“The soul of man is the candle of God”
“Why is this happening?” I don’t know anyone who has not asked that question at some point. And it’s usually for something negative. The question is rhetorical, and we know the reason, even if we don’t care to admit it. After all, there is a direct correlation to binge-eating and gaining weight, evading taxes and getting audited or worse, committing adultery and getting divorced, etc. Invariably, however, when the question goes to the deeper issues of life, there is no easy answer, and sometimes, no answer at all.
We Have Total Control
The processes of wrestling with such existential dilemmas vary according to the personalities of the questioner. At one end of the spectrum is an approach such as, “The Law of Attraction.” This principle is entirely sourced in self, and so everything that we experience in our lives is the direct result of what we create, generate and attract into our lives from our will as expressed through our energy and “vibes.” In a nutshell, this is the operational system of the universe, and it occurs whether or not we are conscious of the mechanism, and even when we get the opposite of what we think we want.
So, for example, when what we want and what we get don’t line up, as is often the case, we need to look inside for our self-sabotaging behavior and either clean up our act or uncover what it is we really want. As Wayne Dyer put it so succinctly, “We don’t attract what we want; we attract what we are.” Thus, we are the actual creators of all that shows up (or fails to materialize) in our lives.
We Have No Control
A diametrically opposite approach, as evidenced by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeater’s Anonymous, etc., is that we control nothing. We are simply not in charge. Our “Higher Power” is in charge. And the sooner we admit this lack of power, not only over ourselves but over others and the universe, the sooner we can be strengthened and guided by whomever or whatever we understand to be running the show. Paradoxically, it’s getting the ego out of the way and striving for a state of humble dependence that is the first step towards developing personal power.
It should be no surprise that Torah teaches a middle path, which is a blend of these two approaches. This third approach teaches that we are neither totally in control nor totally out of control, but that we are empowered – in partnership with God – to co-create reality.
We see this in the very story of creation. Tradition teaches us that God created the world with all of the potential of vegetation lying beneath the surface. It was not until Adam prayed for rain that the earth was watered, causing all plant life to burst forth. Thus, the involvement of man was needed for the earth’s potential to actualize itself.
When God created the living things inhabiting the earth, He did so in general categories of species and description: fish, birds, creeping things, wild animals, domesticated animals, etc. There was no specificity and differentiation between the classes of species. It was Adam who named them all.
In the Hebrew language, a name is not arbitrary; it goes to the essence of the thing. And so Adam saw the singular essence and potential of each type of creature. He culled out each creature from an indistinguishable mass and raised it to a being with a unique identity and purpose. God spoke, and all of the earth’s inhabitants came into existence. Adam, however, provided the finishing touch. Just as the very process of creation is said to be on going, so is our involvement in co-creating it. We are God’s very partners in the on-going process of creation. So what are we creating?
Being a Lamplighter
Fast forward to the Torah portion, “Beha’alotecha” which starts with the command for Aaron to kindle the lights of the Menorah. What menorah? There was no Judaica store nearby and no on-line shopping. Furthermore, the description was daunting – it was to be made of one piece of pure gold, consisting of seven branches with each branch looking like an almond tree – with buds, blossoms, and flowers. Unable to create that on his own, tradition teaches us that Aaron threw the gold into a fire, and the Menorah emerged, fashioned, as you will, by the Hand of God. And so here, it was man who initiated an act of creation, but it was God who finished it.
But then Aaron was commanded to “raise light in the lamps,” (8:2). He not only participated in the creation, but it was now his responsibility to ensure that it was ignited in order to illuminate the greater surroundings. And through being that lamplighter, that light could then continue to light others without being diminished. Jewish philosophy teaches that the soul is compared to the flame. Once lit, it will both give off light and be able to ignite others. That is what it means to both be inspired and inspire. But the same way light can bring about more light, darkness has the power to do the same.
Therefore, just as Aaron threw the gold into the fire with the Menorah, so too with the Golden Calf. When Aaron threw gold into a fire, out walked a golden calf. Same process. (Some say this occurred through Egyptian sorcery, but if you want to play that game, who invented sorcery?) The point is, that as partners in creation, there is an on-going dance between the Divine and us.
As “created beings,” we depend on God for our very existence. As “creative beings,” on the other hand, we can create our own heaven or hell. As Erica Jong quipped, “Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing; no one to blame.”
Thus, it is the paradox of the middle path that embraces both realities. We are created with infinite potential. Moment by moment, each choice is an act of casting gold into the fire. What is it that we are hoping to materialize, to create, to become? What do we want to emerge? A Menorah or a Golden Calf?
Says Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, “The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight.” What lamps are we lighting and do they emit the light we wish to see?
Internalize & Actualize:
- Are you more likely, in a negative situation, to feel that you are the cause of it, that you have no control over it or that it is a combination? Think of a situation that is difficult for you and then write out how you can find that balance between letting go of full responsibility while simultaneously exploring what you can do to impact or change the situation.
- There is the concept that we are all empowered to be lamplighters. This is the ability to help spark another’s innate talent and ability. Think about who have been the lamplighters in your life. Write down the qualities they had that inspired you and in what way they impacted your life.
- Now write down the lives of those you have been a lamplighter for. What qualities of yours helped ignite and inspire them? Write down these qualities on note cards and place them around your house. When you are feeling negative, read them aloud, reminding yourself of your strengths and abilities and how they have helped the lives of others.