A Model for Ahavat Yisrael
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
כִּי הָמָן בֶּן-הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי צֹרֵר [צורר] כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים חָשַׁב עַל-הַיְּהוּדִים לְאַבְּדָם וְהִפִּיל פּוּר הוּא הַגּוֹרָל לְהֻמָּם וּלְאַבְּדָם:
Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur, that is, lots, to consume them, and to destroy them. (Esther 3:10, 8:1, 9:10, 9:24)
Relationship, by definition (at least by kabbalistic definition) is a dynamic endeavor for it combines two contradictory poles—merging and differentiating—that are both essential to its survival. The only way to cover both of its bases is to dance back and forth between them. They are mutually exclusive so you can’t do them both at the same time without creating a lukewarm mush that is neither here nor there. Every relationship has a pulse which is its pattern of
vibrating between these poles. Its pulse can actually be mapped as a cardiogram (of sorts) depicting the time spent in each mode and their ease of transition. What prompts the shift from merging to differentiating or vice versa. Is it positive incentives or do fear, anxiety, anger and aversion play prominent roles?
This applies to relationships of every sort, and every scale. The Purim story depicts a chapter in the complex relationship between (1) the Jewish people as stiff-necked individuals (2) who are also (like it or not) part of one big extended family.[i]
The Jewish people ebb and flow. There are times when we’re a scattered, loose-knit alliance doing our own individual things and there are times when we are swept into a more collective destiny. Ideally, each of us should touch both poles to some degree, but folks often orient toward one or the other.
History began with a cosmic tsimtsum. The Infinite One concealed Its light from a circumscribed space creating a dark womblike vacuum within which creation could exist and evolve. Through that act the holy One invented twoness: There’s the light filled expanse that still spreads infinitely in all directions, and there’s the vacuum-like space, the glitch within that Infinite Light, that is dark and empty (at least seemingly so). Into that void HaShem emanated a single luminous ray and thus began the cosmic odyssey of lights and vessels.
There are many stages between there and here—between that cosmic tsimtsum and our present-day universe. It is grossly oversimplified (but suffice it to say) that our job is to re-enlighten that vacuum—to draw the Light back into the space that it vacated—the space that’s become our stomping ground.
The first attempt at fulfilling this mission failed miserably and is descriptively called the Era of Broken Vessels. This calamitous event occurred on a totally different plane of reality in a totally different time frame. But even still, there are lessons to be learned.
The problem was that the lights coming down were too sublime for the primitive vessels available then. If we want to succeed where they failed, our vessels must befit the mighty radiance that is shining through—the Infinite Lights of the Holy One.
Lights equate with consciousness. They are the life-force and soul-content of creation. Every thing from atom to Adam possesses a soul which confers its capacity for consciousness. Vessels comprise the outer (body) layer of created things enabling the soul to impact our lower world. These instruments of revelation might be physical, but they could also be astral, angelic, mental, mechanical, digital, or even virtual.
Lights and Vessels are soulmates; they are also co-dependents. They never exist apart, and their quality of life depends upon the fullness of their match. If their disparity is too great, their partnership will not survive. The vessels will shatter from too much light, or shrivel from not enough.
The progress of civilization (and of creation altogether) is the proliferation of evermore sophisticated vessels that can radiate an ever broadening range of consciousness. Eventually the Infinite Light will again fill the vacuum for creation will have evolved into a single, unified vessel (a universe-encompassing Adam) that can embrace that light and bear its full glory without shattering.
Partly this happens through the natural multiplication of living things—the more creatures the more vessels. Add to that the physical and conceptual structures generated by human civilization with its nation states, advanced technology and global network. And then add the qualitative advancement that happens through inner work, spiritual practice and all the things that deepen our awareness of (and alignment with) spiritual law. And mostly that’s enough to keep us on pace. HaShem expects a certain quota of tikun each day to meet the preconditions of redemption within our allotted time. Technically, the term, tikun, means: “to create a vessel that enables the revelation of some new increment of previously transcendent Light.”
But there are certain tipping points in history—quantum shifts of such magnitude—that no individual (no matter how enlightened) can manage the enormous surge of lights coming through. The only way to contain them is to fuse our individual selves into a single collective vessel (for the time being).
Two examples in Jewish history are the Written Torah’s revelation at Sinai and the Oral Torah’s receival in our Purim story. The problem is that we Jews don’t merge so easily. It takes an enormous pressure to overcome the resistance that gets triggered when our stiff-necked egos are forced to fuse. And so, says the Komarna Rebbe, we see from history that if all else fails, a terrorizing threat from without can accomplish the task.
Egypt is called an “iron furnace” for the harsh conditions we endured there.[ii] And yet, just as a furnace melds chunks of metal into a single molten mass, so did slavery do for us. As we gathered round Sinai the Midrash describes our collective state as “a single person with a single heart.”[iii] Only a vessel forged from us all could bear the searing revelation that engraved the souls of our entire nation with the truth-of-the-universe compressed into a single burst of light. The midrash says that if even one person were missing [even Dathan or Aviram] the transmission could not have occurred for there would have been no vessel fit to hold it.[iv]
And that brings us to Purim and our Oral Torah—the living and evolving body of teachings that humanizes the Written Text. The time had arrived for us to absorb its paradigm-shifting lights. This development was at least as momentous as Sinai. The Written Torah came from above and without. The Oral Torah is the opposite. Its truths emerge from below and within. God’s word whispers to the hearts of his people, seeding revelations from the inside out. A person speaks and G‑d’s words leave their mouth, they act, and it is G‑d’s deed they perform.
Yet this new bonanza of lights and consciousness required a vessel of collective magnitude to pull it down. We needed to access our root—the source of our peoplehood (called Kenesset Yisrael)—and join together there. With that as our base we could contact these lights and make the space to pull them through. But we were an unruly people in those days, still reeling from exile and the corruption that preceded it. The only way for HaShem to effect a merger of that caliber was to apply enormous pressure from without. It’s strange but true that HaShem employed terrorism (or, at least, the threat of it) to accomplish this task.
The Komarna rebbe notes that throughout the Megilla Haman is called צֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִים (oppressor of the Jews).[v] The root צ.ר.ר means to constrict and distress. Yet, says the Komarna, it is this צורר (this persecutor) that effected the tikun by terrorizing us to such a degree that our only relief was to go in and up to our spiritual root, the place where we are:
צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים אֵת יְי:
…bound in a bundle of life with HaShem…(Sam. 1:25:29)
That phrase (spoken by Abigail to David) employs the same root, צ.ר.ר, as the word for persecutor. Yet here, with the vowels rearranged (צורר becomes צרור), it conveys the deepest root of the soul, the place where we, as a people, are hewn from the Infinite Light. That is where our souls turned for refuge and that is where we accessed our Oral Torah.
But is this the only way to produce a collective kli?[vi] Is terror the only force that can overcome our resistance to merger?
Nature supplies a metaphor. Science counts four forces in the universe: Gravity keeps us glued to the earth. Weak Force powers nuclear decay. Electromagnetism directs the chemistry and energetic processes of daily life. Strong Force binds the protons together inside the nucleus of atoms.
Focusing on the last two: Electromagnetism (EM) is the most visible of these forces. The way that different materials behave and conduct energy and react chemically and the physiology of living things…all this is ruled by electromagnetism where “like charges repel and opposite charges attract.”
The Strong Force is the strongest force in the universe (by a factor of 100) but its range of influence is so tiny it does not extend beyond the nucleus of an atom. The strong force is the opposite of electromagnetism for it “binds like to like.”
For example, a proton carries a positive charge which means it is surrounded by a force field that naturally repels other protons since they carry a similar charge. But if pushed through their initial repulsion to within the range of the strong force, they will bind together with a strength of attraction that is the mightiest force in the world. It takes enormous pressure, though, to overcome their EM repulsion and to effect this merger.
And so it is for us. We are also surrounded by a force field—a narcissistic radius—that is our dalet amot (the square footage that delineates our uniqueness). The Ari explains that souls who derive from the exact same root are likely to feel antipathy toward each other, for they impinge upon each other’s dalet amot.[vii] Their similarities threaten their sense of uniqueness. In daily life EM rules. The force field that defines our narcissistic radius repels similars, attracts opposites and resists the dissolution entailed in merger.[viii]
It takes enormous force to overcome the combined repulsions of our narcissistic radii. A survival threat can succeed—this we know and would like to avoid. The messianic lights for which we yearn will require a collective vessel to host them. The prophets describe awful wars that will precede this Golden Age—to cleanse the world and prepare the vessels to hold its Or Chadash.[ix] Yet there are options. These wars could be military, media, psychic, spiritual or inner wars depending upon the choices we make and paths we choose.
There must be a way to get there through love instead of fear. Yet with all our talk about ahavat Yisrael, we can’t seem to translate theory into practice. We tell ourselves to love, it clearly is God’s will, we know that it’s our key to redemption…and still we revert to judgement, blame, conceit and condemnation.
We have to find another tact. We need an infrastructure that is poised for merger without expecting the heart to transcend its aversions. For if that’s the prerequisite, we’ve got a long road ahead of us. But if we can unlink these two, and build a network of connections that does not require the heart to become a selfless tsaddik overnight, then we’re in business.
How does the strong force do it? Each of nature’s forces has a particle that transmits its influence. The Strong Force uses gluons that bounce back and forth (like a ping pong ball) between the protons that are within its sphere of influence. Two things happen: 1) This dance generates an adhesive field that glues the protons together. 2) An alternating role-play occurs. When the gluon is in proton-A it turns it (metaphorically) blue, while proton-B turns green. When the gluon bounces back to B, then it turns blue and A turns green…over and over again.[x]
As below so above. Purim—with its string of reversals reminding us that it’s an upside-down world—choreographs its own gluon dance. It trains us to be nimble—to see the world one way, and then turn it upside-down and see how the opposite is also true…perhaps not equally so but, nevertheless, still true. The king in the Purim story is an illegitimate Persian despot…and yet (says the Midrash) it’s actually the King of Kings, HaShem Himself, doing all these things.[xi] The magnificent gift of our Oral Torah is in Mordecai and Esther’s credit (Blessed be they)…and yet Haman’s really the one that forced the merger that created the kli that enabled its surge of lights to come through. (Cursed be He?). Who do we thank more for the gifts of this day?[xii]
The mitzvot of Purim are all network-building. The exchange of gifts and charity creates threads of connection that generate an “adhesive field that glues us together as a people.” The wine parties and merry-making foster camaraderie (“a family who plays together, stays together”).
But the Megilla takes things to a deeper level still. It doesn’t mention G-d once in the whole story, not because the Holy One is absent…rather the opposite…because there is not one word, event, or character that is not channeling Divinity. In this Purim spirit, says kabbalah, HaShem invites us up to the inner chamber, called the Reisha d’lo Atyada (the Superrational Heights) where the collective soul of Israel derives. Yet there is an entry fee: We must be willing to join the gluon dance happening at that level, that is the secret of its power to effect merger.
In those rarified environs it is clear that even the things we know, we don’t really know. A kaleidoscope of perspectives swirls about as each I-center shares its view. We see the fallacy of our judgments as missing parts of the picture come clear. Then, with that humbling awareness we step onto the dancefloor and contribute our share to the collective merger by hearing HaShem speak through the Hamans and Achashveroshes of our lives.
Like a gluon dances between its protons, so must we alternate between the conflicting I-centers of our people, especially those that repel us. We need to stand in their shoes until we’ve made sense of the world from their viewpoint (until, like gluons, they turn blue and we turn green and then vice versa). We need to find an angle where we can be their defenders as well as their prosecutors and then decide a course of action (which could still be to rise in fervent opposition). This gluon dance binds us as a people despite our disagreements. At the very least, we’ve made space in our world for this “neighbor” to exist (which HaShem clearly wants or else they wouldn’t be here).[xiii]
- Perhaps we’ll discover that they actually have a point, that they’re raising issues that we have overlooked and really must consider.
- Perhaps, their assertions are just plain false (as far as we can see). Their data is flawed or their arguments biased or their opinions just do not ring true. But even so, their intentions are good. They are motivated by a Torah value and seek to do the ethical thing.
- Perhaps there is nothing redeemable about their content or intention. They are thugs through and through. But HaShem brought them into our lives for a reason. They are delivering a providential message which we must decode by finding the most spiritually productive response to their ordeal. HaShem chooses the most fallen souls for this dirty work. They’re performing a service that makes them despicable in our eyes but, apparently, someone had to do that job.
Ahavat Yisrael requires us (at the very least) to make space for every one of us to exist, by acknowledging that we each have a God-given purpose and persisting until we glimpse what that might be, especially for folks that offend or aggrieve us. [xiv]נהפוך הוא. For an instant our world flips upside down—they are right and we are wrong—and then it turns back up again. Our narcissistic radius suspends for that instant and a bond forms that joins us to our shared hub, the collective vessel that we must forge to receive our messianic lights. The same rule that applied at Sinai applies here at our final redemption: If anyone is missing the lights will not descend, for there is no vessel fit to hold them.[xv]
לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה …יקר:
“To the Jews there was…yikar—the deep awareness of the precious value (yakra) of each and every soul.”[xvi]
כן תהיה לנו:
So may it be for us!
Eat, Drink and be Holy
[i] And (3) who furthermore share a collective identity as Kenesset Yisrael (the Mystical Body of Israel) a synonym for the Shekhina (Beloved of HaShem).
[ii] Dev. 4:20.
[iii] Rashi on Ex. 19:2; Mekhilta on that verse.
[iv] Midrash Rabba (MR) Tavo 7:8.
[v] R.Y.Y.Y. Safrin (the Komarna Rebbe), כתם אופיר (Commentary on Esther), 5:14 (יעשה עץ).
[vi][vi] Hebrew for vessel.
[vii] Luria, Isaac. Shaar HaGilgulim, chapt. 20.
[viii] The Who’s Who of similars and opposites is actually quite convoluted when applied to human beings and their complex psyches. The Komarna Rebbe notes that enemies may appear to be opposites but they always actually carry a disowned spark (ie, trait) of our very own self which, in fact, makes them similar. Our mutual repulsion comes from there.
With every person, there are differences and overlaps. It is certainly true that there is chemistry in opposites but we also generally prefer the company of folks that see the world similar to us. Similarity creates camaraderie…and attraction. Even so, there is closeness and there is closeness. According to the Ari, if someone’s soul-specialty is so similar to my soul-specialty that it threatens to make me redundant, I’ll will feel aversion toward that person. I may explain my dislike by pointing to the differences between us, but really, it’s the similarities that prompt my antipathy (whether I know it or not).
[ix] Or Chadash means New Light, and refers to the radiant, sparkling messianic lights that bring bliss and bounty, joy and answered prayer with them.
[xi] “When the word king appears in the Megilla, it refers to Achashverosh as well as the King of Kings, the Blessed Holy One,” ספר הפליאה – ד”ה טצ”ץ ט תשעה, צ תשעים, ץ ט. ;מדרש אבא גוריון פרשה א. Komarna Rebbe (1:1) goes further and asserts that also the king’s name, Achashverosh, is an acronym for HaShem: -אחרית וראשית שלו – the acharit (end) and reshit are His.
[xii] Megillah 7b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2.
[xiii] TB Brochot 31b, Shabbat 77b.
[xiv] On Purim it all goes topsy-turvy.
[xv] Yalkut Shimoni, Hoshea 518
[xvi] The Komarna Rebbe notes that there are three times that Haman is called the צורר היהודים (persecutor of the Jews), but the last time (9:24), the verse quoted above, it actually says: צורר כל היהודים (persecutor of all the Jews). The Komarna Rebbe explains that at first it was just the Jews of Shushan that united in prayer and sackcloth. But by the end, all the Jews (far and wide) were united as one.