Tiferet: Beauty. Gevurah: Judgment. Tiferet she’b’gevurah: Beauty in Judgment.
At its best, judgment activates our rational minds. So, let’s take a theory break. A little detour into philosophy. Just for a few paragraphs!
Plato’s allegory of the cave tells of prisoners chained to a bench. Where they sit, they can only see shadows. They’re experts in shadow-watching, but not in what’s real. But one prisoner escapes. She climbs out of the cave. And, in the sunlight, finally sees things that are real.
It’s a metaphor, of course. For the difference between ordinary consciousness and spiritual perception. In everyday life, we’re easily distracted by shadows: rumour, gossip, propaganda, advertising, material comfort. But when we step out of this habit, we see what really matters. The highest values. Justice, beauty, goodness, truth, equality.
Over time, we learn to judge ourselves by these values. We hope, for example, for justice. So, in our communities, we design policies and fair procedures. But then a case study shows they don’t always lead to justice. So, guided by the value of justice, we try to do better.
Plato’s ideas are reflected in the sefirot. They, too, are big values that guide our lives. As per philosophers and Kabbalists, sefirot are the building blocks of human nature. So of course we judge ourselves by them! We evaluate our real lives using these ideals. Is our love loving enough? Our judgment discerning enough?
Each sefirah, in a way, sets a standard of spiritual beauty. That’s refreshing. But it’s also challenging. Because I’m used to thinking that beauty standards are unattainable. So, the instant I feel I’ve met a goal, I also feel I’ve missed it.
Today, at work, I received a written personnel evaluation. (Spoiler alert: it was fine.) The author is not a Kabbalist. Still, they talked about every single one of the sefirot. Love, judgment, compassion, endurance, gratitude, foundation, and presence.
Reading it, I was unsettled. All my evaluators have seen, I thought, are shadows on the cave wall. Nothing substantial. I know, because I try to live by these ideals. And I know how far I fall short. In my judgment, there is no solid reality for them to see.
So, here’s a question. A self-question, that is. Self-evaluation is great. But as a relentless habit it can be painful. So, how do I find a beautiful balance between seeking the ideal and appreciating the real?
Today is day 10 of the Omer, one week and three days.
New to the Omer count? Here’s a primer.