The Ten Sefirot are a foundational deep structure of reality according to Kabbalah...
What makes you and I special? Often we look for external evidence for the answer. We each know how special our child, our significant other, our friend, are. But is the specialness we recognize in them truly due to the talents, the deeds, and or the physical or other characteristics that we like to point out? I would suggest not.
The specialness we recognize stems from our intimate access to a deeper spiritual quality inside ourselves and others. We call that quality holiness. The word holy, Kadosh, קדוש, in Jewish tradition means “special”, “unique”, “different”. God is sacred, a place is holy, or a person is Kadosh because we experience them as special, stand alone or somehow off-limits.
Most of us think of the seventh day, or Shabbat, as the holy/special day in the Jewish week. But in fact there is a special virtual day, as it were, holier than Shabbat. It is known as the Eighth Day, Yom HaShemini, יום השמיני (Leviticus 9: 1). It is so special that it doesn’t appear on the normal seven day calendar cycle. The Eighth Day, Yom HaShemini, יום השמיני, is conceptual, creative, and reserved for special milestones.
For example, the circumcision ceremony, Bris, is always performed on the eight day after birth. The holiday of Sukkot concludes with Shemini Atzeret, the “Eighth Day gathering”, and Hanukkah ends on the eight day. The Mishkan, משכן, the original desert version of the Holy Temple, that housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments, was inaugurated on the Eighth Day (ibid.).
According to the “Beit Avraham”, Rabbi Avraham Winberg (Early 20th century Bernowitch, Russia), “the number eight represents the paradigm of detachment from the physical world, as eight surpasses the seven days of creation. It is the unifying principle that, at once, permeates and supersedes the structures of physical reality”. In fact, the number eight stretched horizontally is the mathematical symbol for infinity, “lemniscate”. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for eight, Shemonah, שמונה, conceals within it, in scrambled form, the Hebrew word for soul, Neshama, נשמה.
Therefore, the special eighth day that is reserved for unique milestones along the life cycle and calendar cycle, such as circumcision and Shmini Atzeret, represents a spiritual quality that stands outside of ordinary existence. Eight is the numerical expression of specialness. It represents a corner of reality that is deeper and exists beyond the visible. “Eight” is the specialness in each one of us as per each our most inner soul-print. It is a reminder of the sacredness, that hides beneath the greatest as well as lowest of tangibles. The Eight Day, Yom HaShemini, יום השמיני could be considered as the “Jewish day of the soul”, our soul and that of others, the special interior we are charged to cherish and nourish. Eight for holy, eight for special, as special and unique as you truly really are.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
As the Purim story goes, Haman was a narcissist who planned to massacre all Jews in Persia because the Jewish Mordechai refused to bow down. Mordechai preserved the integrity of his faith and dignity and Haman took insult. This is a story of ethnic hatred that ended up in misfortune and defeat for the haters while the Jews were spared. Till this day we commemorate our lucky moment with merrymaking, gift-giving, costumes and a bit of booze. The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania) teaches that the word Purim shares the root of the name of another Jewish holiday, Yom Kippurim or for short Yom Kippur. Thus Purim too, like Yom Kippur, is a time for inward reflection.
Recent events are particularly calling us to reflect this Purim. The Tree Of Life massacre, the Christchurch massacre, and the growth of violent white supremacism. Do we have any part in these extreme events, perhaps by omission if not by commission? Greta Thunberg, a high school student from Sweden, has initiated an international school strike to bring attention to Climate Change and the perilous future we are handing our children. Have we been doing enough to secure a sustainable environment for the next generations by omission, if not by commission? Haman engaged in Jew harassment, are we doing enough to prevent ethnic based harassment/massacres in our own times? Are we doing enough to prevent the extinction of species and the dangerous alteration of the climate?
[floating image: 'grogger']
The holiday of Purim is fun-filled. The Talmud advises us to wear masks, get high, and party. In fact we are told to dress in costumes pretending to be someone else entirely. The full story and observances of Purim indeed give voice to deep spiritual and ethical principles, such as humility, courage, tolerance, mystery, beauty, wit, love, joy of life, and more.
[floating image: 'grogger']But when we examine the story’s dramatic core we are reminded not to get high but rather to be on high alert, mindful of the rise of evil and insanity in our midst. This Purim as we slip on our costumes let us actually unmask. Let us stop the pretense that all is well. Let us become the fierce activist dormant within us. Let us make our hopeful voices heard louder than the noisiest groggers drowning the name Haman. Let us assure safe streets, safe places of worship, and a safe planet for generations henceforth. May our grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond enjoy many costume parties that reenact ancient and purely symbolic stories of long forgotten wows. Long forgotten. This Purim let us assure the integrity of life, faith, and dignity for all peoples for all times.
Rabbi Reuben Modek