Omer teachings from Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

Last year during the Counting of the Omer, Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan posted weekly meditations on each of the seven sefirot associated with these seven weeks, drawing on the teachings of Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, known as the Ramak. Here’s her teaching about the week of Gevurah:

Gevurah: Discipline

In some of his writings, Sigmund Freud describes the human psyche as composed of id, ego, and superego. The id is a set of natural, passionate, un-socialized drives. The ego mediates between the id and the demands of the social world, channeling the id constructively. The superego judges the ego’s work, using criteria taught by parents at the early stages of socialization.

When Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (aka the Ramak, 1522-1570) discusses the sephirah of gevurah, he presents ideas similar to Freud’s. Our human psyche includes a yetzer hara. Traditionally translated as “evil inclination,” the yetzer hara is actually a set of instinctive drives that can be channeled well or poorly.

When the yetzer hara is poorly directed, gevurah, judgment, is aroused. The superego speaks within a person, offering self-criticism. The Divine Parent also judges the person negatively. But simple awareness of negative judgments is not sufficient to redirect the yetzer hara.

Only chesed, love for others, can set a person on the right course. Only the ego’s appreciation for social life can channel the yetzer hara to a constructive end. Suppose, for example, the yetzer hara is aroused by materialism. Add in chesed, and a person may amass wealth so that they can share it with others. Suppose the yetzer hara is erotically aroused. Add in chesed, and a person may use their passion to bond with a partner.

In other words, teaches the Ramak, effective gevurah, discipline, can only be created with chesed, love.

Where in your life have you tried to create discipline and failed? How might love help you in that area?

More of her Omer teachings are available at her blog: Short Takes | Omer | On Sophia Street.

This year she is exploring the Omer through weekly reflections on how the sefirot manifest in Tanakh. Her post on chesed (love and kindness) contains both this year’s teachings from Tanakh, and last year’s teachings from the Ramak. Follow her blog, On Sophia Street, for more.


Image source: Omer chart from Open Siddur.