Sunday, October 24, 2010

THE ROAD MAP TO THE SOUL

This lesson is based on the Tomer Devorah course presently given by Rabbi Zvi Miller.
If you would like information about the course, please email salantorg@gmail.com

"The righteous man will flourish like the date palm..." (Tehillim 92:13)

Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah) is a Kabbalistic text that provides a detailed analysis of The Thirteen Supernal Attributes of Mercy (Micha 7:18-20) to teach us how to emulate Hashem. Written by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (who lived in the 1600's in Sfat) the text is Kabbalistic, yet practical.
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Road maps guide us through unknown territory to our desired destination. A map tells us if the roads will be rough, mountainous terrain that may make travel difficult or if the roads are smooth and flat. Maps point us in the right direction which guide us to explore a new domain. Road maps allow us to discover magnificent places we never knew before. We need maps or we'd get lost without them. In order to discover the hidden beauty that awaits us- we must venture on the journey. If we don't, we are living without discovering the magnificent gifts that Hashem has given us. We will not discover our spiritual potential.

Tomer Devorah is our road map. It guides us to our own essence. It is our spiritual GPS. It tells us how to manage the rough terrain as it points us in the right direction. It lets us know that an undiscovered beauty awaits us. We just have to follow the map and set out on our journey.

There are many verses throughout the Torah that speak of emulating Hashem...
"Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, is called Compassionate, you should be compassionate; just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, is called Gracious, you should be gracious; just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, is called Righteous, you should be righteous; just as the Holy One, Blessed be He is called Pious, you should be pious." (Eikev)

Knowing Hashem's ways provides us with comfort in difficult times. It brings us closer to Him through an appreciation of being able to see Him in places we never saw before. Everyone wants to get close to Hashem to experience the joy and awe of His holy presence in our lives. It's a tremendous source of comfort. We feel cared for as we feel Him taking care of us. We feel Him watching over us, as He guides us through the darkness and the tests. It is the ultimate source of serenity, calm and peace.

And now, something new is being revealed to us, something we have never seen before...
the road map to our own essence.

The first words of Tomer Devorah say, " It is "proper" for man to emulate his Creator for then he will attain the secret of the Supernal Form in tzelem (image) and likeness (demut). " When we emulate our Creator, we will discover that we are like Him. We are created in His image and we possess the same qualities of holiness and purity. The secret of the Supernal Form will be revealed.

The word "proper" is used. Usually, we are "required." From this we learn, it is only 'natural' for us to emulate our Creator. It is not a requirement, it is a natural process for us to learn Hashem's attributes because we also have these qualities within us. We are encouraged to be confident to know that we can reach such great spiritual heights... to discover our own tzelem Elokim.

First, we need to know who Hashem is. The more we know His ways, the more we can emulate them. When we understand Hashem's essence, we can understand what is etched in our souls. Then we can actualize it." The more we understand Hashem, the more we understand ourselves.

Tomer Devorah teaches us how to awaken our tzelem Elokim through learning the 13 attributes of Hashem's compassion. If we don't, we are falsely representing the essence of who we are. We are not living true to our nishama. We have a tremendous potential for spiritual greatness that we have not yet tapped into. Now, through learning the Supernal Attributes of Hashem's compassion, we can discover our true selves, our undiscovered holiness.

The first of the 13 attributes states:
"Who is a G-d like you?"
Our heart is always moved when we say these words. We feel awe and overwhelmed when we realize the precious gifts we have been given. Every second of our lives, we receive a blessing from Hashem. He renews Creation constantly. Yet, so often we tend to believe that we are king for the day. That we rule our worlds. What an insult to the King! And what does He do? He continues to give us His love and blessings of compassion. He continues to give us life. He hasn't abandoned us. He is tolerant and patient even when we go against His will. He waits for us to come to Him to do teshuva (repent). He doesn't turn His back on us. He waits for us with open arms. And when we are ready to sincerely return, He will be there to receive us with His Infinite Compassion and love.

"Who is a G-d like you?" Who breathes into our soul every moment...
This understanding is based on the verse from the beginning of Bereishis when HaShem created Adam HaRishon. The pasuk says, “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim; He breathed into him a living soul.” (Bereishis 2:7) One of the great baalei Mussar, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein said, “That was not a one-time event that happened in the beginning of the origin of Adam HaRishon, when HaShem created him. Rather, it’s something that occurs for every human being. Every second, HaShem is breathing into us a living soul. “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim.” The fulfillment of that verse applies to every single person, every second that we exist in this world. “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim,” HaShem is breathing into us at this very moment in His rachamim and in His love, that He wants us to live, He’s filling within us a living soul.

Hashem sees our potential. He sees in us what we don't see in ourselves. There is majestic beauty that He gave to us within our nishamas. We have to take the journey and follow the road map to discover the beauty within our selves. Tomer Devorah is the road map. All we have to do is follow the directions.

Rabbi Miller presents us with p'ulot (spiritual exercises) so that we can actually learn to emulate this trait. It is for daily practical application so that, we too can discover the compassion of Hashem in our own lives.

The Gemora in Rosh HaShana on page 17 tells us that if somebody bears an insult and remains silent, if they hold their tongue, all of his sins will be forgiven. The Torah knows how difficult it is to hold one’s tongue when somebody bears an insult. Therefore, if somebody holds their tongue when insulted, they receive an incredible reward that will bear the most tremendous fruits. All their sins will be forgiven. Not only that, it says the entire world will stand on his merit. We see it’s a tremendous spiritual status when one is able to personify this attribute of Mi Kel kamocha, of bearing the insult to emulate HaShem. If a person does, all of his sins will be forgiven.

We have designed two p’ulot to help us internalize the lesson and integrate it into our lives. The first one has to do with HaShem’s kindness to us, that HaShem instills life into us on a continual, constant basis.

1) In the morning when we awaken and we open our eyes, we say the Modeh Ani prayer, we should also recite the verse from Bereishis “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim." And He breathed within me a living soul. ” Be conscious and remind ourselves, be aware this every second and all throughout every day, HaShem is consciously imparting and instilling life within us as a free gift no matter what we have done in the past or in the now. We are continuously in His great mercy, “Vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim.” Let us think about and reflect upon HaShem’s extraordinary rachamim and kindness that He has upon us each and every second of our lives.

2) How to emulate HaShem in our interpersonal relationships- learning to be patient with people. Sometimes we have certain people in our lives, in our relationships, associates, it may be somebody at our job, our neighbor, it could be a family member- a person that may rub us the wrong way -- their personality or what they say. We might do everything we can to cut them off and stay clear of them when they are around, but be patient with them. They also have to live and express themselves. Just as HaShem is infinitely patient and tolerant, we too, should be infinitely patient and tolerant with those around us. If anybody bears an insult, if anybody is insulted, remember what the Gemora in Rosh HaShana tells us...
that if we act with silence, if we hold our tongue, all of our sins are forgiven. We should try our best. If we bear an insult or a cutting remark, we should remember to hold our tongue. Just as HaShem always responds with rachamim, no matter how we might offend Him, we too can do the same, respond with rachamim. If we are insulted, we also should respond with rachamim and bear the insult and remember the fruits that will come from it and that all of our sins will be forgiven.

The more we emulate Hashem, the more we awaken His Presence in our lives and draw close to Him. The blessings are showered down upon us, our the families, our lives, the world and the people of Israel. The more we study and practice it, the more we will be able to react with compassion. The joy and closeness of Hashem will be awakened and alive in our lives. The more we benefit. It is certainly not an easy task but it is one that comes with tremendous rewards.

When our buttons are pushed and those insults comes at us, we can bring the Presence of Hashem into that very moment, if we don't react. Immediately, we have spiritually elevated ourselves. The joy and purification continue as we live with constant forgiveness, compassion and bring it into our lives daily. At first, it may seem impossible, but it is possible and even rewarding. It fills the human spirit with joy. Be patient with yourself. It's something new. Just keep practicing the p'ula (exercises) and study mussar every day. Bring it into your life. Think of it often. Inculcate it into your being and the blessings will appear. The more we emulate Hashem, the more we feel close to Him. Experience the joy and comfort of this new discovery... the beauty of your tzelem Elokim. Let Tomer Devorah be your guide.

May Hashem shower His blessings upon us... as we learn to live emulating His Ways.

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