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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.

Sefiros Ha'omer

           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.

Chutzpa Yasgi

           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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