Eighth Parshah, And Counting
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Holy they shall be to their G-d, and not profane the name of their
G-d. (Vayikra 21:10)
The parshah starts off talking about kohanim, and the special mitzvos
that pertain to their rank and office. Last week's parshah --
Parashas Kedoshim -- spoke to the entire nation about the need to be
holy and to sanctify the Name of G-d, and this week's parshah talks
to the kohanim about their need to be even holier. Nevertheless, it
is a parshah that still talks to the entire nation about service of
G-d which applies to all Jews, if only for the fact that we are
called a "Kingdom of Priests" (Shemos 19:6).
For example, the parshah tells the kohanim that they must be holy, as
if to imply that if the are not, they will remain ordinary. Yet, the
conclusion of the posuk is that if they are not, then they will
profane the Name of G-d, something far worse than simply being an
"ordinary Jew." Why is this?
This question comes from the sefer "Darchei Mussar," and his
conclusion is that we learn from here that, when it Jew isn't
sanctifying the Name of G-d, then he is, G-d forbid, profaning it. It
is a lesson that obviously applies to ALL Jews, not just to the
For those who believe in G-d and the World-to-Come, it is a VERY
heavy lesson for us to hear NOW. For those who don't, it will be an
even heavier message for them to hear THEN, on the Final Day of
Judgment, for, profanation of G-d's Name is the worst sin one can
To appreciate the Darchei Mussar's words, you have to recall the
Nefesh HaChaim's definition of profanation of G-d's Name: any act,
word, or thought that reduces the awareness of G-d in creation. Thus,
based upon what we are saying here, if you are not increasing
awareness of G-d, then you are reducing it.
Take prayer, for example, a real "service of G-d."
If a person prayers with reverence, patience, concentration, and
enthusiasm, then, clearly, he will draw the Presence of G-d into
creation. However, if a person lacks reverence when he prays, perhaps
suggested by the way he prays or how is dressed, then, the Presence
of G-d is pushed away.
If a person seems impatient while praying -- before, during, or after
-- then what message does he send to creation -- positive or
negative? Or, what if he makes little or no effort to concentrate
while praying? Does he convince us, himself, or Heaven that he
believes in what he is doing, or, cares for that matter? And,
certainly, a lack of enthusiasm to pray does not invite the Divine
Presence to descend into our mundane world.
All of this is true about tefillah, and, every other mitzvah we have
for that matter, including living itself! We may not always feel up
to serve G-d every moment of the day, but, in revealing that to the
world, we give the impression that we don't care, and that G-d is
unimportant. The world doesn't always know what we are going through
at the moment, and that too has to be taken into account when we set
out to complete a task.
The kohen that is greater than his brothers ... (Vayikra 21:10)
The midrash writes:
Why was he called "greater" (gadol)? Because he was greater in five
aspects: wisdom, strength, etc. Strength, that is, he was very
strong. Come and see Aharon, who waved 22,000 Levi'im in one day? How
did he do it? Forward and backward, up and down, which took great
strength. (Vayikra Rabbah 26:9)
This midrash is consistent with the Talmud which states:
The Holy One, Blessed is He, only dwells upon one who is strong ...
-- which is a wonder, since physical strength, as great a trait as it
may be (and helpful for that matter), still, does not sound like an
important criteria for closeness to G-d.
The Rambam was bothered by this problem, and chose to interpret this
statement and the midrash as talking in spiritual terms (Yesodei
HaTorah, 7:1-2). After all, the mishnah calls one who overcomes his
yetzer hara -- evil inclination -- a "gibur" (Pirkei Avos 4:1).
True, say the "Kesef Mishneh" and the "Lechem Mishneh," two
commentaries found in the "Yad Chazakah" of the Rambam. However, they
argue, the Talmud does not seem to mean that, and besides, Moshe
Rabbeinu, about whom the Talmud does mention as an example, was VERY
Other later commentaries offer explanations to prove the Rambam right
in light of these questions. However, one possible angle in the
resolution of this discussion could be Shimshom, who was specifically
called "Gibor," the same language of the midrash and the Talmud.
Now, as the story is told, Shimshon, as physically strong as he may
have personally been, was even stronger PHYSICALLY for SPIRITUAL
reasons. He had been a "nazir" from birth -- a term used for the
kohanim in this week's parshah -- someone to whom special laws of
sanctity apply -- like the kohanim -- one of which was to not cut his
hair ever. And since, by cutting Shimshon's hair, the Philistines
were able to immediately weaken him, we have to assume that his
super-human strength had, in fact, been supernatural, as a result of
his previous spiritual status.
In other words, though we may have looked at Shimshon as being
one-of-a-kind, in truth, that is not so. He represented, instead, an
extreme reality of which applies to EVERY Jew, but, especially the
Kohen Gadol. For, we are all capable of super-human feats, and often
perform many throughout the course of our lifetimes. In fact, it is
the performance of such supernatural deeds that often turn many
people into "believers."
For the sake of the free-will, G-d doesn't make it too obvious.
Spiritual prowess does not always, or even usually, result in
world-class boxing form, unless physical exercise is performed
rigorously. But then again, I doubt very much if the physical build
of the acting Kohen Gadol was ever greater than that of all other
ordinary kohanim around him.
No, it was his tremendous spiritual ability to detach himself from
the physical and material world that drew down Heavenly light that
allowed him to, when he needed to, perform great physical tasks -- to
the amazement of all who stood by and watched. Even until this very
day. For, whether it's moving large objects, or, getting very little
sleep and food and yet still functioning 100%, holy people remain to
live outside the normal boundaries of the "Natural World."
The holier one becomes, the more this will be true.
You must count seven complete weeks from the day after the day of
rest, from the day that you brought the omer for the wave-of-fering,
until the day after the seventh week, a total of 50 days. (Vayikra
This week has (had) in it Lag B'Omer, the thirty-third day of the
Omer-Counting. Lag B'Omer, we are told, is a day of light. We are
told by the rabbis that it is the day on which the great Rabbi Shimon
Bar Yochai revealed the Zohar to handful of faithful students, just
before he left this world for the Bais Midrash L'Ma'alah -- the
Heavenly Study Hall.
The Zohar, of course, is one of the main sources of known Kabbalah
today, and, when many of us hear THAT word, we just shut down. I
don't think anyone will disagree that the Zohar is a very holy work
-- for very holy people, that is. "But, what, if anything, does it
have to do with everyday life and personal development?" many might
However, a fundamental of Kabbalah is the idea that "Da'as is the
koach hachibur," which, loosely translates as, "Knowledge, or
awareness, has the power to unite." What this means is that unity,
whether on the level of the individual, or the nation, or the whole
world is a function of knowledge and understanding. The deeper the
knowledge and understanding, the more willing and capable people are
of getting along with one another.
After all, isn't that what we are all after? Whether it's to become
well and whole ourselves, or, to improve the "shalom bayis" of our
homes, or, to unify our people, or, to unify the world ... it's all
the same thing in the end: unity and shlaimus.
We want "chibur" -- on the personal level, on the family level, and
on the national level. The more esoteric side of our tradition tells
us that this is only possible with "da'as" -- godly knowledge that
heightens our awareness of what counts most in life and how to go
about getting that "most in life."
Torah is "Da'as-Elokim," about which Shlomo HaMelech wrote:
"If you want it like money and pursue it like a buried treasure, then
you will understand fear of G-d and Da'as Elokim you will find."
and it gives us understanding and awareness so that we can put the
pieces together, so-to-speak, and imbue our lives and the lives of
those whom we love with hope and direction. Kabbalah is the deepest
understanding Torah has to offer man, the strongest source of chibur
available to us.
That is why Moshe Rabbeinu told Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the
following about our time, the time of redemption:
... [Then] the Maskilim (Scholars) will understand, because they are
from the side of Binah (eighth sefirah), which is the Aitz HaChaim
(Tree of Life). Of them it says, 'The Maskilim will emanate light
like the light of the sky ...' (Daniel 12:3) ... with this sefer of
yours, Sefer HaZohar, which is from the light of Binah, which is
called teshuvah ... In the future Yisroel will taste from the Aitz
HaChaim, which is this Sefer HaZohar, they will leave exile in mercy,
and "Hashem alone will lead them, and they will have no foreign god"
(Devarim 32:12). (Zohar 124b)
Thus, Lag B'Omer is not only a HOLY day, but a very relevant day --
to all of us. It is Hod sh'b'Hod in the Sefirah-Counting -- "Glory
that is in Glory" -- the ultimate sanctification of G-d's Name: the
cause of redemption, and, the reason for it.
Continuing on from where we left off last week:
HOD: (Glory): Just as Gevurah was the direct opposite of Chesed, so
too is Hod the direct opposite of Netzach. Netzach is an imposing,
dominating trait; Hod is often associated with one's ability to be
empathetic, and is therefore represented by Aharon HaKohen, Moshe's
brother and the High Priest of the Jewish people-a leader famous for
making peace among his people.
The difference between Netzach and Hod is clear from the different
reactions Moshe and Aharon had to the instigators of the golden calf
(Shemos 31:18). Aharon (for good reasons) submitted to the will of
the "Erev Rav" (Mixed Multitude) who demanded a replacement for
Moshe, whom they thought had died on the mountain. However, when
Moshe finally came down the mountain and saw what was happening
below, he broke the Tablets and purged the camp of all elements who
participated in the building and worshipping of the calf-a more
Thus, whereas Netzach results in one taking a domineering role in a
relationship, Hod means giving in to the other person-an abandonment
of one's individuality for that of another. This is a strong reason
why Hod corresponds to the fifth day of creation, on which the fish
were created. Compared to the sun, moon, and stars that were "fixed"
in the heavens, fish have relatively more freedom to come-and-go as
In a sense, the creation of fish was a transition between the fixed
reality of the physical world created before them, and the far more
flexible world of man created after them, whose will could determine
his direction and outcome in life. As the creation of man approached,
G-d was creating a world that was becoming increasingly independent
of Him, at least in appearance. This reveals G-d's humility and love
for His creations, and, when we mimic this behavior, it reveals our
soul-the essence of all that is glorious in humans.
YESOD (Foundation): Just as a harmony between Chesed and Gevurah was
necessary to create a meaningful, working balance called Tifferes, so
too is one necessary between Netzach and Hod called Yesod. It is this
trait that is associated with Yosef HaTzaddik.
Hence, Yesod parallels Tifferes in the lower triad, which explains
why Yosef was the closest to his father, Ya'akov, of all the sons,
and why he continued on for Ya'akov after his death. As Rashi points
out (Bereishis 37:1), all that happened to Ya'akov happened to Yosef
Since Yesod corresponds to the sixth day of creation, the day on
which man was created, it is a trait that has special significance to
us. Furthermore, just as the sefiros correspond to the six days of
creation, they also correspond to the six millennia of history,
which means Yesod, the sixth sefirah (down from Chesed), corresponds
to our millennium. Understanding Yesod, therefore, is also a way of
understanding the nature of our millennium, and the challenges we
face (especially since it was on Day Six that Adam ate from the Tree
of Knowledge of Good and Evil).
If Yesod is the balance between the traits of Netzach and Hod, then
it is the ability to "give-and-take" in a relationship. It is best
expressed by the person who knows when to surrender himself to a
situation, how much to do so, and for how long. He will only impose
his opinion when doing so is best for all involved, and back down and
follow someone else's lead when it is clear that it is correct to do
so. This is what the mishnah means when it says:
In a place where there are no men, try to be a man ... (Pirkei Avos 2:5)
This is why Yesod is called "Foundation," a concept associated with
the Tzaddik-the Righteous Individual. Such people are the foundation
of creation, for G-d created and maintains the world for such people:
The Tzaddik is the foundation of the world ... (Mishlei 10:25)
Furthermore, they know how to correctly relate to all those around
them, in any given situation. It is a Yesod-type personality that
allows one to throw his entire being into a relationship-and the
necessary self-control and reliability upon which relationships are
This is why Yosef was tested with the wife of his master Potiphar,
and why he was able to pass the test as well. And, because Yesod is
relationship-oriented, it also represents the transition between the
sefiros above it, and the sefirah of Malchus below it-just as Yosef
was the transition between the Forefathers (Avraham, Yitzchak, and
Ya'akov) before him, and the nation that was to be formed after his
One final, important point with respect to this sefirah. In Kabbalah,
Yesod is divided into two parts: Yesod proper, and Ateres HaYesod-the
"Crown of Yesod." According to the Kabbalists, as long as the Yesod
proper governs history, the Jewish people will remain in exile.
However, the moment history reaches the part referred to as "Ateres
HaYesod"-a specific and set time-exile ends and the period of
Moshiach begins. This is the time known as "b'ittah"-the final time
for Moshiach's arrival.
MALCHUS (Kingship): Malchus corresponds to Shabbos, which indicates
that it is the completion of physical existence. Logically, it also
corresponds to King David, who is the ancestor of Moshiach, whose
kingdom will come at the end of history, when G-d's mandate for
creation has been fulfilled.
Hence, Malchus represents the time in history when G-d's kingdom is
firmly established on earth, as well as in Heaven. All that was ever
accomplished for good during the previous six millennia will be
synergized into a completed whole, just as Shabbos allows an
individual to integrate all that was spiritually achieved during the
previous six days of the week.
Thus Malchus and Shabbos are considered feminine in nature. It is a
feminine trait to receive, gestate, and give back a completed whole.
The previous six days of the week are considered masculine, full of
energy expended in many directions, often simultaneously. It is
Shabbos that brings "peace-and-quiet" to creation, allowing the
person to re-focus on his or her relationship with G-d, and to enjoy
the fruits of the previous days' labor.
In other words, whereas the previous six days efforts are considered
to be in a horizontal direction, Shabbos moves a person in a vertical
direction, closer to G-d. Shabbos is the time to absorb new levels of
spiritual realization into one's consciousness, so that Motzei
Shabbos, one emerges as a "briah chadashah"-a "new creation."
Kabbalah points out that Malchus is really just the revelation on the
lowest level of what exists on the highest level. The uppermost
sefirah is called "Keser," which means "Crown." Since this sefirah is
so sublime, it is completely beyond man's ability to grasp, and is
therefore referred to as "Ayin," which means "Nothing." Compared to
what comes after it, which is far more "physical," it is as if it
does not exist.
Malchus is called "Ani," which means "I"-the ultimate expression of
individuality and existence. It is the same letters as the word
"ayin," except that they arranged differently:
Ayin - Ani
(aleph-yud-nun) - (aleph, nun-yud)
What this expresses is that the light that makes up our physical
world, and gives life to all that exists, is really the light of
Keser, after it has been filtered and "splintered" through the eight
sefiros between Keser and Malchus. However, it is in Malchus that the
light becomes unified once again, with the important exception that
it has also been revealed and realized along the way. It has gone
from "Ayin" to "Ani," which was the whole point of creation in the
first place-and of a person's life.
This is also expressed in the last word of the Shema: Echad. The word
Echad is made up of three letters: aleph, ches, dalet. The rabbis
explains that the aleph refers to the sefirah Keser, because the
letter aleph represents the number "one," and G-d is One. The ches,
corresponds to the number eight, and hence, the eight sefiros that
follow Keser. The dalet always symbolizes Malchus, because it
corresponds to the number four, which emphasizes G-d's kingship over
all four directions of physical existence.
In a Sefer Torah, the dalet is written larger than the previous two
letters, to emphasize that it represents the fulfillment of creation:
the revelation of G-d to all mankind, and the permanent establishment
of His Kingdom throughout all of existence.
This has been a brief description of the lower seven sefiros, and the
traits they reveal. Now we will apply these insights to the period of
Sefiros HaOmer-the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuos.
* * *
Each middah (trait) first mentions the specific trait of the general
trait, such "Chesed sh'b'Chesed," which means: the aspect of chesed
unique to the general trait of Chesed. "Netzach sh'b'Chesed" means
the aspect of Netzach as found within the trait of Chesed, and so on.
For, as we have already mentioned, each of the seven general sefiros
contain their own sub-set of seven sefiros.
This means that an aspect of each of the general sefiros can be found
in each other. This is because each sefirah is just another filtering
of the same light that began with G-d. In other words, it is one
light that is responsible for all ten sefiros, which means they must
be related to each other, sharing a common "ancestry." Thus each
sefirah, as unique as it may be in its own right, is also an insight
into the other sefiros as well.
The following table of forty-nine questions focuses on specific
aspects of the Middah-Hayom (Trait-of-the-Day). They represent one
perspective in an overall system, and are, by no means, the only way
to discuss the middah. Based upon the previous introduction to the
seven sefiros, one should be able to design his own questions to gain
a more comprehensive understanding of the spiritual opportunity of
Each day, ask yourself the question pertaining to that day, and
discuss it with others in order to share and enhance your
perspectives. At the very least, this simple process will serve to
focus you on the "theme" of the day. At the very most, it can
transform you into a fitting "container" for the light of G-d that
emanates best at that time, and allow you to properly prepare for
that awesome day that G-d spoke to us and gave us His Torah.
WEEK ONE: Chesed
Chesed sh'b'Chesed: What is unbridled Chesed?
Gevurah sh'b'Chesed: What is constricted Chesed?
Tifferes sh'b'Chesed: What is perfectly balanced Chesed?
Netzach sh'b'Chesed: When is Chesed an imposition on others?
Hod sh'b'Chesed: What kind of Chesed take away my independence?
Yesod sh'b'Chesed: What Chesed is the basis of well-balanced
Malchus sh'b'Chesed: What type of Chesed unifies and reveals godliness?
WEEK TWO: Gevurah
Chesed sh'b'Gevurah: When is holding back a Chesed for another?
Gevurah sh'b'Gevurah: When is strict justice might appropriate?
Tifferes sh'b'Gevurah: When does strict judgment bring balance and
Netzach sh'b'Gevurah: What is imposing about strict justice?
Hod sh'b'Gevurah: What aspect of judgment forces the "judge" into
Yesod sh'b'Gevurah: What extent is judgment necessary for a good
Malchus sh'b'Gevurah: How does judgment reveal G-d?
WEEK FOUR: Tifferes
Chesed sh'b'Tifferes: Easy question: What is the Chesed in harmony?
Netzach sh'b'Tifferes: What type of discipline does harmony promote?
Tifferes sh'b'Tifferes: What is the ultimate state of harmony?
Netzach sh'b'Tifferes: What is imposing about balance?
Hod sh'b'Tifferes: When does harmony promote withdrawal and
Yesod sh'b'Tifferes: What role does harmony play in maintaining
Malchus sh'b'Tifferes: What is the unifying factor in harmony?
WEEK FOUR: Netzach
Chesed sh'b'Netzach: Do I dominate others for their benefit?
Gevurah sh'b'Netzach: How does my domination stifle others?
Tifferes sh'b'Netzach: When does domination result in balance and harmony?
Netzach sh'b'Netzach: When is domination too extreme?
Hod sh'b'Netzach: When is domination just a way of abandoning one's self?
Yesod sh'b'Netzach: When does domination result in relationship?
Malchus sh'b'Netzach: What role does domination play in building
WEEK FIVE: Hod
Chesed sh'b'Hod: When is submitting to another an act of kindness?
Gevurah sh'b'Hod: When does capitulation result in holding back
Tifferes sh'b'Hod: What level of submission results in harmony and balance?
Netzach sh'b'Hod: What type of submission really results in
Hod sh'b'Hod: LAG B'OMER: What is total submission to truth, and
Yesod sh'b'Hod: How does submission result in and maintain a
Malchus sh'b'Hod: What is soul-like about submission, and how is
WEEK SIX: Yesod
Chesed sh'b'Yesod: What is the kindness in being a stable and
Gevurah sh'b'Yesod: When does reliability require one to be
strict with another?
Tifferes sh'b'Yesod: How does reliability promote harmony in life and
Netzach sh'b'Yesod: What is imposing about a reliable person?
Hod sh'b'Yesod: When does reliability/self-control mean
submitting to others?
Yesod sh'b'Yesod: What is the ultimate measure of self-control
Malchus sh'b'Yesod: Why is self-control and reliability crucial
WEEK SEVEN: Malchus
Chesed sh'b'Malchus: How does unity result in good for all mankind?
Gevurah sh'b'Malchus: What type of justice does unity demand?
Tifferes sh'b'Malchus: What is the beauty of unity (on all levels
Netzach sh'b'Malchus: How can some forms of "unity" be over domineering?
Hod sh'b'Malchus: What is glorious about unity-how does it draw
out one's soul?
Yesod sh'b'Malchus: What binds different people together into one
Malchus sh'b'Malchus: What is the ultimate goal of perfect unity?
Have a great Shabbos, and Meaningful Omer,