Day 2, April 17: The Gevurah in Hesed

On day 2 of the counting of the Omer, we consider the "Gevurah" aspect of Hesed. What does this mean?
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Here's an interesting example of how a difference in translation can radically alter our understanding of a Jewish idea.

Rabbi Arthur Green understands Gevurah to be “power, judgment, including anger) and so he understands the “Gevurah in Hesed” to be “the anger or judgment in one's love.”

If you're like me, this translation makes you shudder a little bit, because you've probably been aware of that “edge” that can be manifest in loving relationships. The people we love the most, which is to say, the people we care about the most and who we let get closest to us, and with whom we are the most vulnerable… they're the people who can also make us the most agitated and upset! They “push our buttons” more than anybody else. And sometimes, in those relationships, Gevurah really does taint or overwhelm Hesed… we try to exert our will upon them, or we get cranky because they don't live up to our expectations… everybody knows that drill!

But a couple of other Jewish teachers understand the “Gevurah in Hesed” entirely differently!

Rabbi Yaacov Haber sees Gevurah to be the setting of limits or boundaries. Therefore, I guess you could say that it's the part of loving kindness that asks questions like, “What's the most effective way to give, given that my resources as a human being are finite? To whom should I be giving?” (I have found, not incidentally, that the sense of my own limitations has increased with age. I must make wise choices about where and when to apply my love and concern because my energy isn’t as abundant as it was when I was in my twenties!)

Haber teaches that just as the biblical Abraham represents Hesed in Kabbalah, Abraham's tent (the place where he receives guests and offers hospitality) represents Abraham's aspect of Gevurah… deciding who the recipient of his love and kindness should be. Haber writes, “We are still in the week of Hesed, so we are not discriminating between deserving and undeserving, but we must give shape and boundaries to our giving.”

Rabbi Simon Jacobson of Meaningful Life Center, takes a very similar approach to Rabbi Haber. He writes, "Healthy love must always include an element of discipline and discernment; a degree of distance and respect for another’s boundaries; an assessment of another’s capacity to contain your love. Love must be tempered and directed properly. Ask a parent who, in the name of love, has spoiled a child; or someone who suffocates a spouse with love and doesn't allow them any personal space.”

To Haber and Jacobson then, the Gevurah in Hesed is where lovingkindness takes form in deeds. Without Gevurah, you might say that Hesed in our lives may never get beyond undifferentiated emotion or goodwill. (It reminds me of what the great Saul Bellow, z”l, called “potato love” in his novel “Herzog.&rdquoWinking I'm also reminded of a quotation from Rabbi Leo Baeck, the saintly, liberal German rabbi who willingly left London and returned to Germany as the Nazis consolidated their power. Already well advanced in years, survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp where he ministered to his fellow prisoners. Leo Baeck wrote:

“One can always find warm hearts who in a glow of emotion would like to make the whole world happy but have never attempted the sober experiment of bringing a real blessing to a single human being. It is easy to revel enthusiastically in one's love of man, but it is more difficult to do good to someone solely because he is a human being. When we are approached by a human being demanding his right, we cannot replace definite ethical action by mere vague goodwill.”

Question: Which understanding of “Gevurah in Hesed” do you find most meaningful or relevant to your own life and experience: Gevurah as anger/judgment, or Gevurah as boundary/direction?

Action: Haber presents a real challenge for the second day of the counting of the Omer: “Find someone you don't like and do something for them. The Talmud states that helping one's enemies is a good way to defeat one's Evil Nature.”

Blessings, and do stay in touch!
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