From Loneliness to Oneness: The Endless Expansion of Self(An Inspirational Torah Video by Shmuel Reichman Inspiration: Think-Feel-Grow)Posted by Shmuel Reichman on Wednesday, 6 February 2019
There is a plague that haunts the human condition. Many people live their lives in a state of ego — a state of mind where you think you are an isolated being inside your own body, your own world, alone. This means that you experience yourself as separate from everyone else, disconnected, secluded. The consequences of this state of mind are obvious: you feel independent and separate from Hashem; since everyone else in the world is different and separate from you, you will feel the need to compete with them, to beat them, in order to gain self-worth, in order to convince yourself that you’re good enough. This often means pushing others down just to feel like you’re better than them. You might hate certain people or even hurt them since they don’t make you feel good or perhaps because they challenge your own self-worth. But most of all, this state of consciousness leaves you lonely, abandoned, empty. However, there is another option.
- Living as a Soul
You can choose to live in a state of soul, a state of oneness. This means living with the understanding that while we are all unique individuals, at our spiritual and existential root we are all one. People often mistaken the concept of oneness as a lack of intellectual integrity or those who ignore reality. However, those who live by this principle are the select few who are deeply in touch with reality. They are those who understand the underlying truths of the universe and live on a plane where the spiritual and physical meet and melt into a oneness. These people understand that, at root, we are all one, an interconnected self, a single consciousness, a single soul. This is the concept of Klal Yisrael, a single self, a single people. The Rambam states that someone who disconnects himself from the Jewish people has no portion in the world to come. This should be intuitive though. Klal Yisrael is one entity, a single body. If a leaf falls from a tree, it withers, if a finger is detached from its body it dies. If you remove yourself from your source of existence, you cease to exist.
- We Don’t Experience This
However, it is clear that most people do not experience this state of oneness. We do not automatically perceive ourselves as part of a cosmic self. In fact, the starting point of every child is ego and selfishness. Research has shown that every child experiences themselves as the center of the universe, they believe that they are all that exists. It is only with time that they come to realize that they are one of but billions of people existing in this world, each with their unique life experience and inner world. However, many people stop their existential and experiential growth at that point. They don’t expand further, breaking down the boundaries of consciousness, realizing that they aren’t an isolated being, but rather a part of a bigger whole. They live the rest of their lives as an ego, alone, hollow inside. So the question becomes, how do we break down the walls of our limited ego, to expand our sense of self outwards? The key to this deep principle lies in this week’s parsha.
- The Purpose of Gifts?
Normally we read parshas shekalim before Rosh Chodesh Adar, however, since it is a leap year we will wait until Adar Beis to read it. However, it is still important to notice a stark contrast between the concept of machatzis ha’shekel and the gifts given in last week’s parsha, Parshas Terumah. Parshas Terumah is defined by the voluntary gifts that the Jewish people donated to Hashem towards the building of the mishkan, the Tabernacle. The emphasis in this was its voluntary nature – Hashem did not specify a certain amount that the Jewish people were required to donate, rather they had to give of their own accord. Why is this so? Why not specify a required amount like by machatzis ha’shekel? Furthermore, why were these gifts specifically given towards the Mishkan? Parshas Tetzaveh is a continuation of Parshas Terumah, whereby we continue discussing the Mishkan and the avodah, the divine service. Is there any link between the concept of giving gifts and the Mishkan, the place to where these gifts were given? To answer this question, let’s look more deeply at the nature of giving.
- We Only Love Ourselves
Rav Dessler explains in Michtav Mei’Elyahu, kuntres hachessed, that naturally, we only love ourselves. This makes sense, as each of us only experiences life from our own perspective – we can only know what I want, what I need, what I feel. It takes a lifetime of work to understand another person on this level and to be as committed to their needs as you are to your own. True love, however, is when someone else becomes an extension of your consciousness, when you feel their needs and hopes and dreams as strongly as you do your own.
The “love” that most people experience does not compare to this ideal. Just think of the way we throw the word love around. Someone might say “I love chicken,” but then also say “I love my wife.” Can these two experiences really be compared? When a person says they love chicken, do they really mean that they love chicken? Of course not! If they loved chicken, it wouldn’t be dead on their plate. What they actually mean is that they love the way chicken makes them feel. It’s themselves that they love! The problem, though, is that too often when people speak of love, they are referring to this same kind of love. More often than not, when we say we love someone, we really mean that we love how they make us feel. If this is true, then what is true love, and how do we create it?
- True Love
True love is absolute oneness. It’s when individual pieces connect in such a way that they create something transcendent, greater than the sum of the parts. The ideal is for man and wife to experience this oneness. This was modeled in the very creation of humanity. As the midrash explains, Adam and Chava were originally created as one androgynous being, a physical manifestation of a deeper existential oneness. They were then broken apart and forced to rebuild that original oneness. The ideal and goal though is clear: each one of us is meant to become one with our own life’s partner. As the gemara in Yevamos says: before a man and wife are born, they exist as a single neshama. Only once they are born into the world do they split apart and exist as two distinct beings. The goal is to then wander the world in search of your soul-mate, choose each-other, and then recreate that oneness. Adam and Chava are created as one before being split apart to model the oneness that we are striving towards as husband and wife. So if at root we are one, but our natural experience in this world is twoness and multiplicity, then how do we both create and build an awareness of this oneness?
- How to Create Oneness
Rav Dessler explains in Michtav Mei’Elyahu that the mechanism for creating love and oneness is giving. The logic is as follows: We love ourselves. We also find, though, that parents love their children. Why is this? It’s because children are an extension of their parents. We love anything that has a piece of ourselves in it, as we personally identify with it. This is why we find ourselves loving our ideas, our pets, and all the creative projects that we’ve spent countless hours working on. When we invest ourselves into something, we see a part of ourselves manifest within it, which naturally fosters our love for that thing.
It’s interesting to observe that parents always love their children more than children love their parents. However, based on Rav Dessler’s explanation of love and giving, this makes perfect sense. Parents give so much of themselves to their children. Beyond just giving over their physical DNA, they give over endless time, energy, money, and care. This is also why the Hebrew word for love is “ahava.” The root of this word is “hav,” which means to give. Because only when you give can you experience true love, true oneness.
- Oneness of the Mishkan: Paradigm of True Oneness
The theme of oneness is noticeably prevalent throughout Parshas Terumah. Rashi (Terumah 25:31) quotes the medrash saying that the Menorah wasn’t created by connecting many separate pieces of gold, but rather from a single block of gold. This idea appears in many other parts of the mishkan as well. This is because the mishkan (and beis ha’mikdash) is where the physical world connects to and fuses with the spiritual world. It is the focal point of where Hashem connects with and becomes manifest in the world. It is the place where all of Klal Yisrael come together to become one, first as a nation, and then with Hashem. The Menorah was created as a single block of gold, reflective of a much deeper pattern. Just as the menorah begins as a single block of gold before becoming manifest as branches and pieces, the Jewish people are a single soul at root expressed as a multitude of individuals.
- Giving: Allowing Klal Yisrael to Create a Bond of Oneness with Hashem
The donation process which appears at the opening of Parshas Teruma represents the process of creating oneness and love. The Jewish people had to give of their own volition, to choose to donate their possessions to Hashem. This is because love and oneness can only be created and manifest through genuine giving. Hashem gave the Jewish people the opportunity to create a bond of oneness and love with Him. Only by giving themselves to Hashem, and recognizing Him as the source of their existence, could the Jewish People truly create this bond of love and oneness. It is therefore no coincidence that these donations were directed towards the building of the mishkan, the very center of oneness, and the place where the Jewish people would connect directly to Hashem.
Think about your own life. Are you walled in? Are you afraid of being loved? Of loving others? Are you living as an ego or as a soul? Are you expanding outwards, giving yourself to others, or are you isolating yourself, living empty and alone? Let us be inspired to give ourselves to those whom we care about, to build genuine love, and to endlessly expand beyond our limited sense of self into true oneness.