Rabbi’s Corner

Kindling the divine fire

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

We live in a world where we are hard-wired to fit people and actions into neat, perfect little boxes.  Even our scripture seems to do this. We draw from our holy writings that an action is good or bad, a blessing or a curse, and will lead to life or death. For many, this provides us with a greater sense of order and it easily validates our view of right and wrong. Also, this kind of view allows us to assert our power over others by perpetuating such categories. It does not allow Truth to be a part of our consciousness.

Wallace Stevens, the modernist poet, once wrote, “We live in the description of a place and not in the place itself.”  By this he meant that each individual’s reality or perception of reality is unique, but does not necessarily lead one to understand a truth or a fact.  That “reality” nevertheless becomes the label by which that person identifies events and people, and at the same time may become their boundary. A boundary limits how you define a place, a person, or an event. The clearest example of this is found in our most recent presidential election. When we use words like ‘liberal,” “conservative,” “Democrat,” and “Republican,” they may for many of us connote an idea or elicit an emotional response to that person, and for each of us, a particular fact or truth about them. We do not know anything else about that person, and yet, we have defined who they are. In reality, we often deal with other human beings or their actions as if they have no depth; as if the world had only two dimensions. This type of thinking serves only our personal needs and desires. It makes life so easy if we are able categorize our world in this way.

Judaism demands that we are stirred beyond this binary way of thinking and that we live with awareness that transcends any of our personal objectives. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, “Personal meaning is meaningless, unless it is related to a transpersonal meaning.” Judaism challenges us to confront our limitations and satisfy the divine need our religion demands of us. What is that demand? Our awareness of reality must embrace the divine attributes of Kindness, Love, Mercy, and Justice (just to name a few). Then, and only then, are our insights stirred beyond those words that limit and shackle our minds. When these attributes inform your perceptions of the world and other human beings, we will be stirred by an awareness of grandeur that exists in the spiritual realm of our lives. This awareness will reshape our minds and our worlds.

A parable illustrates this principle:

A young man wanted to be a blacksmith. He learned how to hold the tongs, how to lift the sledge, where to hit the metal on the anvil, and how to blow the fire with the bellows. He was chosen to be the smithy at the royal palace. The man’s delight soon came to an end when he discovered that he did not know how to kindle a fire.