Sefirat Ha’omer: seven weeks of reflection on the sefirot, archetypal spiritual qualities.
Last year I reflected in dialogue with the writings of the Ramak, Kabbalistic teacher Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570).
This year, I am exploring the names of the sefirot as they appear in their original contexts in the Tanakh, Hebrew Bible.
Each exploration showcases a different facet of the week’s quality, and suggests a different focus for spiritual self-questioning, action, and growth. Below, I offer this year’s weekly reflection along with last year’s.
Chesed: Risks and Rewards (2014/5774)
Chesed: risky love and kindness, offered in a situation that might be tricky, dangerous, or emotionally fraught. An act of chesed may have only a long shot at success but, if it succeeds, it has a far-reaching effect. At least, that’s how our Biblical ancestors spoke of chesed.
- Eliezer of Damascus, hoping to find a wife for Yitzchak among strangers at a well, asks God to “do chesed with my employer Abraham” (Gen 24:12).
- After Rahab endangers her life to shelter Joshua’s spies, she says, “I did chesed with you; do chesed with my family, too” (Josh 2:12).
- David reaches out to the family of his rival King Saul, saying, “If anyone is still alive, I will do chesed with him on behalf of my friendship with Jonathan” (2 Samuel 9:1).
- Jeremiah says to the Judeans, “God said: I remember the chesed of your youth, when you followed me into an uncultivated wilderness” (Jer 2:2).
- Grieving Naomi says to the daughters-in-law who refuse to leave her, “May God do chesed with you, as you did with our dead relatives and with me” (Ruth 1:8).
Rahab asks to be repaid with chesed; David offers chesed as repayment; God repays an act of chesed. Subtly, these examples teach that although chesed is offered without expectation of reward, the universe does reward it. God, says Torah, is the “artisan of chesed for a thousand generations” (Ex 20:6, 34:7). God amplifies acts of chesed; it’s a part of God’s nature and a law of the universe.
Do you have faith that chesed keeps giving and growing? That its growth is built into the nature of the universe? Why or why not? Have you been nourished by acts of chesed? How might you “pay it forward” for future generations?
How does one enact love in the world? Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (aka the Ramak, 1522-1570) borrows his answer from the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat: by caring for children, visiting the sick, giving tzedakah, offering hospitality to strangers, burying the dead, celebrating weddings, and helping friends make peace.
To this traditional answer, Ramak adds a kabbalistic twist. Each of the actions, he says, directly affects God. Playing on a verse in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), he says that the Shechinah (God’s close-at-hand motherly aspect) is sick with love, desperately wanting us to recognize her presence. When we visit the sick, and uplift them, we also uplift the Shechinah.
In modern language, Ramak teaches that love happens when we do acts of love. When we attend to the sick, they are attended to. Similarly, spirituality happens when we are spiritual. God’s presence is present when we open our thoughts and feelings to it.
Sometimes, even in our own eyes, we fall short in acts of love. We may worry that our capacity to give and thus create love is not as full as it could be. This week of Chesed is a wonderful week to examine our attitudes around specific acts of love. Why, for example, might we fear or resent a particular practice? How have we been wounded in that area? How can we bring more attention, spirit and Divine presence into that area? How can we receive and even welcome Shechinah more fully?
Images: tangiblejoy.blogspot.com, capitolcitychurch.com