

The ways of counting the days for a man with a discharge and for a woman in a similar predicament are identical; there are thus three different commandments to count units of time: the Jubilee year, the days of the Omer and the purification of an individual who suffered a discharge. These three are the only examples of any commandment in the Torah that requires counting something, and all of them relate to time and the awareness of the passage of time; from the seven days of counting purity, through the forty-nine days of the Omer and finally, the forty-nine years of shmitah followed by the Jubilee year.

Counting time is one of the outstanding characteristics of human culture. But it is not enough to know how many times the clock ticks; our task is to infuse time with significance. Thus it is told of the greatest Chassidic scholars who would always make a record of their time. To paraphrase a Chassidic saying, “Serving God means taking care of the hours; then the days take care of themselves. We should always know what we have done and what still needs to be done in the future, taking care that tomorrow will be much better than today.”

According to this interpretation, counting time means paying attention and attaching great importance to each day and every passing moment (because this moment is unique in that it has never been before and will never be again). We should not let time lead us?it should be us who lead time by accounting for every moment and making sure it is a significant one. The wisdom of Jewish counting (????????) began with Abraham, who accounted for all his moments and days without losing or wasting any time. This is why Abraham is described as “coming of days” (???? ??????????); all his days came with him. In addition, the book of Formation (????? ????????), the earliest Kabbalistic text, which is attributed to Abraham, reveals the secrets of creation according to the ten sefirot (?????????; sing. ????????, identical to “counting”).

Naturally seven

In addition to counting time in the sense of “collecting” each day by infusing every moment with significance, we will continue to meditate on the three “counting” commandments in the Torah in which the accumulation of time is of great significance.

The first thing that we note about these commandments is that counting time is a cyclical, periodical series of sevens. As we explained in Parashat Shemini, The number 7 is an expression of consummate nature, which, like the hands of a clock that go around in a circle, constantly rotates in a cyclic motion, “Generation goes and generation comes… around and around goes the spirit.”

In Kabbalah, the number 7 corresponds to the seven attributes of the heart (loving-kindness, might, beauty, victory, acknowledgment, foundation, and kingdom). Each day while counting the Omer we should have in mind the intention (????????) to inter-include these attributes one within the other, from loving-kindness in loving-kindness to kingdom in kingdom. In the psyche, these seven attributes are the “emotive” and “instinctive” powers of the soul; i.e., the world of feelings in the heart and the powers of action. But, above these attributes are the intellectual powers of the soul, which should direct and refine the seven attributes. The passage of time corresponds to the attributes of the heart and to nature, while counting time is intellectual. Counting time reflects our human consciousness of reality, and each of the different types of counting in the Torah expresses a different level of time-consciousness, as we will explain.

Back to front

When we compare the commandment of an individual who counts “clean” days and the commandment of counting the Omer, we find a number of differences: We count the Omer at the beginning of the day (in Jewish tradition day begins on the previous evening), making the blessing and counting out loud, “Today is one day of the Omer,” “Today is two days of the Omer” etc. In contrast, during the clean days counted after an impure discharge, the individual has no need to count the seven days and certainly does not make a blessing over counting them. The sages teach us that in this case, “counting” means, “paying attention to the days,” i.e., taking account of the days and making sure that there has been no more discharge. Another difference between the two types of counting is that the principal issue of counting the Omer is actually to count the days; after counting “today is day one of the Omer,” I have no further obligation to do anything more on that day… In contrast, when counting seven clean days, the principal interest is the end result: validating that another clean day has transpired.

On a deeper level, the difference between the two types of counting is the difference between types of awareness, or consciousness: counting clean days is a practical manifestation of the emotive powers of the soul?a relatively low type of awareness?while counting the Omer is on a higher realm of awareness. A physiological discharge is related to disease and the infected individual is occupied with verifying his/her cleanliness during the seven day period. This account of time manifests in the mundane experiential-practical dimension of consciousness and its main purpose is the practical result (being clean for seven days) and not the knowledge of how many days have passed; there is therefore no need to verbally articulate the number of days.

In Kabbalistic terms, this type of subdued information is called “back” (??????)?like the back of the head that has neither eyes nor mouth?and refers to information that is at the back of the mind, directing and vitalizing our mundane actions. In effect, those very same actions actually conceal the information, which is why it is does not need to be verbalized. The individuals who suffered from the discharge hope that by counting the clean days they will rid themselves of the illness and thus escape the cycle of impurity. By counting the clean days in this way they can rise from the lower world of emotions and connect to the intellectual powers of the soul, connecting emotions to intellect. Nonetheless, their current situation remains within the limitations of the mundane world as it exists before it is illuminated by the light of the intellect.

In contrast, counting the Omer is “frontal” knowledge, “A man’s wisdom illuminates his face”: the main concern in observing this commandment is to know how many days have passed, to the extent that one can and should explicitly express the number in speech. The emotive powers of the soul begin “immature”; i.e., unrefined, instinctive, and rather animalistic in nature and it is our task to raise them to “adulthood” by making them more refined and civilized. This transformation is expressed by the transition from bringing the Omer offering of barley, which is animal fodder, to bringing the “two [loaves] of bread” that are offered on Shavuot, made of wheat, which is human fare. The inner significance of counting the Omer is to elevate and refine the emotive attributes by infusing them with human intellect; the advantage man has over animal. Thus, during the Omer, there is an emphasis on not being swept up in an infinite cycle, but constantly advancing in a progressive clarification process that began in the month of Nisan, in which everything is renewed and when we escaped the straits of Egypt, and culminates with the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

In actual fact, the Zohar does compare counting the Omer to counting the seven clean days before a married couple can reunite: the seven clean days correspond to the seven weeks of the Omer, and the reunion between husband and wife corresponds to Shavuot when the Divine Bride and Groom?the Jewish people and the Almighty?unite. Nonetheless, the emphasis on counting clean days is on the natural emotive level of the soul, while counting the Omer emphasizes elevating the emotive attributes intellectually. More precisely, in the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, counting the clean days corresponds to lower knowledge, which resides within the emotive attributes as the soul resides within the body, and counting the Omer corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, which is above the sefirah of knowledge.

The Grand Jubilee

Now we come to counting the shemitah and Jubilee years. The uniqueness of this type of counting, in contrast to counting the clean days and counting the Omer, is that in this case, years and not days are counted, and the commandment to record the passage of time applies to the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), not to individuals. Considering the length of time, this is understandable because an individual is less equipped to record such long time periods and only the Sanhedrin, as the public representative, can keep record of the succession of years and generations.

From a practical perspective, we can say that counting the Jubilee lies in between counting the clean days and counting the Omer. This we can glean from the fact that the sages of the Talmud do not relate specifically to how the years are counted, and there are differing opinions in the Rishonim: there are those who hold the opinion that the members of the Sanhedrin count the years verbally, just like an individual counts the Omer (and they even make a blessing before counting), and there are others who hold the opinion that counting the years until the Jubilee are in the same class as counting the clean days after an impure discharge, meaning that the number of years and shmitot must be noted to verify that the correct practical result is achieved.

So, what inner significance is there in counting the years until the Jubilee Year? From a general perspective, the years of the shmitah cycle and the Jubilee year bear historical significance. In addition, the shmitah cycle symbolizes the entire progression of global history, as the sages teach that there are six thousand years of existence followed by a seventh millennium that will be similar to a sabbatical year. The Jubilee year, in which everything returns to its initial state, everyone returns to his own territory and slaves are freed, symbolizes the Grand Jubilee, which is the World to Come. Kabbalists even describe a progression of seven sabbaticals of seven millennia, followed by the fiftieth millennium, or even “fifty thousand millennia.” But, the Holy Arizal explained that this cannot be taken literally, but only refers to spiritual processes in the higher realms.

In the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, it is appropriate to make the correspondence between counting the years until the Jubilee to the sefirah of understanding. The forty-nine years of seven shmitah cycles, together with the fiftieth year, correspond to the fifty gates of understanding, forty-nine of which were transmitted to us, while the fiftieth gate remains beyond human comprehension. But, in addition to this correspondence, which also relates to counting the Omer, in the Zohar the sefirah of understanding itself is referred to as “the Jubilee.”

Understanding (???????) is so called because it is the “intermediate” (??????????) intellectual power, which lies between wisdom and knowledge and includes both “back” and “front,” The sefirah of understanding can relate to reality but is not totally engaged in it, like a mother who has “given birth” to the emotive attributes and therefore experiences together with them every fluctuation in their development, while actually guiding them slowly and surely through an ongoing developmental process. This means that “counting” (????????) each shmitah and Jubilee cycle does not bring us back to the starting point, but takes us constantly upwards on a spiral journey. Nonetheless, only the leaders of the Jewish people in the Sanhedrin can sense such long developmental rhythms.

Each type of counting (????????) tells its own story (???????): counting the clean days to purity is the personal story (???????) of the individual; counting the Jubilee is the universal chronicle (????? ???????? ????????) of history; and counting the Omer is the highest story of all, the story of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Counting the Omer illuminates all the sefirot (?????????) and all the stories (??????????) like a sapphire (???????) gemstone, ensuring us that in order to be redeemed we do not necessarily require an extended process of years and generations, instead, we can shorten the process from years to days, and we can be redeemed on this very day, as the verse is interpreted, “Today – if you hear His voice.”

The mitzvot of shmitah (the sabbatical year; pl. shmitot) and yovel (the Jubilee year) are enumerated in Parashat Behar where we learn that every seventh year is a shmitah year and the year following every seven shmitah cycles is a Jubilee year: “Count for yourselves seven sabbatical years, patient seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you… And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and call freedom in the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee year for you.” This verse is clearly reminiscent of the mitzvah to count the Omer, which is written in a similar style, “Count for yourselves from the day following the festival… seven complete weeks they shall be.” The difference between them is that the shmitah is counting years and the Omer is counting days. Interestingly, both Torah portions are always read during the Omer.

Further back in the book of Leviticus there are two more situations in which we are commanded to count units of time. The first situation is regarding a man who has an impure discharge, “When a man with a discharge is purified of his discharge, and he shall count seven days to his purity.” Similarly, a woman who has a discharge is also commanded, “She shall count seven days and then she shall be purified.” In most years, these verses are also read during the Omer.

The ways of counting the days for a man with a discharge and for a woman in a similar predicament are identical; there are thus three different commandments to count units of time: the Jubilee year, the days of the Omer and the purification of an individual who suffered a discharge. These three are the only examples of any commandment in the Torah that requires counting something, and all of them relate to time and the awareness of the passage of time; from the seven days of counting purity, through the forty-nine days of the Omer and finally, the forty-nine years of shmitah followed by the Jubilee year.

Counting time is one of the outstanding characteristics of human culture. But it is not enough to know how many times the clock ticks; our task is to infuse time with significance. Thus it is told of the greatest Chassidic scholars who would always make a record of their time. To paraphrase a Chassidic saying, “Serving God means taking care of the hours; then the days take care of themselves. We should always know what we have done and what still needs to be done in the future, taking care that tomorrow will be much better than today.”

According to this interpretation, counting time means paying attention and attaching great importance to each day and every passing moment (because this moment is unique in that it has never been before and will never be again). We should not let time lead us?it should be us who lead time by accounting for every moment and making sure it is a significant one. The wisdom of Jewish counting (????????) began with Abraham, who accounted for all his moments and days without losing or wasting any time. This is why Abraham is described as “coming of days” (???? ??????????); all his days came with him. In addition, the book of Formation (????? ????????), the earliest Kabbalistic text, which is attributed to Abraham, reveals the secrets of creation according to the ten sefirot (?????????; sing. ????????, identical to “counting”).

Naturally seven

In addition to counting time in the sense of “collecting” each day by infusing every moment with significance, we will continue to meditate on the three “counting” commandments in the Torah in which the accumulation of time is of great significance.

The first thing that we note about these commandments is that counting time is a cyclical, periodical series of sevens. As we explained in Parashat Shemini, The number 7 is an expression of consummate nature, which, like the hands of a clock that go around in a circle, constantly rotates in a cyclic motion, “Generation goes and generation comes… around and around goes the spirit.”

In Kabbalah, the number 7 corresponds to the seven attributes of the heart (loving-kindness, might, beauty, victory, acknowledgment, foundation, and kingdom). Each day while counting the Omer we should have in mind the intention (????????) to inter-include these attributes one within the other, from loving-kindness in loving-kindness to kingdom in kingdom. In the psyche, these seven attributes are the “emotive” and “instinctive” powers of the soul; i.e., the world of feelings in the heart and the powers of action. But, above these attributes are the intellectual powers of the soul, which should direct and refine the seven attributes. The passage of time corresponds to the attributes of the heart and to nature, while counting time is intellectual. Counting time reflects our human consciousness of reality, and each of the different types of counting in the Torah expresses a different level of time-consciousness, as we will explain.

Back to front

When we compare the commandment of an individual who counts “clean” days and the commandment of counting the Omer, we find a number of differences: We count the Omer at the beginning of the day (in Jewish tradition day begins on the previous evening), making the blessing and counting out loud, “Today is one day of the Omer,” “Today is two days of the Omer” etc. In contrast, during the clean days counted after an impure discharge, the individual has no need to count the seven days and certainly does not make a blessing over counting them. The sages teach us that in this case, “counting” means, “paying attention to the days,” i.e., taking account of the days and making sure that there has been no more discharge. Another difference between the two types of counting is that the principal issue of counting the Omer is actually to count the days; after counting “today is day one of the Omer,” I have no further obligation to do anything more on that day… In contrast, when counting seven clean days, the principal interest is the end result: validating that another clean day has transpired.

On a deeper level, the difference between the two types of counting is the difference between types of awareness, or consciousness: counting clean days is a practical manifestation of the emotive powers of the soul?a relatively low type of awareness?while counting the Omer is on a higher realm of awareness. A physiological discharge is related to disease and the infected individual is occupied with verifying his/her cleanliness during the seven day period. This account of time manifests in the mundane experiential-practical dimension of consciousness and its main purpose is the practical result (being clean for seven days) and not the knowledge of how many days have passed; there is therefore no need to verbally articulate the number of days.

In Kabbalistic terms, this type of subdued information is called “back” (??????)?like the back of the head that has neither eyes nor mouth?and refers to information that is at the back of the mind, directing and vitalizing our mundane actions. In effect, those very same actions actually conceal the information, which is why it is does not need to be verbalized. The individuals who suffered from the discharge hope that by counting the clean days they will rid themselves of the illness and thus escape the cycle of impurity. By counting the clean days in this way they can rise from the lower world of emotions and connect to the intellectual powers of the soul, connecting emotions to intellect. Nonetheless, their current situation remains within the limitations of the mundane world as it exists before it is illuminated by the light of the intellect.

In contrast, counting the Omer is “frontal” knowledge, “A man’s wisdom illuminates his face”: the main concern in observing this commandment is to know how many days have passed, to the extent that one can and should explicitly express the number in speech. The emotive powers of the soul begin “immature”; i.e., unrefined, instinctive, and rather animalistic in nature and it is our task to raise them to “adulthood” by making them more refined and civilized. This transformation is expressed by the transition from bringing the Omer offering of barley, which is animal fodder, to bringing the “two [loaves] of bread” that are offered on Shavuot, made of wheat, which is human fare. The inner significance of counting the Omer is to elevate and refine the emotive attributes by infusing them with human intellect; the advantage man has over animal. Thus, during the Omer, there is an emphasis on not being swept up in an infinite cycle, but constantly advancing in a progressive clarification process that began in the month of Nisan, in which everything is renewed and when we escaped the straits of Egypt, and culminates with the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.

In actual fact, the Zohar does compare counting the Omer to counting the seven clean days before a married couple can reunite: the seven clean days correspond to the seven weeks of the Omer, and the reunion between husband and wife corresponds to Shavuot when the Divine Bride and Groom?the Jewish people and the Almighty?unite. Nonetheless, the emphasis on counting clean days is on the natural emotive level of the soul, while counting the Omer emphasizes elevating the emotive attributes intellectually. More precisely, in the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, counting the clean days corresponds to lower knowledge, which resides within the emotive attributes as the soul resides within the body, and counting the Omer corresponds to the sefirah of wisdom, which is above the sefirah of knowledge.

The Grand Jubilee

Now we come to counting the shemitah and Jubilee years. The uniqueness of this type of counting, in contrast to counting the clean days and counting the Omer, is that in this case, years and not days are counted, and the commandment to record the passage of time applies to the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), not to individuals. Considering the length of time, this is understandable because an individual is less equipped to record such long time periods and only the Sanhedrin, as the public representative, can keep record of the succession of years and generations.

From a practical perspective, we can say that counting the Jubilee lies in between counting the clean days and counting the Omer. This we can glean from the fact that the sages of the Talmud do not relate specifically to how the years are counted, and there are differing opinions in the Rishonim: there are those who hold the opinion that the members of the Sanhedrin count the years verbally, just like an individual counts the Omer (and they even make a blessing before counting), and there are others who hold the opinion that counting the years until the Jubilee are in the same class as counting the clean days after an impure discharge, meaning that the number of years and shmitot must be noted to verify that the correct practical result is achieved.

So, what inner significance is there in counting the years until the Jubilee Year? From a general perspective, the years of the shmitah cycle and the Jubilee year bear historical significance. In addition, the shmitah cycle symbolizes the entire progression of global history, as the sages teach that there are six thousand years of existence followed by a seventh millennium that will be similar to a sabbatical year. The Jubilee year, in which everything returns to its initial state, everyone returns to his own territory and slaves are freed, symbolizes the Grand Jubilee, which is the World to Come. Kabbalists even describe a progression of seven sabbaticals of seven millennia, followed by the fiftieth millennium, or even “fifty thousand millennia.” But, the Holy Arizal explained that this cannot be taken literally, but only refers to spiritual processes in the higher realms.

In the Kabbalistic system of sefirot, it is appropriate to make the correspondence between counting the years until the Jubilee to the sefirah of understanding. The forty-nine years of seven shmitah cycles, together with the fiftieth year, correspond to the fifty gates of understanding, forty-nine of which were transmitted to us, while the fiftieth gate remains beyond human comprehension. But, in addition to this correspondence, which also relates to counting the Omer, in the Zohar the sefirah of understanding itself is referred to as “the Jubilee.”

Understanding (???????) is so called because it is the “intermediate” (??????????) intellectual power, which lies between wisdom and knowledge and includes both “back” and “front,” The sefirah of understanding can relate to reality but is not totally engaged in it, like a mother who has “given birth” to the emotive attributes and therefore experiences together with them every fluctuation in their development, while actually guiding them slowly and surely through an ongoing developmental process. This means that “counting” (????????) each shmitah and Jubilee cycle does not bring us back to the starting point, but takes us constantly upwards on a spiral journey. Nonetheless, only the leaders of the Jewish people in the Sanhedrin can sense such long developmental rhythms.

Each type of counting (????????) tells its own story (???????): counting the clean days to purity is the personal story (???????) of the individual; counting the Jubilee is the universal chronicle (????? ???????? ????????) of history; and counting the Omer is the highest story of all, the story of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Counting the Omer illuminates all the sefirot (?????????) and all the stories (??????????) like a sapphire (???????) gemstone, ensuring us that in order to be redeemed we do not necessarily require an extended process of years and generations, instead, we can shorten the process from years to days, and we can be redeemed on this very day, as the verse is interpreted, “Today – if you hear His voice.”

Chumash Bamidbar [the Book of Numbers] relates the account of the Jewish people’s long journey through the wilderness, unhealthy from Mt. Sinai to the gates of the Promised Land. After a prolonged sojourn before Mt. Sinai, viagra where we received the Torah and where the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was constructed, physician Parashat Bamidbar begins with the rigorous preparations for the journey ahead, conducted with a military spirit. As a census is taken of all the Children of Israel and the camp is organized according to their ensigns, the Jewish people literally become God’s Army.

The Zohar teaches us that,

The world was not complete until the Jewish people received the Torah at Mt.Sinai and the Mishkan was built. Then the worlds were solidified and completed, and the upper [worlds] and the lower [worlds] were bathed in a glorious fragrance. Once the Torah and the Mishkan were established, the Almighty desired to take a census of the Torah’s soldiers; how many soldiers of Torah were there, how many soldiers of the Mishkan were there.

At this point in history, the entire Jewish people enlisted for life in God’s army, and the Zohar reveals that the census was in fact twofold, enumerating how many “Torah soldiers” and how many “Mishkan soldiers” there were among the people. What is the significance of this distinction?

Two types of soldier

The Zohar is alluding to a profound level where the soul roots of the Jewish people are divided into two principal functions: those devoted to Torah and those devoted to the Mishkan. Although this division may not be readily observable on most Jews, whose straightforward religious devotion makes them willingly volunteer for any holy cause that may be asked of them, whether it is intended for God, for the Torah, for the Mishkan, or for the Jewish people in general. But, among the special operatives and high-ranking officers in God’s army, one can generally identify two types: those essentially devoted to Torah, Torah soldiers and those dedicated to serving God, or Mishkan soldiers.

The sages tell us that, “The world stands on three pillars: on the Torah, on Divine service and on acts of loving-kindness.” The Torah soldier dedicates himself to the pillar of Torah while the Mishkan soldier’s dedication lies with the pillar of Divine service. Obviously, both are indispensable; the one cannot exist without the other. But the question is, which is more dominant and significant? The Torah soldier follows the directive that the Torah is our life and everything revolves around it, while the Mishkan soldier is motivated and energized by Divine service (in our generations, this refers particularly to prayer).

The Chabad tradition beautifully illustrates the difference between the two. Every Lubavitcher strives to be a faithful and dedicated soldier, and each knows that he must dedicate himself to both the intellect (through in-depth study of Chassidic teachings) and to Divine service (particularly through prayer). But ultimately, each individual is recognized as either a maskil (intellectually inclined) or an oived (inclined towards service, particularly prayer). The maskil is the Torah soldier; his main occupation is studying and knowing Torah (including both its concealed and revealed dimensions), thus following the directive to “Know your father’s God,” until he reaches in-depth understanding. The Torah soldier’s profession is Torah and he invests his entire life and all his energies to studying it. In contrast, the oived is the Mishkan soldier and his entire life is dedicated to achieving devoted union with the Almighty following the directive, “You shall serve Him wholeheartedly.”

Another way to state the difference between these two types of dedication is that the maskil [the intellectual] focuses on how the mind’s faculties control the heart’s emotions, while the oived focuses on nurturing the attributes of his heart, beginning with love and fear. (The oived agrees that the mind controls the heart, but notes that that applies only to the heart’s relatively revealed emotions, while the heart’s more inner essence controls the mind. In response, the maskil claims that the mind’s inner essence controls even the heart’s inner essence. And so they continue, debating back and forth, ad infinitum).

[In the history of Chabad, the two most prominent chassidim were Rebbe Isaac of Homil and Rebbe Hillel of Paritch. Rebbe Isaac was known as the maskil, and Rebbe Hillel the oived. Still, for all his intellectual genius, Rebbe Isaac was a great man of prayer, and for all his depth in Divine service, Rebbe Hillel was also a remarkable maskil.]

The Torah for everyone

How else can we understand the difference between primary dedication to Torah vs. devotion to serving God? Let us look at the states of mind fostered by the Torah and by the Mishkan.

The Torah is the eternal truth that never changes. From the moment we received the Torah on Mt.Sinai it has accompanied us through all our wanderings. Indeed, the Torah is above time and space. Even while the Jewish people journeyed through the wilderness, as well as today, when we continue to wander through the wilderness of exile, the Torah remains consummately whole. Therefore, the Torah soldier is not perturbed by changes in reality or circumstance, because in the end nothing has changed since the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai. The conflicts and difficulties that fill our lives are of no interest to him and his single-minded focus is on his life’s mission: to reveal and spread forth the Torah’s eternal light.

Obviously, the Torah soldier is not self-centered. He studies in order to teach and to bring others closer to the Torah. In fact, he has the constructive ability of approaching everyone equally: every Jew, no matter how he identifies himself, is welcome to a Torah class and invited to don tefillin (phylacteries). The Torah belongs equally to every Jew and makes no prejudice because of their pedigree or standing in life. As the sages state, “the crown of Torah lies in place, anyone wishing to claim it may come and claim it.”

The Mishkan’s mobility and uniqueness

In contrast to the Torah’s steady nature, the Mishkan partakes of many adventures, so to speak. The Mishkan is where the Divine Presence resides. Even though ultimately, when the future Temple is built, this will be a permanent residence, in the meantime, there are many ups and downs in this respect. This is particularly apparent in Chumash Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers), that relates how at the outset of every stage of their journey the Jewish people would dismantle the Mishkan and then reconstruct it when they camped. In their essence, all the Mishkan’s journeys were akin to a battle march. When the Holy Ark began moving, Moses would say, “Rise Havayah, and Your enemies will disperse,” and as the Zohar explains, the journeys’ purpose was war with the kelipot (the forces of evil) inhabiting the wilderness, manifesting in the form of, “serpent, viper and scorpion.”

In contrast to the Torah’s uniform readiness to be studied by all, not everyone is of equal status when it comes to the Mishkan. The crown of priesthood was granted only to Aharon and his sons, while the Levites stood guard around the Mishkan to ensure that no foreigner would approach, “And the foreigner who approaches, shall die.” The difference in individual status in relation to the Mishkan is also apparent in the structure of the Children of Israel’s desert encampment. It was structured with the Mishkan in the center, surrounded first by the Levites and then the rest of the people, divided under four ensigns (three tribes to a banner). It seems that the special character of each tribe is related to this structure and its particular location relative to the Mishkan dwelling in the heart of the Jewish camp.

[Incidentally, stressing how the Mishkan relates and even accentuates differences in character fits nicely with the Vilna Gaon’s interpretation of the Zohar referring to Torah soldiers and Mishkan soldiers. The Vilna Gaon explains that Torah soldiers refers to the census appearing in chapter 1, before the tribes were placed in their specific locations around the Mishkan, while the Mishkan soldiers refers to the enumeration of the tribes with reference to their encampment around the Mishkan appearing in chapter 2.]

Like the Mishkan, the Mishkan soldier experiences ups and downs. Like the emotional heart with its ebb and flow, the Mishkan soldier seeks to make for God a dwelling place below, but when required, will dismantle it and reconstruct it later. He cannot approach every Jew because he senses that not everyone can understand his approach and not everyone shares his devotion to constructing a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. He is naturally drawn to work with those sharing his convictions, those individuals belonging to the inner circle of his own community who can appreciate his grand ideals.

The truth is that we need both types of people. We cannot do without the Torah soldiers, dedicated to the pillar of the Torah, whose only concern is to spread the Torah to everyone, without distinction, for the purpose of bringing all Jews closer to their Father in Heaven. Nor can we do without the Mishkan soldiers, dedicated to the pillar of God’s service (in prayer) and diligently nurturing a strong, devoted, and warmhearted community that can carry out the important mission that the Jewish people are destined to fulfill. Together, both will bring the redemption.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s farbrengen on Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar, 5766

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