Week 2: Gevurah - The Strength Within
*Even if this week of the omer has passed, you can still learn about and work on this trait. Any time is a good time for spiritual growth.
"Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination, as it is said: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city” (Mish/Prov. 16:3)"
(Pirkei Avot 4:1)
In the beginning of YAH’s creating the universe, on the second day, He separated the waters above from the waters below to create the firmament, the Heavens. The Heavens kept expanding and expanding until YAHUAH said, “Enough.” Thus, YAHUAH brought gevurah into the world.
Gevurah (g’-voo-rah) means strength, might, or power. It often manifests as the power of judgment or the power of restraint (as with the midrash above).
YAHUAH created the world in chesed, unbounded loving-kindness, but at some point, He had to create boundaries. There had to be limits. There had to be restraint. The world - mankind, in particular - required gevurah.
The second week of sefirat haomer, we focus on the attribute of gevurah - exercising strength and restraint and setting boundaries.
Giving Life Meaning
A world created solely in chesed could not flourish in the manner YAHUAH intended. Unlimited kindness can overwhelm the recipient. A finite being (mankind) cannot receive the infinite chesed of YAHUAH. Our vessel of being is not large enough.
Therefore, YAHUAH put limits on His chesed. His chesed is limitless, but since we are limited in the amount we can receive, YAHUAH put boundaries on His chesed towards us. We only receive the amount of chesed we’re capable of handling, which is determined by our deeds.
When YAHUAH introduced gevurah, He also introduced the concepts of reward and punishment, discipline, and accountability.
Gevurah is the power of YAH’s judgment, His right-ruling. He judges everyone according to his deeds and measures out His chesed accordingly.
Heavenly punishment is not so much YAHUAH inflicting harshness and cruelty upon someone, but more so Him withholding - putting limits and restraints on - His kindness. It’s not that He hurts or harms, but He withdraws a measure of His kindness and goodness.
YAHUAH does this to give significance to life. If the world was only an outpouring of limitless chesed, then life would have no meaning. Our deeds wouldn’t affect anything. Our actions wouldn’t matter. The world would be full of complete sinners because no matter what we did, there would still be an outpouring of kindness. There would be no reason to change our ways.
Only with gevurah does life have true meaning. We see that our actions do matter. We see that YAHUAH rewards or punishes according to our deeds. There is right-ruling in the world. The gevurah of YAHUAH is present.
In order for the system of reward and punishment to work, man must have free will. We must have the ability to choose our actions.
YAHUAH created us as a spiritual being housed within a physical body. Our inner being, our soul, is supposed to rule, while our bodies are subservient to it. When our body and soul work together in this manner, our lives are elevated to a higher level. Yet, when they oppose one another, because our body takes control, then we are brought down lower.
Our free will allows us to choose which part of our self we will allow to rule: our body or our soul. Free will gives us the option of saying “no” to our bodies. Gevurah is the strength to actually say “no.”
True freedom is the option and the ability to say “no.”
Freedom is not doing whatever we want. Doing whatever we want means that we are a slave to our desires. Whatever we feel like doing, we do. Whatever our body wants, we do. Our passions, our desires, and our physical body rule us. That is not freedom.
Freedom is having a choice. If I cannot tell myself no when I want something, then I am not free. Telling myself “no,” restraining myself, and exercising discipline - that is true freedom, despite what one might think.
When I can say “no,” I’m giving myself an option. I can if I want to, but I choose not to. If I cannot say “no” to myself, then I have no options. I am not free. I’m a slave to my body and to my desires.
Gevurah is what gives us true freedom. It gives us the ability to say "no." It is the strength to bring our bodies into submission and to allow our soul to take over, just as YAHUAH intended.
You may have heard about the marshmallow test. It was a long-term study in which children were told that they could have one marshmallow now, or if they waited, they could have two marshmallows later.
Years later, they found that the children who waited were living more successful lives. They had better relationships, marriages, careers, and were all-around more successful.
That is the power of gevurah. Being able to say "no" - to exercise self-discipline and restraint - leads to better, more successful, and more fulfilling lives.
In today’s society, gevurah is needed more than ever, and yet, it is harder than ever to exercise. We live in a hedonistic, narcissistic society. People are lovers of pleasure and lovers of themselves. “If it feels good, do it.” “If you think it’s right, then it’s right.”
Our society teaches us to give in to physical desires. It tells us to indulge ourselves and do whatever we want. It takes great strength to go against this mindset and exercise true gevurah. When everything is acceptable and everyone is doing it, it takes great strength to say “no.”
Our desires can be so strong that we will sometimes attempt to find loopholes in the Scriptures that allow us to do the things we want. “Well, the Scriptures don’t say we can’t do it” or "The Scriptures say we can do this, so surely we’re allowed to do that.”
This is why we must always remember the commandment:
“Be set-apart” (Wayy/Lev. 19:2).
This is a “catch-all” command that covers everything not clearly stated in the Torah. It keeps us from finding loopholes and work-arounds in the Torah. It keeps us from indulging in things that may not be explicitly forbidden and even from over-indulging in things that are permitted.
“Be set-apart.” This is what we must remember. YAHUAH is calling us to be set-apart, not to be like everyone else. He is calling us to exercise gevurah in our lives - to exercise restraint, discipline, and self-control; to follow our soul, and not the desires of our body.
Gevurah is the inner strength that allows us to resist our desires and internal urges. This type of inner strength is more powerful than physical strength.
It takes more strength to overcome our internal desires than it does to overpower an external foe.
Consider Shimshon (Samson): The strongest man alive fell because of his weakness for women. He simply could not say “no” to Delilah's temptations.
"Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination, as it is said: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city” (Mish/Prov. 16:3)" (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
We must also keep in mind that gevurah does not just apply to physical desires. It applies to all inner urges. Negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, pride, envy, hatred, lust, etc. require gevurah. Negative drives such as the drive for the accumulation of wealth, honor, success, and materialism also require gevurah. Anything that is led by the desires of our flesh or our ego require gevurah - restraint.
Growing in Gevurah
The gevurah that YAHUAH introduced into the world must be part of our daily life. YAHUAH judges our deeds, and He rewards or punishes accordingly, either with an outpouring of His chesed or a restraining of His chesed.
We are accountable for our actions, each and every one of them. If we want the blessings of life and good life, then we must exercise gevurah. We must practice discipline, restraint, and self-control so that we do not do the things that will cause a restraining of YAHUAH's chesed.
If we exercise gevurah in our own lives, then the gevurah of YAHUAH will not be exercised upon us. If we discipline ourselves, then YAHUAH will not discipline us. If we restrain ourselves, then YAHUAH will not restrain His kindness from us.
TO GROW IN GEVURAH:
Study Torah. Know what’s allowed and what’s not. Follow the mitzvot (commandments). They help us build the trait of gevurah by commanding us things like what to eat, what not to eat, when to work, when to rest, and when to pray. Studying Torah also gives us a greater sense of what it means to "be set-apart."
Practice gevurah. Tell yourself “no'' often. Say no to the extra helping. Say no to the extra ten minutes of sleep. Say no to more TV, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Say no to skipping prayer because you're tired. The more we say no to the “little” things, the more our attribute of gevurah will grow, and the more we’ll be able to say no to the big things - the things we really struggle with.
Be mindful. Be aware of negative emotions like anger, pride, jealousy, hatred, etc. Be aware of negative drives like lust for money, honor, success, etc. Notice selfishness and narcissism. Be aware, and nip it in the bud. Keep them from bubbling to the surface, and restrain yourself from acting on them.
Avoid temptation. Set boundaries. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you know you’ll be tested. Just don’t. Never think you’re strong enough to fight it. That’s pride speaking. It’s the cunning tactic the enemy uses to get you into a situation that’ll make you fall. Be smarter than him. Set boundaries (fences) for yourself that stop you before you even get near the temptation.
STOP. Take one thing, one desire or inner urge, that you find difficult to control, and simply STOP. Commit to not doing that one thing for a specific amount of time - for one hour, one day, one week, or one month. Gradually increase the amount of time until you have overcome and no longer succumb to that desire.
Remember: If we exercise restraint ourselves, then YAHUAH will not restrain His kindness toward us. So, if you need an outpouring of kindness from YAH, then start exercising more gevurah.