By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Thank you for answering my question relating to “counting the Omer” in your last column. I was fascinated by the point you made at the end of your remarks that one can connect, during this seven-week period, to the seven Kabbalistic sefirot. Could you please elaborate more on that point?
Rabbi Yaacov Haber, in his recently published work “Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer,” sums it up the best: The energy that God uses to create the world can be likened to a bright light. This light is so bright and so complex that we cannot even begin to comprehend it in its totality.
White light breaks down into seven different colors when shone through a prism. Similarly, we can begin to understand God’s connection with the world by understanding seven aspects of His interaction with mankind and creation.
In Jewish thought, these seven aspects are seven of the 10 sefirot. In Hebrew, a sefira means a sphere, but its root safar also is the foundation of the words story, number and boundary. Thus the sefirot divide the infinite unity of God into perceivable parts, enabling us to read the story of creation and subsequent unfolding of history and Jewish life.
The seven sefirot connected to the 49 days, (7×7, of counting the Omer from Passover until Shavuos), are the following: 1. chesed/kindness; 2. gevurah/strength or restraint; 3. tiferes/glory or harmony; 4. netzach/eternity or victory; 5. hod/splendor or beauty; 6. yesod/foundation; 7. malchus/kingship.
These seven categories of God’s interaction with the world break down to 49 subcategories (7×7), with each attribute combining with itself and the six other attributes: chesed shebachesed, “kindness within kindness”; gevurah shebechesed, “restraint within kindness,” etc. Just as the wavelengths of light go from red to violet, so do the sefirot appear to us in a certain order, reflecting the full range of God’s actions in the world. These range from pure kindness at one end of the spectrum, to kinship on the opposite end.
Mankind is created in the image of God. Therefore these traits and behaviors of God are also our potential behaviors. During these 49 days, we not only can study how God interacts with the world, but also how we interact with the world. We can learn how to act like and emulate God.
The Kabbalists revealed that the specific aspect of each day of the counting of sefirah allows us to perfect that sefirah within ourselves. In examining these behaviors, we not only gain a deeper, more beautiful understanding of God, but we gain profound insights into ourselves. For as much as the sefirot reveal about God Himself, they also hold the key to understanding what it means to be created in God’s image.
Furthermore, the keys to opening, maintaining and repairing our relationships with others are also held within these behaviors. In the process of examining the sefirot, we not only perceive the eternal bond that ties us to God. We also see the equally strong bond that ties us to each other.
This is our goal during this period; to appreciate the way God interacts with the world it is necessary for us to act in a Godly manner. This is the way we prepare to “receive the Torah” every year on the holiday of Shavuot.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.