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Tiferet squared

During the journey of Counting of the Omer, we're given the opportunity to embody and uplift particular divine qualities. In the Kabbalistic understanding, each of the seven weeks of the Omer relates to a particular sefirah, and the seven sefirot also map to the seven days of each week. The first week of the Omer relates to chesed, love; the second, to gevurah, boundary. The third week is steeped in tiferet, which integrates the previous two. (Here's a teaching from Jay Michaelson on chesed, gevurah, and tiferet.) Today is the day of tiferet in the week of tiferet. Compassion squared.

I learned from my teacher Reb Yakov (who teaches, maybe not coincidentally, at the Tiferet Institute!) that we can see these qualities unfolding in Torah's account of creation. On the first day there is light, an emanation of chesed, love. On the second day, the waters are drawn apart -- that's gevurah, strength and boundary. On the third day the waters are drawn back so that land can emerge, and greenery begins to sprout on the revealed land. That integration of the previous two qualities is tiferet, compassion. Compassion requires both the love of chesed flowing outward, and the strictness of gevurah reining in that flow. It's not either/or, but both/and.

True compassion is limitless. It is not an extension of your needs and defined by your limited perspective. Compassion for another is achieved by having a selfless attitude, rising above yourself and placing yourself in the other person's situation and experience.

Am I prepared and able to do that? If not, why? ...Does my compassion come from a sense of duty or is it frivolous? On the other hand: Is my compassion alive; does it resound with vitality, or is it expressed only out of obligation?

So writes Rabbi Simon Jacobson in A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer. I already had compassion on my mind this morning, so when I read Survivors (an essay in four parts) on one of my favorite hospital chaplaincy blogs, I was struck by the synchronicity. Susan writes with deep compassion about the recent Virginia Tech shootings, the death penalty, and how we might respond when tragedy strikes close to home. I offer this piece to you as a taste of tiferet, appropriate reading for today.

Today is tiferet within tiferet, a distillation of compassion. May we all be blessed with the ability to express our most compassionate selves today, and to enact God's compassion in the world, on this seventeenth day of the Omer.

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