May 1, 2014 admin

Sacred energies

The most important dates this coming week are Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Memorial Day for the dead in Israel’s wars, and Israel Independence Day. I plan to write about them on Yom Ha’Atzmaut itself, next Tuesday, which is also the Jahrzeit for my father, who was part of the Haganah in Jerusalem in the siege of 1948.
But now, if people will forgive, me I want to ponder over an aspect of the Counting of the Omer which has been close to my heart in the last couple of days. To the mystics the forty-nine days of the Omer are not merely seven weeks, albeit those connecting Pesach, the Festival of Freedom, with Shavuot, the Giving of the Torah through which the way we put that freedom to use is defined. Each week has for them its unique spiritual character, defined by one of the seven lower Sephirot, or sacred energies, as described in Kabbalah; and each day within them has its special focus on a particular aspect of that quality. This is the week of Tiferet, beauty, or truth; its domain is traditionally understood as the heart.Tiferet is about life as experienced through the heart. The day before yesterday was the date of chesed shebetiferet, love within beauty; yesterday was the day of gevurah shebetiferet, strength within beauty; and today is the date of tiferet shebetiferet, beauty or truth within beauty. I’m lucky enough to be spending these days in the far north of Scotland, one of the most glorious areas on earth, trying to shaking off tiredness amidst the glory of these mountains and rivers, and I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of these dates of the Omer.
What is ‘love within beauty’? The train stopped and a lamb, maybe just a whole day old, looked up startled from its mother’s side. Who can resist the face of a young lamb? It stared at the train bewildered as if wondering: What is this world? What are these sights and noises it contains? What do they feel like? Will they hurt me, or will I be safe? The lamb ran back to its mother. One feels, as for a small child, a wave of love for this gorgeousness and sweetness, of determination to protect it from all harm. This, it seems to me, is the meaning of ‘loving-kindness within beauty’. I’ve never understood how anyone can enjoy killing a living being, and Isaiah’s prayer that ‘they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain’ has long seemed to me the ultimate commandment.
What is ‘strength within beauty’? Is it not the capacity to garner and retain within the heart the abiding presence of these privileged moments, the call of a cuckoo, rain on pale birch leaves, a glade of primroses and bluebells; to store them in some larder of the soul, and to recall, when life is cruel, oppressive, unjust, or simply a long dull grind and struggle, that wonder and glory do exist, and to keep alive our hope and strength until joy and beauty bless us once again.
What is ‘truth within beauty’? What ‘truth’ can beauty possibly possess? Yet it comes to mind that when Keats wrote those famous lines, ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth; this is all / You know on earth and all you need to know’, he was less than 25 years-old and dying and he knew it. Yesterday I stood by myself at the top of a mountain with one of the most marvellous views I’ve ever seen; a sweep of glory from Ben Nevis in the south to the Quaraing in the north of Skye, hill, forest, sea and even snow. We drink in such wonder for a moment. Then we pass, but it endures, – to bless other lives, inspire other hearts with exultation. Maybe this is the ‘truth’ of beauty: that it is for our humbling as well as our joy, and that we should walk with it in deep respect. For all this marvellous world belongs to God, while our breath passes onwards and away, into the infinite beyond.

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