This week we welcome Susie Davidson as she writes about Gevurah in the context of agriculture, intrinsic to the human relationship with the Earth. Susie is a poet, journalist, author, and filmmaker who writes regularly for the Jewish Advocate, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Cambridge Chronicle and other media. She has also contributed to the Boston Sunday Globe, the Boston Herald and the Jerusalem Post, and Ha'aretz. She has written three books about local Holocaust survivors. Susie is Coordinator of the Boston chapter of The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and a board member of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow and the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action.
As we travel with Susie through this second week of the Omer, from Chesed to Malchut, may each of us feel our strength increasing and becoming more solidly embedded in our hearts and souls. Welcome to Week Two of the Omer.
Rabbi Katy Allen
An omer, which literally means a “sheaf,” is a unit of measure. In the Temple days, it was a grain offering, specifically, barley. As stated in Leviticus 23:15, we count these units for 49 days, or seven weeks, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot. Passover marks the Exodus from Egypt, but we were not truly redeemed from slavery until we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, now celebrated on Shavuot. The counting period is a time of preparation for the Torah, the greatest object and culmination of our desires.
The sefira of the second week is Gevurah. Gevurah is characterized by restraint, discipline, and discernment, and measure, which is most appropriate to the context of the Omer. The word gevurah is composed of the root letters gimmel, bet and heh. These letters also form the word gever, which means “man,” and geveret, which means “woman.” Other words that share the root letters include "hero," "strength," and the protagonist character in a story.
Day One of Week 2 (8th day of Omer): Chesed b'Gevurah
Compassion and loving kindness combine here with restraint, discipline and discernment – with a measure of barley or a harvested grain. What is more basic to nourishment than recently-harvested grains? Just last week, a friend made me a pot of barley, onion and lentil soup. Right away, I can relate to and appreciate the measure of counting that our biblical ancestors adopted to fulfill this mitzvah and this aspect of agriculture.
“If love (chesed) is the bedrock of human expression, discipline (gevurah) is the channels through which we express love. It gives our life and love direction and focus.” (Chabad.org) Gevurah also signifies respect and awe, and a healthy love includes respect. Discipline and measure. Focus. Health. There's that barley soup! Barley soup is intrinsic to Jewish cookery. If we are measuring our behavior, we are also measuring ingredients for sustenance, in this case, nutritious food needed for survival, harvested from the earth, and shared out of loving kindness. In making this offering, we are tending to the sacred earth we were given, while helping others to be healthy, to thrive, to be strong, and to attain the greatest state of being.
Chesed is love in all its forms. We love the earth, and each other through feeding and nourishment, which, for a mother and for the mother in all of us, is a supreme form of love.
I see restraint, focus and discipline as crucial practices utilized both in tilling the soil, planting, irrigating and producing crops, as well as in the preparation of a recipe of healthful and energy-giving ingredients – as opposed to throwing processed junk food on someone's plate. Our food is the basis of our health and endurance. “We are what we eat” is a truism that manifests in our behavior toward others and toward our planet. Food is a form of love, it was given to us by G-d, and in all of its forms, is holy. The fruits of agriculture involve working with G-d's earth, respectfully harvesting its bounty, preparing the harvested ingredients, and sharing this prepared food with others. When we share nutritious grains together, we are one. It is a very high form of care and respect.
Actions: Exercise and practice – plan a carefully-measured recipe of healthful grains and other natural ingredients that you could serve to others for an upcoming gathering. Research how you might begin to grow some of your own food – even in a window-box garden.