Two Days of Omer 5780: Gevurah in Chesed, Discipline in Covenantal Love

Today is two days of the Omer, 5780. גבורה שבחסד, Gevurah ShebeChesed, Discipline / Discernment in Covenantal Love.

Explaining God without shutting anyone out

This picture reminds me how little discussion of the nature of God was included in my religious education as a child. I learned what Conservative Judaism was, and how much better it was than Reform Judaism. Clear mandates on how to be a Good Jew, which totally confused me. I felt no one was following the Conservative understanding of Halacha, the Way, the Jewish understanding of how to live to increase goodness and connection to the Divine.

So I don’t really know how to talk about God with my kids (age four and six). And I hesitate to focus on HaShem with adults. Because I think the depth of my conviction can be quite off-putting. And it is confusing that even though I am clear on what I connect with, that doesn’t mean I can’t be in community with other people.

Evil lurks beyond Gevurah

Right, so since the Omer is all about meditating into aspects of the Divine, I figured my posts shouldn’t ignore that aspect of the Sephirot. Gevurah can be translated as strength, and is connected to God’s judgment and some would say wrath. The Sitra Achra, Other Side, split off from Gevurah and is the home of the Yetzer HaRa, inclincation towards destructiveness, and all other negative, life-shortening aspects of human nature of global reality. Sort of the Upside Down world of the Kabbalah.

I’m not talking about the vengeful God you may think I believe in…

Now many Christians are convinced that Jews worship a vengeful God, that Gevurah is the only aspect of God we found through our Bible and our communities. There are a lot of traditional prayers that beseech God to act in favor of the righteous and to avenge the pious. Perhaps because that is an understandable reaction to being constantly murdered and expelled by your Christian neighbors. But I don’t have faith in God’s ability to change the course of history and that’s not what I’m meditating into today.

The reality is that HaShem has provided a path of discipline within covenantal love that helps me become more of the person I want to be. I have always been Jewish, though for most of my life I did not have the words or understanding of how to do Jewish in an authentic way.

Remembering the spiritual discipline at the heart of my covenantal love

Even now, in my fourth year of rabbinical school, I completely lost my way when we were all thrown into social distancing. I barely tread water my first three weeks of full-time parenting and full-time graduate school attending. And recently, I remembered that the discipline of covenantal love is the brilliant sapphire path towards the Divine. What do I mean in plain English? Waking up and journaling. Deciding to work my way through the Book of Psalms. Keeping myself on track by posting those journal entries on Instagram. (Getting all the way to the computer is too much for me. I enjoy writing on my new dry erase board.) And then thinking through what I want to accomplish each day — which, to be honest, has become less and less each day, which helps to keep me sane.

So that’s it. Remembering to read Jewish texts each day. That’s the discipline of covenantal love that brings me back to my higher self and guides me towards loving myself, the people in my house, and the world in the way I want to be present to life.

I mean yes, prayer and community and exercise and eating well, those too can be part of one’s covenant with oneself and with the Ground of Being. But I haven’t figured out how to have a consistent daily prayer practice, and my son hates video calls so I’m trying to maintain some distance from community for the sake of Shalom Bayit (peace in the house), and I haven’t focused on exercise since I had my first kid, and worrying about what I’m eating is the farthest thing from my mind these days.

A brief prayer

L’chaim! To life! May we all find the discipline that helps us manage the stress of living through a pandemic. May we sink into love in healthy ways and may we know that there is strength in our empathy. May we not tune out from compassion fatigue, but may we also not feel guilty for needing endless Youtube videos more than we need endless news updates.

Books bringing me joy

                 

This day happens often…

Two days of the Omer 5779 / 2019: Clear vision beyond existential anxiety

Two days of the Omer 5778 / 2018: Healthy boundaries in love

Two days of the Omer 5777 / 2017: boundaries in love? (the year of beginner’s mind)

Two Days of the Omer 5778

Today is two days of the Omer, גבורה שבחסד, Gevurah ShebeChesed, Discipline / Discernment in Love.

When Chesed enters the world of human interaction, it can only be healthy after being refined by Gevurah. Pure love without boundaries is unhealthy in human relationships. We each must recognize that another soul exists and that our love cannot create or consume that soul’s journey.

Similarly, if we offer love without discernment, we are not truly supporting our beloved. A child needs to learn boundaries to thrive in the world. A beloved cannot be a partner if she does not understand what your needs are. Similarly, acquiescing to every expectation of your beloved is a sign of lower Chesed, Chesed that has been tainted and twisted. Human love must make space for your own needs and desires. You must have a vision of where you want to go in order to support any one else’s journey.

People often remark how stressful it must be that I’m in rabbinical school with two toddlers. As if the love and responsibility of parenthood somehow makes it particularly difficult to study ancient wisdom. While sleep deprivation can be problematic, I find my life easier than when I was working full time. Because now I am able to do things that fully support my soul’s journey toward actualization; whereas when I was using my secular skills, it was easier for me to get caught up in my ego’s pain. Perhaps from the outside it looks like I am not as focused on my children as other people are — my fervent hope is that I am modeling boundaries, allowing them space to explore life without me. And sometimes, my desire for discipline overwhelms my capacity to express love. Toddlers are uniquely gifted at ignoring instructions and the patience it takes to always speak from love is a key thing I am working on today and every day.

Some information on why I am writing these meditations….Jews are commanded to count seven weeks of Omer, beginning on the second night of Passover. Originally, omer was a measurement of barley. Passover was the spring harvest festival when ancient Israelites would begin the barley harvest. By counting seven weeks, they knew when to harvest their wheat, which is the original purpose of the Shavuot (“weeks”) festival.

Kabbalists, Jewish mystics, mapped the lower seven emanations of the Divine to this count. By studying different aspects of each emanations on each day, you participate in a process of purification, making yourself a vessel capable of receiving Divine truth on Shavuot.

The Sephirot can be used as a psycho-spiritual system, helping to define the values one holds most dear and how those values should help you interact with other people. I believe this information can be useful to anyone, regardless of their beliefs. I don’t think you need to “believe” in the Sephirot to access this wisdom, nor do I think you need to believe in God or be a Jew to meditate on these values. My meditations are enhanced by the Chabad Omer counting app and my years learning from Rabbi Finley at Ohr HaTorah Synagogue (Los Angeles). I write these daily thoughts after counting the Omer, so they are posted at night since Jewish day’s start after sundown. And in case you don’t know me, I’m a second year rabbinical student at AJRCA.