Achieving Personal and Global Harmony
One of the most eloquent concepts in mystical
thought is the microcosm/macrocosm phenomenon. The human
being is a “miniature universe,” reflecting
every aspect of the world at large, and the universe is
a giant organism.
The reason for this intrinsic connection between humans
and the universe is because the universe was created for the purpose that
we humans refine and elevate it. Thus, a copy of every detail of the universe
exists inside of each human being. By refining different aspects of our personal
lives we also refine each respective corresponding dimension in the universe.
In a way this introduces an entirely new dimension to the
anthropic principle. The anthropic principle states that we
live in a fine-tuned universe to allow the existence of life as we know it.
The universe seems to have been custom made for human life. If any of the
basic physical constants were different, then life as we know it would not
be possible. The microcosm concept explains that the human being and the universe
are interwoven and interdependent copies of each other.
Knowing that we are a microcosm of the universe
also empowers us in dealing with world events happening around us. Though
subtle, harmony in our personal lives helps bring harmony to the world. We
may not be able to sense the “butterfly effect” of our behavior on the universe,
and its effect is not always direct and overt. Neverthless, were told with
absolute certainty that our actions do have a ripple effect on the world.
We therefore are not victims of circumstances of world events; we have the
power to change the world. As we refine ourselves we in some way also refine
This message is powerfully relevant today
as we struggle to understand the complexities of the world we have suddenly
been thrust in. The answer to the biggest question of all: “What can I do
about the conflicts of our time?” is that our personal choices help us affect
global events. Obviously, we must first undertstand the soul root of the current
upheavals so that we can recoginze their parallels mirrored in our own personal
lives. We then can, in turn, repair or refine that particular area in our
This will be the focus of today’s column.
In last week’s article (How Far Are We From
Sinai?) I discussed the current battles in the Middle East in context of the
nations rejecting the the foundations of civilization given to us at Sinai
3316 years ago, specifically the absolute prohibition against murder.
To clearly understand today’s events we need
to go back to their roots. As Churchill said “The farther backward
you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
Sinai is called Tiferet. It empowered us
with the ability to fuse the sacred and the secular, and achieve the proper
balance between spirit and matter. By rejecting Sinai, the nations demonstrated
that they were not yet ready to accept the formula for complete integration
of heaven and earth. But as time would pass, they would embrace Sinai, albeit
with many reservations and distortions.
Therein lies the spiritual roots of today’s conflicts.
The nations of the world have to once and for all embrace
the Sinai legacy – the Divine blueprint how to live
our lives, and how to coexist with others, even when they
of different persuasions. Specificially the Sinai message
must be embraced in regard to the proper method of integrating
spiritual/religious beliefs with a material and secular
world, without one destroying the other, which has so often
been the case in history.
By no means is this lesson limited to the children of Ishmael (the Arab/Muslim
nations). It also includes the Christian West and other
nations of the world. Indeed, as long as we have not yet
ushered in a world where the “swords will be turned
into plowshares,” all peoples, including the Jewish
nation, are responsible to teach and disseminate the Sinai
mandate, until it becomes the defining factor how to live
Balance, harmony – Tiferet – is the key point.
How does this translate into our personal
I will use a personal example.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article (Are
You Loved) in which I shared the story of a man who was never loved as
a child. Sadly, this has become a common phenomenon of our times. Many people
never received the healthy nurturing that every child is entitled to. And
then the rest of their lives they are in desperate search of that lost love.
The profound loneliness, the self-loathing that this causes, is impossible
to describe. In the article, I made the point that one of the critical elements
of intervention has to include tha fact that our true value comes from within
– from our souls, not from our parents or other people.
When I described how this lonely man’s painful
words broke my heart, I mentioned that I put on a “steely demeanor” to prevent
myself from crying.
I received quite a few e-mails challenging
why the “steely demeanor?” “Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to show
him love and sensitivity, rather than detaching and protecting yourself?”
was the question I received. One writer put it this way: “I feel that
man would have got more from your broken heart than your steely demeanor.
People like us have already had enough steely demeanors and with all due respect
the need for a steely demeanor is for you, not us. We know feelings already
and we've been dealing with the pain of them for years and trying to live
a semblance of a life despite them.”
Legitimate, very legitimate point.
However, I didn’t share the entire story, which is why
it came across as insensitive as it did. I hoped that no one would have accused
me of being crass, but I see that if you do not write all the details your
intentions can be misconstrued.
So allow me to say this. Every time someone consults with
me about a personal, emotional issue, I am faced with a dilemma.
On one hand, you must show profound empathy. On the other
hand, if you are a sensitive soul, in your empathy you can sometimes be overwhelmed
with emotion as you place yourself in the shoes of the person who has been
hurt and you relive his/her experiences. When you are so overwhelmed, it becomes
difficult to maintain your composure in a way that allows you to offer your
I must confess that I have yet to master this balance.
There are times when I am so moved by another’s pain and loss, that I cannot
step back and provide the appropriate insight.
Hence the need for a “steely demeanor,” not just to protect
myself, but primarily to allow me the relative distance necessary to introduce
a fresh perspective and be helpful.
The balance necessary between empathy (chesed) and distance
(gevurah) is an example of Tiferet. There are those who
get so emotionally close and intimate with a client that
they no longer can give good advice. There are those professionals
that are so distant and detached that their clients cannot
identify with them.
Virtually every area of life has in one way or another
the struggle between these two poles. Take relationships. For a relationship
to be healthy you need to balance between two extremes. 1/ Closeness and Intimacy.
A relationship is driven by the closeness between two people.
Yet, we often see that people can destroy each other with love. You may love
another person and not know how to offer it in a way that the other can contain
it. Love can also blur boundaries. For love to be complete the individuality
of each person cannot be compromised.
How do you balance between intimacy and boundaries? Tiferet
is the answer. Tiferet blends and harmonizes the free outpouring love of Chesed
with the discipline of Gevurah. Tiferet possesses this power by introducing
a third dimension - the dimension of truth, which is neither love nor discipline
and therefore can integrate the two. Tiferet is about looking at what is right
and true rather than what is in it for you.
Truth is accessed through selflessness (bittul): rising
above your ego and your predispositions, enabling you to realize truth. Truth
gives you a clear and objective picture of yours and others’ needs. This quality
gives Tiferet its name, which means beauty: it blends the differing colors
of love and discipline, and this harmony makes it beautiful.
This balance definitely carries weight when it comes to
religious issues. Often (we wish it wouldn’t be so common) people get so uptight
about their religious principles that they compromise the respect for other
people. True, religious principles are absolute and they include the responsibility
to rebuke another. Yet, there are very specific laws how this rebuke must
take place, and it is never about invalidating another human being and their
autonomy, and never about judging another person (“Always look at people with
merit.” “Do not judge another until you stand in his place”).
It always must come with respect, and above all, great
care must be taken not to allow your personality to get in the way. Before
you address another’s shortcomings, you must ensure that your intentions are
absolutely pure – not coming from your own weaknesses, insecurities, your
need to criticize, your mean streak or any other human flaw.
Finally, this Tiferet balance originates from our relationship
with G-d, which also needs a balance between love and awe (Ahavat Hashem and
Yirat Hashem). A relationship with G-d needs to feel a sense of closeness
and love (ahava, chesed) and sense of awe and distance (yirah, gevurah), recognizing
that G-d is beyond us.
All our struggles come
down to a balance between these two poles. Including our ultimate struggle
between the material and the spiritual, between the sacred and the secular.
It’s easier to opt for
one pole or the other. To either choose ascetic spirituality or material immersion.
Yet, a healthy life is only possible when we balance and integrate the two
This is the challenge
of our times – both personally and globally. Especially in light of all our
technological achievements, a great schism has emerged between our material
prosperity and easy life and our personal and psychological issues, between
unprecedented technological unity and unparalleled personal disunity.
We all have, in microcosm, the struggle between soul and
body. Between religion and sensitivity. Between G-d and the universe.
Next time, before you
judge another person think of the ripple effect it has on the world. True,
you may not be a terrorist or be committing another atrocity. Yet, even speaking
badly about others is called a subtle form of “murder.”
The Baal Shem Tov tells
us that we are like mirrors. Every event that we experience is actually a
reflection of our own lives. It comes to teach us a lesson that we need to
learn and repair.
When we see global events
shaking the world, they must also shake our internal world. Though we cannot
compare our own iniquities with the terrible events in the Middle East, we
still must learn lessons from these events that help us develop our own sensitivity.
Lessons that teach us how to face our own battles – in our search for balance
And then we are told that
our individual effort changes the world. When we change the microcosm the
macrocosm is directly affected.
Maimonides writes: A
person must see himself and the world as equally balanced on two ends of the
scale; by doing one good deed, he tips the scale and brings for himself and
the entire world redemption and salvation (Laws of Repentance, 3:4).
If each of us would improve
our own tiferet balance, we would change the landscape of the universe. After
all, the world is simply 6+ billion individuals like you and me.