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. Nevertheless, we’re 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 the universe.
This message is powerfully relevant today as we struggle to understand the complexities of the world into which we have suddenly been thrust. 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 understand the soul root of the current upheavals so that we can recognize their parallels mirrored in our own personal lives. We then can, in turn, repair or refine that particular area in our lives.
This is the focus of today’s column.
G-d gave us the foundations of civilization at Sinai over 3300 years ago. In a previous article (How far are we from Sinai?) we examined current battles in the Middle East where the nations reject these foundations, specifically the absolute prohibition against murder.
To clearly understand today’s events we need to go back to their roots. In the words of Winston Churchill, “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 passes, they would embrace Sinai, albeit with many reservations and distortions.
Therein lies the spiritual roots of today’s conflicts. The nations of the world must, once and for all, embrace the Sinai legacy – the Divine blueprint for how to live our lives and how to coexist with others — even when we are all of different persuasions. Specifically, 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 in how we live our lives.
Balance, harmony – Tiferet – is the key point.
How does this translate into our personal lives?
I will use a personal example.
Previously, 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 to which every child is entitled. In such cases, the rest of their lives are lived in a desperate search of that lost love. The profound loneliness and self-loathing that this causes is impossible to describe. In aforementioned article, I pointed out that one of the critical elements of intervention must include the 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 asking: “Why the “steely demeanor? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to show him love and sensitivity, rather than detaching and protecting yourself?” 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.”
This is a very legitimate point.
However, I didn’t share the entire story which is why my behavior came across as insensitive. I hoped that no one would have accused me of being a crass person. I now see that if I do not inlcude all of the relevant details my intentions may be misconstrued.
Allow me to explain. Every time someone consults with me about a personal, emotional issue, I am faced with a dilemma.
On one hand, I must show profound empathy. On the other hand, if I am a sensitive soul (and I believe that I am) my empathy you may sometimes be overwhelmed with emotion as I place myself in the shoes of the hurt person who is sharing strong feelings with me. I actually relive his/her experiences. When one becomes overwhelmed by emotion, it becomes difficult to maintain one’s composure in order to best offer objective support.
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 to maintain the distance necessary to introduce a fresh perspective and be to 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 can no longer give good advice. Conversely, there are those professionals who 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. Consider relationships. For a relationship to be healthy one needs to balance between two extremes: 1) Closeness and Intimacy, and 2) Boundaries.
A relationship is driven by the closeness between two people. Yet, we often see that people can destroy each other with love. One may love another person, but not know how to offer love 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 does one balance 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 one’s ego and predispositions, enabling the realization of truth. Truth provides a clear and objective picture of on’es own needs and that of others. This quality gives Tiferet its name, “Beauty,” the blending of the differing colors and shades of love and discipline. 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 about how this rebuke must take place. It must never invalidate another human being and their autonomy. It never involves judging another person (“Always look at people with merit.” “Do not judge another until you stand in his place”).
When offering correction and advise to another person, one must be extremely careful to come from a place of respect. Above all, great care must be taken not to allow one’s personality to get in the way. Before addressing another’s shortcomings, one must ensure that his or her intentions are absolutely pure and do not reflect one’s own weaknesses, insecurities, critical nature, 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 involves closeness and love (ahava, chesed) and a sense of awe and distance (yirah, gevurah), recognizing that G-d is beyond us.
All of our struggles come down to a balance between these two poles. This includes the 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 worlds.
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 judging another person, think of the ripple effect it will have on the world. True, you may not be committing a terrorist act or some other 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 or spotlight something needing repair.
When we see global events that are 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. These are lessons that teach us how to face our own battles, guiding us in our search for balance and harmony.
Individual effort changes the world. When we change the microcosm the macrocosm is directly affected.
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 7+ billion individuals like you and me.