UNITY AND VISION
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing; life forevermore.”
~ Psalm 133:1; 3
“If one pursues honor it will elude him., but if one flees from honor, it will pursue him.”
~ Talmud, Eruvin 13b
As a reminder, the focus of this Rosh Chodesh series “Keep Climbing!” Is the practice of Mussar. The word mussar in modern Hebrew is simply translated as ‘ethics.’ However, current Mussar teacher, Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, describes it more fully as “…a way of life. It shines light on the causes of suffering and shows us how to realize our highest potential, including an everyday experience infused with happiness, trust, and love.” The practice of Mussar is basically an introspective one, undertaken by an individual seeking for more meaning, depth and vision in life. However, an early master of the revival of Mussar during the 1800’s, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, perceived that it could in fact be a very unifying practice among the Jewish communities in Europe who were being torn apart physically, mentally, and spiritually by the conflicting social tensions at the time. For example, the oppression of the Czar, the attraction of communism and socialism, the materialistic thrust of the ‘Enlightenment,’ etc. Morinis explains how Salanter taught that what could reconnect the fabric of the people that was being ripped asunder was to learn, through Mussar, how to “…strengthen the final and most important bulwark for the defense of spiritual life: the solitary human heart [and soul].”
The basis for the strengthening and reinforcing of true unity and one-ness is the need for a “pure heart” and a soul that is growing ever brighter in the expression of its inherent holiness. This awareness and strengthening of the heart and soul are just as important in our confusing and fractured world today! External circumstances and pressures may have changed but our essential, deepest beings remain the same.
UNITY – ECHAD – ONE-NESS
The base of unity, and achieving of one-ness, is the giving of honor and respect to the other. This respect is based on the recognition of the key factor that each of us, every person, is given life by the Source of Life – our Creator and Father in Heaven. In fact, respecting one’s fellow man, and especially those with whom our lives are bound up with one way or another, is considered such a central Biblical ethic that the Sages say that when the twelve thousand pairs of students of Rabbi Akiva started dying in a plague, during the thirty-two days between Passover and Shavuot, it was because they did not show respect toward each other! (Yevamot 62b)
Lack of respect undermines and destroys the potential unity, and the peace and harmony, in every form of relationship. A chief cause of not showing respect or honor to another is a critical and judgmental spirit. I would hate to think I was guilty of this, but recently a clear case arose when I misjudged someone simply by their appearance. It was nothing more than a slight remark that he looked “a bit odd.” Later I discovered he was, although admittedly ‘colorful’, the owner of a unique and successful business, with a wonderful family, and was extremely gifted and creative. What a lesson I learnt! Even a seemingly light, passing remark, is in fact making a negative judgment and not showing respect for the other.
This negative, judgmental attitude is called in Hebrew ayin ra’ah, an evil eye. One with a ‘good eye’ – ayin tovah, is one who sees others kindly and is quick to give the benefit of the doubt. We will be exploring this trait more deeply next month, but I would like to point out, in this context, that a major component in harboring a critical spirit is the Ego! An unhealthy ego constantly craves honour and attention for itself. It therefore resents any honor given to another under the mistaken impression that it is detracting from the honor due to itself. It thus operates with a critical mindset and can resort to shaming others in order to elevate itself.
To the contrary, the sage Ben Zoma, to the question, “Who is worthy of honor? answers, “The one who treats others with honor.” (Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)
UNITY IN BALANCE
Division <——————— Unity ———————> Forced conformity
Lack of respect Harmony in relationships Stifling of self
Strife One-ness Superficiality
Last month we learned that we need to develop self-compassion before we can extend true, healthy compassion to others. Similarly, in the pursuit of unity, we need to develop a healthy self-respect before we truly can respect others. We need to know and believe that we each are: “A radiant soul deserving of honor!” Not because we have no imperfections, and are perfect saints. No! But because we are, each one, an amazingly unique being, lovingly created in the image of God, and we have, at our very essence, a soul of incomparable beauty and majesty. When we truly grasp that truth, and pursue the means of allowing that soul to more and more reflect the light and holiness of its Creator, then we gradually attain the one-ness of Echad, not only with our Source, but also with the other beautiful souls He has placed in our lives.
Building unity is both a state of awareness and of action. There are many, almost uncountable, ways we can show honor and respect to others. Alan Morinis stresses that unity is built “…when we look beneath the surface differences to see the shared ground upon which all beings stand.” Also, “…honoring others requires that we make an effort to elevate people in our eyes.” We can always begin with the smaller, seemingly insignificant actions such as greeting others with a friendly smile. In Pirkei Avot, the sages urge us to “…take the initiative in greeting every person you meet” (4:20).
In reality, extending honor and respect to others is a form of chessed – loving-kindness. When Yeshua was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Torah, he quoted Leviticus 19:18, and said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Our attitude and actions towards others are a reflection of our attitude and actions towards God.
The fundamental, essential bond of unity is the relationship between a person and God – to discover the ‘one-ness’ we can share with Him as our loving Father in Heaven. Next, is the unity within ourselves – to bring a wholeness and harmony between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being; which is the aim of Mussar and is a daily, life-long endeavor. As the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said: “Everything we do must be directed toward discovering the underlying unity within.”
Finally, then, comes the unity with others and all of Creation.
UNITY AND VISION
Lack of unity brings chaos and confusion, which often results in pain and suffering. There is a natural inclination and longing within a person for unity – for connection, order, and meaning. Everything is created by the one God and when we seek we can find His fingerprints, as it were, in every person, creature, and object.
Unity, or the lack of it, is seen most clearly in human relationships but it is reflected in other areas as well. Simon Jacobson makes a great observation:
“Life itself is really a search for unity. A scientist searches to discover the unifying laws that govern the seemingly diverse forces of nature. A psychologist tries to trace the myriad elements of external human behavior back to a few underlying needs in the human psyche. An engineer combines thousands of individual parts to form one machine. But all these forms of searching for unity are actually a means to a higher end: the search for G-d and the ultimate unity.”
Once we receive the vision and awareness that all of life is comprised of innumerable threads that can be woven into one beautiful tapestry that is a reflection of the Source of Life, we can understand how our every day, and every thought and action, is deeply meaningful. Gaining this perspective provides the motivation to deepen our awareness and to strengthen our faith – to aim higher, and to keep climbing! To quote Simon Jacobson again: “Leading a unified life means leading a life of harmony; a life in which we have brought God into our every moment.”
Unity is not sameness. We may think that if everyone looked the same, and thought and acted the same, that would result in unity and harmony. Wrong! That error was proven by the Communist ideology, when outward sameness was enforced. Rather, true unity is the harmony within diversity. We see this reflected, for example, in a marriage. First you have the independent, single person. Then, two people meet – two distinctly different entities, a man and a woman – and form a duality. Next, a third dimension is created that joins and combines the two, which, while recognizing and enjoying the unique qualities of each, produces a strong and dynamic whole that is greater than the individual parts.
The question we are left with, as finite and limited beings, is how do we actually become united with an infinite, transcendent and almighty God? Our Creator is not a dictator or tyrant that subjugates His people and demands unity. He is a loving Father that longs for us to love Him in return and to become intimately united with Him. Our souls, our spirits, also constantly yearn for this union and are the means whereby we can see His light and gain a vision of who He is and who we are, and how the formation of the third dimension of relationship between us is possible.
We may make the comparison of God as a teacher: “Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him?” and see ourselves as His students. The teacher has a far greater intellect and understanding than the students. He, or she, therefore, simplifies the concepts in his, or her, mind and communicates them in a language that the students will comprehend. Such is the Word God gave us. It has a simple, surface meaning, but as we learn He guides us and teaches us the more profound and esoteric meanings of its multi-dimensional layers. Gradually, we receive deeper understanding and a clearer perspective of God Himself and we can draw closer and closer to Him. Similarly, when two people take the time and make the effort to get to know each other more intimately, so their love and unity will grow and deepen.
As we grow in our relationship and unity with our Father in Heaven we realize that our purpose, as His beloved children, is to emulate Him and to reflect His light into the world. We are to love, be gracious and kind, as He is loving and gracious and kind. Our minds and words can share His wisdom and truth. All we do to “our neighbor” is a means to reveal His light and truth. We cannot afford to be cynical and selfish, and complacent in our own little world. Our thoughts and actions really matter, and other people really matter! Every life is vital and important in the eyes of God. With that vision in mind we can discover true unity between body and soul, between one person and anther, and between ourselves and our Creator God.
~ Keren Hannah Pryor