Tisha B’Av1, 5769/2009

“Jerusalem…her impurity is in her hems” (Lamentations 1:9).

Anyone who has sat with the question, “Who am I?”, for more than a minute has surely realized that it is a complicated query. It’s not so simple (or even possible) to pin “me” down—in part because I am constantly changing, evolving, enlightening—my preferences vary, my values shift, my appearance alters, my emotions fluctuate in ways that can be drastic over the course of hours, days, years and decades of life. And beyond that, the real “me” must somehow include parts of me that I have never met.

Kaballa explains that our souls are actually comprised of three components, though our awareness includes but one.  These are the subconscious, conscious and superconscious
layers which kabbala calls:  1) fallen sparks, 2) integrated lights and 3) surrounding lights. The true “me” includes all of these, though two of them lie beyond my “visual” field. The TishaBAv.2009_image.1surrounding lights comprise all the knowledge-of-God that I will absorb in the course of my days (but which is presently beyond my grasp).  The fallen sparks include all the aptitudes, ego-strengths, quirks and neuroses that comprise my individual personality—that I must discover, cultivate and refine as the holy grist and grit of my particular soul mission.

The still-fallen-sparks, connected to my soul, that lie outside my sphere of awareness, comprise my unconscious self. They are strewn throughout the universe, yet wherever they lie, they always remain linked back to their true root (i.e., me), and will eventually return there when the time comes for them to be raised. Until then, these still-fallen sparks are likely to be temporarily lodged within the soul of someone (or something) else. Everything contains a mixture of sparks that truly belong to them, and sparks that belong to others and must eventually be returned.

A fallen spark is a piece of soul that I do not recognize as a chip of my very own self. Instead, it appears as not-me and sometimes even as the opposite-of-me. The most fallen and estranged of them can even appear as an enemy who is so extremely not-me that he is actually trying to harm me.

TishaBAv.2009_image.2Our mission is to collect all the sparks connected to our soul. But not all sparks are alike. Some are a pleasure to gather, while others take blood, sweat, and a lot of tears. Some sparks lie in holy terrain while others inhabit forbidden realms. The lowest edge of these still-fallen-sparks are the “hem” or outskirts of our soul. They are the darkest, most impure, and unconscious reaches of our personality, as the verse in Lamentations declares: “Her impurity is in her hems.”

A spark that is situated at the “hem” is a flaw belonging to us, that we do not see in ourselves, but are constantly aggrieved by its presence in others around us. We are so blind to its hold on us—so unconscious of our own character defect—that we genuinely believe we are free of its taint. Our denial can be so adamant that it creates a spiritual cataract that warps our vision and produces an optical illusion: that very flaw that we have disowned, that is our greatest shortcoming, now appears wherever we look on the people (or enemies) around us.

The more unconscious we are of our own defect, the more we exaggerate its prevalence.  We become walking contradictions: We hurl accusations toward others, yet our behavior is even worse than theirs in exactly the trait we are protesting. This plays out on all scales: from individuals, to interest groups, religions, political parties all the way up to nation states.

This contradiction between words and actions creates a whirlpool of distortion that sucks everyone in. The claims are stated with such conviction that people are drawn to believe them.  Their attention rivets on the sliver of truth overlooking the grosser infractions of the accuser himself. When claims and actions contradict, they can’t stay in focus at the same time. Attention swings back and forth which induces a quasi hypnotic state in those looking on.

In the month of Av, says Sefer Yetzira, the sense of listening is up for tikun. In the sin of the spies the princes returned and derided the Land of Israel. We heard their words and took them to heart without discrimination. And why shouldn’t we? The scouts were the elite of their tribes and, like a bais din, they voiced the majority view. Yet HaShem expected more from us.  He expected us to listen in with ears of faith and hearts attuned to truth by the lights we absorbed at Sinai.

And that remains our test today, to not get hypnotized by voices that claim authority but do not embody Torat Emet, thus teaches the Netziv2 in his introduction to the Book of Genesis:

The book of Genesis was called Sefer HaYoshor (the Book of the Upright) because it is about the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) who were called upright…Why did it single out their trait of uprightness for they excelled in many (seemingly more spiritual) virtues, like rectitude and piety (tsidkut and chassidut)…The answer is that stressing the supreme importance of upright conduct in the world vindicates HaShem’s decision to destroy the Second Temple despite the massive presence of tsadikim (virtuous ones), chassidim (pious ones) and Torah scholars in that generation. For, still, despite their piety and religiosity, they were not upright in their worldly dealings. They harbored hatred in their hearts toward those who followed different opinions than their own and would even accuse them of heresy…HaShem would not tolerate tsadikim like theseHaShem wants tsadikim who are honorable in their dealings with the mundane world. Even though the tsadikim of the Second Temple period were motivated by devotion to Torah, their lack of upright conduct in the civil realm destroyed the world…3

Let us come to the realization, as individuals and as a nation, that each person is making a contribution to the Jewish mission and let us treat them with the respect that is their due. Let us use the mirror of our projections to expose the hem of our soul and to clean it with a teshuva that is so real, it stops us from making excuses for our wrong-actions. Let the merit of these corrections heal the cracks in our collective soul such that we, as a people, BECOME the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), the edifice, in this world, that most reveals the glory of G-d.


[1] The 9th of the Jewish month of Av is the day that both Temples were destroyed.  It is the most vulnerable day in the Jewish calendar and is observed by fasting, mourning and reading the Book of Lamentations. The Torah recounts that it became a “day of tears” when the scouts who were sent to reconnoiter the holy land brought a frightening report that discouraged the people from entering. They lost faith, doubted G‑d, and despised the precious gift of their holy Promised Land. (Num. 13-14).

2 R. Naftali Tsvi Finkel, HaEmek Davar, Introduction to Bereshit.

3 Here is the link where the full text of Intro to Bereshit by the HaEmek Davar can be found in Hebrew: http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%94%D7%A2%D7%9E%D7%A7_%D7%93%D7%91%D7%A8/%D7%A4%D7%AA%D7%99%D7%97%D7%94_%D7%9C%D7%A1%D7%A4%D7%A8_%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%90%D7%A9%D7%99%D7%AA


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