A seven-week journey to spiritual refinement
Introduction to the Sefirot of Sefirat Haomer
From the second night of Pesach until Shavuot, we count the Omer as a preparation to accept the Torah. It is a purification process, a ladder of holiness. R Chaim Volozhin (NH 4;7) writes that in order to connect with G-d through the learning of Torah, it is extremely important to meditate on purifying one's heart, before beginning learning. And the way to do this is through the ladder of self- refinement.
The Arizal writes that when we left Egypt, we emerged from the 49th Level of Impurity. And through the power of the Omer, we entered the 49th level of Holiness. The Rashash writes that these days are the source of holiness for all the days of the year. And the way one goes through these days will affect how one behaves all year long. Each day has its Middah, and there is a Divine assistance to improve precisely the Middah of that day. Therefore, we cite the prayer that in the merit of the Omer, we refine the Middah of that day.
The numerical value of the Hebrew word Middah is 49. What are these 49 Middot? What are the steps involved in rectification?
Allow me to start from the basics. The Ten Sefirot are broken down, primarily, into two groups. The first three, Chochma (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding) and Daat (Knowledge).
The next seven, also referred to as Middot, are read every day in the Siddur in Shacharit, in the Pesukei D’zimrah, לך ה' הגדולה הגבורה והתפארת והנצח וההוד כי כל בשמים ובארץ לך ה' הממלכה. To you, Hashem, is the 1. Gedulah (Chessed), 2. Gevurah, 3.Tifferet, 4.Netzach, and 5.Hod 6. Yesod,… Ki chol bashamyim uvaAretz , for everything, in the Heavens and the Earth, to you, Hashem, is the kingdom 7. Malchut.
There are aspects of the Sefirot that we can learn, even if we are not learning Kabbalah; these are things that can help one learn how to become the best Jew he can be.
If you do not understand the basics of the Sefirot, you will not be able to understand the significance of the Sefirot and the guidance they offer.
The root of the word Sefirah has a few meanings, each built on the same three letters. ס.פ.ר. The first meaning is the Sapphire stone. When the sky opened up at Har Sinai, the Jews looked up to the Heavens and saw that there was a clear sapphire stone, resembling a prism, under G-d’s throne (Shemot 24;10). What does this mean?
The Sapphire the Jews saw hints to the Sefirot they perceived, the way we can perceive G-d’s character. The Sefirot relay to us how G-d interacts with the world.
It is of utmost importance to accept the fact that we cannot understand G-d, Himself. When Moshe asked G-d, הראני נא את כבודך. Please, show me Your Honor. G-d answered “You will not be able to see my face, for no man can see Me and live … You will only be able to see Me from behind … (Shemot 33)”.What does this mean, that we cannot see the front of G-d, but that we can only see Him from behind?
G-d does not reveal Himself, not even to the Angels. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Hashem Tzvakot, means that G-d is above the understanding of the angels. Rather, G-d told Moshe, human beings can understand G-d’s personality only from His actions. From His ways in the world. We can never even begin to contemplate G-d, Himself. G-d is One G-d, אחד יחיד ומיחוד, and the way we perceive how He interacts with His World, is through the Ten Sefirot. Similar to how white light is separated into its component colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet - when it passes through a prism. We can perceive G-d’s reflection from His actions and ways, from the other side of the prism. But the Sefirot do not describe G-d, Himself, for G-d is completely beyond human comprehension. Once someone asked a wise man, What is G-d? And the wise man answered,אילו ידעתיו הייתיו If I would know Him, I would be Him. (Derashot HaRan, דרוש ד) In Judaism, we believe that G-d did not create the Universe only once upon a time, long ago, but that He is constantly creating the world. In the present.יוצר אור ובורא חושך... בורא את הכל. G-d is creating in the present.עושה מעשה בראשית. The sapphire stone that the Jews saw at Har Sinai is suggestive of the Sefirot, through which we can perceive G-d by observing how He manages His world.
Now we can understand the other meanings of the word Sefirah. The word סיפור, or story. We can understand the story, how G-d is telling the world about Himself. מספר, number, although the Ten Sefirot are philosophical, they have, also, a mathematical dimension. There are only ten. That is it. Not one more and not one less. (Sefer Yetzirah) The ten Sefirot are correspondent to the ten Maamarot, Ten Utterances, with which Hashem created the world. (Avot 5;1) Also, the word ספר means boundary. Each one of these ten Sefirot has a boundary; they exist separately, even though they must also work together in order to give even a basic insight into G-d’s character, or for one to bring G-dliness to the world.
When we understand the Ten Sefirot even on a basic level, we understand ourselves, as well. G-d made Man in His Image, a Tzelem Elokim. (Breshit 1;27 See Devarim 21; 22) מבשרי אחזה אלו-ה. From my flesh I will perceive G-d. (Iyov 19; 26) R’ Akiva taught חביב אדם שנברא בצלם (Avot 3;14) Beloved is Man, for he is created in G-d’s Image. This, of course, is not referring to a physical image of G-d. Instead, it refers to a similarity in the sense of potential character. Man has in him G-dly potential. We gain tremendous insight into our own character, when we understand the Sefirot.
We are expected to go in G-d’s ways. והלכת בדרכיו. (Devarim 28;9) This is how we can connect to G-d.ובו תדבק . (Devarim 10;20) קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה' אלוקיכם G-d wants us to be holy, because “I, Hashem, your G-d, am Holy”.(Vayikra 19; 2) The key for us to understand what it means to be holy, to be created in G-d’s image, is learning each of the ten Sefirot.
The ten Sefirot can be divided into three groups, just as Man has with in him three distinct divisions. The first group is Thoughts, ideas and beliefs. The second group is Character, and the third group is Behavior. The first three, Hochma, Binah and Daat, are from the group of thoughts, ideas and beliefs. The group of the next seven Sefirot are the “Middot”. They reflect character and behavior, something more "tangible", making it easier for us to relate to these Sefirot. The list of seven Sefirot that are also Middot, mentioned in our Shacharit prayers, develops into a Sefirat Haomer time-table, a schedule outlining what we have to work on each day of the Omer. Seven times seven. And this is part of our growth in preparing to accept the Torah on Shavuoth. To work on perfecting those traits in our own character on those allotted days.
We start the first night of the Omer with Chessed of Chessed, the ultimate in selflessness. And we work through the 49 days, each day combining one of the Attributes to the main Attribute being focused upon that week, [Chesed of Chesed, Gevura of Chesed, and so on] until we reach Malchut of Malchut. The highest level of majesty.
Before explaining the Middot though, we must know that each Middah has a few components.
1-The definition of the Middah.
2-The Tzaddik, that merited to personify this Middah, and serve G-d mostly through this specific Middah.
3-The part of the human body that expresses this Middah.
4-What was created on that day of the seven days of Creation.
It is important to understand this and to be accurate about the Middah refinement of the day. That is where there is special Divine Assistance.
Learn the Sefirot. You will then have a better understanding of your own life's story, and the stories of those in your life. (סיפור, story root). You will also learn how to control and bring boundaries to your own behavior. (ספר, boundary root.) And you will begin an organized, step by step journey, counting, each day, to reach your purpose. (מספר Number root.)
The Orach Chaim writes that our souls are like the Luchot, the tablets that were made from Sapphire. Through the refinement of the Sefirah, we polish our souls so they will sparkle like Sapphire. And the shine of our souls, your personal spark, will be eternally remembered by G-d through the Sapphire that is under His Throne.
This is a special opportunity to become a more refined vessel to reveal G-dliness in the world. During the days of Sefirat HaOmer, the energy is in the air waiting for you soul to connect to it. This is an opportune time for character development, to rectify the lack of respect of the students of R’ Akivah, and make your inner essence shine. Don’t miss these Sefirot forces, that linger within, waiting for you to tap into your potential, and live the life you are meant to live! The G-dly person you are destined to be!
If you have any questions, comments, and/or concerns, please reach out to me. I appreciate your feedback.