Transforming Crisis into Opportunity

One of the most well known pieces of Jewish liturgy is Adon Olam, a 10 verse poem recited before the morning prayers (Shacharit) every day, and in some congregations following Friday night services. AdonOlam literally means “Master of the universe.” Rabbi Yishayah Horwitz better known as the Shlah, the author of the medieval workShnei Luchot Habrit, writes that the two words Adon Olam equal Ein Sof (Adon =Ein, and Olam = Sof), literally “the Infinite.”


In addition, he writes that whoever contemplates this while reciting the Adon Olam in the morning is guaranteed not to have any misfortune befall him on that day; he'll have a great day!

For completion’s sake let us mention that the two words “Adon Olam” also equal the Hebrew word for “light” (or), hinting at the Kabbalistic notion that light is related to the infinite, usually called “light of the infinite”:


[Incidentally, from the perspective of Kabbalah and Chassidut, this is what lies at the heart of Einstein’s identification of light as being the fastest thing in the universe, by which, practically speaking, he named the speed of light as the “infinite” speed within the confines of our created realm.]

The ten verses of Adon Olam correspond to the sefirot, in order. The verse corresponding to the sefirah of victory is “He is my G-d and my living savior, and the rock of my birth-pains in a time of crisis.” Let us take a look at the words “a time of crisis.” In Hebrew “a time of crisis” equals 765.


765 is the “minor part” (that in mathematics would be called the least significant digits) of the current Jewish year, 5765. In Jewish culture it is customary to use only this part in referring to the year on a daily basis.

One of the most well-known teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov is that by meditating on a Hebrew word while praying (for instance, when reciting the Adon Olam), one can rearrange the word’s letters and hence change its meaning. The example he gives is using exactly these words “a time of crisis.” By rearranging its three letters “crisis,”  in Hebrew, becomes “tzohar”  the word for “threshold” or “radiance” (“tzohar” is one of the 13 synonyms for “light” in Hebrew, bringing to mind the image of “a light at the end of a tunnel”). Indeed, using the verse “Oh, for that day is great, there is none like it; and, it is a time of crisis for Jacob, and from it he will be redeemed” (Jeremiah 30:7), the Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that the crisis itself becomes the source of the redemption; the crisis which seems to signal “the end,” becomes a threshold for a new beginning of the good. According to Chassidic teachings, contemplating words in this manner has a real effect on reality, allowing us to clear our minds and to reformulate our understanding of where we are and what it is that we are doing. Suddenly, from this new perspective, opportunities present themselves and the Almighty helps us fashion them in a positive way. So, though this year may be a year of crisis, it is also a threshold for a new level of good and prosperity, a new level of Divine radiance.

* * *

In Kabbalah, the process of transforming the negative into the positive is known as “hamtakat hadinim beshorsham,” or “the sweetening of the judgments at their root.” Without going into the Kabbalistic meaning of this process, let us note that the root of the “judgments” can also refer to a word’s grammatical root in Hebrew. The root of the word for “crisis,” in Hebrew is: . But if we take this same word for “crisis”  and treat it as if it were a root itself (that is, we are figuratively bringing it to the “root”) then as it turns out, there is only a single word that stems from this root: the word for “balm,” in Hebrew: .

Balm is associated with healing and is considered a homeopathic remedy par excellence in the Bible. Jeremiah says: “Is there no balm in Gilad; is there no physician there? Why then is the health of my people not recovered?” (Jeremiah 8:22; see also Ibid. 51:8). Thus, elevating crisis to its root yields a remedy. In practical terms this means that elevating one’s consciousness to focus on G-d Himself in a time of crisis transforms the crisis into a threshold for healing and growth in the radiance of G-d.

Finally, the “cumulative value” of a letter (called mispar kidmi, in Kabbalah) is the sum of the values of all the letters from alef to that letter, inclusive. For example the cumulative value of the second letter, bet, is 3 (the value of alef, 1, and the value of bet, 2), the cumulative value of yud is 55, and so on. The cumulative value of the two words in Hebrew for “a time of crisis” is 3125. But 3125 is 5 to the fifth power. There is no number that more completely represents the number 5. In essence, raising 5 to the 5th power is like having a base 5 that has another higher 5 (as is hinted by the notation 55) in mind. This “elevation” of the 5 to a higher image of its own self, hints at the transformation of  into  as the final letter hei (which equals 5) of “crisis” is “elevated” by 5 to become the final yud (which equals 10, 5 plus 5) of “balm.”

For more on homeopathy in the Torah, see Rabbi Ginsburgh’s Body, Mind, and Soul, pp. 178ff. For more on elevating consciousness to focus on G-d Himself see Ibid., pp. 192ff.

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