When the Baal Shem Tov was once asked why he came into this world, he replied:
“In former times, they served God through yirah – through the path of austerity, disciplines and awe. I came to this world to show another path, the path of service through ahava – love of God, love of Israel and love of the Torah.”
During the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot we count the Omer – the barley offering. In the Kabbalah, each of the seven weeks and each day of the week are aligned with one of the seven lower sephirot (chakras or energy centers) in the “Tree of Life.” The First night of the Omer is hesed shebehesed (mercy of mercies or love of loves) and the last night is malchut shebemalchut (kingship of kingship). This movement symbolizes the descent of the Divine Presence from the heavens into this physical world until God is revealed in his earthly kingdom on Shavuot. If the beginning point of this process is symbolized by hesed shebehesed, then the revelation of the Divine Presence is the revelation of God’s Love and Mercy into the world.
Each of the seven sephirot symbolizes a different Divine attribute that we need to purify. Therefore, each day of the Omer we work on another aspect of ourselves. It is this daily work of purification over the period of seven weeks that transforms us into fitting vessels for the revelation of God’s Infinite Love.
The holyday of Shavuot, which means the Festival of Weeks, is also called Chag HaBikurim, the Festival of First Fruits. The Hasidic Master, Yisrael of Alexander, teaches that the mitzvah of Bikurim is an expression of this awakening of Divine Love. How does the mitzvah of Bikurim occur? He asks. He then goes on to explain:
A farmer goes down into his field and sees the first ripening fruit on his trees. Gazing at the fruit, he is suddenly seized with a profound sense of gratitude for everything that he has. He contemplates all that God has done in order for him to have a home, fields and trees of his own. His heart fills with an overwhelming love for God. He marks the fruit and sets it apart; then he places it in a basket, takes it up to Jerusalem and offers the fruit to the priests in the Temple. As he makes his offering, he proclaims:
“I have declared today before God our Lord that I have come to the land that God swore to our forefathers that he would give to us…my forefathers were subservient to an Aramean and went down to Egypt to dwell there…and there they became a great, powerful, and numerous people…and the Egyptians treated us harshly, torturing us and forcing us to do hard labor. And we cried out to God, the Lord of our forefathers…and God heard our cries and God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And He brought us to this place and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land which God gave to me. – Deuteronomy 26: 1-10
According to Rebbe Yisrael, the need to awaken this profound sense of gratitude and love is the reason why the mitzvah of bikurim was only incumbent upon the Children of Israel after they settled in the Promised Land. It was only once they were settled in their rightful place, once they had homes and fields of their own, that they could fully appreciate all that God had done for them: how He took them out of Egypt amid great wonders, looked after them in the wilderness, and overcame enormous obstacles to establish them in the land. When they went down into their fields and saw the first fruits, the Children of Israel all at once understood that their life in Israel was a Divine miracle, their whole journey a manifestation of God’s Grace. As a result, a great love for their Lord awoke in their hearts and a desire to offer Him their first fruits.
In the Midrash, we are told that the first revelation was given in the desert because we must become like a desert – austere and stripped down to the essence – if we want to receive the Word of God. In the future revelation, Israel is compared to a well-watered garden – a revelation where God will call Israel be’ulah (espoused), and cheftsibah (My delight is in her).
When Israel stood before Sinai and heard God’s voice, the mountain quaked and the heavens thundered. Trembling with fear, the Children of Israel asked Moses to speak with God alone and allow them to withdraw to the camp.
In the future revelation, Israel “shall go out with joy, and be led forth in peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you in singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) And the Lord “shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
The revelation on Sinai was a revelation of smoke and fire – a revelation through awe. The coming revelation will be a revelation of life and water – a revelation through love.
When God appeared to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai and gave them His commandments, they stood in awe and declared, “na’aseh venishmah” – “we will do and we will obey.” (Exodus 24:7) A different objective stands before us today. Our goal is not to say “na’aseh venishmah” out of a sense of fear and awe, but rather to answer “we will do and we will obey” from a place of profound love and devotion.
This type of surrender arises out of the living experience of the love of God. When God descends from on high to overshadow us, the power of His Presence is overwhelming. When His Infinite Love radiates into our hearts, we are willing to do anything.
Once we have tasted of this Divine love, we are changed forever. We can no longer continue our life as before. We are bound to God like iron filings are bound to a powerful magnet. In the light of His Love we are ready to surrender the whole of our being, we are prepared to give everything that we have to Him.
The Talmud (Shabbat 88) tells us that at Sinai God held the mountain over the head of the Children of Israel and declared: “If you accept the Torah – that is well, and if not – then this spot will be your grave.” In the coming revelation God will not hold over us a mountain of stone but a mountain of love which will melt every heart.
Divine Love is a great cosmic force that lies at the heart of the Creation. It attracts positive to negative, male to female, and the manifest universe to the One Eternal Source of Being.
Humanity’s fall occurred through the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our redemption will come through the freely given offering of the first fruits of love from the living tree that is a human being.
Copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick