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Kabbala #12: Chesed and Gevurah: The Two Sided Approach

Kabbala #12: Chesed and Gevurah: The Two Sided Approach

Chesed-kindness and gevurah-strength work in tandem, defining God's interaction with the world as a right/left pull/push phenomenon.


Before we proceed further to discuss more of the Ten Sefirot, it would be wise to spend more time on the interaction between chesed and gevurah.

These two sefirot are probably the most widely used to describe God's actions in the world.

We could describe the sefirot we have previously discussed (chochmah-wisdom, binah-understanding and daat-knowledge) as "preparatory," and the sefirot we will discuss later (netzach-victory, hod-awe, yesod-foundation and malchut-monarchy) as "tactical." In this sense, chesed-kindness, gevurah-strength and tiferet-beauty are "central."

The interaction between these two sefirot is the first parallel (as opposed to linear) interaction in the system of sefirot. That is, chochmah cannot act simultaneously with binah. It is only after chochmah has come up with the initial idea, that binah can process it. And only after binah has processed the information, can it become daat.

However, with chesed and gevurah it is different. On the one hand, it is still possible to imagine it as a continuum. For example, the foundation block of creation was chesed, whereas its continuation was gevurah, as we have described in the last installment of this series. On the other hand, chesed and gevurah may work simultaneously. Thus when a certain event occurs, we may analyze the chesed components and the gevurah components that are simultaneously a part of the event.

The metaphor most commonly used to describe this phenomenon is right and left.

The Ten Sefirot find their representation in body parts -- chesed and gevurah are the hands.

Different parts of the body can be used to represent different sefirot, a topic which we will discuss at greater length at a later time. Whereas the first three sefirot of intellect find their corresponding metaphor in the brain, the sefirot of chesed and gevurah find their representation in the hands. The reason is that they are the primary vehicles for God's "actions" in the same way that the hands are the primary vehicle for human activity.

The metaphor is more specific in the sense that there is a correspondence between the "right" and "left" aspect of the human limbs, and the interaction of chesed and gevurah.

Imagine both hands pushing a cart, or hauling a bucket. In such a case there is no difference between the two hands. It is basically two "times" one hand, the correlation of right/left is inconsequential. True the right hand head is a little stronger, but the job is the same for both and as such it would not be appropriate to use the correlation as a metaphor for the chesed and gevurah relationship.


But let us now take a different case. A person is hammering a nail into a board. The right hand pounds in the nail, whilst the left one holds the board down. A person screws in a screw with his right hand, and the left one pressures a nut in the opposite direction. Or a sculptor's right hand chisels stone, while his left hand holds the stone steady. In these examples, the right and left hand are cooperating -– by acting in a counter fashion!

We see from this that chesed and gevurah are acting simultaneously towards the same goal –- by exerting forces in opposite directions.

Let us be a little more specific regarding the specific roles of chesed and gevurah. When the sculptor chisels the stone, his right hand naturally takes the chipped stone along with the motion of his chisel. His left hand, however, holds the stone in place, and through the resistance to the movement of the chisel gives the stone its sense of "self." Thus, the stone is not taken along with the chisel, but rather it stands its own ground. Although the right hand has acted upon it, it has retained its own properties, while bearing the right hand's "message."

This describes exactly the relationship of chesed as the "right hand" and gevurah as the "left hand."

The main purpose of God's deeds is kindness -- thus chesed is stronger than gevurah.

The main purpose of God's deeds is kindness. Thus chesed is the stronger and more dominant of the two sefirot. And it is performing the act that God really had in mind.

But we have previously described the problem inherent in chesed. If a person lives as a beneficiary of someone else's largesse, then he loses his own identity. He becomes a vessel of the benefactor. This would be similar to the board being swept up in the motion of the hammer.

Therein, the sefirah of gevurah assists. It is the "left hand" that pushes in the opposite direction and gives the board its own existence. Whereas the right hand pulls along, the left hand pushes back. Whereas the attribute of chesed draws things into God's sphere of being, gevurah pushes the object away and proclaims: "Away from me, stand on your own two feet; earn your own keep."

The Rabbis of the Talmud have taught us:

A person should always draw people closer by means of his right hand, and push them aside with his left hand. (Sotah 47)

It is an important lesson in human relationships. The stronger and more dominant feature of human interaction should be the drawing closer and friendship of people. But enough "push" must be included to allow for the retaining of individual self. Benevolence towards an independent individual creates bonds and bridges; towards a dependant person, it creates annexation and is overwhelming.

(As an interesting footnote to this topic it is worth noting that people who were involved in Kabbalah study, such as many of the Chassidic groups, liked to wear their garments with the right side overlapping the left, to demonstrate this relationship. This is in contrast to modern western style where men's garments, i.e. shirts and coats, have a left/right overlap.)

June 3, 2000

Article 12 of 24 in the series Kabbala

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Visitor Comments: 11

(10) Marie, March 24, 2014 6:11 PM

If one needs to live in Chesed?

Dear Rabbi,
What of the people who must live more in chesed? In our economy today there are the elderly and the sick. Are they feeling less of a dignified person? Or is this another side od G--that I do not perceive at this time.
Thank you for your consideration of my question.

(9) chiedu, May 12, 2011 12:44 PM

Man prays to God mostly for help besides praising and worshiping him. How can knowing that Gevurah, one of God's ways in dealing with his creatures 'tells' man, "Away from me, stand on your own two feet; earn your own keep" encourage man to pray to God for help or is that response or feeling the answer to man's prayers?

(8) JacobLess Samuels, October 11, 2010 11:10 AM

Life less lived Has reward

only when we lose the dominance of our wishes and dsires over life can we truly know the understanding of life in G Ds grace would we have a deep enough imagination to expose our souls to the true purpose of our existance in this less realm of reality then we may perhaps be able to understand our apropriate place inn the universe over which the crowning glory of the Father we less know resides in every authority Wonder is the thunder that I hear when I turn my ear to the fire of love favouring me from above would we like to be a dimond if we are gold would we like to be absynth if we are wine would we like to be a flower if we are a tree forgive me for my candid reply to the wisdom I see in revelation of your Quabbala world without end inn revelation of the turning of the universal tide as we see loving kindness brought forth in strength to rule over humanity with the truth in grace instead of justice less done

(7) Rhonda Green, December 28, 2009 9:05 AM

Thank You

Dear Rabbi Leiberman, Thank you for making Kabbalah, in particular the Tree of Life's Wisdom Teachings, accessible to this poorly connected soul/body. For some time I've been aware of the sages' teachings that connect particular emotions and actions with certain areas within our bodies, but I was overwhelmed by all of the volumes of disparate information. Books and books explaining some small piece of the pie of how we help to build ourselves and, more importantly, how we can fix it. Thank you, thank you for bringing it to a level where I can finally grasp some of this priceless information. You are such a tremendous teacher for me.

(6) Barbara, July 8, 2004 12:00 AM

great work

your kabbalah series is wonderful!! well written and insightful. Not a magic panacea for people's problems (as some think Kabbalah is) but a chance for more in depth thinking about God's relation to man and how this connection can help us realize our full potential

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