Gevurah

When someone wants to challenge another’s belief in a Higher Power, they are likely to ask, How can you believe in God when there is so much evil in the world?  Would a beneficent God allow children to die of cancer or millions to die in the concentration camps of the Third Reich?  These are difficult questions that perhaps can’t be answered without being God, which is not a very useful response to someone uninclined to believe in God in the first place.  But for people who choose to believe, the Kabbalah, the mystical school of Jewish thought, provides the notion that if God did not exercise restraint … that is, if God only acted out of kindness … free-willed beings like ourselves could not exist.  It isn’t a notion that’s going to silence any evangelical atheists but I think it’s helpful to those in search of metaphors for how God works … or doesn’t work … in the world.

Gevurah is one of the ten sefirot in the Tree of Life, which describes the way in which God interacts with the physical world, with the sefirot often described as divine attributes.   Six of the sefirot appear in pairs at the same level on the Tree of Life, indicating that God balances the two attributes in interacting with the universe.   One such pair is Chesed and Gevurah.  Chesed is often translated as Loving-Kindness and Gevurah as Justice, sometimes taken to mean that God loves us as a parent does a child, offering kindness when necessary but discipline when needed.   In The Gift of Kabbalah, however, Tamar Frankiel speaks of Gevurah as restraint.  If God were to do everything for us out of Chesed, he says, not only would we lose our free will, our lives would have no meaning, much as the lives of the souls living in the dream world of The Matrix had no purpose other than supplying electricity to the machines that enslaved them.  Since, according to the Kabbalah we are each imbued with a spark of the Divine and intended to participate with God in the experience of the universe Becoming Perfect, our free will is essential to God’s purpose.

Some books suggest that we should try to emulate the divine attributes in our lives.   Certainly each of us, especially those that have been parents, have known the need to balance love and discipline … Chesed and Gevurah … in our relationships.   Looking back on my own fatherhood, I wonder if my discipline would have been more effective if it had taken the form of restraint, that is, withholding help, instead of punishment.  Or perhaps I just needed to exercise a little more Gevurah, however you define it, to balance my Chesed.

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Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the Kabbalah.  These are ways in which I used what I’ve read in my own spiritual life.  As it says on Judaism 101, which offers an overview and some references, Kabbalah is one of the most grossly misunderstood parts of Judaism.  I have no desire to contribute to that misunderstanding. If you want to learn more, try Kabbalah 101 on aish.com.

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3 Comments on “Gevurah”


  1. There are lots and lots of old adages that perhaps somewhat fit with what you are writing about -no promises of rainbows every day, for one (I’m paraphrasing here) or sparing the rod and we all know what happens in that one too, don’t we? Of course, we wouldn’t want to offer condolences to a grieving person by saying something along the lines of changes being the spice of life of some such, but still and all, we need the not-so-nice, the rainy days as it were, in order to appreciate better the beauty of the world around us. Sounds like a piss-poor and very cruel way to try to explain the death of a child or some other atrocity but, in essence, in my opinion, that often is what -or all -we have to offer. So, yes -as I understand your words -we do need to have a balance within ourselves, within our lives, in order to function properly.

    • oldereyes Says:

      You got it exactly, Jeni, and I really appreciate your comment. I was very pleased with the way this post came out but as often happens with more serious posts, there were no comments. Thanks again.


  2. […] Gevurah (oldereyes.wordpress.com) […]


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