*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.
On the third day of Creation, YAHUAH gathered the waters together, and the dry land appeared. Then, YAHUAH brought forth an abundance of plant life, which would support all life to follow, both animals and man.
In order for life to flourish, there had to be a balance between land and water. The overflowing waters needed boundaries, and then each plant could receive exactly what it needed - a proper balance of land and water.
Thus, YAHUAH established the means by which He would govern the world - in balance. He created the world in unbounded chesed (loving-kindness), but He soon had to introduce gevurah (limits) - just like the overflowing waters of the earth were gathered and the boundaries of the seashore were set.
YAHUAH rules the world in both kindness and in judgment, chesed and gevurah. Both are needed. We cannot live in a world that is only chesed because we would turn into complete sinners (see previous post). Nor can we live in a world that is strictly gevurah because we would never merit survival. Our sins would cause us to be wiped out. A proper balance between chesed and gevurah is needed, and this is the attribute of tiferet.
Tiferet (teef-er'-ret) is described as balance, truth, harmony, beauty, compassion, and empathy.
Tiferet blends chesed and gevurah to make one harmonious force. It is the power to help others using a proper balance of kindness and restraint in order to give someone exactly what they need. This is what we work on during the third week of sefirat haomer: striking the proper balance.
Chesed Requires Gevurah
Chesed is unbounded loving-kindness. It is the trait that gives and gives and gives some more.
Kindness is good; however, unbridled loving-kindness is not always what’s best for the recipient.
To be most effective, chesed requires the attribute of gevurah, discipline and restraint.
Sometimes, chesed can do more harm than good. Consider raising a child. Parents obviously love their children. However, if a parent only shows kindness toward their child, then the child will become spoiled. If a parent gives and gives with no restrictions, no boundaries, and no discipline, then the child will develop negative qualities and behaviors. He/she will not grow and develop into his/her best self.
A parent must tell a child “no” sometimes (and mean it!). A parent must set rules and guidelines for a child. A parent must discipline a child when he does wrong. It is for the child’s own good. A certain amount of gevurah must be added to the chesed for the benefit of a child.
Consider also the loved one of an addict who enables them by giving them whatever they ask. At some point, restraint will be needed for their own good. Otherwise, the “kindness” is only helping them to continue harming themselves. The love must be restrained. The chesed requires gevurah.
Relationships of all kinds require boundaries to be set. Overwhelming love and attention can smother a person and drive them away. Overstepping boundaries into someone’s life can drive them away. We must respect each other’s boundaries despite how much we want to show our love for them. Healthy, stable, loving relationships require a certain amount of gevurah.
When helping others, we also need gevurah. We need to make sure that what we’re doing is really needed. Is it really helping? Perhaps, I want to help one way, but they need help in a totally different way. This requires gevurah - discipline and restraint.
For example, let's say I come across someone in need. I want to help, so I give them some used (but still perfectly good) clothes. That’s nice, right?
Well, the thing is: they really don’t need any clothes. What they need right now is help paying their light bill.
Doing what I want doesn’t really help. I have to “discipline” myself to not do what I want to do but to do what’s needed. This type of discipline focuses my chesed to make it truly powerful.
It’s like a laser beam. If I restrain myself, pinpoint the exact need, and focus my energies, then the effect will be truly significant.
In order for our chesed to be most effective, we need restraint and discipline. Boundaries must be set. Chesed requires gevurah.
Gevurah Requires Chesed
The same way chesed requires gevurah, so too gevurah requires chesed.
Gevurah causes us to set limits and boundaries. When it comes to helping others, we only go so far and only do so much. We limit how much we give and how much we’re willing to do. This is when chesed comes into the picture.
Chesed makes us extend those limits and stretch those boundaries. It’s the difference between giving $5 or $20, $100 or $1000.
Chesed moves us from being stingy to being generous, from being selfish to loving.
There are still limits, but the limit allows for the other person to truly be helped. Limits that are too strict prevent the other person from receiving what they really need. It may be all we want to give or do, but it’s not what they need.
If someone needs $100 for their light bill, and I only give them $20 (even though I have the full $100), then my gevurah is too strong. I need to add chesed so I can give them what they need, the full $100. Gevurah requires chesed.
Disciplining children also requires chesed. If we’re only a strict disciplinarian, then our children will never experience a loving, nurturing environment. They will never experience joy in an overly strict household. They will develop feelings of fear, anger, or resentment. Unless a child experiences love, he will not be able to grow and flourish to his fullest potential. Gevurah must have chesed.
Gevurah also manifests in the power of judgment. Judgment can be negative or positive. In a negative expression of judgment, we judge others in an overly harsh way. Being judgmental, critical, or self-righteous are all negative expressions of gevurah.
Chesed is required to prevent these negative expressions of gevurah. Chesed allows us to be more forgiving, to allow people to make mistakes, to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to judge them favorably. It allows us to be more understanding of others. It helps us to see the good in others and not just focus on the bad. The same way we want people to be with us, we are with them.
This way, when we do have to exercise true gevurah (in a positive sense) by disciplining or rebuking others, then we will do so not out of the negativity above but out of sincere love and concern for the individual. That is chesed in gevurah.
We all make judgment calls in how we deal with people. Chesed in gevurah causes us to make favorable judgments so we will help build others up and not tear them down or keep them down. Chesed causes us to extend our limits and boundaries so another is truly helped.
The Perfect Blend
Tiferet is the perfect blend of chesed and gevurah. YAHUAH, in His governing of the world, balances His overflowing kindness with a certain degree of restraint so that each living being receives exactly the right amount of chesed. It is the amount that allows every living creature to grow, develop, and ultimately flourish.
Tiferet always has the ultimate goal in mind: helping another to live at his/her best.
Thus, tiferet keeps us focused on the other person. It’s not about us. It’s not about what I want to do or give, or how I want to help. It’s not about my feelings, my thoughts, or my personal judgments or biases. It’s all about what the other person needs at this moment.
Tiferet is the power that causes us to act in total benefit of another.
This requires a complete blending of chesed and gevurah. Tiferet can combine these two seemingly opposite attributes into one seamless force because it introduces the aspect of truth.
Truth is objective. It's not about my thoughts or opinions. It's simply truth. It's a higher perspective on the matter. The “truth” is: this person needs x, y, or z. My feelings don’t come into play.
This is why tiferet is also called compassion or mercy. Even if I think this person is unworthy, I help anyway because that’s what’s needed.
This allows us to show we care and are willing to help (chesed) without ignoring negative behavior (gevurah). We’re acknowledging it and dealing with it accordingly while we are helping.
Tiferet is also called empathy because I put myself aside and step into another person’s shoes. I put myself in their position and see exactly what’s needed. It’s not about me, it’s about them. It’s their feelings and their needs - not mine.
To fulfill someone’s need, we have to have a balance of chesed and gevurah.
We act in a manner that combines an outpouring of loving-kindness with just the right amount of restraint to make sure the person receives exactly what he needs - the right help in the right amount delivered how and when it’s needed. This “right” amount varies from person to person and situation to situation.
Consider a black and white photo. The whole picture is made up of varying blends of black and white. It’s not all one shade of grey. The different shades - different balances of black and white - give the photo it’s beauty.
So, too, with tiferet. No two situations are alike. Each situation requires a different balance of chesed and gevurah. This gives tiferet its “beauty.”
Growing in Tiferet
It takes time to properly develop tiferet because it requires wisdom, patience, and humility - all of which take time in themselves to fully acquire. Nevertheless, we practice and grow daily in tiferet.
We often start by going against our own natural tendencies. Generally, people are naturally inclined toward either chesed or gevurah. To begin developing tiferet, balance, we tip ourselves in the opposite direction from which we're naturally inclined.
Some people are naturally inclined to chesed. These are the kind ones who are always smiling, giving, and helping. They will extend themselves and always go the extra mile. They are genuinely willing to give you the shirt off their back. They are always pouring out from themselves in some way - in love, attention, money, gifts, etc.
These ones may need to practice more gevurah. Focus and target your acts of kindness to make sure you are actually meeting the need at hand. Respect other people’s boundaries. Make sure you are applying discipline or rebuke when needed (especially with children). Make sure the one you care for is getting what’s best for them, even if it means withholding kindness from them.
Others are more naturally inclined to gevurah. These are generally more focused and self-disciplined individuals. They have a penchant for following rules and set high standards for themselves. They are good at keeping things (and people) in order.
These ones may need to focus on practicing more chesed. Practice "giving, giving, and giving some more" to overcome the natural tendency toward restraint. Give time, money, gifts, attention, affection, anything - just give. Be more forgiving and understanding. Try to extend those boundaries and limits to truly help and uplift someone else.
No one is exactly one thing or the other. We all have both qualities, but most of us tend toward one quality more than the other. As we start to focus on the other quality, the one least active in us, then we’ll start growing closer to a proper balance. We’ll be growing more in tiferet.
Practice adding gevurah to chesed.
Practice adding chesed to gevurah.
In every situation involving another:
Add truth: What are the facts? What’s needed?
Add empathy: What would it feel like in their shoes?
Add compassion: Even if I feel this person is somehow unworthy, can I still give them what they need?
Add humility: Is my pride, ego, or self-righteousness somehow playing a role?
Always keep in mind the ultimate goal: What will help this person to live at his/her best?
Changing the World
The first three attributes - chesed, gevurah, and tiferet - are so important to our life not only as Yahudim but as human beings. We’re here on this earth to make an impact on the world and on the people around us.
The only way we can accomplish this is through action, and these three attributes must guide our every action. In everything we do, we must act with chesed and gevurah flowing through the power of tiferet. This is how we will truly be effective in this world.