Hod shebiGevurah

Given that we’re a little shy on prophets right now, we have to find G-d’s word as He relays it as the Author of history. Looking at these “coincidences” He allows to crop up.

One of them is the convergance of meanings the Jewish People assign to the 27th of Nissan.

In the sefiras ha’omer, today is day 12, which the Qabbalists teach corresponds to the sefirah of Hod as it is manifest as part of the week’s sefirah of Gevurah. In other words, somehow day 12 has/represents the aspect of Divine Will which we perceive as the humility inherent in self-control.

More recently, most of the Jewish world assigned today as a day to remember the Holocaust. I am not getting into the question of its religious significance, if any. Looking at this “coincidence” as simply a historical artifact created / permitted by the Almighty…

During the omer, my email signature generator poses thought-questions related to the sefiros of the day. Today’s is “Hod shebiGevurah: What aspect of judgment forces the “judge” into submission?” And it struck me.

Nothing speaks to “Where was G-d during the Holocaust?” more than Hod shebiGevurah. G-d “held himself back” from acting, even though it caused the world to question Him.

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  1. jaded topaz says:

    There is nothing inherently humble about “self control”, though it can be one of many reasons used to logcially convince oneself about the upstairs reward and punishment program and or to construct somewhat dubious and deceptive feelings oriented reasons for “self control”.

    (specific traits that need control like anger and humility are related as per the iggeres haramban)

    But, If G-d exists, and if in fact he “held himself back”, this “self control” decision would have nothing to do with whether or not “the world would be questioning him”, the only possible way for the “self control” to have some inherent “humility” component.

    In fact it appears to be quite a bit about anger and nothing about “held himself back ” in anyway.

    Not sure why you understand the events to be that of a G-d that “held himself back”. Maybe with the protection, but not with the anger or punishment.

    Philosophizing about G-d, and the Daddy in the sky is a waste of energy.

    • micha says:

      Usually I would reject an anonymous post in this kind of tone. I think it is an epidemic that turns the world of Jewish blogging into a moshav leitzim, a meeting ground for scoffers. Anonymity in particular removes accountability, and therefore opens the door to people saying things they would never want to be associated with.

      But the real problem is the tone. A true dispute for the sake of heaven wouldn’t descend into ridicule. And then, what are you ridiculing? An idea held by the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov and the Ben Ish Hai. It’s one thing to take the Rambam’s or Rav Hirsch’s side and disagree. But ridicule is implicitly claiming you’re more informed as well as capable of outthinking a huge population of some pretty bright people. It’s assuming a superiority that simply isn’t there.

      And that is arguably a bigger problem in trying to lead a meaningful and productive life than incorrect philosophizing.

      That said…

      You’re arguing for a negative theology; in other words, the notion that all we can say about G-d is what He isn’t. Ironically, you, by writing about G-d’s anger or punishment, get closer to treating Him as a “Daddy in the sky” than I did.

      The first of the Vilna Gaon’s “10 Principles” of how to understand Jewish Thought is that all these descriptions are not of G-d in-and-of Himself, but of G-d as He allows us to perceive Him. And so, the sefiros are describing attributes of that perception, not of G-d. This probably connects us to a dispute between Rav Saadia Gaon and the Rambam. Both have a significant discussion of negative theology. The Rambam posits that all we can say about G-d is really about how the consequences of His “Actions” appear to us. The discussion of Divine Mercy is really just a shorthand for having a discussion of “Acts” of G-d that, if done by a person, would be an expression of the person’s mercy. Rav Saadia Gaon admits a second kind of adjective with respect to G-d — descriptions of the relationship between Him and us.

      In any case, though, how G-d allows Himself to appear to us is very significant, and arguably the essence of Judaism. If our goal is to imitate G-d, then we are discussing nothing less than what G-d is teaching us to do, how to lead our own lives.

      As for “holding himself back”…. The Nazis had free will, presumably. In which case, the question isn’t about G-d’s action, but about G-d’s inaction in not stopping them. Why was their choice allowed to be successful?

      Gevurah as a sefirah exists in contrast to Chessed. Holding back as opposed to giving. Gevurah is what it takes to be a parent watching their toddler stumble and not run to catch them, or worse — watching their teenager take a misstep and seeing the need not to take over for them. It’s giving the other the space to be themselves. Thus, the concept of the day is to look for where this kind of inaction — which we would imitate by exercising self-control — leads to Hod .

      Again, you can refuse to buy into all this, despite the presence of the concept that day 12 is about “Hod shebiGevurah” in the majority of versions of the liturgy for the omer across the traditional Jewish community. But no further sarcasm will be allowed on Aspaqlaria’s comment area.


  2. jaded topaz says:

    Are “leitzim” defined as “scoffers”, and what part of my comment is ridiculing ideas that the Vilna Gaon, Ben Ish Hai and Bal Shem Tov held dear.
    Your sefirah and corresponding day concept went right over my head, so “sarcasm” and “ridicule” would be the wrong cause of action for your mussar laced complaint.
    I apologize for the tone.
    According to the Iggeres Haramban ,Anger is the worst trait known to mankind, once an individual gets his Anger under control, then the trait of humility settles over him. This clearly suggests that when one is angry one cannot be humble, or one generally cannot act with humility.

    Clearly, G-d was quite angry during the Holocaust. Its not clear what part of this anger was “held back” and not part of the reason harsh action was taken. He certainly was not happy. he was clearly angry.
    As mere mortals we know that we cannot handle being angry and humble as these traits dont work in unison, clearly stated in a roundabout way in the Iggeres Haramban letter.
    Obviously G-d is not human and I guess he could be angry and humble at the same time, though im still not clear on where the humility factor comes in to play in your post and what precisely G-d held back in terms of the holocaust.

    [This response was edited as per a PS comment (deleted) by the author. -mb]

  3. micha says:


    When you criticize speculation using the word “daddy”, you move from intellectual debate to leitzanus. The comment works pre-coginitively; you can chip away at an idea someone takes seriously before they are even aware that it’s your rhetoric, not the weight of what you have to say. I’m not sure if the right word for that is “scoffing”, “ridicule”, or something else. But that’s how I would define leitzanus, particularly as used in the past few centuries by rabbis warning us against its harm.

    The notion of describing our perception of how G-d runs things via 10 sefiros dates back as far as Seifer haYetzirah. The figures I named all spent major time discussing Qabbalah, and therefore the sephirotic description of how the world is run (as we can perceive it). Also, by being major figures in the misnagdic, chassidic and Sepharadic worlds respectively, I chose those three names to show how ubiquitous the belief in sefiros is. Describing it as “philosophizing about the the Daddy in the sky” is a tone of leitznus applied to a theme central to many people’s avodas Hashem.

    As it happens, not mine. One of the things that attracted me to Mussar is that it can be fully discussed without ever touching Qabbalah. Qabbalah can be used to inhance understanding; but isn’t a necessary ingredient. Which I think is a proper role for Qabbalah, similar to how it was handled historically.

    Now to address the actual topic…

    Writing “clearly, G-d was quite angry” is treating Him very anthropomorphically. That’s not to say it’s wrong to do so; although I would take it as shorthand for “G-d was acting in a way, that if a human were to do it I would call that anger.”

    However, this was not a natural disaster, it was caused by people. The question isn’t why G-d killed all those people, but why He allowed the Nazis to succeed in doing so. I see Hashem’s role as one of omission, not commission. If G-d wanted to teach us how to emulate the proper use of anger, wouldn’t He have chosen one where the act commmitted on His part were less assignable to another party — human free will?

    Thus I read it as “gevurah” in the sense of the strength to stand firm. (In a contrast to chessed’s tendency to act.)


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