5/1/2015 [12 Iyar]
The Splendor of my Zaydie | Baruch Yaakov (The Blessing of the House of Jacob)
“Rabbi said, What is the proper path that one should choose for himself? Whatever is honorable for himself, and earns him esteem from his fellows.”
– Pirkei Avot, Perek 2, Mishna 1
Over 2,000 years ago the author of this Mishna – Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi – contemplated the ideal path for us to take in our lives. As life is not always a straight road to follow – we need to chart our course with every choice we make.
But how do we acquire the confidence to choose wisely from an infinite array of possibilities? This is what Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi comes to answer in this Mishna. He advises:
“Whatever is honorable for himself, and earns him esteem from his fellows.”
The word, translated in the text as ‘honorable’ and ‘esteem’ is Tiferet – which means ‘splendor’.
The kabbalists have applied this description as the defining character trait of our forefather Yaakov, who inherited the spiritual legacies of his forebears: Chesed, which means selfless loving-kindness, from his grandfather Avraham – and Gevurah, which means inner spiritual self-discipline, from his father Yitzchak.
Like the forefather Yaakov; my Zaydie – Baruch Yaakov (zichrono u’levracha) successfully blended these apparently contradictory traits of Chesed and Gevurah and achieved a new synthesis – with the creation of a single attribute called Rachamim (mercy). It is for this resolution of conceptual opposites that Yaakov earns the designation of Tiferet (splendor) – and, it is with this quality in mind, that the Jewish people are named for him.
It’s easy to take a position at one extreme or the other: Chesed (selfless loving kindness) – or Gevurah (spiritual, self-discipline) – to seek out favor from others at the expense of personal integrity, or to follow one’s own path – no matter what others might think or believe.
But to strive to achieve both the inner calling of one’s soul (like graciously opening his home to those is distress, and proudly aligning his inner essence with his exterior identity) – even while defining himself in the context of the community (like pioneering a new Jewish community, schools, synagogues and related infrastructure) – that is a labor that calls for true spiritual heroism – and absolute splendor.
On the Tree of Life, Tiferet is situated on the center column, and can only be achieved through the merging of the right column Sefirot, which represents masculine energy, and the left column Sefirot, which represents feminine energy. This is where my Savta comes in – to complete Zaydie – to combine perfectly with him to form the Splendor that we remember Zaydie as embodying.
Today is the second yahrzeit of my Zaydie — my own Forefather – Baruch Yaakov ben Sharaga Feivel Halevi (zichrono u’levracha) a heroic figure, who I remember as embodying the balanced characteristic of Tiferet – a man of magnificence and splendor – grandeur and elegance – inner and outer beauty.
Zaydie walked the proper path – a path that was honorable for himself, and earned him the esteem from his fellows
I feel blessed to come from such nobility – and honored to push myself to live up to his legacy.