As we have just passed the half way point in the 49 day process of Sefirat HaOmer, I will admit that this has been a very difficult couple of weeks for me personally, as well as for so many other around me. We have found ourselves dealing with tragedy after tragedy. And I will tell you also that it has left me feeling more connected to the process of Sefirat HaOmer, and has me contemplating more and more each day what my purpose is in this life, and how well I am living that life in sync with the Torah values I profess!
“Only Hashem knows the reason for all things and in an upside down world – a world the Sages refer to as a “world of lies” – that which appears to be a punishment or a curse could be a blessing in disguise. Indeed, the Jewish tradition insists that everything has a reason and all of G-d’s creations have an ultimate purpose. Judaism insists that all of G-d’s actions are for the benefit of His creations. Clearly we are not always able to fathom those reasons or the good that must derive from the grim situations we sometimes find ourselves in, but we have faith in G-d’s ultimate goodness.” (R’ A.A. Trugman, Orchard of Delights on Emor)
Do we really stop to ponder the fact that everything that happens in our lives is the will of Hashem? There are no accidents or coincidences! Our every footstep is orchestrated by our Creator. If we find ourselves bombarded by situations, which don’t on the surface appear too favorable, how do we react? Do we get angry, or sad, or disappointed? Do we have pity on ourselves asking things like “why me?”, feeling life just isn’t fair?
Each night through the Omer Period we recite the powerfully moving Kabbalistic poem/prayer, “Ana B’Koach”. I remember the very first time I heard this prayer chanted in Hebrew, something inside of me was moved so deeply, even though I didn’t understand what was being said. Yet, my soul reacted intensely, prompting me to find the meaning of the words and the history of the prayer. It still moves me every time I say or hear it, but each night over the past few weeks, there is one line in particular that has stirred me to deep contemplation. It is:
“Please, O Strong One – those who foster Your Oneness, guard them like the pupil of an eye.” (translation taken from Siddur Shaar HaShamayim, as translated by R’ Yehezquel Italqi D’Avino)
What does it mean to “foster His Oneness”? Or as another translation puts it “Mighty One, we beseech You, guard as the apple of the eye those who seek Your Oneness.” How do we foster or seek His Oneness?
As I contemplate this in light of the (so-called) “difficult times” so many of us find ourselves going through, I can only come to one conclusion: “Gam Zu L’Tovah!!!!” – This too is for the good!!!! I see clearly that to foster or seek Hashem’s Oneness, means understanding and accepting His Divine Providence. He does not give us “hardships and difficulties”, but opportunities to draw closer to Him, and to improve our middot (our character traits), and to achieve our tikkun. Many of us are living testimonies that Hashem often gets our attention in the difficult, dark, scary situations we face. When we are faced with health issues, financial issues, relationship issues, or the death of a loved one, do we take the time to thank Hashem in advance for the challenge, and beg Him to give us the strength to not only endure the test, but to overcome it and find ourselves better people for having gone through whatever it is? Easier said than done? Absolutely! But if we truly foster His Oneness, then our first response to all situations, whether we view them as good or bad, must be “Ein Od Milvado” (There is no One beside Him). And apparently whatever we are going through is what He knows as the “Knower of mysteries” to be for our best at this point in our life.
Fostering His Oneness is being able to go through this life without this life having a negative impact on us. Our ego, our emotions, and our yetzer hara fight hard to keep us from focusing on the fact the there really is NO ONE besides Hashem. In reality, there is Hashem, Torah, Mitzvot, and Am Israel, and that’s it! Everything else is just distraction and illusion in this “world of lies”. Unfortunately, all too often, we spend our time, resources and energy worrying about and fighting for or against so many things that have no real, eternal meaning, and are insignificant in the big picture.
Acknowledging “Ein Od Milvado” is a journey, and the purpose of our existence. The more we think about it and focus on it, the more it becomes a part of our reality. We are to strive to see the truth in all things, and in all things the truth is “Ein Od Milvado”!
Now, if you are asking, “what does this have to do with this week’s sidra?”, I will, b’ezrat Hashem, help us tie it all together by sharing a rather deep kabbalistic teaching on Vayiqra 21:1-6:
“Hashem said to Moshe: speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, except for the relatives that are closest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; also for a virgin sister, close to him because she has not married, for her he may defile himself. But he shall not defile himself as a kinsman by marriage, and so profane himself. They shall not shave smooth any part of their heads, or cut the side-growth of their beards, or make gashes in their flesh. They shall be holy to their G-d and not profane the name of their G-d; for they offer Hashem’s offerings by fire, the food of their G-d, and so must be holy.”
In Pituchei Chotam (the insights on the weekly parashah by the Abir Yaakov – R’ Yaakov Abuchatzeira) this passage is understood to be teaching something amazing. Based on the Zohar and Kohelet 9:8, the Abir Yaakov teaches that it is through Torah study and good deeds that one acquires a ruach and neshamah.
“At all times may your garments be white, and may oil never be lacking from upon your head.” (Kohelet 9:8)
He explains that the garments are the nefesh, ruach and neshamah, and that the oil is the Shekinah. When one’s garments are white and not stained by sinful behavior, the Shekinah will remain above him and will illuminate him.
“A person who merits this must guard himself and his level of holiness, for the evil inclination becomes jealous and schemes how to persuade him to sin. Therefore, this person must be extra careful to protect what Hashem gave him. Otherwise, if he is persuaded by the yetzer hara, G-d forbid, the shekinah along with its companions, the neshamah and ruach, will immediately leave him.”
The Abir Yaakov explains that a Kohen is one who is of a greater stature than his brethren. He states that: “Anyone who serves Hashem with holiness and purity is called a Kohen.” He explains that these verses are referring to a person who, based on his Torah & good deeds, has risen to a higher spiritual level – a level of holiness and purity. Because of his actions he merits the oil of anointing – the Shekinah – above him, and he wears the garments of nefesh, ruach and neshamah, therefore, he must guard himself even more. He cannot do anything that would cause the Shekinah to depart from above him, as that would leave his head uncovered (the Hebrew word used in verse 5, translated as “shave smooth” or “make bald” can also mean “uncovered”). Also, he is not to rend his garments, which means he must not do anything that would cause his garments – the nefesh, ruach and neshamah – to be torn from him. The forces of impurity are referred to as “dead carcasses”, as they have no life or energy of their own. They exist only by feeding off the forces of purity.
“A person who has sanctified himself and gained a nefesh, ruach and neshamah is on the same side as the forces of purity, which is life. He is separated from the dead, the forces of impurity. He must be careful not to do anything that will bring him closer to the side of death, the forces of impurity, otherwise he will cling to the forces of death and be separated from the forces of life.”
When it says that he may not come near a dead person, the Abir Yaakov explains that this refers to the forces of impurity. By not coming near to them it is implied that he is not to sin, for sin is what brings a person close to the forces of impurity, while at the same time it distances him from the forces of holiness. He continues by explaining that he shall not contaminate himself, but remain holy for his father (Hashem) or for his mother (the assembly of Israel). And he shall not leave the sanctuary after entering a state of holiness, meaning one must never leave a state of holiness or he will desecrate the sanctuary of G-d, as the sanctuary is within and refers to the higher levels of holiness one can acquire. This higher level of holiness is the crown – the oil of G-d’s anointing.
“When one has gained a neshamah and the Shekinah – which is a crown – and the oil of anointing – he must be extremely careful to guard his state of holiness.”
“Kohanim correspond to chesed (kindness), which can be revealed only through a guarded covenant.” (R’ Nachman’s Torah on Emor)
Hashem gives more restrictions to those closest to Him, in order to safeguard them in this world of lies. I’m sure we all agree that it is so very difficult to die to self and allow Hashem to do what He deems best, without letting our own will get in the way. Yet, who are we to challenge, question or try to change what is Divinely decreed? We really do not know what rectification our soul requires, or what our specific purpose is in this world. We are unable to ascertain the ultimate reward for our trials and suffering, but we must have faith that if we rise to the occasion and turn our so-called difficulties into personal victories, we can glorify Hashem as we triumph over the troubles of this world of lies. Our trying circumstances might be the greatest blessing Hashem could have given us.
This world is a world of tikkun, and rectification is our purpose. We were not created for this world, it is merely a stop over on our way to our final destination. We are not here to enjoy life, or to live a life free from troubles. Actually, if you have no worries and no troubles you might need to take your pulse, and make sure you are still amongst the living! We are all going to suffer during our short stay here, but we cannot even begin to understand what rectification our suffering might be bringing about. It is our job to remain focused on seeking and fostering Hashem’s Oneness. As the words to the beautiful song sung by Shlomi Shabat:
“Ein od milvado melo kol haaretz kevodo
Hakadosh Baruh Hu Meleh vaani yavdo”
“There is no one besides Him, His glory fills the whole earth
The Holy One blessed be He is King and I his servant”
(check out this beautiful song on youtube – Ein Od Milvado by Shlomi Shabat)
As we continue the journey away from our slavery to this world and toward the gift of the Torah on Shavuot, I pray that each of us will be able to thank Hashem even through the difficulties, or maybe better yet, especially through them. Ein Od Milvado! And we can be assured that Hashem causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called in accordance with His purpose. (see Romans 8)
Be blessed and be a blessing,