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Korach: Can A Circle Marry A Square?


Enter the Square But Remain A Circle

Last week’s article, Circle and Squares, discussed how circles and squares are found in every aspect of life – both on earth and in the cosmos, in our psyches, our physics and our metaphysics. The purpose of existence is to fuse the two; to join both structure (the linear square) and beyond structure (the circle), the finite and the infinite.

Two questions remained lingering: How is it possible to synthesize two opposites – the square and the circle? And perhaps even more pertinent: Can a circle marry a square?

These questions will be answered by first gaining a better understanding of the circle/ square dynamic. One place where circles play a vital role is in a Jewish wedding ceremony. Two circles mark the ceremony: The Chupah (canopy), which encircles and encompasses both bride and groom in its all-surrounding embrace. And the spherical wedding ring placed on the bride’s index finger.

According to Torah law marriage entails two distinct stages: The first stage, called kidushin or eirusin, is the engagement and betrothal, when a couple committs to each other, establishing a formal and exclusive connection. They have sanctified their union and bound themselves to each other. The couple, however, are still two distinct individuals. The second stage, nisuin, is when they actually become one entity – they become elevated (nisuin from the word elevated) to a higher state of being; instead of two they are now one.

Stage one is traditionally achieved through the wedding ring. Stage two is accomplished through the chupah, encircling both bride and groom.

The wedding ring is a legal commitment, represented by a monetary exchange. But it still is only a ring on a finger; a small gesture, not an all encompassing committment. The chupah, on the other hand, covers and surrounds bride and groom completely – embracing their entire bodies and beings.

The Tzemech Tzedek (Ohr HaTorah Berocho p. 1845) wonders about the difference between these two circles marking a wedding ceremony: In mystical terminology the circles represnt the level of makif, a transcendent energy that surrounds, but does not fully enter. Since both the wedding band and the chupah are circular, what, asks the Tzemech Tzedek, distinguishes between them?

He explains the difference with the imagery of the square and the circle. Though in the general cosmic structure the circle precedes the square, the energy first surrounds then permeates, yet when we break it down into finer detail, the “circle-square” structure repeats itself continuously throughout the process. The first initial circle proceeds to evolve into a “line” (yosher), which in turn conceives a new “circle,” followed by another square and circle, ad infinitum. By way of example, think of the transmission process from teacher to student. Initially the ideas are “over the student’s head,” surrounding but not yet fully entering his grasp. Then as the student acclimates himself to the ideas, he assimilates, integrates and internalizes them, the circle becomes, in effect, a square, entering the “box” of the students mind. But these same ideas (which have been internalized in a square for the advnaced student) remain over the head of a less advanced student. And so it goes, level after level, in which the “square” (internalized) energy on a higher level, remains a removed “circle,” hovering above the level below. “The internal (penimiyos) of a higher level becomes the transcendent (makif) of the lower level.”

We thus have two types of circles: A circle that precedes and is higher than a square. And a circle that is lower and follows a square. Visualize a large circle, which contains a square within it, stretched to the edges of the circumference, and then a smaller circle inside the square, and another smaller square inside the circle. Keep going as far as you imagine. Like reflecting mirrors you’ll have a certain picture of the inner workings of existence and of our beings.

Using this imagery the Tzemech Tzedek explains the difference between the two stages in marriage: The first circle is a “relative circle” – it is only a circle compared to the levels beneath it. This is the circle of the wedding band. The circle of the Chupah is an “absolute circle” – one that totally encompasses and equalizes all those that stand under the chupah, i.e. everything inside the circle.

What is the psychological and personal application of this concept? Why do we need these two stages and what is the difference between them?

These two stages – two circles and the box in between – capture the two components necessary in a healthy and enduring relationship:

Love is a deceptively simple word. What the elaborate wedding process teaches us is the inner engineering of love. By dissecting it we can make it work better, identify the areas that need reinforcement, and those that may be hurt and need healing.

Love actually consists of two overriding dimensions: 1) Closeness and intimacy – internalization of the relationship. But it also requires 2) a dimension of mystery and awe – a surrounding type of aura of your partner that remains beyond you. Eliminate (or compromise) one of these two dimensions and the relationship will wither (we’re not talking about a relationship of convenience, but a one of passion and life).

A relationship requires both the circle and the square (line) – the transcendent energy and the internal one.

Breaking it further down, the circle itself divides into two dimensions: If a relationship consisted only of the two elements, closeness and awe, the two would possibly never converge. Ultimately, the goal in a full relationship is the unification not just of the two people but also of their “circular” and “square-like” dimensions. And this is achieved by the so-called “relative circle. From one (the higher) perspective the “realtive circle” is actuall;y a square, but from another (the lower) perspective it is a “circle.” In psychological terms: You sense mystery in your beloved, but in time you gain entry and can somewhat internalize it and grow in the process, only to discover, like the shedding petals of a flower, new and hitherto deeper mysteries lying within.

The wedding ring serves this role, to remind you of the ungraspable “circle” in your bride, but also to tell you that with devotion you can access its power. The chupah serves the role of reminding you that there are always new mysteries, and that ultimately there is a dimension that transcends both of you.

We see from this that the concept of marrying ”circle” and “square” is not only possible but actually a necessary component in every marriage.

The question however remains: How? How is it possible to unite these two opposites?

This brings us back to the chupah. Its transcendent power, which equalizes everything inside its “circle,” elicits a sense of utter bittul – a nullification and suspension of self and self-interest.

Bittul is the ultimate secret to enduring success and to all lasting relationships. When the two people in a relationship both have bittul, and are driven not merely by personal gain and “what is in it for me?” mentality, but they both share and surrender to a vision that is beyond them both, to build and home and family, to generate an energy in this world that transcends their immediate needs – this opens them up to receive the full blessing and benefit that comes showering down from the “great circle,” which transcends all ups and downs and all gradations, changes and vicissitudes in life.

When a new couple stand under the chupah they are in effect declaring exactly that: We submit to the ultimate mystery that hovers above us like the canopy over our heads.

Yet, love cannot remain a hovering circle. It must also enter their beings and effect their lives. When the bride and groom look at the ring on her finger, it reminds them of the “circle” entering life, affecting one finger (a line), and traveling onward. Slowly, one step at a time, the circle energy permeates, only to reveal another circle. An so it goes in a healthy relationship: Two people on one journey – a perpetual journey, that brings them close as “one flesh,” while also exposing them to the mysteries beyond.

With this bittul – one that transcends the very difference between the infinite “circle” and the defined “square” – a circle and a square can come together. When each partner feels that “it’s not all about me” and my personality, but we have a mission to accomplish together, then their differences become their assets: complementary forces driven to achieve a higher goal. At the same time, the love becomes internalized, infusing them with warmth and nurturing, nourishing their souls and bodies to thrive and grow.

So for all you lovebirds, remember the secret to enduring and healthy relationships: Bittul. Go beyond yourself and you will find true and everlasting love. If you are a circle learn and appreciate the virtues of the square. If you are a square learn and appreciate the virtues of the circle. Each has something to give. Each has something to learn. Each is an equal part of a mysterious puzzle that is conceived in the cosmos but plays itself out on earth.

In such a world, with such an attitude, a circle and a square can indeed marry and enjoy a happy life together. Living happily ever after.

*  *  *

The Parsha connection:

If the scouts were circles, Korach was a square. Or at least, that’s how he presented himself. After witnessing the debacle of the scouts, how they were so wrong with their circular approach to life, wanting to remain removed and insulated from the material universe, the “wise” Korach argued the other extreme: We must enter the land of the “squares,” and play by their rules. “Who needs leaders?” Korach argued, “when the entire nation is holy and G-d is amongst them.”

But Korach was also terribly wrong. Squares can’t survive without circles, just as circles can’t prevail without squares.

Indeed, each of the three Hebrew letters comprising the name “Korach” are square shaped: Kuf. Reish, Chet, each one with its own distortion of the symmetrical square letter heh (from G-d’s Divine name): Kuf is a square with a protruding left leg. Resh is a square without a left leg. Ches is a closed square, with no release point (see The Gap). The only way a square can survive is either to be completely closed (like a closed mem), or through a spout of bittul, the heh, which has a balanced left leg, with a space between it and the roof of the box.

Korach was firmly grounded in the world of the squares. Wealthy, powerful, shrewd, well-connected – Korach had mastered the “square” game. While the scouts were not ready and not willing to enter the material land, Korach was all too ready and all too willing. He had it all worked out.

True, the scouts sinned in their wish to remain spiritual and not enter the material. The other extreme, however, is equally problematic. Ahh, you want materialism too much – no that will not do. Enter the land, but enter with trepidation. Engage the world, but engage it with a measure of detachment. Immerse in daily pursuits, but never immerse too much; even on earth, reserve a space for heaven. Even on the ground keep your head in the skies, looking up, yearning, aspiring. Never get too comfortable in this “square” land.

Know that you were sent here, against your soul’s wishes. “Al korchach atah chai,” you were coerced to live. Because your soul’s natural inclination is to reach upward. Spirit ascends unto spirit. “The spirit of the animal descends downward,” as does the animal’s eyes, however “the spirit of man ascends upwards.” Like a flame, always rising, forever licking the air above. Were in not for the grounding wick, the flame would expire in its upward reach.

Our souls are like flames. “The Divine flame is the human soul.” And like a flame, our souls gravitate upwards. Even as we enter the “squareness” of existence, we must never forget that we come from a greater place. We live here, occupy space and time on this material plane, but we come from beyond. The saddest thing to see is when we lose our innocence, when we become resigned and give up on our hopes and dreams.

Yes, you have been sent here. Not to remain sheltered in the circular world of spirit. But even as you fulfill your mission, always retain your desire to break out, your drive to get out of the “box” and rise toward transcendence.

Enter the “square,” but remain a circle.

With dedication and bittul you can join the two together.


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Cheryl Katz

I have heard the teacher/student mashal frequently in chassidus. It is disturbing because it presupposes that the teacher has all the knowledge and the student has none — an extreme point of view. The repetition of this point of view can easily reinforce such an opinion for both persons involved. Color this relationship with with the qualities of authority and power, and this extreme view can be downright dangerous. For what it is worth, the Socratic approach is a dialectic in which the teacher evokes responses from the student in an effort to give birth to the knowledge already within.… Read more »

Doris, Romania

Very strong spiritual food, not easy digestive. But, I appreciate that we (the common people) are taken step after step, with these lessons, to higher and higher levels. Understanding and internalizing the concepts, give you a real feeling of happiness that flows from within ones heart towards outside (the others).
Thank you so much for making mistical and transcending things that surround our everyday life, clear to us.


Rabbi, You said, Enter the Square But Remain A Circle Last week’s article, Circle and Squares, discussed how circles and squares are found in every aspect of life – both on earth and in the cosmos, in our psyches, our physics and our metaphysics. The purpose of existence is to fuse the two; to join both structure (the linear square) and beyond structure (the circle), the finite and the infinite. Two questions remained lingering: How is it possible to synthesize two opposites – the square and the circle? And perhaps even more pertinent: Can a circle marry a square? These… Read more »


Many peoples lives(circles-squares) are shattered by depression and/or substance abuse and in this economy loss of jobs. The circles are broken, the squares have opennings and leak and cannot hold the circle. The emotional upheavel causes havoc with ones abilities and skills. Using this imagery, it seems that there would be many choices and ways to rebuild and repair ones life. Using the circle and square imagery,cOuld you describe different ways one might use this imagery to repair ones life? Do you repair the circle first?the transcenece first? and then the squares?Repair the circle then reenter the square again? There… Read more »