Hessed is the emotion of giving and sharing. When we reach out to a person in need, we are drawing on our Hessed flow. It is the basic cosmic flow with which creation is imbued. Indeed, we can say that the Sefira of Hessed is at the heart of humanity’s desire to make a meaning contribution to the world.
-Rabbi Laibl Wolf
“Hessed: Unlocking the Flow of Love” (pg. 120)
Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life
Does a kosher Christmas tree really exist? Well, not exactly but a new trend is taking place across the globe of topping off Christmas trees with a Magen David (“star of David”). As oxymoronic as that sounds, thousands have been sold in the US, Canada, the UK, Austria, Ireland, Australia and Mexico.
Not surprisingly, the holiday season can be a difficult time for interfaith families made up of Jews and Christians. The excessive commercial marketing of Christmas often makes Jews feel left out. Enter Morri Chowaki. He is a Jewish man who is married to a woman whose mother is Jewish and father is Greek Orthodox.
“A Kosher Christmas Tree?”
First Fruits of Zion blog.
No, I haven’t lost my mind (at least I don’t think I have). I know there’s no such thing as a “Kabbalah Christmas,” but I thought it would be a great title for this morning’s meditation, hopefully the title will attract a little attention and maybe even inspire a few folks to stick around and read today’s missive (please feel free to comment, too).
I never thought I’d write about Christmas. My family hasn’t celebrated this holiday in a religious or even a secular manner for well over a decade. But in reading about Hessed and Gevurah (more on that in a minute) in Rabbi Wolf’s book and then reading Toby’s write-up about Christmas at the FFOZ blog, inspiration took hold of me. After all, when we think of Hessed (sometimes spelled, “Chesed”), we think of acts of kindness and charity, which are certainly consistent with the highest ideals of Christmas. But there’s an important flip side.
Strength takes on many forms. Some of us are physically strong, or our strength may lie in our willpower. We may be strong-minded, or we may allow our feelings to flow strongly. Perhaps we have strong convictions. Our faith may be unshakable. The Kabbalah tells us that each of these forms of strength is connected by a common flow – the flow of Gevurah. (pg 132)
Our natural tendency is to be Hessed oriented, but sometimes it is necessary to be highly focused, single-minded, and self-contained to achieve a specific goal. At such times, the balance must weigh heavily in favor of Gevurah rather than Hessed. (pg 135)
Rabbi Wolf speaks of Hessed and Gevurah as being in balance for a spiritually healthy person, with each of these natures coming to the forefront as the circumstances require. Hessed allows us to give to others in need without being overly concerned with our own desires while Gevurah keeps us from giving our rent money to charity. Each, as an apparent opposite of the other, has its place, but neither one should exist without the other. If they are out of balance, we could ignore the needs of our family to give to the poor or horde our very last dollar without considering the starving widow and orphan in the slightest. There are blessings involved in meeting our personal and family responsibilities and in acts of loving kindness to the stranger. Life is a study of duality and balance.
Toby’s article speaks in part about intermarried couples and how Jewish and Christian spouses might try to “manage” Christmas between them. In my household, that isn’t one of our “dualities”, but for many couples it certainly is. Even for someone like me there is a sort of “dual-mindedness” about this time of year. My family and I originally gave up Christmas because of its “pagan” origins. I’ve long since left that particular “boogey man” behind, but I left Christmas behind, too. I don’t find the Messiah and Savior “living” anywhere near December 25th and I see him much more clearly through the “lens” of Sukkot and Pesach (Passover). Yet I self-identify as a Christian, which drives other Christians nuts.
Christian blogger Antwuan Malone asked me:
So, you mentioned “the thought of facing the requirement of celebrating Christmas within church context”. What do you mean?
I’m curious why you don’t celebrate Christmas in any form.
You can click the link I provided above to read my answer, but the wording of his question tells me that even when Christians struggle with managing Christmas in their lives, they still can’t understand why another Christian would choose not to celebrate Christmas in any way at all.
I suppose it’s because I have no emotional ties to Christmas. Although I enjoyed Christmas for the loot I raked in as a child, I don’t recall any warm, fond memories of Christmas time that overcome me with nostalgic bliss. As an adult, I wasn’t a traditional Christian long enough to form any meaningful emotional and spiritual connections before I turned onto the Messianic path. Now that I’m a Christian again (sounds strange, I know), I have nothing to “fall back on” in terms of a nostalgia for Christmas. It just doesn’t “feel” like the birth of Christ or any other high point on my religious calendar. I suppose, put in “Kabbalah” terms, my Hessed is coming up rather dry and my Gevurah is restricting my response.
It’s my Gevurah that also looks at the power surge of emotions and expectations of Christians at this time of year and wonders why I must feel joyful and cheerful and happy. Even the secular world thinks of Christmas as “the most wonderful time of the year.” If I have anything “against” Christmas at all anymore, it’s that expectation that I should feel something and that I must be channeling Ebenezer Scrooge if I don’t.
I’d be a lot more comfortable enjoying my freedom from holiday stress and shopping anxiety if there wasn’t this latent desire in the world around me to drag me into a set of emotions I just can’t relate to.
Usually around this time of year, I’ll hear of some news story where a person loads up the parking meters downtown with quarters so no one will get a parking ticket, or someone will take $500.00 and pay for gas for customers at their local gas station while the money lasts (both of these stories are true, by the way). I can’t complain about Christmas spirit like this except to say I wish Christians would behave with such Hessed the year round.
I’m looking forward to having a few days off toward the end of this month, eating Chinese food (a tradition in my house on December 25th), warming myself in front of the fireplace, sipping a glass of wine, and reading a good book (on Kabbalah, perhaps). The few strings of Christmas that are still tenuously attached to my life will tug at me and I’ll notice the slight pull, but I’ll continue to balance the wants and needs of this time of year in the secular and Christian world, against the feeling of lightness I’ve come to enjoy at not being a enthralled to the heavy demands of the yuletide season.
For many, December 25th is the day when the King of King and the Lord of Lords was born, and that peace on Earth and good will towards others can be celebrated in anticipation of the return of Christ and the peace he will bring. I can’t deny that specialness to those who feel it nor would I ever attempt to speak against the kindness others express toward their fellows during this holiday. I only ask that you don’t expect me to feel what you might be feeling. I do not disdain Christmas for being pagan nor enrapture myself with Carols and Nativity scenes. I look forward only to a quiet sort of peace which is not Christmas for me, but rather the ability to let Christmas pass by me like a momentary breeze on its way to January.