Do You See the Big Picture?
What distinguishes the very wise from the wise? Their ability to never get distracted by the moment and always look at the big picture.
The view from the ground level allows you to perceive only that which is within your reach and range — the immediate here and now, and the space in your proximity and scope. What your eye can see, your ear can hear, your nose can smell, your mouth can taste and your hand can touch.
But the birds’ eye view from above can see this present moment in context of the past and the future. This broader perspective perceives current events like a dot in a larger image — a point in a long procession whose choreography can only be appreciated in retrospect or from standing above the fray.
In one word this is called: transcendence.
Transcendence doesn’t mean an escape to the heights, ignoring and compromising the events on the ground. Quite the contrary: The trascendent view of the big picture informs — and completely transforms — the small picture into a piece of a larger unfolding drama.
The Jewish people have mastered this art by turning to the Torah for an aerial — heavenly and spiritual — view of events on earth. A view that allows us to reenter the atmosphere with far greater tools and perspective.
Here is a small taste of that panorama.
Another year ends as another book ends. As this year of 2017 comes to a close, we conclude the book of Genesis.
To read today’s news buy yourself a newspaper. To read the news of history – the eternal story of the human struggle – read Genesis.
Many events dominated 2017 headlines. The year was marked by a new unexpected volatility. But then there is the bigger story — the story of your life.
Yes, two parallel narratives play themselves out in our lives at all times: The story of our outer lives and the story of our inner lives. Many of us are quite aware about the events happening around us. But what about the story of what is happening within us?
The biggest story of all is your story – the story of your life. It is the story of our mission – our raison d’etre.
And this story is told in the Torah chapters, particularly those read this time of the year.
The sages explain that the book of Genesis is as its name implies: A seed that contains all the fruit that will one day grow from it. The story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with all its details is like a blueprint that encapsulates in microcosm all the events that would take place in history, both personally and globally.
As discussed in our Mission Statement series – the Torah chapters from the beginning of Genesis outline the story of our life’s mission:
The mission begins (Bereishit). The mission is revitalized, with the cleansing of the world following mans’ great fall (Noach). The mission is embraced and begins to be realized by Abraham, with the first step being the need to transcend our own subjectivity (Lech Lecho). To embrace the mission we need self-sacrifice (Vayeira).
In the next chapter (Chayei Sarah) stage one of the mission concludes with the passing of Sarah and then Abraham – the first pioneers who discovered the mission of the human race. This is then followed by stage two, the life of Isaac and Rebecca (Toldot). Followed by stage three – the story of Jacob and his journey and his battles with Laban and Esau (Vayeitzei, and Vayishlach). The selling of Joseph by his brothers captures the struggle of faith and reason (Vayeishev, Miketz, Vayigash).
And now we come to the conclusion of the book of Genesis (Vayechi), which relates in detail the end of Jacob’s life on earth, as well as of his children, the twelve tribes.
The mystics teach us that the characters in Torah are archetypes of different traits that we all carry within ourselves. Abraham embodies Chesed, loving-kindness. His life is one of enduring generosity. Isaac personifies Gevurah, awe and discipline. Jacob incarnates Tiferet, beauty and compassion.
Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferet are the three central forces and building blocks of all existence. Every aspect of life is comprised of a right, left and center. The entire body is structured in three columns: The right side (right arm and leg), the left side (left arm and leg) and the center – the spine, which creates balance.
First we learn of Abraham’s journey – which reflects the journey of the Abraham within each of us. Next, comes the discretion of Gevurah. Once love and discipline are in place, we can then complete the structure, with Jacob’s Tiferet – the critical balancing spine that carries the entire infrastructure.
As the book of Genesis ends we have in sum the essential building blocks and tools to discover our mission in life and face all our life challenges.
You can say that Genesis is the formative stage of life, when we are educated, trained and equipped with the tools we will need to face the real world.
Once we are armed with this powerful arsenal, we then enter the next stage in the book of Exodus. We enter a harsh world that initially enslaves us by the inherent constraints (Mitzrayim) of material existence. We have to struggle to find our way and to maintain our equilibrium.
But we don’t come defenseless. We are given all the resources we need to “make it.” And not merely to survive or manage, but to thrive – to flourish and blossom, and achieve greatness.
To do so however requires us to become familiar with our inner story.
Perhaps we need to give equal time to our souls as we do to our bodies. Of course we learn many things from the news around us, including things about our inner lives. Sports and entertainment are a big part of people’s lives today. But we also can often get caught up in the superficiality of events around us. Sometimes we also begin to project our lives through the lives of others – Hollywood and rock stars, other celebrities and even comic book heroes.
So next time you have an inclination to read the daily paper, watch the news or see a movie about other people’s lives, perhaps try opening up the story of your own life and its purpose.
The book of Genesis ends as the year ends. But our book just begins. What will your story be? It’s up to you.
An additional point to ponder upon this New Year is its fascinating juxtaposition with a far less-known event being commemorated this year near New Year’s Eve in the Hebrew calendar: The Tenth of Tevet. If New Years is marked by unbridled celebration, unlimited drinking, a night of frivolous fun and breakdown of borders (at least till the hangover is gone) — as the Times describes it: “It’s Burning Man, Independence Day fireworks, the last day of school and a full-contact Black Friday sale-a-bration all wrapped in one” — this other event is defined by the respect of boundaries and the dangers of breaching the walls that define our humanity.
Are there any lines that one should never cross, even if you are a Bohemian free spirit? Why is it important to maintain healthy boundaries even in the highest moments of joy, love and transcendence? How does one achieve that balance? What is the role of definitions, structures and parameters in context of the infinite beyond? Can one cleanse “the doors of perception” and remain intact? How can one experience the boundless while bound by the narrow confines of existence? And finally: Do boundaries limit or free us?
Here is a New Year/Tevet 10 workshop by Rabbi Jacobson exploring the mysterious infinite power of the finite. What are the far-reaching effects of the besieged walls of Jerusalem on this day, and how can its lessons serve as the best preventive medicine to the boundary meltdown of our open world? In this talk, Rabbi Jacobson teaches about how healthy structure — in all relationships — is the key to experience transcendence of all structure.