Counting the Omer

Courage- A Boundary in the Expanse


HaRav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 24th of Nisan 5776

The week of Chessed[1] has passed, which builds inside of us a world of love and giving, and behold we move to the second trait of the seven traits, courage.

Courage and kindness- two opposites.  Kindness comes from the right side and courage from the left.  Kindness is expansion and courage is constriction.

So why do they always come one after the other?  How do we make this quick switch in a moment?

It’s exactly because of this that these two traits always come one after the other, because they need each other; it’s impossible to obtain courage without kindness, and it’s impossible to have kindness without courage.

What is courage?

Firstly we will try to understand what courage is.

The Mishnah in the Ethics of our Fathers asks: “Who is courageous?”  Who is fitting for the title of ‘courageous’?  He who’s blessed with great and tremendous physical strength which give him the power to conquer countries and subdue world powers?  Or perhaps courage is the image of the geniuses of the world and the richest people, everyone is subject to their authority from the strength of their brilliance or financial influence…?

No, the Mishnah answers, he is not the courageous one.  The courageous person is specifically and only “he who overcomes his evil inclination”!  A person who has the ability to rule over his desires, his impulses and his feelings, and to guide them properly.  His heart is in his hands and he has the ability to abstain from the most desirable things.  He who knows the words “no” and “enough” (when they are of course speaking to himself) and he lives with them in peace and love.

Because the attribute of courage is the power of limitation; our ability to make for ourselves boundaries and stand by them.

And why, actually, do we need this limitation?  Why shouldn’t everything be permitted, full of kindness, abundance and love?

Because if there is not courage, there won’t be room for kindness.  Courage is that which builds the vessel for blessing and kindness.  Without courage, the kindness is like water in a broken vessel, leaking from all its sides and losing itself.

Where am I courageous?

After we’ve understood what courage is, we can look at this attribute inside of us.

What type of person am I in my nature?  To which side do I lean towards- the attribute of kindness or the attribute of courage?

Do I have in my life boundaries and clear principles that I consistently stand by?  Which?  In what area, and how do I live with them?

Do I have areas of my life where I’m lacking boundaries?  How am I with boundaries?

Firstly, how I am with the holy Torah?  We have commandments which were given to us by the Creator, there are boundaries and prohibitions, and there are no compromises!  I want to stay in these boundaries and not deviate from them in any direction, God forbid.

Boundary, Boundary… but in proportion!

Okay, we understood the definition of the attribute of courage and we also identified it in our lives.  Now we’ve reached the main stage of the work- clarifying the attribute.

Because like all of the character traits, the trait of courage also needs to appear in our lives with the correct proportion!

We all know that there’s a need for boundaries.  Each one of us who begins to work on personal growth comes to recognize the importance of boundaries and he even identifies what he needs to do in the matter- to begin a diet or to stop smoking or to succeed at work or erase his minus in the bank; and nevertheless, for most of us in this generation the subject of boundaries is one of the most charged subjects and one of the subjects which causes the most opposition.  I just hear the word boundaries and my ears become closed.  No thank you, that’s not what I wanted to hear now!

Even if I didn’t succeed in keeping my boundaries for a few days, it’s going to take revenge on me big time!  Because truly, I don’t want, and any ‘no’ or ‘enough’ or ‘forbidden’ like this chokes me and finishes me!

Why does this happen to us?  Is there something to do against this, and how is all this connected to limiting the boundary?

The reason is internal expansion.

In the holy Zohar the character traits of love and fear are called ‘two wings’.  Just as it’s impossible for a bird to fly with only one wing, so to it’s impossible for us to conduct ourselves only with love or only with fear.  We need both of them, also kindness and also courage.

Kindness is expansion, it is abundance, and on the other hand courage is the boundary and the constriction.  If a person has an open expanse inside, a life full of internal abundance, love- that he knows to love himself together with Hashem and from there his loved ones and all of the Jewish people; if he knows what it is to pray to Hashem, to scream to Hashem, to cry and plead; if he knows to want and be anything, even a clucking chicken in his free time… if he knows how to dance; if he’s alive, then when he’s told that something is forbidden, he has no problem with the prohibition.  On the contrary, he’s happy that he has a boundary.  Do you understand?  “From so much expansion I almost got lost!  So thank you for the boundary!  It gives me protection.  Now I feel trust and belonging!  Thank you!”

However, if we come to a Jew who’s never received  the space to fly and he doesn’t have any internal expansion; he doesn’t know what love is; he’s never tasted the taste of tears; he doesn’t know all the different octaves of his voice; he’s never made sounds like a chicken, and never danced, and never burst out in laughter.  He has no idea what a true conversation is between friends where they speak with the awe of Heaven and help each other’s good points shine… if we’d come to him and say ‘forbidden’, his whole being would scream with anger, “what do you mean forbidden?!  Give me something, allow me to have some expansion!  If you take this from me also, you’re killing me!  I can’t!  I have nothing!  I have to have some pleasantness!”

This is the secret of the boundary and the expanse.

What if I discover that it’s true, I don’t have any internal expansion; what do I do now?

Firstly, I need to know that it’s not that I don’t have any internal expansion; I do have, but it is hidden from me.

How can I reveal this alive place inside of me, which is so pleasant, even and specifically with prohibitions and boundaries?

In order to find the opening to true expansion, you need to begin specifically with the clear boundaries.  Every one of us has a tremendous yearning for expansion.  However, if you are lacking boundaries, then you’ll come to a lowly level of kindness, bad types of love.  Of course, this is not the expanse that we are searching for.

Therefore, begin with boundaries.  Even with one small boundary.  Limit yourself in something, gently, understanding your difficulty to stay within boundaries.  Say to yourself, it’s true, you’re right!  The only type of love you know is from addiction, and it’s so difficult to say no and to remain so alone without any love.  But wait, soon Hashem will already show you a different kind of love, real and true.  Love which is a great expanse to live within, and it will sprout specifically in the merit of this boundary which you are trying to stand by with great sacrifice!

On the other hand, don’t be there by yourself.  Search for someone who knows these expanses inside of him, and believe in the expanses which are hidden inside of you; he’ll be for you a friend or mentor and he’ll shine inside of you your expanses.

Thus, with correct boundaries in the right proportion, you will stride in this incredible path, and see how specifically from the boundary internal expansion of light and abundance opens inside of you.  Amen.




[1] Kindness, each week of the Counting of the Omer has a special character trait associated with it

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