Big ideas

First a word about the photo. I’ve changed the picture in the blog heading and I wanted you to see the picture in its entirety before it was cropped. We took this picture by the lake at St. Moritz in Switzerland. I had been looking for a picture of a path to represent the path of life. And then I looked at this one again and felt it gives me a certain feeling of comfort, of being embraced and carried through life and that captures better the feeling I want to convey.

When I was growing up movies and television put into my head the idea of the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” There is a bit of truth to this. Frankl talked about there being two kinds of people in the world: the humane and the not humane. Of course it’s not as clear cut as that. Awareness and consciousness of responsibility runs on a continuum. But there is a kind of basic orientation towards conscience and a different orientation that squelches conscience.

I always try to take concepts back to their most fundamental meaning, which is also an all-encompassing meaning. For example, Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel and master guide in the development of our humanity, elucidated meanings of concepts in all-encompassing ways. For example faith and trust in God cannot be separated from faith and trust in one’s self. Love for one group of people cannot negate love for another group. Love is love is love. It cannot be compartmentalized.

Similarly Frankl talks about big ideas. Responsibility is a moral attitude but not exclusively. It is response-ability, the ability to respond to the meaning of the moment.

This has been by way of introduction, to say that I am trying to take the concepts of love and fear of God and concepts like religious obligation back to their most enveloping meaning. First of all I want my words to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. But essentially, this is not a manipulation on my part because I believe that when these concepts are opened up to their fullest meaning they really do apply to every human experience and relate to the humane in all of us.

Have said this, I want to talk about transcendence. Frankl spoke of the human capacity to transcend inner and outer circumstances and how this human spiritual capacity can be provoked, especially in the technique of dereflection.

The kabbalistic expression that says love and fear are the two wings that cause a person to transcend complements Frankl’s concept of transcendence.

We’ve described the feeling of “having enough” as an expression of fear of God because we accept the limitations we’ve been given, and the experiencing of pleasure in what we do have as an expression of love of God because we recognize God’s love for us in giving us these things. This is the first set of wings.

In the second set of wings we create structures into which we bring our spiritual essence. The perfect example of this is when the Temple stood in Jerusalem and the people brought gifts from their own generous spirits. The structure had to be there first but then it had to be filled with God’s presence, and it was filled with God’s presence by every individual’s gift of his or her generosity of spirit. All of the individual sparks of the divine filled the structure.

It turns out that we have not just one set of wings, like a bird, but two sets of wings: one for how we relate to our material and spiritual possessions and one for how we relate to our tasks in life, particularly our obligations to God.

How can this apply to every person in the world? How can we expand these concepts of love and fear of God? How can we discover and fly with our two sets of wings? Every human being is a spark of the divine. Every human being has an unconscious relation to God.

We can locate our fear of God in both sets of wings when we think of accepting what is, both in terms of the gifts we’ve been given and in terms of the demands that are made on us. In terms of the gifts I can accept that my soul is unique in all the world and in all existence and I have been given exactly what I need to be who I was meant to be and willingly accept and embrace my gifts together with their limitations.

In terms of demands I don’t need to be Jewish and accept the demands of 613 religious obligations or belong to a different people and accept the seven Noahide laws. The relation to God can even remain unconscious, and there will still be something deep inside telling me this is humane and this is not humane. This I must do and this I must not do. We know right from wrong deep in our hearts if we only listen. This is God’s command.

We can locate our love of God in both sets of wings when we feel gratitude and experience pleasure in all of life’s blessings out of the recognition that it is all an expression of God’s love for me. Regarding the joy in religious obligation we can remember that this is a means of bonding to God and expressing my love for God.

With the first set we are freed from the weightiness of the material world and our insatiable urges, allowing us to fully taste and enjoy all of life’s blessings.

With the second set we can fly even higher than that. We are fulfilling obligations that align us with God’s will so that we can live a spiritual life and we put our heart into this as well, bonding with God by means of these actions and bringing the spiritual into physical space. It is not just bringing the spiritual “out there” into physical space. It is bringing our spirit into everything we do.

The first set of wings allows us to transcend despondency, inertia, despair all that weighs us down in life.

The second set of wings allows us to transcend this world by connecting with powers that are beyond us.

Both sets of wings together allow us to fully emerge in our humanity by seeing our self in-relation-to an ultimate meaning (God) that is beyond us and by both loving and being loved.

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