Monday, May 2, 2011

Transformation Through Balance

Sefirat Haomer, Part III

By Shimona Tzukernik

An editor once told me, "Great writing should read like a hot knife through butter." What an analogy! The author has to work the text so that the ideas flow seamlessly. The form and function must become one entity. Sure you can leave the reader intellectual or emotional work to do in processing the writing, but the actual text itself must unite with what it is coming to convey, allowing the reader to cut through it as a hot knife through butter.

Few things in life are seamless. We live in polarized worlds--some more than others--but opposed nonetheless. Each of us though has the possibility of finding balance. We can generate powers within our being that blend other diverse aspects of who we are in one smooth continuity. One of them is the emotional ability Kabbalah terms Tiferet, the translation of which includes balance, truth, harmony, beauty, compassion and empathy.

To call it seamless appears to be a misnomer. After all, truth and compassion, balance and empathy seem to be distinct from one another. More so, one could even say they contain opposite dimensions: compassion feels somewhat blurry and truth absolute, for example. What does beauty have to do with empathy other than that being empathic is considered a "nice" thing to do? When we look at the translations, we realize that Tiferet is way more complex than the literal translation of the word, "Beauty." What in actuality is it?

One entry point is the body. Tiferet is associated with the heart center. In fact each soul attribute is mapped onto the body. According to the same model, love is associated with the right shoulder-blade. The manifestation of love, the attribute of Chesed, is linked with the right arm. So too awe – or fear – is associated with the left shoulder. Its manifestation in the form of restraint, discipline and respect, is connected with the left arm. In this way, each of the mystical spheres on the Tree of Life is mapped onto the soul and in turn finds a visual representation in the form of the human body.

Clearly the heart center is a middle point in the body. It lies at the center of the spine which itself forms the center of the body, connecting the top of the skull with the coccyx. Mystically too the heart is a point of blending, a coming together of different attributes in a unique way. What's distinct about it is that whereas our heart-tiferet center brings together diverse feelings, the sum total of those feelings is no longer the individual points that form it but something entirely new, seamless in its dimensions. It is often described as a blending of love and awe, loving-kindness and respect. In truth it is much more.

Each of the abilities of the soul blends various components. Each covers a subtle range of differentiation. We don't just love or respect. Our ways of thinking and our feelings might shift from love to anger. More often, the very same feeling changes in delicate ways – at times from moment to moment. Take love for example. Sometimes the love is pure and manifest. At other times, we might need to draw from fear--even anger--to keep the love going.

In real life that looks like setting boundaries in a relationship; taking a stance against those things that oppose the ideals you love and subscribe to; or fearing being separated from the one you love and thus doing all you can to nurture the connection. That's what we'd call fear-in-love. You're fully in love mode. Everything is about bringing more of it into the world. It's just that you do it in diverse ways, some of which might even appear contrary to the central goal of generating love and connection.

Conversely, there's love-in-fear. What are the real-life scenarios that display this particular color on the emotional spectrum? Enticing someone with a reward to get them to tow the line, or supporting causes that rid the world of evil. Here you're fully in fear-or-awe-mode. All the shades of that restraint serve the ultimate goal of creating healthy boundaries and ultimately awe of Gd.1

Yet despite the fact that in both the above examples there's a merging of opposites, the love is still love, and the fear is fear. The variegation is there in a way that is subordinate to the primary attribute.

Tiferet is different. Here, in the heart, love and fear unite as one. The resulting ability is something new and distinct.

We can take an example from another soul power. Being a balance point, it also lies on the spine, only one center up from the heart. This is Da'at, our ability to know the world. It is the third of three intellectual faculties,2 the first of which is our ability to conceptualize3 and the second to analyze.4 Da'at is the aspect of knowledge where we internalize the information we've been processing.

This kind of knowing allows us to absorb ideas because we have explored them subtly and thereby have become intimate with the concepts. The word is the name of one of the trees in the Garden of Eden – the Tree of Knowledge. That knowledge was about the distinction between good and evil. Whereas we are asked not to judge others, Torah living means we will make distinctions between what is right and wrong.5 In that sense, the attribute of Knowledge is associated with the color grey, or silver. It's the place where our mind can sustain opposites. In fact, it is the point where all the parts of an idea fuse into one whole.

When we can do that, we can take ideas in as part of ourselves because at that point we are no longer defensive or exploring an idea with an agenda. We are truly open to what it has to tell us.6 This is the reason our prayer services end with the words, "You must know it today and bind it to your hearts." There's a domino effect that happens with intimate, subtle knowledge. Once you get it, you automatically absorb the concept into your heart in a way that's user-friendly, allowing not only for emotional resonance with ideas but also for new action.

Tiferet enacts in the heart what Da'at enacts in the mind. It is the point where not ideas, but emotions unite to emerge as a powerful new force, full of subtlety, experienced empirically, and which open us to a much vaster world than the one we've lived in without it.

Think of it as two people with different personalities uniting in marriage to form a whole. Or better yet, imagine your own faculties of head and heart, thought and feeling. They are so different as to contradict each other: thought is cold and objective, feeling warm and subjective. You can live your life as a person who is detached from one or the other. Or you can live in a way where your mind acknowledges your heart and vice versa but where the two are in constant conflict with each other. Alternatively, you can marry the two, creating inner peace. What you generate within yourself is akin to the child that is an entirely new person born of the body of both mother and father.7

Tiferet then is a particular kind of balance in the heart. It is akin to Da'at in that there is no splitting; opposites disappear leaving only wholeness and unity.

In order to generate this kind of consciousness, whether in the mind or heart, a third attribute is needed. When two opposites meet, you need a higher entity to bring resolution. Or if for example you're in an argument, you need something or someone higher to effect healing and resolution. It doesn't matter whether that thing is a loftier internal consciousness or a person outside of you. What matters is that the healing insight is coming from a more transcendent place. As Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

In Kabbalistic terms, the heart-point turns to the supra-conscious in order to fuse love and respect. Ultimately, all our soul abilities derive from this one indivisible point of our highest supra-conscious. By pulling from the source, where love and respect are one prior to individuating, the heart is able to create a new experience.

We call it Tiferet, "beauty," because as the individual elements of love and awe disappear, they are reborn in a more glorious whole.

One finds the same notion of beauty when it comes to the arts. An artist can be technically proficient, even excellent, but the work will lack life. Aesthetically it dies on the canvas. In such a work there is line, color, form. But each is present on the canvas in a way that calls attention to itself. By contrast, the great works of art display a merging of all the components in such a way that a new, living, compelling entity is born of them.

This beauty is not monochrome. Think of a Rothko. To the uninitiated, one may superficially dismiss these creations of genius as, "A color slapped on canvas! I could do it!" We've all heard some aesthetic peasant say the same. But if you take even just a moment, the beauty of the layers and subtlety shines through in a luminous, vibrating surface that speaks of all the subtlety, the myriad layers, of the universe.

Take even a work by Franz Klein. Seen in person, the edges of his lines shimmer with individuality, the white is not "white" and the black not "black." Even in his minimalist renditions, Klein captures the full range of life's subtlety.

Tiferet is spiritual artistry, spiritual beauty. It's the ability to marry two opposites and form a uniquely new dimension in the heart. That's why it's referred to by so many different names. The blending gives our heart center a full range from truth to empathy, beauty to compassion. The common point between them all is the idea of opposites merging. Truth is not one-sided. If I really want to know the truth, I have to look at it from all angles, my perspective and yours. In that sense it's like Beauty, Balance and Harmony.

At the psychological level of Compassion and Empathy, balance is also the guiding light. Here you are no longer driven by your personal pre-dispositions. In Tiferet, I can take myself out of myself. Maybe I'm a person who is naturally kind, or the opposite. When it comes to Balance and Compassion, my personal inclinations are no longer the driving force of my choices. Here it's all about Truth. What does the situation ask of me? I ask, "What is needed" rather than, "What would I want? What do I think is right?"

Mystically we said that love and respect die, or disappear, momentarily to be reborn as something new. At the humanistic level the same thing applies. To enter into compassion means my ego dies in the interaction. I can feel the other person as she feels herself.

Here, in the heart, we are soul-artists. We can compose a text that's as easy to cut through as a knife through hot butter. We can create jazz or symphonies by allowing for all of reality to fill our lives rather than live according to the rules we've gone by for the past x number of decades. We can create masterpieces as we access the vast world we've been missing out on without all that balance and beauty.


1. One must remember though that the ultimate purpose of the restraint and discipline is in order to generate more
love and connection. Fear in Kabbalistic terms is never solely for the purpose of fear itself.

2. The acronym of these is referred to as ChaBaD.

3. In Hebrew it is called Chochma, often translated as "wisdom."

4. In Hebrew it is called Bina, often translated as "understanding."

5. Unfortunately most of us spend much of life confessing the "sins" of others whilst resisting looking at our own
accountability. In really unhealthy and unholy states, this kind of "knowledge" splits the world into black and white, all-good and all-bad. But life's not like that. It's full of subtlety. Yes, holy Da'at is about making distinctions based on what Gd wants of us but most of life presents us with choices that are not black or white. It is only by exploring all the facets, being subtle, that we truly know about Gd, another, or the world.

6. Da'at is also the word used to convey the intimate union between Adam and Eve. It is when we hold the full spectrum of the other that we can begin to attain intimacy.

7. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson taught that Chassidut establishes a bridge between head and heart. When challenged that the two are worlds apart, he counted with the notion that at the very least, the study of this deepest, mystical dimension of the Torah sets up telephone wires between head and heart. The two can begin to talk to each other.

On another occasion, the Rebbe stated that the purpose of Chassidut is to teach the heart to think and the mind to feel.

This article was originally posted on


Unknown said...

i wish you would put it all more

arisinger said...

Magnificent, Shimona! Thank you so much.
Devorah Channah bas Frimit