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 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 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 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 are 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 how to live our lives.
Balance, harmony – Tiferet – is the key point.
How does this translate into our personal lives?
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 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 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 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 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. 2/ Boundaries.
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 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 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 harmony.
And then we are told that our 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 6+ billion individuals like you and me.