Gevurah of Hod
A teaching on Strength in empathy from the Ashrei Prayer – on effective Jewish leadership models for our time, and a tribute to my Rebbe The Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM.
The burning question of the day is, “how do we inspire a new generation, to accept the baton of Judaism and carry it triumphantly, forward?” There seems to be two general ways of approaching this.
One — innovation.
This approach has come to mean taking a look at where people are really at, and based on that, begin to recreate the entire look, feel, and texture of Judaism as its been practiced for thousands of years, tailoring the practices of Judaism to snugly fit the changing shape of contemporary society.
The second one is the exact opposite- preservation.
This approach is all about holding on firmly to Torah values, Halacha, and Minhag customs, feigning oblivion the monumental changes of modern life.
I believe both of these approaches are seriously flawed.
On one hand If we keep peeling off more and more layers of our Jewish practice, we will end up With nothing left to “eat”, on the other hand, if our strategic thinking consists merely in adopting more measures of stridency in our communal tone and cloistering ourselves from the world as a way of ensuring our continuity, then all we are doing is “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
I believe my Rebbe, like Reb Yochanan Ben Zakkai in his time, realized that the surviving remnants of our post holocaust Jewish community was once again at a crossroads, and with the utter decimation of the pre Shoah Eastern European communities, a towering Beit hamikdosh esque- flourishing Jewish communal infrastructure, would need to somehow be rebuilt, a new communal paradigm would need to be established.
I think that the revolutionary idea of the Chabad House, was the Rebbes Yavneh! In setting up these Chabad oasis like outposts, the Rebbe, like Reb Yochanan Ben Zakkai- spearheaded, and presided over a global Jewish renaissance unlike any other in our history.
Like Reb Yochanan Ben Zakkai- the rebbe was misunderstood and even vilified by some of his contemporaries, many of whom have only now started to begrudgingly appreciate, and even replicate, his sheer strategic foresight.
But was it only strategic insight, or something else deeper, some mysterious energy that drove the Rebbe to singlehandedly, transform the course of Jewish history.
What fueled the Rebbe with such assurance, conviction and utter fearlessness?
I know that historians will grapple with this in the future, and will offer many answers, some thoughtful, some fanciful, and some even downright spurious.
I can only humbly offer what I observed, growing up, in the throes of that heady, tumultuous and always exhilarating, moment in time.
Even during the lifetime of my Rebbe- it was apparent to me at least, that he was never truly from here, a soul that slipped down to us, seemingly from the sublime world of Atzilut.
Only this kind of visionary Rebbe, was fully aware – that the innovation that is rooted in a place of unmitigated Hod- unlimited empathy that is hyper focused on circumstance, is as unhealthy as the stifling oblivion to those circumstances – that is rooted in a place of pure Gevurah.
He drew unmatched leadership courage from that exalted soul, withdrawing also from deep within those mysterious depths, an unmatched, pure love for KLAL Yisroel, setting out to do what none of the Gedolai Hador – were prepared to do – the unthinkable, to dare unsheathe the Hod sword out of its locked scabbard, and wield it with the right measure of Gevurah- authoritatively, courageously and effectively.
Most importantly however, was the way he did not abuse the Hod approach to innovate and make changes to Torah. While others were bent on changing Torah, often with smugness, in back room “Halachik commissions” rather than challenging prevailing mindsets and perspectives, the Rebbe was focused on helping people make positive change to their lives.
Innovation, in presentation of the message- not the message itself…The content must indeed be preserved at all costs. The Rebbe challenged an entire generation, to change the flow, instead of just “going with the flow.” Truly meeting people where they were, and offering a new way of seeing an old Yiddishkeit – that was authentic and intact – yet you didn’t need to practice all or most of it, if you weren’t there yet. You were encouraged with love and acceptance to grow in spirituality, one mitzvah at a time, don’t ever bite off more than you can chew. Even one mitzvah was a conduit leading to personal holiness and connectedness. One mitzvah leads to another, each mitzvah is a torch that beams its own deep light into the world. In this way Torah remains intact, Jewish people are engaged…..and yes, you can put on Tefillin even if you’re not “Orthodox”
This approach was startling and threatening, sending shock waves throughout the Jewish establishment, on both sides of the fence. Win win – in the daring new spiritual vocabulary of Lubavitch!
In doing so The Rebbe pioneered a new third way, one that is now part of the lexicon of the entire Jewish community. Some call it outreach, Some, inreach- Others Kiruv.
To me it was always one thing. Shlichus. Gevurah and Hod. It will always be that for me.
We ventured out, not as career Rabbis, we went as emissaries of this Tzaddik in our time and we’ve never left! We went because we were inspired, and still are, by the vision and teachings of a man who truly believed he could change the world to be a better, brighter, kinder and ultimately holier place.
The Rebbe led us on his path of towing the line, with empathy and understanding, minus the compromise and deconstructionist mentality, knowing, like Yitzchak Avinu, how thirsty this generation was, to drink from the genuine wellsprings of redemption and hope.
He urged us to be creative and think out of the box, but resist the urge to dig new wells – I continue to hear his voice as I dig my way through life “dig deeper, he urged us, if you’re not finding what you’re looking for your simply not looking hard enough!”
A re-reading of a verse in Ashrei is a good teaching on this idea.
להודיע לבני האדם גבורותיו — “Lehodia leevnay ha- Adam Gevurotav”
Even though Judaism cannot survive without its Gevurah structure, if that structure is inaccessible, and feels like a threatening impenetrable fortress, turning away those that would enjoy its warmth, those very people for whom this structure was constructed in the first place, then that is equally threatening to our survival.
The solution? Preserve the content with Gevurah – innovate the presentation with Hod.
Lehodia is a wonderful word. It has the connotation of communication of truth in a non threatening uncoercive manner, it’s conveyed in the same spirit as good news meant to be shared, Lehodia. Even the most Gevurah like subject matter can be communicated with softness, as long as there is a Hod like- sensitive, approach.
This form of sharing the “Gevurotav” – the structured principled truths that form the backbone of Judaism, in a “Lehodia” form – only by truly seeing one another as Benai Adam – people, complex beings, each carrying their own story, each with their private history… Each equally loved by Hashem!
A true exchange of spiritual ideas, cannot happen between strangers.
Built right into the Hebrew word- Lehodia, to notify, is the word Hod, which means empathy! The Rebbe set the tone for the “principled kindness” approach to Yiddishkeit that has drawn an entire generation of Jews back to the communal table, by not only holding onto those principles strongly with Gevurah Tenacity, but also by “HOD-ing” us strongly, with love, EMPOWERING us to draw inspiration from Torah, and lead higher, holier, and yes, just as important, happier lives!