Preparing for Torah
The festival of Shavuos
is approaching. Literally, the title means "weeks." Israel was commanded
to count seven weeks -- 49 days -- from the Omer offering on the second day
of Pesach. Following the seven weeks would be the holiday of "weeks," that
is, the culmination of the seven weeks. By tradition we know that the Torah
was given on Mount Sinai at the time of the Shavuos festival. The counting
of the Omer is thus given the significance of anticipation: the people anxiously
counted the time from their departure from Egypt (Pesach) to their reception
of their raison d'etre -- the Torah.
According to the Kabbalists,
the "Counting of the Omer" takes on greater significance. The word for counting
is "Sefirah." In the Kabbalah, the "Sefiros" are categories of spiritual
emanation, as the Light of the Infinite One descended through various gradations
and contractions into the finite, material world.
Consequently, the "Sefiros Ha'omer"
becomes the enumerating of the spiritual qualities of the divine. Since man
was formed in G-d's likeness, man can achieve a certain degree of divinely
inspired character attributes.
A Divine Textbook
The classic ethical work,
the Tomar Devorah, was written by the famous Kabbalist, Rav Moshe Kordovero.
It describes the "sefiros" in terms relative to human characteristics, in
order to teach humanity the way to emulate the Creator. An appropriate
time for the study of such a work would be the period set aside for preparing
for Torah: the weeks of the Sefiros Ha'omer.
Remember that the work is an
ethical treatise and not a legal one. Where law ends, ethical issues truly
begin. That is, the law is the basic duty; ethics may go beyond the letter
of the law.
The most remarkable quality
of the book is its description of the patience, mercy and generosity that
we are required to show to all of G-d's creatures. The wicked, as well, deserve
our prayers and hope. Although we make mistakes, G-d continues to sustain
and support us under any circumstance; so too, we must never give up hope
for any creature, but continually cherish the opportunity to draw the wayward
to upright conduct.
We live in the age where
defamation, degradation and inflammatory speech are the order of the day.
A recent children's book graphically illustrates when it is "permissible"
to deride the wicked. We must question the necessity of such a graphic inclusion
in a child's text. Legally, perhaps there is a loophole -- but character
is more than knowing laws. The inspiration to unify the people is a vital
concept to our timeless heritage. Until we and our children are trained to
speak respectfully and appropriately to the "outside world," there is little
hope of achieving any unity.
(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97
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