Hesed & Gevurah: The Kaballah of Politics

by Rabbi David Zaslow with help from Devorah Zaslow

In the Kaballah, the force of expansion is represented by Hesed, and personified by the angel Michael. In the diagram of the Kabalistic tree of life, Hesed, meaning “kindness and “mercy,” resides in the right side of the body – the side from which most of us greet each other and shake hands (before Covid 19). The contrasting force of contraction is represented by Gevurah and personified by the angel Gabriel. Gevurah, meaning “strength, discernment, and boundaries,” resides on the left side of the body from which most of us protect ourselves by fending off incoming attack.

When Hesed and Gevurah are in balance, the energy of the equilibrium awakens Tiferet, which means “beauty.” Today, no matter where we stand in our political beliefs most of us would agree that our nation is terribly out of balance. Important issues like immigration reform, climate change, and racial equity have polarized many of us within our communities, and even within our families. I believe that Tiferet is calling us to regain our equilibrium. In the language of our sages, the Shechinah is in exile as long as we are out of balance.

Now that the election is over it is time for all of us to do our part in making our way toward the balance that will ultimately express itself in beauty. If we look at politics kabalistically, we see the the qualities of Gevurah represented by the need for boundaries, and support for our military and police. On the other hand, the qualities of Hesed are expressed in our compassion for the poor, immigration reform, and police reform. Obviously, neither political party is completely one way or the other, just as each of us is a mixture of Hesed and Gevurah. No matter which side of the political spectrum we align with, the other side will not, indeed cannot, disappear. If we see it from the perspective of Kabbalah, Gevurah and Hesed are built-in to the hard drive of creation and will always be seeking equilibrium and balance.

At this moment, after the election, it doesn’t matter which political point of view you support, or which policies you want to see enacted. In the Executive branch of the government the die is cast for the next four years. What matters now, as President-Elect Biden spoke about in his acceptance speech, is not allowing ourselves to see those we disagree with as our enemies. Hesed and Gevurah need each other. Kindness must have healthy boundaries and limitations. Strength must be mitigated by compassion. Both Hesed and Gevurah seek justice, the justice at the root of Tiferet, beauty.

Tiferet is represented by the archangel Raphael who brings healing into our lives personally, communally, nationally, and on a planetary level. How do we evoke this ideal of justice and beauty? The answer lies in what rabbinic Judaism calls a machloket l’shem shamayim – “a dispute for the sake of heaven.” When disputes are made “for the sake of heaven,” a proponent of a particular political policy will not debase her/himself to the level of exaggeration, lying, bullying, racism, or bigotry. In other words, we engage in civil discourse with curiosity and empathy for views of the other even as we vigorously advocate for our own positions and beliefs.

Who will guide us toward such a Utopian vision of balance between opposites? We have an angel for that too, whose name is Uriel – the angel of light, the angel we can envision to guide us toward a better future. Now that the election is over, I pray that all of us can follow the lead of our better angels who want us to debate, who depend upon our passionate advocacy, but who caution us against mockery and demonetization of the “other.”

Sometimes the hardest mitzvah to fulfill is v’ahvata l’rayacha kamocha “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Such a mitzvah does not arise out of legislation from any branch of government or ruling from any court. The siddur directs us to make the promise to fulfill this mitzvah every day in our morning prayers. Then we can imagine the light of the angel Uriel guiding us to implement it in our interactions every day. Loving our neighbor, especially those we disagree with, must begin with me, with you, with each of us, now.

May the Holy One bless our nation on its way to healing and beauty. If you agree please say “Amen!” Awareness of the opposing forces of Kabbalah can help us engage in healthy discourse, leading us to build a brighter future together. May we see the light of Tiferet, the holy balance of beauty, speedily in our days.

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