Tag Archives: Moses

Log and Omer: Measuring Yourself

This Saturday night marks Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the Sefirat haOmer counting period and a day to celebrate the mystical side of Judaism. The term omer is a Biblical unit of measure, a dry weight for sheaves of grain (equal to about one and a half kilograms). Recall that in Temple times, the kohanim would wave a sheaf of barley as an offering, and to signify the start of the new barley harvest. From that day forward, they would count each day. Then, on the fiftieth day—Shavuot—they would present a wheat offering of two omers.

The Sefirot of Mochin above (in blue) and the Sefirot of the Middot below (in red) on the mystical “Tree of Life”.

We find that all of these procedures seem to involve counting, numbering, and measuring. The deeper significance here is to teach us that each person needs to do a detailed “accounting” of their soul, of their deeds, and of their life—measure by measure, down to the last unit. Indeed, the Sefirat haOmer period has long been one of introspection and personal development. From a mystical perspective, we are meant to focus on each of the seven main qualities of a human, the middot, literally “measures”. In Biblical times, they would measure sheaves of grain and elevate them before God; today, we “measure” our own inner qualities and elevate ourselves.

While Shavuot is the conclusion of the counting period, the middle apex is Lag b’Omer. Interestingly, the term lag (ל״ג) is not just a number, but actually a word found in the Torah. In Leviticus 14, we find it mentioned five times as log (לֹג), another Biblical unit of measure! Unlike the dry omer, the log is a liquid measure (about half a litre). Thus, one could read the name of the holiday Lag b’Omer as “a liquid measure in a dry measure”. What might this signify? What is the symbolic difference between the two measures, and what exactly are we supposed to be “measuring” within us?

We find that the log was used in measuring oil volume during the spiritual purification of the metzora “leper”. In fact, the word log is used five times in the purification procedure of Leviticus 14, perhaps alluding to the five aspects of the soul (nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chaya, yechidah). The omer, meanwhile, was for measuring produce and sustenance. In addition to the omer sheaf in the Temple, the Israelites in the Wilderness received an omer of manna each day (Exodus 16:16). Plus, God commanded that one omer of manna be placed in a special jar to be put on display in the Mishkan as a souvenir for the future (16:33).

The Torah tells us that the manna began to fall about a month after the Exodus, when the Israelites ran out of provisions that they took with them out of Egypt. Thus, according to Rashi, the Israelites began receiving the manna on the 16th of Iyar (see his comments on Kiddushin 38a). Yet, there is another tradition (as cited by the Chatam Sofer in his responsa on Yoreh De’ah 233) that the Israelites actually went three days without food, before God produced a miracle for the starving nation on the 18th of Iyar. In other words, Lag b’Omer also commemorates the miraculous day when omers of manna first began to fall for Israel!

Spiritual and Physical Measures

Putting it all together, we can propose that the flowing liquid log measurement is to teach us to measure and refine ourselves spiritually during this period of time. The value of log (לג) is 33 to remind us of the 33 vertebrae that line the spinal cord at birth—representing our ascent from the animalistic base where waste is excreted, to the lofty brain capable of divine intellect. These 33 bones fuse into 26 vertebrae by adulthood, 26 being the numerical value of God’s Ineffable Name, reminding us of our goal in striving ever-higher towards Hashem. And 33 reminds us of King David’s words: gal einai (גל עיני), “Open my eyes so that I can see the wonders of your Torah!” (Psalms 119:18) Now is a time to be particularly focused on Torah and mitzvot, prayer and meditation, mystical pursuits and spiritual growth.

That said, as much as we are focusing on our spiritual side, we should not lose sight of the body, symbolized by the dry omer measure used for those sheaves of grain and the healthy omers of manna consumed by the Israelites. The omer reminds us that we must also refine ourselves physically, maintain good health and balanced diets; work productively, exercise, and strengthen our bodies. As explored in the past, it is unlikely that a weak body could contain a great soul. The state of the vessel is tremendously important, too.

Thus, hidden within the very name “Lag b’Omer” is a reminder of the two sides of personal development: spiritual and physical. We must never give so much attention to one that we neglect the other; both are needed in balance. This is the way to becoming a complete and wholesome human, as God intended. Such a person becomes like Moses, described as a “Godly man” and the greatest prophet (Psalm 90:1), but also as physically domineering and able to defeat the giant Og, with his bodily strength and vigour undiminished to his last days (Deuteronomy 34:7). It isn’t surprising that the value of “Moshe” (משה) is 345, exactly equal to “Lag b’Omer” (לג בעמר)! And it is further fitting that omer (עמר) is spelled without a vav in the Torah, making its value 310, reminding us of the 310 worlds awarded to the righteous in the World to Come (Uktzin 3:12). It takes lag b’omer to get there: a balance of one’s “liquid” and “dry” measures, of the spiritual and the physical, of both Heavenly ascent and Earthly strength. May Hashem guide each of us to achieve that level.

The Dragon, the Snake, and the Messiah

Kundalini, Kukulkan, Leviathan, and Nachash: Why do cultures and religions from all over the world use similar serpentine imagery? What is so special about the snake symbol and how does it tie into spiritual elevation and enlightenment? And what does it have to do with Mashiach and the End of Days? Find out in this class where we explore the origins of the mystical snake from the first verses of Genesis, and see how it manifests in the cosmos, the constellations, and the current war in Gaza.

For more on the Ophiuchus constellation, see ‘Mashiach and the Mysterious 13th Zodiac Sign’. For the class on dinosaurs and evolution, see here.
For more on Kundalini in Judaism, see ‘Judaism vs. Hinduism’.

Tefillin: Past, Present, and Future

Vestments of the regular priest and the High Priest (Courtesy: Temple Institute)

This week’s parasha, Pekudei, summarizes all the components and items of the Mishkan. In the second aliyah, we read about the special ephod and choshen, the apron and breastplate of the kohen gadol. The choshen was studded with precious stones engraved with the names of the Tribes of Israel. Behind the choshen were placed the mysterious urim v’tumim. Through these, the Israelites were able to communicate with God. According to one understanding, the Israelites could ask questions, and God would respond by making the letters engraved on the stones light up.

The Zohar (II, 230a-b) on this week’s parasha connects the ephod, choshen, and urim v’tumim with tefillin. This is the secret of when God showed Moses “His back” but not “His face” (Exodus 33:23). On this, the Sages metaphorically state that God showed Moses the knot on the back of His tefillin (Berakhot 7a). Obviously, God does not literally wear tefillin, so the Zohar explains that it really serves to teach us the power of tefillin: Like the ephod, choshen, and urim v’tumim through which the Israelites could divine both past and future, tefillin can give a Jew the same power. The tefillin box that is on the front of the head is likened to the choshen on the front of the kohen, and represents looking ahead into the future. Meanwhile, the knot of the tefillin at the back (in the shape of a letter dalet) corresponds to the ephod covering the back of the kohen, representing the ability to understand the past. (The Zohar adds that the box on the front represents aspaklaria nahara, a “clear lens”, whereas the knot on the back is a murky lens.)

One explanation from our Sages about Moses being shown God’s “back” is that God showed him all of human history up to that point, so that Moses could see how God acted justly and righteously throughout. Everything that happened was brought about by God for a good reason, measure-for-measure. However, the reasons for future events, God’s “face”, were not revealed to Moses. This ties in to another teaching where Moses asked to see Rabbi Akiva and, while God granted him this request and transported Moses into Rabbi Akiva’s classroom, God did not reveal why Rabbi Akiva had to suffer a gruesome death (see ‘Time Travel in the Torah’).

A different explanation is that showing His “back” meant that God revealed to Moses everything from Creation forward (see Malbim on Exodus 33:23). What happened before Creation, God’s “face”, could not be revealed, for no human mind could possibly grasp this and live (Exodus 33:20). This implies that only after death, when the soul is no longer hindered by the body, could it grasp what happened before Creation. Our Sages taught that Moses attained 49 of the 50 Gates of Understanding, Nun Sha’arei Binah, while alive (see Rosh Hashanah 21b or Nedarim 38a). Only following death could he reach the 50th Gate. This is why Moses died on Mount Nebo (נבו), nun-bo, hinting that he finally had all nun levels of understanding “within him”, bo.

A four-pronged Shin on the head tefillin.

Putting it all together, we can see how the head tefillin gives us access to all Fifty Gates of Binah. There is a nice allusion to this in the two letters shin embossed on the box, one mysteriously having four prongs instead of three. The three prongs of a regular shin correspond to the Sefirot of Chessed, Gevurah, and Tiferet (see Sha’ar haPesukim on Shemot). The four prongs of the special shin are the remaining Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut. This gives us all seven lower Sefirot from which the 50 Gates are derived: seven times seven (as we do during Sefirat haOmer), plus the fiftieth being Binah above. It is worth noting that elsewhere (III, 254a-b), the Zohar connects the seven prongs of the two tefillin shins—which are shaped like fire—to the seven branches of the Menorah.

We see that the head tefillin is associated specifically with vision. Fittingly, the knot on the back aligns right with the occipital lobe of the brain, which is the visual processing centre. Meanwhile, the box of the tefillin “between the eyes” alludes to the inner “third eye” of the brain, the pineal gland, which bizarrely has photoreceptors like our eyes despite being deep inside the brain. The pineal gland regulates our sleep cycle and makes us dream, releasing a neurotransmitter called DMT which opens the mind up to all kinds of spiritual visions. (DMT is the active ingredient in Ayahuasca and used as both a therapeutic plant medicine and psychedelic drug. For more on the inner third eye in Judaism, see here.)

Based on the above, we can further understand why the Zohar says the box of the head tefillin represents clear vision while the knot at the back represents murky vision: the box (aligning with the pineal) is for tuning in to higher vision and prophecy, for spiritual vision; the knot at the back (aligning with the occipital lobe) is for regular physical vision. And this helps to explain why the box is associated with the future, while the knot is associated with the past. To get glimpses of what’s to come, we have to tap into our inner prophetic eye. But using our physical eyes we have the ability to look back in history and see God’s fingerprints all over the place. As Moses himself advised the people, if you want to find God, just “Remember the days of old, understand past generations…” (Deuteronomy 32:7) Jewish history—millennia of survival against all odds, and inexplicable success, influence, and prosperity at the same time—is perhaps the greatest proof for God’s existence. “Inquire now to the earliest days that came before you, from the day God created man on Earth, and from one end of Heaven to the other, has there ever been such a great thing? Or has anything like this ever been known?” (Deuteronomy 4:32)

So, the head tefillin takes care of past and future. And what of the present? For that we have the arm tefillin, bound specifically to the arm as a sign of action in the here and now, in this world of Asiyah. The arm tefillin is the present. In this way, our tefillin contain past, present, and future. Recall that the knot on the arm tefillin is in the shape of a letter yud, so altogether we have the shin on the head box, the dalet on the head knot, and the yud on the arm knot, spelling “Shaddai”. This is perfect because the divine name Shaddai embodies God’s presence throughout cyclical time—past, present, and future—and the value of “Shaddai” (שדי) is precisely 314, equal to the 3.14 of cyclical π (see here for more on ‘Secrets of Pi’). With this we come full circle, and get another reason for wrapping tefillin in circular fashion, around our heads, down our arms, hands, and fingers—the “Eternal Jew” binding past, present, and future into one.