The Heart of the Matter
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of
Israel and tell them, 'Be holy, for I, your G-d, am holy.' " (Vayikra 19:1-
There are many ways to state the mission statement of the Jewish people,
primarily "to be a light unto nations." Or, more specifically, like the
moon reflects the light of the sun to mankind, the Jewish people are meant
to reflect the light of G-d (Torah) to the world. That is the "WHAT" of
the Jewish people.
This week's parshah is the "HOW" of the Jewish people. How does one become
a light unto nations? The answer is by being holy, and the holier the
better. The main symbol of this holiness was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)
who wore a gold plate on his forehead that said "Holy to G-d." However, in
Parashas Yisro the entire Jewish nation was referred to as being a "Nation
of Priests," and therefore even though we may not actually wear a gold
plate on our forehead with such an inscription, its message must still be
foremost in our minds.
One would think that a head-plate bearing such a holy message should be
made of a humbler material instead of gold. Gold is gaudy, the symbol of
wealth and often arrogance, but that was precisely the point. The Tzitz
that the Kohen Gadol wore wasn't only telling us to be holy in all that we
do, but that holiness also means sanctifying all that we use. If something
has great potential for evil when used the wrong way, like the golden calf
for example, then it has great potential for good when used the right way.
Thus, the Torah is a manual that shows us the potential of Creation for
either good or for evil, which, of course, was the primary message of the
Aitz HaDa'as Tov v'Rah (the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). G-d told
Adam HaRishon, "This tree has potential to be used for good, or for evil.
Your free-will will determine in which direction it is used. The same is
true for all of Creation."
At this time of year we count the Omer - 49 days from the second night of
Pesach until Shavuos, the 50th day. Just as there are 49 Levels of
Spiritual Impurity, there are 49 Levels Spiritual of Purity - Mem-Tes
Panim Tumah v'Mem-Tes Panim Tahora. As the posuksays, G-d is holy, the
Ultimate Holiness, and since Shavuos is about an encounter with the
Ultimate Holiness, ultimately, we must be as holy as possible. The Omer is
meant to facilitate that process.
With the exception of Lag B'Omer, we count straight through. During Roman
times as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was about to die, he revealed to his
students what he had received from the mouth of his teacher, what would
later become the basis of the Zohar HaKadosh (the Holy Zohar). He did this
in the 33rd day of the Omer, giving this particular day somewhat of a
Of course, nothing is ever by coincidence. The particular character trait
associated with that week of the counting as of the 29th day of the Omer
is that of Hod (Glory), the trait of the Kohen Gadol, the symbol of
holiness. And, just as each of the seven weeks of the Omer-Count has its
own particular trait, Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and
Malchus, so does each of the seven days of a particular week, which in the
case of the 33rd day, also happens to be Hod.
Thus, Lag B'Omer is the trait of Hod sh'b'Hod (the Glory of Glory), the
essence of the Kohen Gadol, the basis of all holiness.
Hence, Lag B'Omer is a spiritual threshold that separates the first 32
days of the Omer from the last 17 days, including the 50th day. It tells
us what the focus should have been until then in order to prepare us for
the receiving of Torah, and what the application must become in the
remaining period of time. And again, it is no coincidence that 32 is the
gematria of the Hebrew word leiv (heart), and 17 is the gematria of the
word tov (good), especially since Rebi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught:
He said to them: Go out and see which is the best way for a person to be.
Rebi Eliezer said, "A good eye." Rebi Yehoshua said, "A good friend." Rebi
Yosi said, "A good neighbor." Rebi Shimon said, "Anticipating what will
happen." Rebi Elazar said, "A good heart." He told them, "I relate best to
the opinion of Rebi Elazar ben Arach for included in his words are your
words." (Pirkei Avos 2:13)
A good heart it is then, just as the Omer-Count also teaches, though only
if Lag B'Omer is included.
In the third month after Israel left Egypt, they arrived in the Sinai
desert. They had traveled from Refidim, had come to the Sinai desert, and
camped there, opposite the mountain. (Shemos 19:1-2)
As Rashi and just about every commentator points out, the above posuk
speaks in the singular though it is talking about the entire nation. This
prompts the following explanation that the Jewish people camped at Mt.
Sinai k'ish echad b'levi echad - like a single person with a single heart.
They had achieved sublime achdus (perfect unity).
We might not have been able to fully appreciate the significance of this
statement so close to the giving of Torah, if we had not previously
learned that the path to holiness and an encounter with G-d, is a journey
of the heart. It can only be the end result of a process that has
transformed an ordinary heart into a "good" one. As Rebi Yochanan ben
Zakkai revealed, when a good heart is achieved, then everything else
important simply takes care of itself.
However, the heart is often called the seat of the emotions; the reception
of Torah seems to be an intellectual thing. The convergence of both
aspects of man becomes perfectly apparent when one considers that there
are 32 Paths of Wisdom, the gematria of heart, that channels the most
sublime light from the Upper Realm to the Lower Realm. Receiving Torah is
about the synthesis of mind and heart into a single, holy reality called
In a very real sense, the first 32 days of the Omer-Count is just to get a
heart. It's as if on Pesach we go out and buy all the materials and bring
them home, and then begin to construct them into a heart on the second
night of Pesach, the first night of the Omer. Each day after that, from
the first day of the counting - Chesed sh'b'Chesed, until the end of the
32nd day - Netzach sh'b'Hod, is another piece of the spiritual vessel we
are attempting to create.
Then comes Lag B'Omer, the day on which Rebi Akiva's students ceased dying
for having bad hearts towards one another. With the period of the heart
over, so too does the period of punishment end for having a bad heart. The
mourning ends as we enter the period of Tov (of Good) of the number 17,
with which we are now expected to infuse into the hearts we have built
from scratch, from simple flour and water, free of chometz and false and
But what does that have to do with Rebi Shimon Bar Yochai and of what will
eventually become the basis of Kabbalah? The answer is in the following
G-d said, "Let there be light," and there was light. G-d saw that the
light was good . . . (Bereishis 1:3-4)
Light is good, but not just any light, onlya specific light, the light
with which G-d made Creation, what would later be called the Ohr HaGanuz
(the Hidden Light). For, as the Talmud explains, in order to keep this
power light out of the reach of evil people, G-d hid the light on the very
first day of Creation (Chagigah 12a). And, says Kabbalah, it was with this
particular light that G-d freed the Jewish people from Egypt, and, of
course, gave the Torah.
Indeed, this light acts as the soul of Creation, and the Omer-Count is
telling us that it is the life of our hearts. In other words, the first 32
days of the Omer are for constructing the vessel into which the light of
the last 17 days can enter. By the 50th day, if all has gone well, heart
and light will fuse together to become what Reb Elazar ben Arach simply
called a "Good Heart," and what this week's parshah calls a "Holy Heart."
For, each leads to the other, because at heart, they are really one and
the same thing.
The angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire, out of the midst
bush. He saw it, and noticed that the bush was burning, yet the bush was
not consumed . . . He said, "Do not approach this spot - take off your
shoes. The place where you are standing is holy ground." (Shemos 3:2, 5)
Here is another piece of the puzzle that is based upon the above posuk
that comes from the Arizal who revealed:
In the beginning, Moshe was Hevel, who was the son of Adam HaRishon.
Later, he (Hevel) reincarnated into Shais, then Noach, and after that,
into Shem the son of Noach. This is the sod of, "You have said, 'I shall
know you by name (shem)' " (Shemos 33:12), an allusion to the
reincarnation into Shem. "And you have found favor (Ches-Nun) in My eyes"
hints at the reincarnation into Noach, the father, since Noach also
contains the letters Ches-Nun, b'sod, "Noach found favor (Ches-Nun)"
(Bereishis 6:8) . . . Thus, the first letters of Moshe (Mem-Shin) allude
to Shem, and we learn that Shem, Noach, and Moshe are all from the same
root, which is the level of Chesed, which is that of Hevel the son of
Adam. This is the sod of, "For, from the water he was drawn" (Shemos
2:10), that is, the waters of Chesed. When Moshe received the Torah from
Sinai, all three levels were incorporated and ascended b'sod Da'as
Machriyah (Resolving Da'as) from which comes the level of the Written
Torah. This is the sod of "From His right hand He presented the fiery
Torah to them" (Devarim 33:2), for the Torah is given from the side of
Gevuros, which is the side of the Gevurah of the Da'as, as mentioned. I
have already explained that, until the vision of the bush, Moshe had yet
to rectify the letters of Hevel and Shais, except for the Shin of Shais
and the Heh of Hevel, hinted at in the name Moshe, Mem-Shin-Heh. The two
letters, Bais-Lamed, of Hevel had yet to be rectified . . . Returning to
the matter, the bush rectified the letters of Heh-Bais-Lamed (Hevel) as
well. Thus it says, "The Angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame - Bais-
Lamed-Bais-Tav, of fire" (Shemos 3:2), to hint that in the beginning the
letters Lamed-Bais-Tav were not yet rectified. Therefore, it says, "in a
flame - Lamed-Bais-Tav, of fire," from the side of judgment, since they
were not yet rectified. However, at the bush they became rectified, and
this is indicated by the repetition of Moshe's name ("Moshe, Moshe"). The
first refers to before the bush when he wasn't rectified, and the second
to his newly rectified state. Nevertheless, even in the beginning the
blemish wasn't that bad, as it says in Idrot (Naso 138a). (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, Ch. 34)
Bais-Lamed, of course, is the reverse of Lamed-Bais - leiv, or heart.
Literally, G-d first spoke to Moshe from within the heart of the fire,
because the heart is the source of passion, for good or for evil. As long
as the letters of heart remain reversed then the passion is for evil, for
Egypt. Moshe was being sent down to Egypt to straighten out the hearts of
B'nei Yisroel, to rectify the Bais-Lamed and transform them into Lamed-
Bais . . . to give them a spiritual heart with which G-d could fill with
His Divine Light.
Therefore, Bais-Lamed is the root of Bilaam, of Balak, of Bavel -
Babylonia and the first exile, and Ba'al Peor, the main form of idol
worship that is so diametrically-opposed to everything which the Jew
stands for. And thus, the Final Redemption is described in terms of G-d
circumcising the hearts of the Jewish people:
Only your fathers did G-d desire to love them, and He has chosen their
descendants after them through you from all the peoples this day. He will
circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and you will no longer be stiff-
necked. (Devarim 10:16-17)
That is, stubborn, as in stubborn heart and a lack of willingness to
listen to the word of G-d as it was meant to be heard.
But again, what does that have to do with Rebi Shimon bar Yochai and the
And I will take you from the nations and gather you . . . And I will
sprinkle pure waters upon you. And I will give you a new heart and a new
spirit . . . I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that
you will follow My decrees and keep My judgments and do them. You will
dwell in the land. (Yechezkel 36:23-28)
So, it is not just a circumcised heart that we end up with at the End-of-
Days, but a NEW heart. And, apparently, Sod is that key ingredient to
bring that about:
This is the main rectification of learning Kabbalah more than any other
area of Torah learning. For, the rest of the areas of Torah learning are
enveloped in the matters of this world, which is not the case with
Kabbalah, and particularly in the words of the Arizal, who built upon the
Ideres (Zohar) and Safra d'Tzniusa (also the Zohar), and the other secret
sections of the Holy Zohar. All of its matters deal only on the level of
Atzilus and the worlds of the light of Ain Sof. That is why the wisdom of
Kabbalah is called Nistar (Hidden) . . . (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 525)
The peeling off of the spiritual orlah from the hearts of the Jewish
people is synonymous with removing the layers of worldly matters from the
heart of Torah. Just as a parent adds layers of ideas so that a child can
better grasp complicated concepts, so too did G-d add layers of meaning to
sublime concepts after the sin of the golden calf, resulting in our drop
And, being mired in this world of physical distraction it is often
difficult to separate Torah life from the world in which we live, even if
we want to. The mitzvos depend upon the physical world of everyday life,
and we are forced to try and bridge two worlds simultaneously. Even at our
moments of heightened spiritual realization we have difficulty escaping
the gravitational pull of everyday life. Yet, as we strive for tremendous
holiness we are bound to the reality of the mundane.
Thank G-d for Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is the
one day the yetzer hara is given the day off, says the Talmud. It is the
day of the year that we are allowed a taste, but only a taste, of true
holiness, and what it means to be a human living like an angel. It is a
day that we are given the chance to feel what it means to live on the
plane of Sod.
In other words, on the tenth day of Tishrei we are given Yom Kippur to get
to the level of Sod. However, the rest of the year we use Sod to get to
the level of Yom Kippur, which corresponds to the eighth sefirah of Binah
and Divine Understanding, the basis of the World-to-Come. And there is
nothing better to straighten out a heart than Yom Kippur, except Sod.
That is why on the day that is Hod sh'b'Hod, the trait of the Kohen Gadol,
and the only person to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, Rebi Shimon
bar Yochai revealed the Holy Zohar, for it is the same thing. It is the
light of Eight, and of Ten . . . the Ohr HaGanuz . . . the Hidden Light of
Creation that touches and transforms that which it has contacted into
For, the light of Sod is the essence of Creation without all the klipos
that encase it and blind us to the essential reality that everything in
Creation is, in essence, holy - profoundly holy. And, upon recognizing
that on the level of the heart, with the goal of Sod, one can truly see
the holiness of all that is, and be rewarded with the ultimate sign of
perfection and redemption: a good heart.
Have a great heart and a wonderful Shabbos as well,
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.