Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, is often misunderstood in today’s society. You may have some sort of association between it and some red string around Madonna’s wrist. There is much more to Jewish mysticism than that. There are ancient and medieval writings on which Kabbalah is based, and there are different ideas and ways to incorporate mysticism into normative Jewish practice. According to Kabbalah, there are ten parts of G-d, called Sefirot. They represent different holy aspects of G-d: strength, wisdom, loving kindness, etc. Each of these has special significance for each day of the Omer, the time between Pesach and Shavuot.
This week’s Torah portion commands us on our holidays and holy days. Parashat Emor is one of the multiple places in the Torah that reminds us to keep the Shabbat. It tells us how and when to celebrate Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. It tells us to count each day of the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, and G-d offers little explanation why. We do this because we are commanded to, because it adds holiness into our celebrations of holidays and links the time of our Exodus from Egypt (Passover) to the day we received the Torah on Sinai (Shavuot). This is the time we are in now. Today is the 18th day of the Omer (out of 49, in case you missed the math). Today’s attribute of G-d is Netzach shebetiferet, Ambition in Harmony.
A Hasidic story goes that a royal caravan was traveling through the desert, and the prince became very thirsty. Although the nearest village was not so far, the king decided time and resources would be better spent building a well rather than going to fetch water. He told his son, “Although you could perhaps satisfy your thirst faster and easier by sending a servant to get you water from the nearest town, it would only help you now. If you or another traveler found yourself on this way again, thirsty, with no one to send to the nearest town, you would wish there was a well right here for you. Since we have the time and resources to build one now, it is our responsibility to do so.”
The story is meant to show why G-d commands us to celebrate the holidays. It would have been enough to take us out of Egypt once, and to give us the Torah once, like it would have been enough to send a servant to fetch the prince some water. But by giving us the holidays to celebrate each year, by building a well, we remember every time we pass that marker that Someone wiser and stronger than us helps us not only at the milestones, but whenever we find we need it. That is the intended lesson of the story. However, the idea of using one’s time and resources wisely, thinking for the future and for those without your time and resources, also ties into today’s Sefirah, Ambition in Harmony. Ambition is important; we should always strive toward a goal, whether a personal goal of self-betterment, a career goal, a financial goal, a good report card goal. But we should always be mindful of what paths we take to get there, and what we do with our reward when we’ve reached that goal. Amibition in Harmony is being ambitious with mindfulness of the consequences of all your actions, and weighing your own self-gain with the overall good.
Even if you have no interest in Kabbalah, and/or do not personally count the Omer, these weeks between two important Jewish holidays are a good time to pause and reflect on what it all means. Having just celebrated Passover, what does it mean to be free? As we approach Shavuot, what does it mean to be free Jews, given the Torah? As each day of the Omer ticks by with their assigned Sefirot, what attributes do we associate with G-d? How can we better model ourselves after them? May you find for yourselves answers to these questions, ambition in harmony, and, as always, peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.