(This blog series focuses on pilgrimage through the counting of the Omer, marking the seven-week passage from the Jewish holidays of Passover to Shavuot, in which one works each week with different traits both human and Divine. You’ll find more context in the first post in this series. Also, please excuse the Omer-to-blog lag; this exploration of tiferet, or balance, covers the period April 23-30. I think it would be fair to say, though, that there’s no expiration date for the matters at hand.)
I’ve been perched a while on my secluded rock in the ravine, spending time amidst water, wind, trees, light.
Suddenly, a frantic flapping of wings – a couple of ducks putting on reverse thrusters as they land with a splash in the stream beside me.
I think about going for my camera, but don’t want to make any sudden moves, as I’ve decided I’m the Jane Goodall of omer-counters, a quiet presence around whom the wildlife feel unthreatened. (Or maybe the urban experience of these waterfowl is such that they’re accustomed and unfrightened by humans, but since this is not my preferred thought, I go back to being Goodall.)
After a short while, one of them, the more colourful, coasts over closer to me, concentric circles emanating outwards.
“Beautiful,” I think. “Now, the camera.”
Tiferet, though, has me pause a moment.
In this third week of the counting of the omer, the overarching trait with which one works is tiferet, variously translated as splendour, truth, and balance. One way in which balance comes into the picture is to find the right proportion of the first two week’s practices – how much open-hearted, chesed (loving-kindness) to extend, and how much gevurah (boundary-making) to employ.
Winter 2007 – I’m aboard the Southwest Chief, the train that runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. I’ve been travelling in stages, and got on about a half hour ago in Raton, New Mexico.
As always, I’d headed to the viewing car and its floor-to-ceiling windows.
As we pass through grazing and ranch land, I hear a gasp and a “wow!” from the other side. I stand up to see a horse galloping alongside the train, its combination of grace and speed providing a thrill of a kind I’ve never known. I reach back to my seat, grab my camera, take off the lens cover, and turn back.
The horse is gone.
I will think often of this moment, regretting that I tried to capture rather than live it.
Spring 2017 – I am following the arrows, walking the Camino Portuges, the pilgrimage route that runs from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
I’ve chosen the coastal route, carrying my backpack from village-to-village, the Atlantic Ocean on my left, waves crashing against rocks, locals calling out, “Buen Camino!”
Somewhere between Matosinhos and Vila Cha I spot a group of young equestrians. Still on their mounts, most are watching a trio of classmates at the far end of the beach. Suddenly, their horses are in motion, kicking up sand, hooves a blur of speed. As they get closer, I think of my camera. And then, I think of the Southwest Chief, and leave the camera alone so I can simply enjoy the gift of watching them race past, the horses beating out thunder on the ground, the blue-green ocean for a backdrop.
The trio come to a stop and turn around. For another charge along the shore? “Okay,” I tell myself. “The camera can come out. But set it up so that if the moment comes, you’re not experiencing it through a viewfinder.” The moment does come.
The picture I take is slightly out of focus. The delight of the moment is not.
In the ravine, I think of chesed as the voice that says, “Yes, take the picture. Capture the moment. Keep it for yourself, share and show it off to others.” While gevurah says, “Not so fast. These moments come once. Try to capture them and they’re gone; don’t participate from the sidelines.”
When the duck drifts my way, tiferet lets chesed and gevurah have their say, then finds a middle path, just as it did on the Camino. First, be here, in case here goes away. Breathe in this gift, and breathe it in again. And then, if it lasts, get out your camera and click. Unlike the Camino, though, this time my subject is slow-moving, and I could take dozens of pictures till I get the perfect shot.
Gevurah says, “Remember. You’re Goodall. Not Ansel Adams.”
Even chesed has me let go of the camera, saying, “Listen to your body. Your body doesn’t want to work that hard. It just wants to be here.”
Sometimes, I guess, tiferet has to negotiate between chesed and gevurah, and other times it lets them find their own path to the same destination.
So a couple more pics, and the technology is put aside. I hang out with the ducks for some time, until a rambunctious golden retriever charges into the water and sends them flapping away.
And with tiferet’s assistance, I am full, still enjoying this opportunity to breath easy.
How about you? What’s your experience of late or of life in finding that sweet spot where tiferet finds harmony between chesed or loving-kindness and gevurah or boundary-making? Or how have you witnessed it in others? Got advice or insights you would care to offer?