A Jew is here on this planet, not only to perform the Torah’s commandments, but also to polish his character traits. Someone who diligently studies Torah and observes the mitzvot with precise exactness, yet who angers easily, is envious of others, stingy with the charity he gives, and depressed most of the day, is going to have a hard time convincing the guard at the gateway to Heaven to let him inside, even if he has learned all of the Talmud twice over. Most likely, he will be sent back down to Earth for another reincarnation, maybe in the form of an alligator, or a tree in a park where people walk their dogs.
Like everything else in Judaism, our Sages have given us explicit directions how to attain the proper character traits and undergo a spiritual tune-up during our visit on Earth. For example, if you look in your prayer book, you will notice that in addition to the list of days and weeks of Sefirat HaOmer, which we are now in the midst of counting, you will see written in tiny letters the character traits that we are to work on each day. For instance, the first day is Chesed of Chesed; the second day is Givorah of Chesed; the third day is Tiferet of Chesed. The fourth day is Nezach of Chesed. Day five is Hod of Chesed. Day six is Yesod of Chesed. And day number seven is Malchut of Chesed. What does this mean?
Our Sages teach that Chesed is related to kindness. Givorah is related to strength. Tiferet is related to the splendor. Netzach is related to victory. Hod is related to praise. Yesod is related to sexual purity. Malchut is related to kingdom, representing the combination of all of these traits. Thus, the first week of the seven-week spiritual rehab until Shavuot is devoted to kindness, when we are called upon to rectify any blemishes we have in the character trait of kindness. Let me give an example: if you give a baby a bottle, and make a big hole in the nipple because you want to be as kind as you can and give the baby a lot of milk at once, your overflowing kindness (Chesed) may cause the baby to choke. On the other hand, if you make a tiny pin hole in the nipple (Givorah), the
baby won’t be able to suck out anything to drink. Thus a balance is needed (Tiferet) by making a hole in the nipple that is neither too big nor too small.
The second week is of Counting the Omer is devoted to rectifying the seven different aspects of Givorah. We continue in this manner, seven weeks times seven traits, for a total of 49 days, which serve as steps up the ladder of holiness, cleansing us of our impurities, so that we are prepared to receive the Torah.
These traits are also called sefirot. The sefirot are the spiritual worlds, or channels, that Hashem uses to bring His light and blessing into the world. To illustrate, imagine a paper cup with its bottom cut out. Let’s say this is a sefirah, or spiritual channel. If you put six of these plastic cups, one inside the other, you have a representation of the six lower sefirot. (The upper sefirot of Chochmah, Binah, and Daat are above our grasp and not included in this counting). The channel of Chesed flows into the channel of Givorah; Givorah into Tiferet; Tiferet into Netzach; Netzach into Hod; and Hod flows into Yesod. Now, put all of these into that last plastic cup without cutting out its bottom. This cup represents the sefirah of Malchut which receives the light and blessing from all of the other sefirot. Our Sages teach that this last cup, in its human embodiment, represents the Kingdom of Israel. Blessings flow into the world via Am Yisrael and then get distributed to the rest of mankind. In its geographical embodiment, this last cup represents the Land of Israel. Hashem’s blessings to the world come down to Eretz Yisrael, and from there they flow to the rest of the globe. Thus, we can understand the importance of all the Jewish People living in the Land of Israel in order for G-d’s blessing to the world to be complete. When the Jewish People are scattered all over the Diaspora, the Kingdom of Israel is shattered, and Hashem’s blessing to the world is shattered with it, not having a vessel to contain His blessings. The Kingdom of Israel only exists when the Jewish People have their own sovereign kingdom in their own Jewish Land. That is why the oft-repeated goal of the Torah, and of the Prophets of Israel, is the call for the Jews to dwell in the Land of Israel,
so that Hashem’s blessing will spill over from the Kingdom of Israel to all of the world.
Now for the few readers who are still with me, the Kabbalah teaches that because man is a microcosm of the universe, these Sefirot have a parallel in each and every one of us. The right arm parallels the sefirah of Chesed; the left arm the sefirah of Givorah; the body the sefirah of Tiferet; the right leg the sefirah of Netzach; the left leg the sefirah of Hod; the organ of the Brit the sefirah of Yesod. Thus, for example, if a person steals something with his right hand, the laser beam he creates strikes the sefirah of Chesed in the world’s spiritual blueprint, damaging the channel of Chesed, and restricting the flow of kindness into the world. With every wrongdoing that we commit, we damage one or more of the channels of Divine blessing. Therefore, in correcting our character traits during the Omer period, we are concurrently rectifying all of the damage we caused in all of the spiritual worlds through our sins.
Now we can understand why the Kabbalists emphasize the importance of the guarding sexual purity. Because the sefirah of Yesod is associated with the organ of the Brit, any sexual wrongdoing damages the channel of Yesod. If you will remember our example of the cups, the blessings from all of the cups flow into the Yesod before reaching our world of Malchut. The Yesod is like the spout of the funnel. Therefore, when we damage the channel of Yesod through sexual wrongdoing, we hinder the flow of blessing. This stunting of blessing leads to disastrous individual and national consequences. On an individual level, sexual transgression can lead to depression, divorce, problems with children, health problems, and other unpleasant things. If sexual misbehavior reaches national proportions, not only is the flow of Divine blessing to the individual severed, Divine blessing is also cut off from the nation, resulting in economic hardship, or a plague of traffic accidents, Intifadas and wars, G-d forbid. This understanding is stressed again and again in the Zohar.
We can see from this brief introduction that the seven weeks of Sefirat HaOmer have cosmic significance. Our Sages tell us that these days are the root of the year. Our behavior during this time determines what will be in the months to come. Someone who cleans up his act now will breeze through Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Since we are here in this world to correct our character traits, this is a propitious time to do some serious t’shuva. This is why we say at the end of our counting this evening:
“Therefore, may it be Your will, L-rd our G-d, and G-d of our fathers, that in the merit of the counting of the Omer that I counted today, the damage I caused to the channel of Nezach of Chesed will be rectified, and I will be purified and sanctified with a transcendental holiness. And that this in turn will cause a great influx of blessing in all of the worlds to rectify our beings, spirits, and souls from every impurity and blemish, to bring an exalted purity and holiness upon us, amen, selah.”