Why does Gevurah get such a bad rap? When people are first introduced to the Tree of Life, this is often the Sefirah that they love to hate.
It’s no wonder. The Wikipedia entry for Gevurah reads, in part:
Gevurah is understood as God’s mode of punishing the wicked and judging humanity in general. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law, and strict meting out of justice. This stands in contrast to Chesed.
Gevurah is associated in the soul with the power to restrain one’s innate urge to bestow goodness upon others, when the recipient of that good is judged to be unworthy and liable to misuse it.
This week, we are called to cultivate and refine our capacity for and relationship with Gevurah. As we move from Chesed, from one side of the Tree – or our body – to the other, then we carry the force of lovingkindness into this work. I want to engage with Gevurah for the sake of goodness, so as to develop a better understanding of my strength, restraint, judgment, discernment, boundaries.
The Challenge of Gevurah
Let’s just say, I don’t relate to a punishing god, or one who metes out strict judgment. My life has taught me that there are certain consequences to bad choices, and I don’t experience those as punishment; rather I have learned to receive them as challenges to grow and develop better judgment.
Yes, judgment is a necessary attribute – we try to raise our children to exercise good judgment, to make life-affirming choices, so that they may live productive and joyful lives. We aspire to model the path of justice and righteousness, to respect the laws of nature and humankind. Sometimes, those choices are difficult and require discipline. That is our work, not the act of some fire-breathing or lightning-bolt-throwing Otherworldly Being.
As a spiritual director, I engage in a practice of discernment – a concept I prefer to judgment. In order to discern the best path forward, the right choice or how to accept what is, we employ our insight. Discernment is an aspect of Gevurah, and it invites us to be perceptive, discriminating. Torah teaches us that we must make choices along the path of living – ‘choose life’ is the ultimate message in Deuteronomy. Choosing this and not that, for our highest good. I want to make my choices out of self-love and awareness, not from a place of harsh judgment or separation. When my choices eliminate other options, that is not necessarily a condemnation of the other, rather an insight into what is best for me in this moment. It is a life-affirming conclusion arising from Gevurah.
Gevurah Balancing Chesed
Last week, Ruach D’vorah suggested that Chesed needs to be balanced by Gevurah. In fact this is precisely what their placement on the Tree of Life teaches us: they are balancing attributes. Love, to be healthy and lasting, requires discipline and boundaries. I have long imagined Gevurah like the banks of a river, and Chesed as the flowing waters between those banks. If the banks are not tall enough or strong enough, the water will flood the surrounding area. That destructive potential is not unlike love that knows no boundaries. It can suffocate, it can feel very unsafe.
When unchecked, love can become self-serving and hedonistic. The boundaries we develop in ourselves and between ourselves and others, make our love and loving safe. This restraint is an expression of self-discipline and respect. If I could talk back to Wikipedia, I would say that “restraining the innate urge to bestow goodness” and judging others to be “unworthy” is ungodly.
When Chesed flows into Gevurah, the water is seeking strong banks so that the beautiful, life-giving river can form; love is seeking healthy boundaries so that it can be made visible in its most divine manifestation.
On the Tree of Life, Gevurah is the child of Binah – where the Creator contracts itself in order to make room for all that will emerge from the creative process: the galaxies, this earth plane and all its inhabitants. This contraction is an act of supreme love and respect, allowing everything to come into existence. When we exercise the discipline and restraint that Gevurah offers us, we are imitating the Creator/God: making space for the other, and allowing each object of our lovingkindness to feel safe and respected.
These are the true gifts of Gevurah, and deserving of our attention and hard work.
During this week, perhaps you’ll ask yourself questions like these:
- Is my judgment in this moment self-reflective or self-serving?
- Are my choices arising out of careful consideration and with an eye to my highest good?
- Am I transparent with those I love about my boundaries? Do I understand theirs, and respect them?
- When there are different ideas or opinions present, can I step back and make room for others? Can I be curious about what may emerge?
Rabbi Nadya Gross, MA
Rabbi Nadya is Co-Founder and Chief Programming Officer of Yerusha, a spiritual director, and congregational leader. She transmits the mystical teachings passed down from her grandmother in a two-year wisdom school: Secrets My Grandmother Told Me, serves on the faculty of Yerusha’s Sage-ing® Legacy Program, and the Anamcara Project of the Sacred Art of Living Center for Spiritual Formation. She is the co-author, with Rabbi Malka Drucker, of Embracing Wisdom: Soaring in the Second Half of Life.
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