Harry Zeitlin
Grateful Every Day, Modeh Ani Lefanecha!

Completing Creation

In these moments before Shavuot, we are completing the seven weeks of Sefirat HaOmer, counting each day since our rescue from the slavery of Egypt to become full-fledged people, until our reaching the maturity to accept our charge and destiny, to bring knowledge of God’s Being into the world and to model with our own actions and behavior, as an inspiration and light to all peoples, of human potential fully realized.

This period of seven seven-day weeks is also the one time where even the least mystically-inclined of observant Jewry, originally lead and defined by the finest Lithuanian, halacha-focused, intellectually-refined, speak about the deep inner truths of Kaballah, especially the model of sefirotic energy defined and developed by the Arizal, the sixteenth century rabbi and mystic whose analyses and explanations unlock the Holy Zohar of the second century mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the greatest of the 24000 students of Rabbi Akiva, and the final one to have died in the great plague of 135 CE, on the thirty-third day of this Omer period, signalling then end of the semi-mourning practices which dominate this season.

While it used to be that only serious Kaballists would observe all the customs and meditations of this period, it has sparked new interest in the last half-century so that now most seriously observant Jews at least give lip-service to the seven-by-seven daily/weekly meditation aimed at refining the seven personality traits associated with the seven Sefirot, focii of Divine Energy, which, more deeply than the Chakra system of ancient Hinduism which has become popularized through yoga and other eastern meditation practices. Instead of a central map, confined to the spine, the seven sefirot have analogues in the physical body thus, Chesed/Loving kindness/Right Arm; Gevurah/Strength (Strict order)/Left Arm; Tiferet/Balance (combining Abundance with Structure)/Heart (also the spine); Netzach/Eternity (Victory, endurance)/Right Leg; Hod/Splendor (Glory)/Left Leg; Yesod/Connection, Foundation/Genitals; Malchut/Kingship, Consolidation/Feet.

You’ll notice that these seven Sephirot, which are described as the “lower” sephirot, is mapped out on the body beneath the head. The head, which directs our body’s action and behavior, is represented by the three upper Sephirot, Chochma/Right Brain, Bina/Left Brain and either Da’at/Speech (centered in the throat) (the Chabad system developed by Lubavitch Chassidut) or Keter/Crown, at the top of the head, sometimes representing the entire head. In other words, the man’s intellectual faculties (with the “lower seven” representing either just the physical or the emotional and then the physical). (See https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/276672/jewish/Daily-Spiritual-Guide.htm for a brief, but accurate guide to this practice).

Shavuot, the fiftieth day of this count, transcending forty-nine, is the festival that celebrates receiving Torah at Sinai. Consistent to the configuration we’ve just discussed, Torah represents the 50th Gate of Wisdom (one more gate that the 49 Gates of Tumah, Corruption, we almost reached as slaves in Egypt), the paradigm of Intellect. As such, on the Sefirotic model, having refined the body, the physical as much as we were able to achieve this time around (remember, the Jewish year, and thus all of the festivals and rituals are cyclic or, perhaps better, an upward spiral, allowing and encouraging growth and depth from year to year). So, having completed reinforcing and refining our physical selves, we’re now prepared to support the head.

Since this holiday is also traditionally identified as the birthday of King David, the paradigm of King/Melech (Malchut). And since only a King is adorned with a Crown/Keter, we can follow the previous meditation of the seven lower Sefirot of the Omer period with an even deeper meditation on Keter.

Keter is described in the Zohar (Idra Zuta (Ha’Azinu) and in subsequent Kaballah texts as the Godhead, as the height we’re not really capable of observing, comprehending or understanding even a little. Often it’s described as a system of three spheres or skulls, each one encircling the lower, and the descriptions of each individual head is often applied to the entirety of Keter. Of these, the highest is Reishe d’lo Ityada, the Head of which nothing is known. Indeed, it’s inscrutability extends to itself in that we say it even lacks self-awareness. This is largely because it is comprised of almost pure energy that hasn’t yet precipitated even a little. In other words, these is basically no materiality whatsoever to be observed or measured or to interact with.

We talk of Ein Sof, The Infinite. Literally, Without End (or boundary or edge). We see it as the purest of pure light. So bright that it appears to be black because of its intense whiteness! We also apply Ein Sof as the essence, as much as one can conceive or or talk about God In Himself, because one of the very few positive statements we can make about God is actually the negative statement, that He has no boundaries whatsoever.

It seems the utmost of chutzpah to even consider that on this day, Shavuot, we contemplate Ein Sof. But, taking a step back, that’s exactly what this festival is about. It’s about us Finite Beings, being fully entrusted with the Ein Sof of Torah, which is, ultimately, our hightest contemplation and meditation on God Himself.

So, it stands to reason that we only have our chance, and the smallest chance it is, to face this deepest essence of The Holy One once we have thougtfully and methodically cleansed and refined our lower selves, our Seven Sefirot of the Body and Emotions, as we are just now completing with our Omer Counting practice of the last seven weeks, that we can turn to examining and exploring our very own experience of Keter, which we access through the Holy Torah we receive on this day.

Tizku l’Shanim Tovot, my we all merit years filled with only good.

Chag Shavuot Sameach.

About the Author
After almost 30 years, Harry Zeitlin returned home to Jerusalem! Growing up in Denver, CO, he began Torah studies at an early age. He also had the privilege of knowing and studying with Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt"l. He graduated from Yale College (BA 1974) with an independent degree in communications, theory-and-practice, focusing on filmmaking and linguistics. Harry had a 45+ year career as a professional artist (photography, to which he is just now returning!) and has played guitar for more than 50 years, in addition to his 30+ years as an orthodox rabbi teaching Torah across the denominational spectrum. He lived in Israel from 1982 - 1989 and returned in 2016. I'M BACK! Grateful every day! Follow his spiritual adventures. He is always available to speak, teach, present a Shabbaton or other workshop. ......or to serenade your group with his guitar.
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