Sunday, May 22, 2005

Shadows In The Shade

If one were to exclaim, ‘I’m in the shade’, the image evoked is of a person lying under a beach umbrella, or perhaps under palm trees, or maybe even on a hammock sipping Pina Caladas. But if that same person were to exclaim, ‘I’m in the shadows’, the scenes of pure relaxation and impure contentment change to scenes of scared insecurity and frigid frightfulness. True, when speaking in personalities, a ‘shady’ character and a ‘shadowy’ figure can denote the same thing; when talking in images, however, shade and shadows – though an alliteration – paint completely contrary pictures.

Of the many methods and methodologies used to unravel the mysteries of Jewish study in general and of the Babylonian Talmud in specific, there is one where Relativity holds precedent; to use the Yeshiva terminology: does this law, passage, argument, or opinion refer to the Gavra or the Cheftza – are we referring to the Subject or the Object. When we look at an object or at a subject, we can either look at it objectively or subjectively. A famed example, Chametz on Pesach: can we not eat it, or can it not be eaten? Is the subject forbidden from eating the object, or is the object forbidden from being eaten period? To add some of the Talmudic knack for the unpredictability, and as you know when two Jews meet you have three opinions, maybe both are correct?

Sitting in Hungary, the Land of Shadows – people here live in the shadow of history. The sinister shadow of the Holocaust hangs over Budapest like a shroud; the dark shadow of Communism turns the Danube into a murky abyss; the cold shadow of insecurity prompts an identity unwanted. Here, the Jews chose not to be Chosen; as one person tells me, ‘my grandmother’s dream was that all her children would marry non-Jews. When my father married a Jewish girl, his mother was heartbroken’. I know it’s hard to believe, but in this country even the Jews look at themselves as inferior.

Really, who can blame them: their families were wiped out just for being Jewish; the Judaism they were taught is one where a bullet is the messiah; and the only thing they know about being the Chosen People is that we are a people chosen to be persecuted.

They lie in the Shadows.

What is a Shadow?

When an object comes between a ray of light and a surface, the shadow is born. It has no identity of its own; it is but a reflection – if we can call it that – of light: if there were no light there would be no shadow. However, light alone cannot create a shadow; there must be a surface as well: only when light attempts the illumination of a surface, and a third party, say a person, interferes, will the shadow exist. Without light there would be only surface; without surface there would be only light; when they come together, the shadow comes out of the shadows.

Light, in Kabalistic terms, is the expression of G-d; it is Spirit. Adversely, Surface (or container, receptacle) is the means with which the light is expressed; it is Matter. Take the fine art of painting (pictures, not walls): the expression within the art – the feeling, the heart, the soul – would be the Light, the Spirit; and the means with which this expression is realized – the strokes, the colors, the body – would be the Surface, the Matter. Thus, if there were no surface the light could not surface, if there was no container to contain the light, the light would consume all. And just the same, if there were no Light, the Surface would be just that – a surface. Imagine a painting without soul: it would be a glob of paint, a bunch of misconstrued (or shall I say, misconstroked) strokes – it would be a carcass. Imagine a painting without body: it would be blank – no paint, no strokes, not even a canvass.

Strutting down the stuttering streets of Jerusalem – stuttering because they are so unpredictable – through the sun-drenched arches and finally reaching the shade of The Wall, I could not help but notice that here The Wall throws not a ‘shadow of coldness’ but rather a ‘shade of warmth’.

Thus the question re-arises: what is the difference between ‘a shadow’ and ‘the shade’ – they both are created by that same third party coming between the Light and the Surface?

True, when looking at Shadow and Shade objectively, they differ only in name (and even in that by only an “OW” or “E” suffix); when looking at them subjectively, however, they are as different as light and darkness. They are the same object caused by the same reasons and reasoned by the same cause. But this objective identicalness remains so only when untouched by the subject; once man gets his hands on the object, all similarities cease to remain similar:

The key word here is perception: when you look at an object how do you, the subject, perceive it? Do you see it as a means or as an end, do you see it as a good thing or a not-good thing, do you see it as a help or a hindrance, do you see it as a ladder with which you reach above or as a ditch in which you fall below?

Consequently, the difference between Shadow and Shade is not in their own natural makeup – for in that they do not differ – but rather how we perceive them: if we concentrate on the Surface the shadow is perceived, and we remain bound to the Surface; but when we concentrate on the Light the shade is conceived, and we reach passed the Surface and into the Light. There are (at least) two ways of looking at something: either as an expression of G-d or as an expression of ourselves; either we look at the Light of the object or the Surface of it.

Indeed we need both Light and Surface, the question is, however, what is the primary objective of the object, what is our priority: is it the Light or the Surface, is it the Physical or the Spiritual, is it the Object or the Subject?

If one were to conclude, from what was here stated, that we must turn our faces to the Sun, to the Light, and ignore the Surface, he would conclude wrongly; if we were to think thus, we would cease to exist. Only, we must stand on the Surface, on the physical earth, and allow the Light to reflect off our up-turned faces and into all of creation. True, we need Surface as much as we need Light (Body as much as Soul), however, as the Surface exists – we see it, we know it – there is no need for us to “create” it; but the Light – the Light which no one sees, no one knows – leaves us with no alternative but to “create” it.

How can we, humans of the Surface kind, combine, fuse, the two opposites: how can we take the physical world and unite it with the spiritual realms, how can we blend the Light and the Surface? Here the answer way surpasses the question: why shouldn’t the two – physical and spiritual, body and soul – live together, they are both but an expression of G-d. If we are created in His image, why shouldn’t we be able, like He Himself, to merge both the Light and the Surface: if we are above – which we are – both the Light and the Surface, why shouldn’t we join the two. Essentially they are one – so why not practically?

Good question. Actually, no it isn’t: if we are One why shouldn’t we be One? If the Human is, practically if not actually, G-dly, why shouldn’t we act that way: why should we not fuse opposites, why should we not take the Surface and make it more then its surface, why should we not take the Light and make it more then its light, why should we not take G-d – how we understand it – and make it more then G-d, why should we not take ourselves and make it more then what we are. Why not, please tell me?

Because we are full of ourselves – is that what you think? Let us say we are full of G-d, would our position then change? Why not? Our only problem is how we perceive ourselves: if we were to perceive ourselves as G-dly would then all our actions be G-dly – of course they would. But if we were to perceive ourselves as nothing more than what we are, then we are nothing if not ourselves. That is, once we aren’t what we are, we are nothing; but, with G-d, once we aren’t what we are, we are everything: once we step beyond ourselves, once we step beyond normalcy – we step beyond that which the world demands of us and into that which G-d asks of us – we reach beyond our limited selves and into our unlimited selves. We peel away all the layers and “become” what G-d meant for us to become: G-dly.

We are what we perceive ourselves to be. Definitely nothing more and certainly nothing less.

So let us step out of the shadows and into the shade: let us perceive the Light in everything, let us know that though we live in a physical world where the Light is seemingly shaded, it is but G-d telling us – you can be G-dly: all you have to do is see the Light in every Surface, all that is needed is a change in our perspective. When this perception is achieved, not only will the Light shine in its radiant glory but so too will the Surface. And when both Light and Surface are exposed for what they truly are – expressions of G-d – there will be no room left for shadows – nor for shade.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do clouds pass shadows or give shade?

5/23/2005 12:42 AM  
Anonymous stuckinmiami said...

I see that beneath rogue veneer, there lies a gentle poetic soul.

5/23/2005 12:44 AM  
Anonymous stuckinmiami said...

I see that beneath his rogue veneer, there lies a gentle poetic soul.

5/23/2005 12:46 AM  
Blogger Dovid said...

...The sun shines through the curtain lace, and shadows wash the room...

Jakey, who can overstate the importance of escaping the shadows? The shadows of our past. It's explained in the Tanya that the main method of the yetzer horah is to stalk man with memories of past misdeeds. Let's break free. The past is behind us, and by IGNORING the stains on our souls (except for times specifically meant for examination, like kryas shma) we can actually erase them. No more shadows, and no more shade...

5/23/2005 2:14 AM  
Blogger Dovid said...

Mendy, sorry about your Grandtather. May the time of "hekitzu v'ranenu shochnei afar dawn upon us, NOW!

5/30/2005 11:46 PM  

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