After the election I find it difficult to write (just, justly) about (love, loving kindness, grace). Followed, as the election was, by the death of Leonard Cohen whose songs and as described (by those who knew him), whose personal life embodied grace, the task has become more difficult. I have lost my balance. I have fallen into (judgment, in this case, harsh judgment). Beauty seems cut off from the Crown, (Understanding and Wisdom) disconnected from (love and judgment). All balance has left me, I stumble up and down stairs as though falling, red faced, my prophetic legs unstable, my right knee (eternally) in sharp pain, my left leg (splendidly) leaning against a wall.
by Michael Dickel
And if these words confuse you, then they have communicated an aspect of my state, some limbs of the tree that sustains me. I will not explain. These fragments may not hold. I will try to find some pieces of the puzzle and lay them on the floor, without hope of putting the image together again. For the image shatters, overfull of signification. Its pieces slide into sounds, letters, words, phrases, a life sentence of confusion.
We may discern that the tree grows. We may figure out most or all of how it grows. However, ask the tree why it grows and it will simply rustle in the air of your breath.
Under the Palm Tree, Devorah sat in judgment. She was a warrior and a leader, yet her judgment was not harsh. She led because her judgment was seen as righteous and fair. My family name as I was born to it, Dickel, does not transliterate into the Hebrew aleph-bet very well. However, Dekel does work in Hebrew letters, דקל, and is a common enough family name in Hebrew. So when my wife and I registered our marriage in Israel, we changed our family name to Dekel. Dekel means (date) palm. I (am) a palm tree. I cannot explain.
In the 16th C., Moses Cordevero “discovered” or “wrote down” ancient (oral) texts, or simply wrote them as new texts. These are prominent among the received texts, part of the basis of Kabbalah (which means Reception, Received, but idiomatically, Revelation). One book is The Palm Tree of Devorah. At once it seems a text about how to be a good judge, like Devorah, and how to transcend our lives of judgment to obtain a Oneness with Keter, the Crown of Creation. Some excerpts, from Daniel Matt’s book, The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (including his notes / commentary after the boldface text):
Your face should always be shining. Welcome each person with a friendly countenance. For with regard to Keter Elyon, the supernal crown, it is said: “In the light of the king’s face is life.” No redness or harsh judgment gains entrance there. So, too, the light of your face should never change; whoever looks at you will find only joy and a friendly expression. Nothing should disturb you. (85 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)
“In the light of the king’s face is life.” Proverbs 16:15. CF Mishnah, Avot 1:15: “Welcome each person with a friendly countenance.”
redness The color of harsh judgment. (192)
Your mouth should produce nothing but good. The words you speak should be Torah and an expression of goodwill. Never generate angry or ugly words, curses, or nonsense. Let our mouth resemble the upper mouth, which is never closed, never silent, never withholding the good. Speak positively, always, with benevolent words.
All of these good qualities gather under the banner of humility, each one constituting a limb in Keter above…
It is impossible, of course, to conduct yourself according to these qualities constantly. Accustom yourself to them little by little. The essential quality to attain, the key to them all, is humility, for this is the very first aspect of Keter, under which all of the rest are subsumed. (85–86 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)
So should your wisdom be accessible to all. Teach people what will be useful to them, according to each one’s capacity, pouring out to each as much wisdom as you can. Don’t let anything deter you.…Be careful not to give more than the mind of the recipient can hold, to prevent any mishap…
As Binah, Understanding, sweetens all powers of judgment, neutralizing their bitterness, so should you return to God and correct each flaw. If you meditate on returning every day, you stimulate Binah to illuminate each day.… (87 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)
power of judgment Hebrew, dinim (דינים), powers of the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment. (192)
Do not say that returning is good only for the holy portion within you; the evil portion, too, is sweetened, in the manner of this quality. Do not think that because you incline toward evil there is no remedy. This is false. If you do well, rooting yourself in Returning, you can ascend there through the goodness rooted there. For the root of every supernal bitterness is sweet; you can enter through this root and make yourself good; your intentional sins turn into merits. The misdeeds you committed have been accusing you from the Left Side. Once you return completely, you raise those deeds and root them above. Those accusers are not annihilated but ameliorated, rooted in holiness. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)
the Left Side The demonic dimension, which branches out from the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment, located on the left side of the sefirotic tree. (192)
How should you train yourself in the quality of Hesed, Love? The basic way you enter the mystery of Hesed is by loving God to the extreme, not abandoning devotion for any reason at all, since nothing attracts you in the least, compared to loving God. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)
The sefirot (plural, singular sefirah), according to Jewish Mysticism, could be thought of as a series of vessels through which the energy of Creation / Creator (Keter) flow
from Ayin, אין, Nothingness, through Keter, the Crown (Head) of (Divine) Will
through the Point-Beginning of Wisdom (Hokhmah) and the Palace or Womb of Understanding (Binah)
into the Right Arm of (Hesed) Love (loving kindness, Grace) and the Left Arm of Power-Judgment (Din, Gevurah)
converging into (Tiferet) Beauty-Compassion-Mercy (Heaven, Sun, Harmony, Blessed Holy One)
into the right leg of Eternity-Prophecy (Nezah) and the Left Leg of Splendor-Prophecy (Hod)
converging once again into (Yesod) Foundation-Righteous One-Covenant (Phallus symbolic) and
flowing into the Presence as the Divine Feminine Aspect of God, the Shekhinah, from where it flows into the world / people.
The sefirot of convergences make up a central column, also.
These all make up a (symbolic) body, Adam (mankind, human) that is gender fluid (womb, phallus, Shekhinah all together). They comprise The Tree of Life. “The tree grows upside down,” its roots in the top, “an image familiar to us from many myths” (Scholem 42). “…Its trunk embraces the central and thereby conciliating forces; while the branches or limbs which grow out of it as various points encompass the contradictory forces of divine activity in Hesed and Din” (Scholem 42). The sefira of Hesed is love. The sefira of Din is judgment.
The sefirot could be a galaxy of stars, if you wish. The flow of this energy is two way. Jacob, when he dreamed of the ladder, saw messengers / angels going up and down the ladder (Gen. 28:12). (Not down and up.) The sefirot can also reveal themselves to our awareness as a ladder. The energy of Creation Returns in emanations toward Creator, Ayin,אין, Nothingness, and flows back down. Messengers going up and down, and up again. Hesed and Din must be in a dynamic balance to reach the convergence that is beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction or the duality (in triadic-balance with Keter) of understanding and wisdom in another.
Perhaps the emanations resemble particles falling into a Black Hole. As they hit the event horizon, they double, one continuing, one reflecting out, but as entangled entities. As below, so above; as above, so below. Perhaps the emanations resemble a Big Bang where time flows in both directions—beginning to end, end to beginning. Probably I don’t understand anything and do not have the wisdom to convey ( nothing(ness) ) אין.
However we might choose or be able to imagine them, the sefirot must be in balance. They are fractal—at all levels of the universe from quantum bits to macrocosmic, identical at all magnifications. They are Chaos. Ordered. Theory. The Shape. Everything.
And the opposite of love is not hate. It is harsh judgment. From harsh judgment flows, from us flows, the demonic dimension. For we are nothing but sefirot, energy, emanations of the Big Bang. For all I know.
A glimpse behind the curtain.
Pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard.
It doesn’t matter which you heard,
the holy or the broken Hallelujah…
It is taught in the Mystery of Mysteries: The king’s head is arranged according to Hesed and Gevurah [another term for the sefira Din]. Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension, and which serve to support the upper and lower worlds: princes of princes, masters of truth, masters of balance, masters of howling, masters of screaming, secrets of Torah, cleannesses and uncleannesses—all of them are called “hairs of the king,” that is to say, the extension that proceeds from the holy king, and it all descends from Atika Kadisha [Ancient Holiness].
The forehead of the kin is the visitation of the wicked. When they are called to account because of their deeds, and when their sins are revealed, then is it called “the forehead of the king,” that is to say, Gevurah [Din]. It strengthens itself with its judgments, and extends itself to its extremities.… (Zohar, II, 122b–123a, cited in Scholem 53)
In the next three Sefiroth, we find Hesed (grace or love), Din or Gevurah (severity or judgment), and Rahamim or Tif’ereth (mercy, also known as splendor or beauty), in which the extremes are united and conciliated.Again, it is no coincidence that this sphere is defined by moral forces. (Scholem 42–43)
Hate is not the opposite of love.
Harsh judgment is the opposite of love. Out of the imbalance of harsh judgment (as opposed to judgment per se) and love comes hate. From hate comes the demonic dimension. The demons come from within. This is true for one. It is true for society. It is true of our human world right now, many nationalities, many Nationalisms.
They sit in judgment of us. We sit in judgment of them.
Out of the raised left arm of harsh judgment comes the demonic dimension.
Do not confuse this notion of left or right as anything to do with political camps or spatial dimensions as we know them. They are convenient and familiar shorthand for this side and another side that pull against each other. The image of Adam in the sefirot is a mirror image of the viewer. We see ourselves in everything. The tree is more complex, three dimensional, a series of branchings and series of branchings from those branchings.
The tree is an inadequately simple image because we know it. We see trees. We think we understand.
I don’t understand.
The purpose of all of the rhetoric. The flow of all of the hate. The riling noisy din of social media. Servers flickering. Serving up harsh judgments. All of us. Count me in…I’ll share that meme.
This carries. Comments. Brings. Back. Returns to. A beginning of sorts of bringing. Together or apart, I don’t know.
A furrowed red forehead with notable hair flying loose. “Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension.” In a weave over skin, the redness spouted its harsh judgments, a forehead extended to the extremities of the. Beast.
We called it hate, but he used harsh judgment of immigrants, of minorities, of liberals, of Hillary Clinton. He called up the judgmental. Yes. KKK. Yes. NAZIs. Yes. Bigots.
But. Also. And. Yes. Us.
Those who cried out against him and his followers. With harsh judgment. In harsh judgment. Becoming harsh. Judgment.
And the social media full of Din, the din, the noise, The Judgment. Without looking with love at the followers and asking, “how can I love them?”
Did you think Judgment Day meant someone else’s judgment? Something else’s Judgment? Perhaps it means the day that harsh judgment won. The election. No matter which person won, harsh. Judgment. Reigned.
I don’t love them. I judge them.
Don’t mistake me for saying we need to accept these harsh judgments of others that cast them as enemies—not immigrants, not those who are not “mainstream,” not those who are not “white,” an empty and meaningless category without inscription, a blank page signifying emptiness.
Please understand that the power (Gevurah) he wielded was not only over his followers. He triggered us. He caused us to judge. We answered. Off balance. We fell. Into hate. Fed by (our own) harsh judgment (of ourselves? our darker reflections? our shadows?). Which fed harsh judgment. The demonic dimension. Our demons.
We became part of the fire storm. Redness. Smoke. Mirrors reflecting our fears of who we really are back at us. And we became what we feared.
As did his supporters. They fell off balance into harsh judgment.
Trump fueled and fanned those flames. But so did all of the detractors on all other sides. A raging firestorm of harsh judgment—of Clinton. Of Obama. Of the Right. Of the Left. Of the alt-Right. Of Progressives. Of Boomers. Of Millennials. Clinton of Trump. (Some) progressives of Clinton. Of media. Media of anyone who sold viewers to their advertisers. Of those who voted for third party candidates. Those who voted for third parties of we who voted in the lie of the two-party system. Of those who didn’t judge. Of those who didn’t vote. Of others who judged.
There is room for judgment, to be sure. But it must be balanced by Hesed—grace and love.
I did not have that balance. I did not see that balance.
If we want to counter the redness of the demon with wild strands of hair, we must not join with “masters of howling, masters of screaming.”
I must find in myself Hesed, (love, loving kindness, grace).
We must find. Hesed. We must spread it outward. Emanate it up. And down. And up. We must remember that the opposite of love is not hate, that hate begets hate but arises from harsh judgments (being judgmental).
We must be less harsh in our judgments and more loving in our responses.
I must be less harsh in my judgments. Of you. Of me.
This is not to go to the other extreme. Hesed out of balance lacks boundaries, leaves us open and vulnerable, without defenses of any kind. Ready to be eaten.
We must judge, but justly, with love. And find solutions for people, not attack people as though they are problems.
We must call out the demonic dimensions with Hesed and send them back into Din. We must call out in love, to balance the mess we are in.
But we must also hold ourselves and others accountable for our (mis)judgments out of feelings of superiority.
We are all human. We all live in the world. We have divine potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.
And we all have demonic potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.
We must judge which is prevalent. With Hesed, love and grace.
And love is not the opposite of hate. But it brings a balance of judgment that leads from hate to beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction and to understanding and wisdom in the other.
Love must balance our judgment and guide our actions. Good must be on our tongues.
I don’t know how. I am angry. I am hurting. I am full of harsh judgments. I want to find a balance, though. And I want to remember that
…love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…
I pick up my guitar and fall as much as sit down. My right knee screams in pain. My left knee sags. My right arm tingles, as fingers pluck the six strings. My left fingers press the notes, jarring my left arm to life as I make the chords: C – Am – C – Am -F – G – C – G – C – F – G -Am – F – G – Em – Am
I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
I’ve read this past week that Leonard Cohen wanted Hallelujah to convey all of the possible moments, good and bad, when praise might come to our lips—the cold, the broken, the holy…
“Rabbi Tarphon taught us that while it is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, we are not free to desist from it either.” —Rabbi Marcia A. Zimmerman, Alvin & June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair, Temple Israel, Minneapolis, MN in a letter to her congregation after the election.
Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1995. Citations from the 1997 Castle Books edition.
Scholem, Gershom. On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. Joachim Neugroschel, transl. from the German; edited and revised according to the 1976 Hebrew edition, with the author’s emendations, by Jonathan Chipman. New York: Schocken Books. 1991. Original ©1962.