of netzach: sefirat haShavua 4


a little more than 1/3 of the psalms begin with this word. it obviously is related to the name of this week’s sefirah, ie, netzach, meaning victory, eternity, ambition, persistence, force, endurance, power. it begins a new triad:netzach-hod-yesod (we just completed the first…chesed-gevurah-tiferet…in the first 3 weeks of sefirat haOmer).

but how are we to understand the shoresh (‘root’ hebrew letters associated wit a matrix of meanings) nun-tzadee-chet as it is used in “lamnatzeiach“?   “lamnatzeiach”  itself is often translated in english as “to the leader”. modern hebrew does not use it this way, except in the sense of ‘conductor’ of music. and that seems to be the way it is intended in the psalms. so we have a word used almost exclusively for musical leadership. “nitzuach” is to conduct….but also to argue in dialectics (that should interest us in the interinclusions, yes?). but the important sense of ‘conducting’ is what interests us.

netzach as the english word ‘victory’ is pretty clear.  somebody wins and the other, or the rest, loses. done and very pat.

but is it different when you add the idea of the english ‘eternity’ to the mix? winner for all time. never again to step into the ring to defend a championship? and loser–or maybe better simply ‘nonleader’–for all time regardless of what you do (not unlike the ny yankees, for instance). hmm. let’s look more closely at ‘conduct':

1. (as a trans. verb) to direct the course of; control, manage or guide….but also to serve as a medium for conveying/transmitting.

2. (as an intrans. verb) to lead or direct.

3. the way a person acts with regard to morality and ethics.

and the obsolete meaning (in english anyway) of being a guide or escort.

might we roll all this together and make an eastern suggestion?  a bodhisattva is an “enlightened being” or “wisdom being”. take a ‘t” out of sattva to make satva and you have an “heroic-minded one for enlightenment.”  satva/sattva are often interchanged in the buddhist literature depending on the spin you want to focus on, but put them together and you get someting like ‘heroic existence’ best associated with “bodhi” or ‘enlightenment’.   it sounds very like the idea of “netzach” to me. particularity as the victoriousness in netzach is really reserved for G’d (see Psalm 67, the kabbalistic psalm of the Omer). for the rest of us it is the heroic action of battling against our evil inclination confidently.

let’s think of it this way: when you do t’shuvah, real repentance that puts away the wrong in which you have erred previously, do you intend it to be just for now or everafter?  the latter is it is true. and that may be the spirit in which we should look at netzach, not as full throated, head-of-the-defeated-on-a-pike, sort of assertion of power, but rather the victory that all of us seek to achieve in overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of being better people and leaning more toward, if not strictly cleaving to, G’d.

the new triad revolves around what is needed to convey the flow from G’d’s gifts (the first triad) into the world in a practical way. this is conducting the actions of an orchestra, not pummeling your opponent into a bloody pulp. netzach is the start of the practice way, on the right side of the sephirotic tree…directly connected by pathway to chesed. and that direct connection is important, for the gematria of cheseds meditative spelling– chet, chet samech, chet samech dalet–is 148, precisely the same as the simple gematria of the letters of netzach. the extension of chesed into the everyday world of people is through the rectified middah (spirit trait) of netzach. loving-kindness is not a weeny practice…..

when we repent, we hope and strive to maintain each of those victories forever…we will deny ourselves much in order to do so….but we will also celebrate more with gratitude as our success in putting something behind us extends into the future. consider Psalm 67 again, and this line in particular:

the nations will give thanks to You, G’d; the nations will give thanks to You–all of them–that the earth has given forth its yield, and that G’d, our G’d, will bless us.”

that isn’t exactly a maori haka. the victory will be in all the peoples of the world having gratitude that the earth has brought forth a good harvest….that G’d will be acknowledged as the one who, as in the motzi, ‘brings forth bread from the earth.’

there is your victory. in perpetuity….can only mean one thing….Moshiach. so the message here is that in the sefirat haOmer we are doing the enlightenment work within ourselves and between ourselves to prepare the way of the Moshiach. “from each according to ability ” will eventually lead to “to each according to need”, but not by coercion, though each of us must act as a conducting guide to others with authority….an authority born of faith and understanding only….no coercive force.

one other note on “lamnatzeiach”  it is a thing in traditional jewish practice. a lamnatzeach is a graphic representation of Psalm 67 (yes, the Omer psalm) in the shape of a menorah. it is often used as a sh’viti (shorthand for ‘i will place G’d before me always’). as in the example below:

but there is an important controversy in this depiction….the Arch of Titus and the symbol of the modern state of Israel (modeled on the roman arch–hard to believe–oh, wait, it was the seculars in control…that explains it)  hold to this curved branched model. but Rashi and the Rambam (the ashkenaz and sefard agree!!) hold that it is more like this (in an illustration said to be in the Rambam’s own hand) as described in Torah:

or in the sefardic “lamnatzeach” below:

but it should be noted that the most commonly seen rendition, the style that adorns thousands of parochets in sefardi and edot mizrachi synagogues (following a ruling of r’ Yitzchok Haezovi)  is a compromise between the two (and much easier for a sofer to write or an embroiderer to stitch) with squared limbs coming off the central branch. it is so often used as a parochet adornment because it is said to be protective of the parnassah (the ‘living’ as in earnings) of the community:

the last rebbe of chabad was a powerful advocate of the stomping out of the rounded, roman menorah depiction, which is why all those big public chanukiot (8-branched menorah for chanukah) are all tri-angular and not round bottomed.

as for the square, well, it is still angular and reminds me of an espaliered fruit tree. at any rate the Ben Ish Chai, perhaps the most respected kabbalist since r’ chaim vital teaches us about the best way to read the “lamnatzeiach”, ie, Psalm 67:

“when you recite Lamnatzeiach written in the shape of the Menorah either on klaf (‘parchment’) or on paper, you should hold it standing so you can ‘stand’ it in front of you like the Menorah that stood in the Heichal (‘holy of holies’ in the Temple), rather than leave the drawing flat”

so the sort of netzach we want to pursue in our counting is one associated with the Light of the Menorah, the tamid (‘constantly’ or ‘always’) light from G’d’s primordial preCreation. eternal indeed.

so, what do you think?

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