Week One in the journey of self-examination we call “Sefirat Ha-Omer”: observing the “sefirot” (Divine attributes) within us.
How does one enact love in the world?
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (aka the Ramak, 1522-1570) borrows his answer from the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat: by caring for children, visiting the sick, giving tzedakah, offering hospitality to strangers, burying the dead, celebrating weddings, and helping friends make peace.
To this traditional answer, Ramak adds a kabbalistic twist. Each of the actions, he says, directly affects God. Playing on a verse in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), he says that the Shechinah (God’s close-at-hand motherly aspect) is sick with love, desperately wanting us to recognize her presence. When we visit the sick, and uplift them, we bring the Shechinah and uplift her as well.
In modern language, Ramak teaches that love happens when we do acts of love. When we attend to the sick, they are attended to. Similarly, spirituality happens when we are spiritual. God’s presence is present when we open our thoughts and feelings to it.
Sometimes, even in our own eyes, we fall short in acts of love. We may worry that our capacity to give and thus create love is not as full as it could be. This week of Chesed is a wonderful week to examine our attitudes around specific acts of love.
Why, for example, might we fear or resent a particular practice of love?
How have we been wounded in that area?
How can we bring more attention, spirit and Divine presence into that area?
How can we receive and even welcome Shechinah more fully?