The quality of Hod
Each week of the Omer period corresponds to one member of the Ushpizin, the mythical “guests” that we welcome into the succa during Succot. The list is as follows:
a. Chessed = Avraham
b. Gevura = Yitzhak
c. Tiferet = Yaakov
d. Netzah = Moshe
e. Hod = Aharon
d. Yesod = Yosef
f. Malchut = David
The fifth week of the Omer period, then, corresponds to Aharon, the high priest, and to the quality of hod. We would usually translate hod as glory or awe, but Simon Jacobson of Chabad.org translates hod as “humility”. How can we understand this? More importantly, how do “glory” and “humility” combine to teach us about hod?
The first thing that bears mention is Aharon’s love of peace. The first aspect of the hod personality is the love of peace, the desire to affect peace in this world. When we love all of Gods creations, when we move to build institutions that build and ensure peace in the world, we are connecting to God’s aspect of hod.
In addition, as Aharon is tasked with serving God as the head of the sacrificial service, it is clear why he represents glory. We have a natural desire for our religious rituals to leave us awed. We want to come away from services “wowed” by the glory of God and inspired to do His holy work in this world.
The Torah and rabbinic sources describe a sacrificial service was indeed the height of God’s glory in this world. The high priest is said to have glowed when emerging from the Holy of Holies following the main Yom Kippur sacrifice. The viewing public is said to have been so moved by the experience of hearing the high priest utter the ineffable name of God that everyone instinctively bowed to the ground upon hearing. The descriptions of the scenario surrounding the Pesach offering is similarly moving. The glory of the entire picture is palpable, both in the written Torah and the rabbinic writings. It is clear how Aharon the High Priest represents this aspect of hod.
Hod and Hoda’ah
The word hod is related to the word hoda’ah, recognition. We must discover humility in order to truly serve God. An important key to serving Him is the ability to look at the world, to look at other people and to appreciate their greatness. In short – in order to serve God, we must develop the ability to look at the world around us and to say: Wow.
Aharon is not simply the high priest. He is also the older brother of Moshe. Aharon is clearly the lesser of the two brothers. But he happily accepts the fact that his little brother has far outstripped him. Moshe is the greatest leader mankind will ever know. He wins the Best Actor award, whereas Aharon will suffice with the Best Supporting Actor award. But there is no sense of jealousy or resentment. Aharon is happy to appear with his little brother in a supportive role, whether that means talking to Pharoah, trying to deal with the Jewish People when Moshe goes up on Mount Sinai for 40 days, and more.
This hoda’ah – recognition – that he will never measure up to Moshe is a fundamental ingredient of Aharon’s quality of hod. It also appears to be his greatest contribution. As a child of Amram and Yocheved, Aharon hardly needed to be taught to be humble vis-a-vis God. That was a lesson that all three children drank in “with their mother’s milk,” so to speak. But his humility vis-a-vis Moshe was not at all a given. It is that quality that opened the door for his service in the Mishkan and for his ultimate ability to grasp the glory aspect of hod.
It also bears mention that Aharon seems to be a tikkun for the repeated brotherly spats that define the book of Genesis. Whereas Cain, Yishmael, Eisav and Yehuda become jealous of Abel, Yitzhak, Yaakov and Yosef in the first book of the Torah, here we have a story where the little brother is greater than the elder one, but the first born man recognises his brother’s greatness. As such, he happily accepts his role in the world and sets about accomplishing that to the best of his ability.
Lag Ba’Omer: A turning point
All of which leads us to Lag Ba’Omer. I don’t claim to know the history of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai or when he died, or even whether Lag Ba’Omer was traditionally a day on which Jews celebrated. But if I might take a Rav Kook-like approach: If Rashbi did die on the 33rd day of the Omer – the Hod she b’Hod day – Rav Kook might argue that God chose that day to call Rabbi Shimon to heaven because it was a day imbued with special character. Perhaps Lag Ba’Omer is the turning point of our march between Pesach – pure, unadulterated chessed – and Shavuot – unbridled manifestation of God’s kingship and majesty. By developing inner humility, we develop the ability to truly glorify Him through prayer, introspection, mitzvot and especially helping others. Once we do that, we are ready to internalize the characteristics of Yosef (Yesod) and Malchut (David).