Approaching the Mystical Unknown: Turning the Corner

    Issue Number 24, August 1999          
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Opinion & Society


Turning the Corner

By Mendel Weinberger

Imagine a wall facing east. Imagine a second wall facing north. The point at which they meet is called the northeast corner. That corner is real. You can see it. You can feel it. You can measure it. But tell me, to which wall does the corner belong? Does it belong to the eastern wall or to the northern wall? Neitherů.because it belongs to both of them. Now separate the walls from each other. Where is the corner now? Where has it gone? It has vanished. So tell me, was the corner real or not?

The truth is, a corner has no independent existence. It is in essence-nothing. The only time it appears to have existence is when it joins two opposing planes, forces, or dimensions. This ability to join two opposing forces is called depth, or omek in hebrew. Without depth, this would be a two dimensional world --- a world where everything is exactly what it appears to be. Depth is the mystery of life, the hidden dimension. And the power of depth to join opposites is precisely because it is nothing.

The corner also exists in time. It is the interval after sunset and before darkness called shkiat hachama in hebrew. This time is not day and not night. What is it? Nothing. But it joins day and night, and for that reason it is something - at least temporarily.

What about people? Men and women. Two different worlds, two different ways of relating to life. A man is more intellectual, goal oriented, logical. A woman is more emotional, relationship oriented, intuitive. How can they meet, join together, and stay together? The answer is the corner of marriage. What is it? When a man and woman stand under the marriage canopy and the groom places the ring on the bride's finger and says, "Behold, you are hereby sanctified to me according to the law of Moses and Israel", the corner appears. What is it? It is the Divine Presence which dwells between a man and woman and binds them together. It is the corner of nothingness. And G-d forbid, if they separate - that Divine Presence (shechina) disappears.

How about you? Your soul. Where is the corner of your soul? Human beings have two opposing forces working within them. The right side is the flash of insight, the unconditional giving of love, and the power to overcome obstacles. The left side is the expansive development of ideas, the strict judgmental withholding of love, and the surrender to reality. How can a human being live with these two opposing forces tearing him apart?

The answer is the mystical middle line, the corner of the tree of life - knowledge, harmony, foundation, and kingship. This is the corner of the soul. Knowledge (da'at) joins the flash of insight (chachma) to the detailed development of thought (bina) so that wisdom can give birth to new ideas and understanding of the world in a practical way.

Harmony (tiferet) joins the unlimited giving (chesed) to the strict holding back (gevurah) to produce discriminating giving and mercy to all those who don't quite live up to our high standards. Foundation (yesod) joins the might of the warrior (netzach) to the serenity of the man of spirit (hod) to give one the solid judgement to know when to fight and when to give in. Finally, kingship (malchut) stands for the humble king - the person who rules his world, yet knows he is nothing before the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He.

How can you tell is someone is living in the corner of his or her soul? Humility. The corner of nothingness in man is expressed as deep humility, the ego's giving itself up to the power of the infinite.

And finally, what about the cosmic battle between heaven and earth, spirit and matter, the angels above and mortal man below? Might I be so bold as to suggest that the corner of creation is Israel - the nation that historians call a fluke of history. Israel is that lowly nation that has witnessed both the grandeur of the Holy Temple and the horror of the holocaust. A people raised up to heights of holiness and wealth and thrown down to the pit of despair and poverty. A nation that has survived 2000 years of exile only by clinging stubbornly to tradition and heritage.

And why is it? It is because within the body of a Jew dwells a divine soul, a spark of nothingness which is literally a part of G-d's Being. Both as individuals and as a people Israel is the corner of creation, nothing less and nothing more.


from the August 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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