Monday, March 28, 2011

Life as a tenuous balance

between striving for transcendence and making an imprint on the physical world:

The chassidic masters explain that life—the retention of a spiritual soul within a physical body—entails a tenuous balance between two powerful forces in the soul: ratzo (striving, running away) and shov (return, settling). Ratzo is the soul’s striving for transcendence, its yearning to tear free of the entanglements of material life and achieve a self-nullifying reunion with its Creator and Source. At the same time, however, every human soul also possesses shov—a will for actualization, a commitment to live a physical life and make an imprint upon a physical world.

Thus the verse calls the soul of man “a lamp of G‑d.” The lamp’s flame surges upwards, as if to tear free from the wick and lose itself in the great expanses of energy that gird the heavens. But even as it strains heavenward, the flame is also pulling back, tightening its grip on the wick and drinking thirstily of the oil in the lamp that sustains its continued existence as an individual flame. And it is this tension of conflicting energies, this vacillation from being to dissolution and back again, that produces light.

So, too, with the soul of man. The striving to escape physical life is checked by the will to be and to achieve, which is in turn checked by the striving for spirituality and transcendence. When a person’s involvements with the world threaten to overwhelm him and make him their prisoner, the soul’s ratzo resists this by awakening his inherent desire to connect with his source in G‑d; and when a person’s spirituality threatens to carry him off to the sublime yonder, the soul’s shov kicks in, arousing a desire for physical life and worldly achievement. Together, the conflict and collision of these two drives produce a flame that illuminates its surroundings with a G‑dly light: a life that escapes the pull of earth even as it interacts with it and develops it in harmony with the soul’s spiritual vision

So life’s constant to-and-fro movement is more than a cycle that runs from existence to oblivion and back. It is, rather, an upward spiral: man escapes his finite self, but is driven back to make his transcendent achievements an integral part of his individual being; brought back to earth, his “escapist” nature now reasserts itself, compelling him to reach beyond the horizon of his new, expanded self as well; transcending his new self, his shov once again draws him back to reality.


Back and forth, upward and on, the flame of man dances, his two most basic drives conspiring to propel him to bridge ever wider gulfs between transcendence and immanence, between the ideal and the real.


- Simon Jacobson

3 comments:

  1. In somewhat parallel fashion, the physical work of the chief craftsman of the tabernacle, Bezalel, was imbued by the "ruah elohim," as the Exodus text tells us. In other words, while at times, the two are in struggle, as you point out, they also can be in tandem working together toward an aim which embraces our true intent as humans made in the image of the Creator.

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  2. My hand can't leave fingerprints if I continue reaching for the sky. Ratzo:Sky Shov:Earth Man:Horizon

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  3. We dwell in the roots to understand the branches that seek the sky.

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