Guest post by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Senior Jewish Educator at the JCCSF
Once, a young man went beyond the walls of his city, with nothing but his pocketknife, and journeyed out to the tree line toward the horizon, until he came upon a wild jungle. He immediately delighted in the jungle’s overwhelming fructuousness. Stepping on and over mounds of plants vying for more space, the young man marveled at the vivid swirling colors—deep vertical browns, bursts of yellow and purple splashed on soft green, glossy orange and red specks dotting off-white, light sandy wisps poking out of loamy grey.
While moving deeper into the jungle, the faint rustling of leaves gave way to a low humming, and as he looked, he saw that every shoot, leaf, and flower was slowly but audibly swelling and growing and pulsating. To the young man, the once-vivid beauty of the wilderness began to look grotesquely chaotic.
As the young man looked back toward where he had entered, the low hum of the jungle turned to a wailing howl. Palm fronds turned to the sky and blocked out the little bit of light still shining through, while vines began to creak at his feet. Spiny ferns unfurled by his arms and high-hanging mosses dropped to his neck. The jungle, with one exhalation, grabbed hold of the young man, and began to squeeze.
In the smothering darkness, in his terror, the young man reached for a knife in his pocket, and yowled “Enough!” He slashed at the wet limbs and leaves, angrily stabbing at the tall grasses around his legs. All the stalks and petals began to retreat before him, and the jungle shrank back. His strength returning to him, the young man cut away at the maniacal crowd of trees and bushes, and turned them into groves and hedges. He arranged the muddled, colorful blossoms into ordered rows. Though the nightmare of the jungle gave way to a serene, contained garden, his fit of fear did not diminish.
As the plants continued to grow, the young man’s anger grew. At the promise of a new bud, he would rip off the entire branch. When a fresh sapling sprouted, he would set the ground on fire. The young man’s power over the garden turned to fury, and he sought to destroy everything in his sight.
The second week of Sefirat HaOmer presents us with the second permutation of the Tree of Life, gevurah—strength, power, or boundaries—and the first opposing/complementary relationship of the sefirot, between chesed and gevurah. As unconditionally giving as chesed is, gevurah seeks to impose principled measures on that love, in the hopes that it might mean something. However, the power of gevurah does not constrain itself, and its unimpeded expression is furious, violent, and evil. Arthur Green calls the relationship between chesed and gevurah “an infinitely delicate balance”, one that they cannot achieve on their own. But before a third, emanation inevitably emerges to balance the two, what does the relationship between chesed and gevurah feel and look like? How can I help creativity and love be consistent and effective without being overly regimented?