Post by Rabbi Lee Moore
Shavuot is just around the corner. Meaning ‘weeks’ in Hebrew, this under-observed holiday among many North American Jews celebrates the offering of first fruits in Temple times and, according to Rabbinic teaching, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai following the Exodus from Egypt. The period between Pesach and Shavuot is marked by seven weeks of “counting the Omer” each day. As the tradition of Omer counting developed, each week and day came to be associated with its own unique set of reflections, based on the Kabbalistic concept of the Sephirot – emanations that channel the Divine creative force into the manifest world.
This year, we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah invited a group of colleagues to offer their reflections on the various Sephirot and the implications they have for our lives today. Internally as a staff, we also asked how we might apply the wisdom from the sephirot to our own organizational learning – how we approach our work together as a team and how we can best create and nurture new projects.
We began with Chesed and Gevurah. This duo pairs the kind of boundless generativity and permission to explore (chesed) that we want to embrace while brainstorming new possibilities …. with gevurah, the brass tacks guidelines, rules and parameters we must stick to when it’s time to make a decision in order to move things forward.
When these two are balanced, something beautiful emerges. With too much openness and permissiveness we could never move on from the exploring stage; with too many rules and boxes to fill, there is not enough creative flow to inspire the right kind of ideas. But with the right balance, a vision emerges that starts to glow with the light of Tiferet –a vision that captures and describes a project’s purpose, what it could be and do.
In the move from the inspiration of vision to truly bringing something – any kind of project – into the world of manifestation, inevitably a host of choices and challenges emerge. These may be problems to solve, obstacles that appear, or difficult decisions on how to do things. For all of these, there are really only two fundamental responses – either to push through and conquer the stumbling block/issue (Netzach) or to accept it as part of the set of givens in a situation that can’t necessarily be changed, but that we can work within and appreciate (Hod). (Cf. Isaiah 30:15: “In quietness and trust will be your strength.”) Both responses are valid and important – the key is to know which to choose when. This is where the vision of tiferet can help by providing the shining beacon of light that guides such choices and informs whether to go to battle on a particular issue or to lay down arms and let it go.
Just as the juice of brainstorming (chesed) and the discipline of deciding (gevruah) together help to create a vision (tiferet), having the courage to overcome those things that must be changed (netzach) and the serenity, as it were, to accept those that can’t (hod) together create a fertile place of possibility for something new to emerge. We call this channel Yesod – the bundle of contexts and factors through which something genuinely new will come into being, like a baby going through the birth canal. And finally, once it has come through this channel and entered the world as a fully formed project, we call that Malchut: majesty, fullness.
In the traditional rendering of Shavuot, love and fertility abound, despite all the forces that might constrain these. Although there is a famine in the land that Ruth and Naomi must leave, by committing to each other they forge a new place for themselves full of bounty and loving connection. Shavuot, then, is a time for us to ask ourselves what new things must we create and bring into the world to advance our visions, whether formed initially long ago, or just coalescing today. In addition to growing your garden this season, what else might you create?
As the staff of the foundation learned together this spring, the sephirotic system that shapes how we mark the passage from Pesach to Shavuot reminds us that the creative process is always one of dynamic tension. Whether we are fashioning a piece of art or starting a new business, trying to launch a program or change the direction of our lives, creating on our own or with others, this is a lesson worth remembering and celebrating.